San Carlos Submerged
DescriptionWater covers the Apaches' pain…the pain of a past when the United States forced them onto the San Carlos Agency where they faced challenges and many difficulties. Their history disappears and reappears with the rise and fall of the San Carlos reservoir.
For most Arizonans, the primary source of water is from Arizona 's rivers. Throughout the 20th century, dams were built to store water and generate power for growing cities in California , Nevada , and Arizona . And every time one was built, history was submerged. The Colorado River "port" town of Callville was inundated by Lake Mead, O'Rourke's Camp was lost as Roosevelt Lake filled, and the original site of the San Carlos Indian reservation disappeared and reappeared with the rise and fall of the San Carlos Reservoir. For the Apaches, the waters help conceal a painful past. For decades, the Apaches fought and raided encroaching Mexican and American immigrants. In the 1870s, the US government forced them onto camps or reservations. One such camp was the San Carlos Agency, about 100 miles east of Phoenix on the Gila River .
They rounded up all the Apaches. They also gathered some O'Odham folks, and they also gathered some Yavapai from Prescott area. If you were basically just Indian, and you were near the Apache, you were thought of as Apache. So they rounded those Indians here as well.
While Apaches lived in traditional Wikiups, buildings were constructed to serve the needs of military and agency personnel, such as storehouses for rations, barracks, and a jail cell.
On certain days and certain times, they were given rations. They would be in line and circled around a building. Either they were called by their last names, which were given to them, which were basically Anglo last names. Others had numbers tattooed on them; others had dog tags or cards. So if you didn't have any of these things, you wouldn't be given your ration. We became very dependent on the government.
In the 1920s, in an attempt to provide a reliable source of water for Indian and Non-Indian farmers downstream, the US Government built Coolidge Dam on the Gila River . The Wikiups and Agency buildings slowly disappeared under San Carlos Reservoir, as did the graves of some 400 Apaches. The community was forced to move 13 miles north to what is now the town of San Carlos . A few of the original buildings were also moved and still stand today. For decades, the original site, now referred to as "Old" San Carlos , lay under water. As drought persisted through the turn of the 21st century, the waters receded, revealing original foundations and memories. In the summer of 2006, rain began filling the reservoir. Slowly, Old San Carlos once again disappeared beneath its waters.
It's mixed feelings, mixed feelings because, you know, we have the water here now, we have the fish here and these beautiful birds, and the water to us is life, but underneath it all is a lost history. This water covers a painful part of our lives from the past. I think it soothes that pain.