The report concerning the Palm - Washingtonia filifera - of Moapa - in SIX parts. [plus photos and bibliography]
'Washingtonia filifera - It's history in Nevada revisited'
By: Spencer, W - December - 1995 - ©1995-2011
PART THREEclick here to go back to part TWO
Part 3 - The Overlooked Anecdotes
We will begin by relating the remaining anecdotes which come to us through the testimony of other White Mormon settlers to the area.
Harold Doty as I have stated earlier, was born in 1912 and grew up his entire boyhood and a
good part of his adult life in the Upper Valley near the severally occurring Oases there.
Originally his family's ranch was across from what is known as the old George Baldwin Place.
Apparently the old Doty ranch (If I understand Mr. Doty's direction correctly) is today the ranch
of James Hayworth who came to the upper valley at a later date. As earlier mentioned, the
Baldwin place became a special retreat to many as a location to kick back, dip in the pool and
enjoy the Oasis of Warm Springs. From all the information I have accumulated and stories I
have listened to, there appears to be absolutely no reason to believe that the shade around these
pools was ever anything but Washingtonia filifera.
The Mormons were very big on "shade trees" as can be attested to by nearly every diary and
book from the time. Few regarded the Palm as a potential shade tree. If the early Mormons had
originally planted these Oases with Cottonwoods rather than Palms then they would have surely
persisted at least into the nineteen-twenties. From the following however, we can surely see that
this is not the case.
Given the life span of Cottonwoods as well as the affinity the Mormons showed everywhere for
this taxa there arises a very strong argument that had the entire springs originally been planted
with "Cottonwoods" it is highly unreasonable and unlikely they would have been cut or
otherwise replaced so early in the 1900's . . . (This would almost certainly have had to have been
the case in order for the palm stories of Harold Doty to be correct about the large plantings of
tall palms covering the areas around the headwaters in 1918 as told below.) It is partly through
this improbability that we can safely presume that "Cottonwoods" were not the trees which made
the Oases at Warm Springs so inviting to the "weary traveler."
Harold Doty has stated numerous times in personal communications with him over the last three
years, that the palms have always been in the Upper Muddy Valley. He has always been quite
emphatic about this and has included the following short detail to emphasize his point:
"I moved to the Doty Ranch across from the Baldwin Place just north of the Home Ranch in
1913. I was born in 1912. When I was around six years old (1918), I was at the Home Ranch
(Where the Warm Springs resort is today ) At that time there were bunches of tall Palms all
around covering the areas where the headwaters came out. A man named "Ross" worked there
as a caretaker and he told me then that the Palms in that valley had been there a very long time.
He also said that no one knew how long they had been there but that they were very old. At that
time there were large palms at Big Springs, The Baldwin Ranch, The Home Ranch, and the
Blodale place. Later of course, they cut and removed most of them because they were trying to
make a more consistent channel for the river and also they were considered a nuisance by some.
They came up everywhere you couldn't seem to kill them. This was in the early twenties
sometime. It was probably before Chick Perkins saw it as a kid because his Uncle didn't bring
him over there until he bought his first vehicle and he bought his first vehicle from me."
(Harold Doty, summer 1994 pers. com.)
Here we not only have the testimony of one who actually lived in the Upper Valley since 1912
(...as opposed to one who may have grown up in the lower valley, and later moved to the upper
valley as is the case with most of those old-timers now living in the upper valley...) but in
addition to that eyewitness we have the words of someone even more elderly than Mr. Doty
(Ross) who insisted that the Palms were very old as early as 1918. For anyone living on the
Home Ranch in 1918 such as the man named Ross, it is arguably unlikely he would have
harbored any confusion or doubt as to who had planted those palms had they been planted by an
early White Settler such as Mendis Cooper or anyone else. This is also born out by the
testimony of one of the early Perkins family members to the valley:
According to Ute Perkins (Leavitt) (Overton, pers. comm. 1994), Her father Lawrence Whitney
Perkins ran the Home Ranch (the resort at Warm Springs) while Ute V. Perkins was on a
mission for the Mormon Church. He was born in 1903 and is reported as having said on several
occasions that: "The palms had been here as long as he knew or could remember and that old
timers had told him they'd always been there.
An important note here is that this Home Ranch was the future site of what would later become
known as the "Warm Springs Resort." It appears that those who have owned this property over
the years never harbored doubt as to the notion that these palms were very old. The Brochure of
the resort from the 1970's states this fact right on the back, referring to them as: "ancient native
palms." Apparently this information was handed down from the early days when the original
owners "Beach" owned the property in the late 1800's.
They may also have acquired this information either from observing the Paiutes using the seeds
and leaves or from the Native Americans actually telling them this fact. Remember according
to Orville Perkins, ALL of the original Perkins men could speak Paiute fluently. The Paiutes
apparently were still using the seeds and leaves of Palms until sometime in the 1920's. This is
reiterated by their testimonies given later.
The testimonies of the Moapas are eyewitnesses to these uses and date these practices positively
as late as the very early nineteen-twenties. The massive removal of palms for flood control
which took place in the early or mid twenties as told by Harold Doty may have been the last
major factor in the demise of this Moapa practice and if so surely contributed to the
widespread loss of the memories of such things among the locals. (Since one would have had
to "see" these practices to recall such things...) I have spoken with Moapas for instance who
never heard of such things. One Paiute man I spoke with (although there is a chance he was
being facetious or sarcastic with me) laughed and wondered if I thought the Moapas were from
Hawaii or something. He seemed to think the notion that Paiutes had ever used Palms was
ridiculous. This indicated to me that even among the Paiutes, the knowledge of this memory
may be dying.
Certainly those settlers who later changed residence from the lower valleys to the upper valleys
in the late twenties (as are most of the families who now live in the Upper Moapa) were wont to
come to believe that any palms extant by that late date were likely the progeny of the Cooper
palms they were more familiar with from the lower Valley. George Maurice Perkins moved to
the home ranch area at Warm Springs in 1924 when he was 12 years of age according to Iva
Perkins wife of V. Perkins. It is clear that there were Palms there at that time because she
comments about camping among the Palms in 1924 at the old Blodale place across the road at
that time. (Relief society history) Also Arthur Perkins born April 1908 lived on the Home
Ranch in the thirties. His nickname was "Omar the tentmaker" and it may be that part of this
nomiker had to do with the "Oasis" environment in which he lived. The date of 1936 in the
concrete circumscribing a large palm base at that location testifies solidly to this fact. Yet once
again curiously no white written mention is made of this. In all the writing however it should be
pointed out that recording baptisms and exactly "who attended meetings" took precedence over
reporting things which at the time probably seemed quite obvious and unimportant to most
Still the lack of massive numbers from the early twenties 'removal' spoken of by Doty could
have only served to reinforce the notion that the palms extant there were from somewhere else.
Furthermore, the whole concept of Palms seems to have been pretty much a "non-issue" for
people in either valley and as such, was not really important enough to write about or discuss
with relation to cultural importance or antiquity. It is only since they have begun removing the
palms that these memories are now being talked about by the oldest of those early settlers and by
the Moapas as well.
Larry Brundy showed me photographs of the area around the old home place taken in the late
thirties or early forties. Although the photos were clearly pointing away from the main springs
area ( which certainly would explain why so few palms are pictured in it,) ...still there were only
a few short palms seen around the perimeter edges of the fields. Perhaps the tallest was 7
meters. This was taken on her grandfathers' place after a large fire. The lack of tall palms in
photographs so late is perhaps a contributing factor to the continuing persistence of the "fewer
or even no palms" stories. However to entertain such a notion is to imply or infer that a lot of
very honest and reliable people are either not being truthful or that their memories fail them all
in exactly the same degree and in a remarkably uniform fashion. This would be a strange
phenomenon indeed and there are too many such stories to accept this idea as plausible.
Those who either remember Large Palms early in this century, or remember Native uses of the
Palms earlier in this century as well as those who quote their grandparents and other original
Pioneers who had indicated long ago that the palms were either Old, Large or that they had
"always been here" lend a great deal more detail and substance to their stories than do the later
conjectural hypotheses of those who speculate on the origin of Cooper's palms as being from
Phoenix. These other and more substantial anecdotal contributions recall factors and
contributing details which make their stories far more weighty and believable than those
conjectural stories which loosely imply that the Palm is recently adventive.
In the U. V. Perkins family newsletter Vol VI, No.2 1992 page 5 paragraph 3 regarding the
historic events of 1900:
"...one can't help but wish that an itinerant photographer might have wandered into the
settlements on the Muddy... Who wouldn't have paid cash? ...What we wouldn't give for such
photographs...and what treasures such pictures would be and that we make sure we learn from
this lesson well that we leave some photographs behind for others future posterity."
Here it seems appropriate to add another of those early voices to the evidence. This would be
the voice of Bill Gann. He was also one of the original children of settlers to the area between
Logandale and Overton in the lower Valley. Two interesting anecdotes come to us from him.
Mr. Gann cannot himself tell the story to us today since he passed away sometime in the 1950's
and apparently was very old...I am told possibly in his 80's or 90's at that time. (Kleon
Winsor-1994 -pers. com.) (This has been very difficult to ascertain even with the Mormon's
normally meticulous records. Both Kleon Winsor and Harold Doty of Overton stated they
believed Bill Gann was close to his 90's when he passed away sometime in the 1950's.) His
Father (also Bill Gann settled in the valley and began the Capalapa Ranch (Paiute for bad water),
sometime in 1865 or 1868.
Mr. Doty states that on repeated occasions Mr. Bill Gann remarked how:
"...as a young man <he had> always loved going to the Warm Springs to see the tall beautiful
This same story is told by Kleon Winsor. Kleon Winsor was born May 21, 1925. He stated that
Bill Gann used to always remark how he " ...had loved to go the warm springs when he was
young and how he used to say how he loved the big Palms there."
This is very noteworthy in that if we assume Bill Gann meant "prior to the age of 25" by the
terms "young " and "when he was young man" (which seems reasonable since most old timers
were well on their way to manhood by 21) and if, (as I was told), Mr. Gann died in the 1950's
around the age of ninety then we can reasonably and safely conclude that Bill Gann had been
eye-witness to "tall Palms" in the Warm Springs area by 1895 at the latest.
The only solid information I have found is that William Gann came to the area of St. Joseph near
Logandale in 1888 with his mother Bertie from Illinois. I was told that Bill Gann's father (Also
'Bill' Gann as was the grandson) started the Capalapa Ranch. One point that is clear is that the
Gann referred to by both Harold Doty and Kleon Winsor is the one who died in the 1950's at a
very advanced age. The old Mr. Gann died at the turn of the century. It seems reasonable to
assume then, that sometime between 1888 and 1890 Mr. Gann apparently made more than one
trip to the Warm Springs where he witnessed Large Palms that made a lasting impression on
Clearly the least this anecdote accomplishes is that it places tall palms at Warm Springs (almost
56 km from the Cooper homestead ) sometime before or by 1895. (This is because if Mr. Gann
was 89 in 1959 he would have been 25 years of age in 1895. This seems reasonable, given the
terms "young man" and "young" used by the respondents. Mr. Gann almost certainly had seen
the Palms before or by Cooper's arrival in 1893.(1) Either way, tall Palms at any date earlier
than 1900 in the upper valley completely invalidates any claim that Cooper could have been
responsible and certainly eliminates any question that second generation seeds from Cooper's
palms in Overton could be responsible for Warm Springs Palms. The only logical conclusion
here is that the palms predated whites in the Moapa Valley.
Other notes I would like to make are that Chick Perkins (one who staunchly upheld the idea
that Cooper's original palms were somehow the source of all the other Moapa Palms ) was born
in 1915, three years after Maurice Perkins and Harold Doty. The big difference between Harold
Doty and the other two men being, (as earlier mentioned,) that Harold Doty was the only one
who actually grew up his entire life in the Upper Valley near the several palm Oases while the
other two either only first moved to or saw the upper Valley AFTER the 1920's, having spent
their earlier childhoods in the lower Valleys. Chick told me (pers. com. 1994) that he first
visited the springs when he was about 15 (1930) years of age and noted fewer palms at that time.
This would make sense since Mr. Doty said many were destroyed in the twenties.
Chick also visited his uncle Joe Perkins who was at the Picket ranch around 1923 or so (he was
about 8 years old.) He said no palms were there at all. He thought this was proof that palms
had not existed at that earlier time. He stated in his conversation to me that this is how he knew
that palms in the upper valley were non-existent before the late 1920's. However Chick
apparently was not aware that there have apparently never been any palms near or around the
Picket Ranch. He apparently also did not know that there are still no palms in that area ...nor
are any visible at a distance from that area. The Warm Springs Palms are not visible at all for at
least a good 8 or 9 kilometer drive through the hidden valley area and the reservation. (It is not
known if this was (and still may be), due to ranches cutting or destroying them or whether they
simply have never grown there.)
Larry Brundy, ( Daughter of Lawrence W. Perkins in the Upper Valley) pointed out the site of
the Picket ranch. I used to have friends (Holliefields) living nearby at the Hidden Valley ranch
almost 20 years ago, so I was already familiar with the place well... but I never knew that it was
the old Picket ranch until Larry showed it to me. It is actually on the South end of the Moapa
reservation and there are no Palms there either ( save a couple of really small juveniles ) and
there apparently have never been any on the reservation itself. It is not surprising, therefore that
Chick saw no Palms at that location.
Following are more short anecdotes from various sources:
One other story told by Bill Gann comes again through Kleon Winsor. (Kleon is the father of
Lori Pederson who lives on the property next to the Warm Springs resort which is now part of
the Nevada Moapa Coriacea refuge in the upper Valley.)
"When I was a kid, I was standing with Bill Gann out in front of the Store at Logandale. Bill
was talking to me and was saying how when he was a young man it used to take a half a day to
ride to Mills Ranch by Horse up to where the Sand loading was. He said he would ride his
horse there and the mud in the swamps around Logandale would be all the way up to the belly of
the horse. He said it was no problem except for the smaller palms. He said the spines on the
Palms would make his horse jump. - (Editor's note: this would have had to have been sometime
in the 1890's around Logandale.)- In the early days the Ganns owned probably a third of St.
Luther was older than my Uncle who was a surveyor on the first grade for the Rail Road. In
1909 they brought the rail into the main line at Moapa. Jack (John) Perkins (Fay's brother)
used to say how he used to enjoy working with my uncle on the Rail Road. Amber spur was the
name of the rail out at Mills road because they took amber sand from there to make amber glass
bottles. That's where Old Bill Gann would ride his horse. Over there to the Amber spur and
Mills road. At the turn of the century there was a lot of swamp around Logandale and Overton
and it was even too swampy for mesquite but there were palms where ever there was any water.
The settlers used to take them out whenever they had a chance because they were a nuisance.
The Ganns had the original Capalapa Ranch (Capalapa is a Paiute word for bad water), and
Zubia planted the Palms at the Capalapa.(2)
When I was a kid I used to camp up on the camp at Moapa when we worked there. There were
palms there when I was 15 years old and I used to herd cows along a ditch of water at Alkali
flats this side of the creek. I had to rope and ride every day and the horse would get tangled in
the grape vines. A lot of palms were taken out at that time and you could see them laying there
deteriorating. I was born in 1925 but my older brother said there were always wild palms along
Bonnie Wilcox, grounds keeper at the Mormon Ranch which is at one of the main springs in the
upper valley reports that President Lee Earl told her that as a kid he used to swim in the old pool
there and that there were large palms all around in the 1930's. This indicates once more that not
all the palms had been taken out at that time although it is said by several sources that later in
the thirties CCC camps removed massive numbers of Palms from the area.
Kaye Herron of the Moapa Valley telephone company and a longtime friend of mine told me
that one of the Moapa Indians (Juanita Kinlichinie) told her about the Palms at Warm Springs.
Kay was aware that I had been trying to get the Moapas to respond to my questions so she took
note of what Juanita had said to her. Later Juanita would answer questions again and sign an
affidavit which I would obtain. (This is found later in this report.) In this earlier discussion,
between her and Kaye however, Kaye reported the following:
"My mother and grandmother used to make baskets almost every day. Sometimes they made
baskets using palm parts. These weren't as good as the ones made from the plants from the river.
They soaked the long things that hung down from the Palm trees until they turned real white. I
never learned to make baskets. They also used to collect the little Black seeds from the Palms
and soak them and then pound them. They made a sort of gravy (3) out of it. There used to be a
Paiute name they called the gravy but I don't remember what it was. Maybe I could ask Irene,
she's older than me and she might remember. The palms have always been here, that's what my
father told me. My father also told stories about how 'big' the land was before the whites came.
When the Mormons came, we called them "Squatters." Finally the leaders of the Moapas got
together and talked about the inevitable time when the whites would take everything from us and
they discussed just how much they would be willing to let go of and what they felt they should
try to retain."
This remarkable story as well as others from other Moapas will be the subject of another part of
There are also other areas in the Moapa Valleys in which Palms are extant. One is Blue Point
Springs out at the Lake Mead Recreation Area where several palms appear in a straight line in
typical Mormon fashion. The others are clearly wild palm groves and appear at four small seeps
along the shelf at the base of the south-western end of the Mormon Mesa. Rogers' springs is also
in the Lake Mead Recreation area and has groups of Palms along it's water ways as well. There
are two groves along the Virgin River toward Mesquite, but I have not collected data about those
and therefore will not make them a subject of this report except to mention their existence. One
is on the old homestead, Juanita Springs Ranch and since this was a very early settlement, it
should be assumed that; like Angel Springs ranch, it is an original (but small), palm grove
predating white settlement. I have heard of Paiute encampments there in the early days and
since the Palms are all in random fashion with none in straight lines and none around the
buildings or area which could have been landscaped it is clear these are wild palms. The other
palm grove is further up toward the Arizona border and I have no observations to make about it
at this time.
Regarding the origins of the Palms at Blue Point springs in the Lake Mead Recreation Area,
Kleon had this to say:
"Lyle Macdonald started a fish Hatchery there in the 1950's but at that time the Palms were
already there." This is apparently not what the Rangers told James Cornett when he came
through in 1986. He was told they had been planted in the 1950's. Clearly the following story
from Lowell Leavitt of Overton makes this impossible however.
Lowell Leavitt, (husband of Ute Perkins) of Overton remembers that when his dad died in 1934
"the palms at Blue Point were already large since <they> used to run cattle in the area." (pers.
They were more likely planted during the Slim Creek years spoken of in the Syphus / Everett
Family Reunion notes (notes of August 8th 1958.) Levi Syphus (later a state senator) started
the Slim Creek project in 1903 which lasted about seven years. He created a concrete ditch
running from Roger's Springs to Blue Point springs and spent a lot of money in an attempt to
irrigate some fields down by the River with water from the two springs. During this time heavy
disturbance of both springs took place such that both springs likely lost much for any exacting
archaeological finds. It was apparently Syphus who planted the palms in the straight line at
Blue Point spring in 1903 or soon thereabouts. This would make far more sense since I have
photographic evidence which proves that in the last twenty years the palms at blue point have
not grown perceptibly at all. Since a date of 1950's would mean that the palms stopped growing
sometime around twenty years old and that all of them had reached sexual maturity by that time
(according to my photographs) this makes a date in the 1950's highly unreasonable and unlikely.
These palms are clearly much older and the only explanation is that they were planted by
Syphus. This of course makes them almost contemporary with the Cooper Palms and means
that they approach 100 years of age.
Lowell Leavitt's statement is therefore corroborated by my own photographic records. The lack
of growth over twenty years supports the anecdotes of both Lowell Leavitt and Kleon Winsor in
that it argues these palms were already old in the 1950's. Since the ground is compacted to a
very great degree this is very likely. I have noticed many of the palms grow extremely slowly at
Blue point unless they are right next to the water and in softer soil. There are palms at blue
point which are easily over twenty years old which are only 3 or 4 meters tall.
I have found no historical reports of Palms at Rogers Springs but the presence of a deep bedrock
mortar there argues very emphatically for the existence of food seeds of the type that needed
soaking just as the Cahuilla and Papago did. The fact that Moapa Elders still living point to this
exact type of Bedrock mortar and say they were indeed used to soak and grind Palm seed makes
it almost certain that at some point in the past Washingtonia filifera existed at Roger's Springs.
The idea that Cottonwoods may replace the newer palms that have since grown (or more likely
RE-grown) at Roger's Springs is disheartening and upsetting to say the least. To me, the idea
that aborigines soaked some sort of hard seeds in the mortars at Roger's Springs...and that these
were almost certainly Palm seeds is unavoidable when the Moapa's memories are taken into
account. Although other hard seeds were soaked in bedrock mortars according to records from
the Cahuilla to the south, and not just palm seeds, the memories of the Moapa so far only
point to Palm seeds. Several locals have told me that Paiutes could always be found at the
Roger's Springs in the early part of this century. Furthermore, two of the other types of seeds
soaked by the Cahuilla in deep bedrock mortars such as these (Holly and Acorns) are not found
around Moapa, leaving only palms. Other early accounts which speak of soaking mesquite at
times refers to different methods.
Further more, Don Reynolds of Las Vegas (born in 1919) states that there used to be several
bedrock mortars at Rogers Springs. Now however, there is only one that I am aware of. He said
there was also a large working grinding stone about one meter by one meter and about 10 or 12
centimeters deep. This was in the 1930's sometime when he used to go there to 'camp' but at
some point this large piece which he states was literally "part of the hill above the spring" was
suddenly "gone". Presumably it was vandalized and amazingly chipped out and stolen. His
daughter told me that one time he went there and it was just "gone".
There are also three small oases of palms outside of Overton toward and on the old Sanford
Angel Homestead. Angel's Homestead was first settled in 1876. On the early archaeology maps
of the area, the Angel ranch is quite clearly in the "thick" of the Lost City ruins area.
Chick Perkins stated that when he was very young he first visited there to swim in Angels water
tank at the spring. At that time according to Chick, there were seven or eight Large Palms in
clumps around the tank. When I asked Chick who planted them he just shrugged and said he
had always assumed that Cooper had but that no one had ever said. That Cooper planted them
seems highly unlikely since a hundred meters or so from the springs are seven deep bedrock
mortars (see photos.) These once again, are identical to the ones used by the Moapas
grandparents specifically to grind and soak Palm seeds. Furthermore, since none of the palms
were planted in straight lines or on property lines the idea that these were planted by Mormons is
highly suspect. One should also note that like the Capalapa, the Sanford Angel place also
predates Cooper's arrival to the valley similarly, by almost twenty years.
Angel's Ranch could easily have been the very place where Cooper obtained his seeds (or
plants). This is actually the most likely since the Angel place was nearest to the Cooper Place.
It was far enough way however that Mendis could plant palms in Overton and still claim to be
the first person to do so.
One palm at Angels Ranch appears to be particularly old. It's trunk is very pitted and scarred
with extremely deep concave weathered spots and a lot of holes sized about 3 or 4 cm in
diameter which one may stick an index finger fairly deeply into. Among the grass is another
stump of a Palm which looks very old and is clearly weathered away. It does not appear that it
burned down so it is assumed that it died naturally. It does not appear to have been cut by an axe
or saw of any kind since the stump is very irregular and ragged. (See photos.) Old clean cut
spadices lying on the ground near and around the area indicate that the Wildlife refuge nearby
(The Overton Wildlife refuge) has apparently kept the palms to their current numbers for some
time by cutting seed spadices.
Kleon said that when he was young he also used to go over to the Angel place and that there
were lots of grinding holes in the rocks around where the Palms were. Some of them still had
stones in them. These are up on the Rocky bench above the Palms.
Since I only found 7 of these (see photos) It appears there are a number of them which I could
not find. These deep bedrock mortars are identical to those in Tahquitz canyon at the Agua
Caliente Cahuilla reservation in Palm Springs with respect to proximity to the Palms, depth,
circumference and manner in which several may be found together at one place.
There are two last statements which are recorded in the book entitled: The History of the Las
Vegas Mission which also should be included in this section.
This comes from a diary of one who visited the Moapa for the first time from Las Vegas in 1857.
(before any settlement of the Moapa.) It was wintertime and apparently the Indians were quite
sick. The author of the passage wrote: (page 262)
"The natives seemed to subsist on almost nothing. At that season they lived chiefly on a sweet
substance which they apparently gathered toward the mountains, which they called
"chump."They begged considerably, but the brethren had little or nothing to spare them. Many
of the Indians stayed about the mountains subsisting on Chump, and others went across the
Colorado river and lived on the kindness and friendship of the Iats who had plenty of squashes
and other things..."
I have questioned the Moapas but none can remember what the Paiute word was that referred to
Palm gruel. It seems reasonable that if the whole fruit were dried that the resulting mush would
be sweet. The fact that the seed is impervious to rodents would make it an excellent storage
food to save up for thin rationed winters. The reference to the "mountains" is interesting in that
everywhere one looked was "toward the mountains" in all directions. So this is an unintelligible
piece of information. It is known however, that few visited the area where the Moapas stayed in
the early days, which would have been near Warm Springs. If you point to that area from the
Muddy Crossing which is where this meeting took place, it would seem that the Moapas were
pointing to an area of either very barren desert or else the "sheep" range of mountains to the
West. It is possible they were actually pointing to the area with the Palms and that this "chump"
substance may have been Palm food of some sort. Although this is speculation it is clear that
whatever this substance was, the settlers had never seen it used by Indians before this time and it
is not mentioned to my knowledge among other Southern Paiutes. Therefore, whatever it was is
likely to have been a locally found substance and whatever it may have been made from was
somewhat sweet. It is significant also that it is not referred to as cakes or flour or any form
recognizable but rather as a "substance".
It is also a source of intrigue to me that a lead is given on page 179 of the same book, which I
have been unsuccessful in following. Apparently, a Frenchman named Jules Remy a professor at
the college of Rollin in Paris was exploring the country around Moapa collecting plant
specimens. The date was Friday, Nov. 16th 1855. It is possible that he came across palms and if
so, there is a record somewhere. If there is a written record it just may actually turn out that
Moapa will emerge as the real type locality for this plant. An amazing possibility. He was
traveling from Salt Lake City in the company of an Englishman by the name of Brenchley. If
someone knows how to follow this lead it could turn up some interesting information whether or
not they ever encountered the palms.
The following reports from the Moapa Paiute people testifies to the uses and history the Moapa
have apparently shared for centuries with palms in the area. These memories, more than
anything else said in this report constitute the basis for this entire argument.
Please consider their words carefully.
Memories of Four Moapa Paiutesregarding the Palms of Moapa Valley
T he following references to Palm trees and Springs in each of the signed testimonies by these four Moapa women refers to Washingtonia filifera located approximately 6.5 km westernmost end of the reservation where each of these women grew up. These anecdotes were collected by Kaye Herron of Overton in June of 1996 who has known most of the women for many years. Some of the respondents were not in the best of health and therefor the questions and the responses were kept short. I would like to extend my grateful appreciation for the cooperation of each of these Moapa elders in helping us to permanently record this small part of their memories for the rest of us to learn from and to Kaye Herron, my long time friend who was so gracious in donating so much time and effort in helping out with this project.
Evelyn Samalarage: 76 years Moapa Paiute -born and raised on Moapa reservation-
I remember Palm fronds being used to make baskets. The baskets made in this way (from palms) were not the really fine sort which were made from other materials. I never learned to make baskets. I remember my grandmother making them.
I have also seen my grandparents making shelters out of palm fronds from the springs. My
grandfather had a place that he took a sweat bath in. It wasn't right by the springs but near where
he lived. But he would go to the headwater of the Muddy river at the springs because there was
something sacred in the water. He would then talk to the water and bring it back to his sweat
hut. He heated rocks then he put the water from the sacred place on the rocks. He hung blankets
up just so ...because he couldn't have any light in there.
No one lived in the springs themselves... We drank water out of the ditch and there were many
Palms there. Over at the springs was a very sacred place and as children we had to act a certain
way whenever we went over there.
When I was young there were a lot more Indians and many older ones. When I was little I was a
lookout because the grownups weren't supposed to gamble. So they made us kids play up on the
hill to watch for horses or wagons or anything like that in case the whites came.
I also know where the deep stone holes are were grandma used to grind the Palm seeds. I don't
know what they used it for now. I was very little. There were caves behind the grinding area
with real white earth. As a child I went in and there were people buried in there. I remember
seeing baby skeletons. But now the cave is not there because it fell in.
The stones they used to grind the screwbeans and the mesquite were called Maddah.
Screwbeans were sweet especially in spring but when dry my mother would grind them into
meal and mix water and make paste spread out onto a tea towel ½ inch thick then dry it. We
also liked mesquite. There were little red lines on some Mesquite and it is better. We used to
gather wild spinach, ragweed, wild rhubarb and wild onions. I don't ever see the rhubarb or
onions anymore. I used to gather it but I don't ever see it now. Bottle Stopper, with sweet
nectar...we had to pull it out and suck it.
My Elders used to say that the whole area of the springs at west of here was a designated sacred
area and very sacred. We know that the Palms have always been there. We Moapas have always
known this, that the Palms have always been there.
Question: Can you remember specifically how old you were when you first heard your parents, grandparents or elders mention anything about the palms?
Evelyn: Very Young. I was as young as a person has a memory of their surroundings.
Question: Can you say who and How old was the oldest person which spoke to you about the Palms?
Evelyn: My Grandfather. He was very Old. I don't know my grandfather's age but he was
very old and there were other old elders too.
Question: Do you recall if there were a lot of palms at the headwaters when you were very young?
Question: Did they appear Large or small?
Evelyn: Large. There were large and small ones.
-Evelyn Samalar- Moapa Paiute.
Irene Bennage: 73 years. -Moapa Paiute- (June 27,1923) ( listed here as responses to specific questions.)
Kaye Herron: Do you recall your elders ever using Palms for anything such as food, weaving
baskets or for shelter?
Irene Benn: Yes ...they used Palms for small huts. I remember my grandparents using Palm
leaves for shelters and small huts. I don't remember baskets or food.
Kaye Herron: Have you ever heard your elders say anything about the Palms at Warm Springs?
Irene Benn: Yes. My grandfather said that the Palms have always been there.
-Irene Benn, Moapa Paiute.
Maureen Frankage 63 years . -Moapa Paiute-
I remember seeing shelter built with Palm fronds and I remember my grandparents using Palms to build small huts and structures. I also remember by grandmother grinding seed from the Palms but I was very young and I don't remember what they used it for.
My father used to say that the Palms were always here. My grandparents always used to say that
too...that the Palms have always been here. There are deep grinding holes in the rocks near my
house. (About four of them,...I'll show you) (spoken to Kaye Herron) ...where my grandmother
used to grind the seeds of the Palms.
-Maureen Frank, Moapa Paiute.
Juanita Kinlichinie-age: 64 years- -Moapa Paiute-
I remember my grandmother use to take and soak the long things that hang down from the
Palm trees. She would soak these in water until it was real white. Then she made baskets out
of them. The baskets made this way didn't make the good baskets. The good baskets were made
from the reeds which came from the river.
My grandparents said that the palms have always been here. I also saw my grandmother crush
and grind the seeds from the palms but I don't remember what she made it into. She used to
grind the seeds in some deep stone grinding holes by my house. There used to be a Paiute word
for the gravy which was made but I don't remember what it was. We have always known that
white men did not bring the palms to the area. Among ourselves we've always known that the
palms were here before the white man came.
(Other words and a reiteration of the above testimonial were spoken by Juanita. Kinlichinie to
Kaye Herron in another conversation previously mentioned in this report.)
-Juanita Kinlichinie, Moapa Paiute.
Summary & comments regarding the Moapa testimony
The above statements by the four Moapa women make it abundantly clear that not only were the
Palms extant in the early twenties at warm springs but that their grandparents all spoke of the
Palms as being something they always remember. In fact the recurring statement among the
Moapas is that ..."the Palms are always here." This statement carries a very strong inference
that the Moapa did not PLANT THE PALM and that this palm was here when their ancestors
arrived some nine centuries previously.
In any case it is obvious that the Palms predated the White arrival which was most certainly
within life spans of these Moapa Women's grandparents. If you will recall, the upper muddy
was the last part of the area to be settled by whites. Even the earliest ranches there were not
until around the turn of the century. The grandparents of each of these women were certainly
around in the early 1880's and it is unreasonable to believe that these grandparents would have
passed on a traditions saying that "the Palms have always been here" such as that repeated by all
of these contemporary women if the palm had been introduced after the 1880's. It is even more
ludicrous to suggest that they subsequently adapted the palm and it's uses into their culture after
the turn of the century when all of these palms would only have existed on private white settler
property and probably in small numbers.
Furthermore, who could possibly believe that these Moapa's grandparents would have
deliberately misled them about the origins of the Palm? This area was sacred to the Moapas.
This is not a tradition which would have sprung up in the last century. People intimately know
their sacred places and along with their high regard for such places comes the intimate
knowledge of what the environment around those places consists of. These grandparents of the
contemporary Moapas are not the first Moapas to believe and hold the Warm Springs as Sacred.
No! It was surely their grandparents and theirs before that and on and on into time immemorial.
If the Grandparents of these Moapa women are said by them to have told them that the Palms
have always been there, then it is surely the ultimate act of cultural and intellectual robbery
for any one who was not here in those days and whose culture's history does not depend on
accurate reporting of this area to suggest any different at this late date.
Furthermore, there is strong reason to believe that the Moapas once had a similar tradition of
recording their history in long songs just as the Cahuilla did at Palm Springs. In Hookey Beans
and Willows by Orville Perkins we read about Peg Leg Joe, Historian.
"It was...in the early nineteen-twenties that the last of the Moa-Pah Paiute historians would let
the Moa-Pah history die forever. Historians generally followed family lines. Father's taught
sons. Among the Moa-Pah Paiutes only one man remained trained in the Indian lore. He had
lost a leg in an accident and, as a result had never married. For years he tried in vain to adopt a
boy so he could teach him the secrets of the past. In every case the boy would be taken from
him by the government and sent to a far away school.
At last Peg Leg Joe gave up in despair. This, the last of the historians, realized more than any
person in the world that he had something very valuable. At last, he turned to whites for help;
This man, who had never learned to read or write and had traveled scarcely a hundred miles
in all his life, needed help....he reasoned that if a white man could only write a small part of
what he had...
There was a little interest shown but not enough to capture a single incident on paper of the
vast storehouse of information that was in this man's head. Shortly after, he passed away. We
do have little stories passed on to us by the Indians, but the big bonanza is gone forever. The
real story can never be told.
...Peg Leg Joe had revealed that it would take three days and nights of continuos recounting
to relate the full history of his people. What a prize this would have been! Dead Sea Scrolls
would be minor comparing the vast amount of material in three days and nights of reading. Now
we can only lament what might have been...."
The period of three days and nights as mentioned in this overwhelmingly sad and tragic story by
Orville Perkins relates perfectly to the singing history traditions of the Cahuilla which often last
for several straight days and nights.
In "the Cahuilla Indians of the Colorado Desert -Ehtnohistory and Prehistory" (by-Wilke et al
published by Ballena Press Anthropological Papers No. 3 edited by Lowell John Bean,) several
comments regarding the remarkable accuracy of the Cahuilla oral history as well as the
unfortunate traditionally sanctioned deaf ear of many in the early scientific community are
duly noted. Among these comments we read: [1975:15-16]
"...It can be thus seen that even though <events transpired> ...perhaps four centuries prior to the
first recording of the traditions which describe <them> (cf. Hubbs, Bien, and Suess 1965:89-91),
<the events are> recalled with remarkable accuracy...<by Cahuilla oral traditions.>"
"Recent studies of oral traditions, ...enable us to better understand the mechanisms which
operate to make it useful and reliable as unwritten historical documentation. These are
discussed in detail by Vansina (1965), who show that if the proper mechanisms are operative,
oral tradition is one of the best sources available for extending history into prehistory. Among
these mechanisms is that of a testimony being in a fixed, poetic form, and thus capable of being
transmitted from generation to generation on a word for word basis, even if over time certain
words become archaic."...
...Free's allusion to the "notorious untrustworthiness of Indian legends" reflects the attitude of
many of his contemporaries, and attitude which was not conducive to the objective collection
and analysis of Oral traditions of native Americans. Perhaps the most out-spoken critic <of
using oral Native American traditions> was Robert Lowie who stated:
...those who attach an historical value to oral traditions are in the position of the ...inventors of
perpetual motion machines, who are still besieging the portals of learned institutions [1917:161]
On page 17 of the above reference we can also see that the "times" related in which the
ceremonial institutions were dying among the Cahuilla, like traditions were dying among the
Moapa according to Orville Perkins (the early 1920's):
"<by 1925> ...The ceremonial institutions of the Cahuilla were themselves in the throes of death.
[Strong 1929:3; Barrows 1900:82]"
The Moapa women who have spoken here say that their grandparents said these things. We
must remember that these grandparents are people who lived in the time of Peg Leg Joe and
that they were all privy to the ancient songs of the Moapa although they themselves may not
have known the songs by heart. What is important is that we know they must have been very
familiar with the history traditions of their people. We can be assured that the things they
said orally to their granddaughters who have spoken here were very accurate historically.
In light of this there can be no other conclusion except that the Palms in the entire area are
not only NATIVE PLANTS but furthermore, they are very ancient.
We know they must be ancient because the Moapa tradition say they "are always here." and the
Moapas have been in the area for at least a thousand years and possibly their ancestors were in
the area long before that. Man has lived in the Moapa area since 3000 B.C., in fact.
We know from the study of ancient sites in Moapa that the Moapa had a very close association
anciently with the peoples of the Lower Colorado. I can attest to the fact that even today one can
walk among the ancient ruins of the lost city which are very close to the small palm groves at
the south end of the 'Mormon' mesa (as it is called today) and literally view innumerable sherds
of Paiute brown-ware with the tell tale finger nail marks, lying exposed in the same strata with
white on black ware and Pyramid grey ware all mixed together in quantities sufficient to be
quite amazing. Although it is possible these areas are now all disturbed, reports from the turn of
the century found the same conditions early on.
We also have very conclusive evidence from Cahuilla oral tradition that the Cahuilla knew of
different species of Palms being used by other members of Uto-Aztecan stock although the
Cahuilla themselves never used any but the Washingtonia filifera. This is highly indicative that
the several tribes were well aware of what each other used as food and supplies. Francisco
Patencio a highly regarded elder of the Cahuilla once told of an oral tradition of the Palms and
"...Now the people were settled all about the country in many places, but they all came to Indian
Well to eat the fruit of the palm tree. ...The palm trees in every place came from the first palm
tree, but, like the people who change in customs and language, the palms often were
somewhat different..." (Gathering the Desert- Gary Nabhan -Univ of Az press 1985 page 25)
The above statement makes it abundantly clear that the Cahuilla were anciently aware that other
linguistic "kin" were not only using Palms but that some of them were very far away and that
some of the palms were somehow "different" than those the Cahuilla generally used.
The tip off that the other users of Palms were known to be linguistic cousins to the Cahuilla is of
course the reference that shows they were aware that the customs and language had "changed".
This would not appear to be implying that it was a different language but rather one which had
originally been known as something else and had since changed or evolved into something
different. The implication here that they may have known that the Moapas as well as the Pima
and Tohono O'otam were using Palms is quite unmistakable.
The original Cahuilla became a Palm to "benefit" the people. This Cahuilla tradition shows the
importance they assigned this plant. The hot springs of the Cahuilla at Palm Springs were
sacred to the Agua Caliente and the Warm Springs in Moapa were at one time very sacred to the
Moapa. This observation should be taken seriously. There is a chance that the ancient Moapa
carried the first seed to the area. According again to Francisco Patencio, It is said that they
came from "all about the country in many places to eat the fruit of the palm tree....and that ...they
"carried the seed to their homes and palm trees grew from this seed in many places."
Although it is possible that the Moapas anciently brought the seeds to Moapa it would seem that
the only memory which persisted was that the Palms "are always Here." which is a stronger
implication that the palms were extant on the arrival of the Moapa. This is a better indication
that these groves may in fact be relicts which were only occasionally helped or perpetuated by
The presence of pollen similar to Washingtonia found in late Cretaceous sediments far north of
Palm Springs California suggests that Washingtonia filifera or it's predecessors were probably
covering these areas as much as 70 million years ago. This is consistent with the idea that the
relatively small and scattered oases which comprise the plants range today are more likely to be
relict stands which were discovered and cultivated to some degree by aborigines over the last
Another point is noteworthy when discussing the possibility that the Moapa palms are either
anciently or recently adventive.
In the last several years some have hypothesized that the absence of a the palm borer beetle
(Dinapate Wrightii) in some groves, is an indication that the groves are either recent or that they
are adventive and not relict. The logic here being that the Borer must have evolved with the
palms and that therefore any grove which is relict should exhibit evidence of infestations.
This very point has been used to suggest that some cursory examinations revealed that Moapa
Valley groves have appeared to lack infestations and that this may suggest that the trees are
adventive. (The Occurrence of Desert Fan Palms, Washingtonia filifera in Southern Nevada -
However the hypothesis has inherent and clear contradictions which in fact more strongly
appear to argue that the presence of Dinapate Wrightii in Desert Fan Palm groves is more likely
indicative of certain ancient Human presence and Human commerce and not an indicator of
whether or not a grove is ancient.
For instance even though the Beetle was first discovered in Washingtonia filifera palms, this is
not to say that the beetle evolved with or is exclusive to this tree. Cornett himself has found
infestations of Dinapate in Brahea Armata in three specimens in Baja.(4) The beetle has since
been found on Phoenix dactylifera (an introduced palm from the middle east in the early 1900's)
indicating the speed at which it adapts to entirely new genera.
Knowing the speed and grace with which this insect adapts to new territory, the subsequent
discovery of Dinapate hughleechi farther to the south among other "Palm using indigenous
peoples territory" in trunks of Sabal texana suggests the possibility that the Dinapate wrightii
descended from infestations migrating northward from other more dense population centers for
palms in the south and possibly even from Central America.
Recent intensive studies of finches over the last thirty years in Galapagos Islands show
conclusively that birds (and probably other animals and insects) evolve and specialize very
rapidly when changes in diet force some characteristics to die out and others to proliferate.
These changes involve beak structure, color, food choices and other important characteristics.
The most surprising thing about these studies is how profoundly and quickly these changes in
species take place. Often they are within two to three years. In this time entire species have
become extinct and new ones as yet unknown have taken their place.
We know that plants appear to take longer in their specialization and changes. Washingtonia
with it's millions and millions of landscaping plantings worldwide over the last 140 years has yet
to make any apparent diversions from it's original species variants, filifera and robusta. This
also appears to be evidenced by lack of hybridization between these two accepted varieties,
Contrast this to genera such as Brahea which appear to hybridize freely indicating that species
changes within that genus may tend to be much more rapid and possible, while Phoenix
dactylifera variants may be as numerous as the seeds which are planted from it.
Dinapate on the other hand has adapted to Phoenix palms as food only in the last 90 years,
firmly establishing the fact that it can and does adapt to new food sources very quickly.
Three further statements demonstrate the tentative nature of this hypothesis regarding
The first statement comes to us through James Cornett again. On page 32 of the preceding
referenced work he says: (quote) "...However, a carved human figure made from a palm log
was seven years old when an adult Dinapate emerged from its dime-sized exit hole- thus we
know that under certain conditions the larvae may persist for seven years within hewn logs."
Also Cornett notes that the only Groves of Palms which have not shown to have Dinapate infestations are those far from the center of the Palms (currently recognized ) distribution.
At least one of these groves is the KOFA grove which, (even by Cornett), is considered to be
possibly one of the only "relict" (5) populations of Washingtonia filifera. It is also one of the
few which show no great evidence of human disturbance or use while simultaneously being
devoid of a source of water and only accessible with some difficulty.
The fact that the preceding testimony of Francisco Patencio shows evidence of contact with
other groups of "Palm using Aborigines" especially those who used "palms...somewhat
different" (Sabal Uresana and texana?)(6) added to the fact that "Sabal grows in extensive
stands...well within reach where thousands of people have lived for centuries."....and...
"Sections of the trunks (of Sabal) served as uprights and crossbeams in houses while whole
lengths are stacked up to make corrals."...plus the fact that... "The Sonoran palmetto (Sabal)
has been <used>...for centuries." (7) All argue almost conclusively for the idea that Dinapate
Wrightii cannot be used to judge the age or the antiquity of a grove.
The fact that KOFA palms is devoid of infestations and is at once considered possibly the only
relict population of Washingtonia filifera by the same people who ascribe to this hypothesis is
very interesting. It would seem that the fact that KOFA is not infested would indicate an entirely
antithetical posture should be taken.
If Dinapate were somehow an indicator of the adventive or relict status of a grove this is the first
Grove one should look to for substantiating such a hypothesis! Failing that test, the Dinapate
cannot be used as an indicator since all the other groves among the Cahuilla are too historically
disturbed and are centers for too much interaction with other peoples to the south who used
other palm species also infested with Dinapate.
The likelihood that Dinapate was brought to this Washingtonia filifera by human commerce and
interaction where it eventually evolved slightly differently than it's Hughleechi cousin to the
south is simply enormous from a cursory perspective. This possibility is very distinct since the
Indians who used Sabal (which show infestation with Hughleechi) commonly used the trunks of
Palms which have been shown positively to harbor live larvae for many years and also since the
Cahuilla so clearly had some type of dealings with these people over long periods of time. This
possibility is even stronger since the distances between groves of Sabal and Washingtonia are so
great. It appears that Dinapate's use as an "origin or relict " indicator becomes far too suspect to
be of any reliable use for objective research.
Another interesting footnote is that the foregoing discussion actually suggests that Dinapate is a
recent invasive species within the ancient range of Washingtonia. This notion becomes more
plausible since it's presence appears most prominent in groves where human interaction with
southern Sabal using cultures may have played an important role. On the contrary far outlying
groves and those with little evidence of long time human cultural importance (such as KOFA)
appear to exhibit no sign of Dinapate suggesting strongly that the advent of Dinapate in
Washingtonia palms came well after the groves were decimated to the ranks of relatively
small populations scattered far and wide in pockets of favorable conditions. The implication
that Cahuilla interactions among themselves may have spread the beetle to all remaining
groves within Cahuilla territory is quite ample.
There are many other clues which show that Washingtonia filifera is indeed a relict throughout
it's range. This can be found in the report entitled: "The Desert Fan Palm: Evidence supports
Relict Status- by- William A Spencer.
With that, I would like to go on to other comments and considerations regarding the palms
The preceding discussion which shows connections between ancient cultures is made even more
interesting by some Petroglyphs found in the Valley of Fire and in Arrow Canyon just to the west
of the Main oases at Warm Springs in Moapa.
End of Part Three - click below to continue:or... click here to go back to part ONE
1.Although throughout this report I have used the date of 1893 as the date of Cooper's arrival to the Overton Valley one notation claimed the date was 1896. I am using 1893 to give the widest benefit of the doubt to Cooper's story. (back to text)
2.Editor's note: Capalapa ranch may have been where Cooper obtained his palms. The Ganns apparently loved palms and planted several at the old ranch which are still standing. Although they are not next to the water like the Cooper Palms are, they are several meters taller at 16 to 17 meters. There are 10 which are pretty much the same height. This is a reasonable idea since the Ganns preceded Cooper to the area by almost 20 years. It is also clear that Bill Gann loved the Palms and saw them early on in his time in the valley. It seems likely that he may have been influenced by the plantings at his father's place. The fact that all the Capalapa palms are fairly equal to one another in height just as Cooper's Palms are equal to each other in height ...While the Capalapa trees overall, are several meters taller is an interesting observation. Added together the evidence is overwhelmingly adding up that palms preceded whites to the valley. (back)
3.The statement that a "gravy" was made from the palm fruit is significant. I expected the Moapa Paiutes might say they made a "flour" from the seeds. "Gravy" however relates very well to findings among the Cahuilla of Palm Springs which shows they made a sort of "mush"from the palm fruit. The fact that Ms. Kinlichinie calls it a "gravy" and not "flour" therefore is significant since I don't expect she would have had prior knowledge about the specific nature of the end product used by the Cahuilla. However as of this writing I've not yet had a chance to ask her about this. (back)
4.J. W. Cornett -"Desert Palm Oasis" 1989 Palm Springs desert Museum p.33 (back)
5.[ibid] page 21 (back)
6.Nabhan, Gary -"Gathering the Desert" Univ. of Az 1985 - page 25 (back)
7.[ibid] pages 23 and 24 (back)
End of Part Three - click below to continue: