Grater, Russell Interview, 1977 February 10. OH-00715. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
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UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater i An Interview with Russell Grater An Oral History Conducted by Frederick Dougan Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas Special Collections and Archives Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater ii © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2018 UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater iii The Oral History Research Center (OHRC) was formally established by the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada System in September 2003 as an entity of the UNLV University Libraries’ Special Collections Division. The OHRC conducts oral interviews with individuals who are selected for their ability to provide first-hand observations on a variety of historical topics in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. The OHRC is also home to legacy oral history interviews conducted prior to its establishment including many conducted by UNLV History Professor Ralph Roske and his students. This legacy interview transcript received minimal editing, such as the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. The interviewee/narrator was not involved in the editing process. UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater iv Abstract On February 10, 1977, Frederick Dougan interviewed Russell Grater (born 1907 in Lebanon, Indiana) about his career in the U.S. National Park Service. Grater first talks about his move to the Southern Nevada area and his work that impacted the Hoover Dam project. He then talks about the town of St. Thomas, Nevada, the Lost City, and the activities of tourists. Grater also talks about his work in excavation, the indigenous American Indian tribes of the area, findings on petroglyphs, and the types of wildlife that were found in the area. He later talks about findings related to fossils, gold mining, the effects of World War II on the dam project, and vegetation in the area. UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater 1 Fred Dougan interviewing Russell Grater at his home, 702 Arapahoe, Boulder City, on 10 February, 1977. Okay, Mr. Grater, how long were you working for our department? Well, I had been working for the National Park Service for several years before I came in here. I had been with them in various capacities—Grand Canyon, I lived there for a few years, and I was in the Denver office of the National Park Service for a number of years and working, primarily at that time, with the Wildlife Division of the National Park Service, and that’s why, when I was sent in here, my job revolved, to a large extent, around the wildlife picture here. Did you have to apply for this job here, or were you chosen for it? I was transferred in from a (unintelligible) job that I had. I was chosen for this particular one, of course, but I was transferred in here from our Denver office. Okay, but you requested the job, or were you picked for it? I was picked for it. Okay. You were talking about being here several times—how many times did you move into this area? Really, twice. I came in here the first time as a junior park naturalist, second time as chief park naturalist, and then of course, I retired here. So, really, I’ve been here three times. Okay, the first time you came in, when you were chosen for this Hoover Dam project, could you tell me something about what your job was or what you were expected to find? My job was really diversified to a great extent. We had visitors coming in here, and part of my job (unintelligible) to work with the visiting public as a naturalist and give them information on the dam, the lake, the history of the area, the wildlife of the area, the biology, the archeology, and so on. And then, the second and other important phase of it was working with the lake itself, see what impact the lake had on the resident wildlife of the area, and to find out what was actually UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater 2 here because so little was actually known inasmuch as before the dam was built—there was virtually nothing known about this section of the country. When you first came here for the first time, the lake was just filling out, right? Right. It had been filling gradually for a little over a year. But my first experience on the lake was in 1938 in the spring, and the river started pouring water in here pretty fast in the spring of the year, melting waters in the mountains. But this lake was coming up quite fast, and they were trying to get it filled in to really bring it up. And the lake, at that time, was rising in May of 1938 about an inch an hour, so you could actually watch it coming in to some of these places. You also talked on a previous occasion about a town that was in the area. Could you tell me a little bit about that? Boulder City was just a construction town when I came in here, and it hadn’t been here very many years, of course. It was built in order to house the personnel that were going to be concerned with the building of the dam and work on the dam itself and operation of the dam after it was built. We had such things, such groups as the Bureau of Reclamation, which was the primary agency concerned with the construction of the dam. You had the Six Companies, which was the construction company that had their workmen in here. Then the Bureau of Power and Light from Los Angeles sent their people in here and built houses for them so that they would be able to operate these generators as fast as they put them down here because most of the generators were assigned to the Bureau of Power and Light of Los Angeles to operate. So, the town was very small. I suppose, oh, maybe, couple thousand at the most. The town, I realized—we talked about Boulder Dam—but the town I was talking about was the one that was flooded. St. Thomas. UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater 3 Yes. St. Thomas was an old town on what is now at the north arm of Lake Mead, the Virgin River arm, and there was a stream coming in there, the Muddy River, that flowed into the Virgin. And along the Muddy River, even today, you find these settlements which were originally put in there by the Mormon people, and St. Thomas was one of them. Small town—wasn’t no metropolis down there. And it was across the river, what is now Overton. We used to call that town over there—it was over-town, over-the-river-town, so it became Overton. St. Thomas, then, was one of the primary towns in that area at the time, and when I was first brought in here and watching this water came up, I had the interesting experience then of watching St. Thomas go into the water. And at that time, of course, the Bureau of Reclamation had bought out all the land in St. Thomas, and all the land was going to be flooded. The residents of St. Thomas were told they could stay there as long as they wanted to, but there was going to be a flood. A lot of people didn’t believe that, and they couldn’t visualize the lake ever getting up there. Well, I saw two very interesting episodes: one, a man with a rowboat taking the last of his property out of the upstairs window of his house, and another one, a little earlier, backed up to (unintelligible) with a truck and was loading things in as fast as he could do it, because water was coming in the back door. And when you say that the water was rising an inch an hour, you realize you didn’t have a lot of time. Did they make it? They made, just barely. But I could go down around St. Thomas—I also watched the water coming into Cornfield, you could watch the trickling in between rows of corn. And also, the old Lost City went underwater, and I got the last picture for that. What is the Lost City? UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater 4 Lost City was the reconstruction of an old Indian town, an old Pueblo town that was discovered up there, and so in the early days of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the CCC, they went in, and under the guidance of experience archaeologists, rebuilt this Pueblo village. And it was used for study to give them a better understanding as to who these people were and so forth. And so when the water came in, Lost City was just down the stream from St. Thomas, so it went under, too. They didn’t consider any efforts to move the city someplace else, the Lost City? Well, as you go over to Overton today, to the Lost City Museum, in back of it, you will see a reconstruction of part of it. It’s a replica of it—not a reconstruction—but a replica of the original. If you want to actually see what was in the Lost City, what they took out of the Lost City, you go to the museum there in Overton, Lost City Museum. Okay, getting back to when you first came to this Las Vegas area, were you—I can’t even think of the right word I’m trying to think about—charged with the responsibility of transferring wildlife out of this area before the flood occurred? No, at that particular time, no one was giving any thought, I’m sure, to what is happening to wildlife. Actually, there were no efforts made to transport anything or move anything out, except later on when the state Fish and Game Commission of Nevada got interested in the plight of the beaver. Now, the beaver were being (unintelligible) out of their homes, and of course they lived there where the lake was, where it is now. And they had no place to go. You could go along the shore where there were cliffs and see beaver up there in the holes in the cliffs trying to find some place to live. They had nothing to eat except (unintelligible) because normally they had cottonwood and willow and things like that long the river, of course. And so the state Fish and Game came in here and live-trapped these beaver, and live-trapping was quite an interesting thing because you got in a motorboat with a big net, much like a landing net for trout—only UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater 5 bigger—and take out after a beaver and make him dive, and after you make him dive (unintelligible) begin to run out of air. And then they come along and scoop him up and transport him. Where’d they transport these beavers to? Oh, went north, the streams to the north of us—various parts of the state, wherever they needed beaver. But in that way, a lot of beaver that would probably have died or were taken out, and I have pictures myself in color, believe it or not—Kodachromes of beaver that were in these lakes down here, land on the lake, could be maybe over fifty feet across on one of these islands, and you’d find beaver on there. They had no place to go, and they’d hide under what bushes are there. I got pictures of it. Okay, Mr. Grater, now I’d like to get into tourist trade. You were talking about the, right after the lake filled up, the tourist trade wasn’t very extensive. Was the dam itself publicized very extensively? You were talking about being Colorado at the time. Did Colorado hear about this project very much? It wasn’t played up an awful lot. Of course, each state was involved in it, but as far as publicizing the dam, it wasn’t played up too much except more so, perhaps, in Los Angeles than anyplace else. They were going to benefit more directly in a hurry through power and through the use of water. So, a lot of people in Southern California, of course, knew all about it and heard all about it. Nationwide, publicity wasn’t very extensive, and so most of our early visitors were Californians, pretty much as they are today, really. But most of them came from down in L.A. What was your opinion about the project? Were all these dams that you were talking about in this river valley on the same project? UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater 6 In a sense, yes. It was utilizing the water of the Colorado, if you want to put it in one big category. The initial dam, of course, was built as a flood control project, and later on turned into a water use project in which you generate electricity from it and you use it for irrigation and furnish drinking water for the cities and towns and whatnot, all coming out of this project. But the initial project was flood control, and when you figure the dam is upstream, and in a sense, they have the same problem. The water, today, is a big problem all through the southwest. Well, they’re conserving water in this fashion by putting in a (unintelligible) dam and you don’t let it run off. So they’re involved in much the same way, but really, they’re not so much a flood control project today, as there are irrigation projects for irrigation and for power development and so forth. How long after the dam project was started did you find out you were going to be involved in it in some way? Oh, I didn’t know I was going to be involved in it till the dam was virtually complete, because the National Park Service wasn’t involved yet. Oh, I see. I was with the National Park Service, and so it wasn’t until the arrangement was made between the National Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation for the Park Service to come in here and have jurisdiction over the recreational operation of the lake and the facilities that I came into the picture. What made the Bureau of Reclamation consider the lake area to be a recreational prospect? Well, most anytime you build a big reservoir, you’re going to have people. And especially when you build the world’s highest dam, you’re going to have a lot of people in to see the dam. And UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater 7 this is recreational and educational, too, see, and so they set up their own guide system, for example, of the dam they still have today. And this is an educational project, and recreational, too, in a way. But they didn’t have the manpower nor the facilities, unless they wanted to develop their own, to go out onto the lake itself and do the same thing on the lake—show people, tell people to operate the lake, to run the boating controls, and so forth. And so the National Park Service was brought in because they have a lot of background in working with visitors in the parks. How long after your initial contact or your initial involvement—you said you were here three times—your initial contact for this project was for how long? About three years. And then how long were you gone? Well, I was here ’38 to ’40, and I came back in 1950. Okay, what differences did you see, especially in the recreational activity between the time you left the first time and the time you came back? Well, tremendous. Recreational opportunities, to start on, were somewhat limited. We had one boat on the lake, you could take boat rides. They had a boat trim around to the dam and back. We actually—company that was operating in here actually ran tours up in lower Grand Canyon at that time. So, that was (unintelligible). When I came back in 1950, there were lots of boats on the lake by this time. Las Vegas, of course, has filled up in the meantime, and practically every hotel and casino down there has their own boat on the lake, and so it was quite a change. When I first started in down here, if we got 200,000 visitors a year, (unintelligible) we had a lot of them. But now, of course, it runs almost six million. UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater 8 Now, you were talking earlier today—between the time the National Park Service took over as proprietors of the lake, the lake was a wildlife refuge. Could you explain that a little bit? Yes, the lake was being formed, was just coming up—turned out to be a great resting area for waterfowl, especially, for shorebirds, but especially for migratory waterfowl. And so then an arrangement, agreement, was worked up between the Bureau of Reclamation and the old biological survey to make this into a waterfowl refuge. The biological survey used to have offices up there at Overton, and they operated the waterfowl refuge out of there. Then, when the National Park Service came in and took over the lakes, then of course the Park Service gives the same protection that they had given; in addition, we did run the recreational facilities, too. Okay, back to recreation—in those first three years that you were involved with the project, could you kind of give us an idea of what the tourist situation was? The tourists coming in, just pretty much as today, in a sense—wanted to see the dam. Everyone had to recognize, the dam was the primary feature; it was the cheap attraction. So, a tour through the dam, just as today, was the first order of business. After that, then the visitor would turn to the lake, and so in the initial stages, we had no facilities to speak of for the visitors at all. And so, one of my jobs, for example was to go down here to the Lake View Point and talk to people who visited the point, and explain the lake and explain the river and explain the use of the dam and find out what they’re seeing, and so I can find out the geology from that particular point of these mountains around there and give them a story of what I was finding out about the lake itself and what was going on in regards to wildlife in the area—contact an awful lot of people that way. Then, Boulder City, what is now the theater building, used to be a little combination theater and a little shop, and we gave talks there twice a day to visitors. And you’d go to (unintelligible) and talk to them about the area and acquaint them with the size of the lake and where it went to, what UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater 9 the key features were, and what to look for—places they could go and things they could see and do, and at the same time maybe find them interested maybe in the Indian story of the region, the archeology of the region. At that time, we were doing excavation down here (unintelligible) digging out some old Indian sites down there, burials and so forth. And we could send them down there, they could actually see it in progress, and then I went along on a lot of the tours on the lake. The (unintelligible) was here, they had a boat trip up to (unintelligible) went up—I’d go along on these Grand Canyon tours, and they were an all-day tour. They even had a large (unintelligible) and take them on a trip up to the lower Grand, and I’d go along to explain what they were seeing. And we talked a lot on the tour of the geology, the biology, and the archaeology, the history—you point out old historic places along there where some of these expeditions have been in. They got some of the names of some of these places and so on. And so my job, then, was somewhat as diversified in that I worked a lot with the visitors on that, and of course worked a lot then on my (unintelligible). You were talking about Indian excavation—what kind of Indians were involved in it? We had one of the most interesting ones, sites down here you can imagine. I called it a prehistoric trading post, because (unintelligible) Beach at one time was an (unintelligible) where Indians from various places came into trade. You find all evidence (unintelligible) down there in the excavation. You find the Mojaves were there, you find that the people from the Lost City country was in there, came in there, the Hualapai Indians from over in Arizona around the Grand Canyon country came in there to trade. We found in our excavations some steatite from the Channel Islands, which has been traded in (unintelligible). Could you explain what that is? UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater 10 Steatite? It’s a rather soft kind of rock that they used to use; they could carve it, make it into cooking utensils, and various things like that (unintelligible) and what have you. So steatite was traded in here, (unintelligible) here in large quantities. That’s a seashell, of course that they actually used as a means of exchange much like we use money. And we found one mural down there of a little girl that had died there, buried there. Apparently, he thought a lot of her because he put all the (unintelligible) shells there on a string—had to be restrung—but it made a string over eight feet long, so this was (unintelligible) with it. Then we found other burials, but no sign of any violence causing any deaths—they just happened to die while they were there. We found pottery from up in Southern Utah, we found pottery from over in Northern Arizona, we found a knife blade from a people that lived in the Death Valley country that used to come over here, too, chipping showed it came from there. So, I called it a prehistoric trading post, because they all met probably at some season of the year, maybe three or four tribes would come in there at a time. In one of my classes, I learned that Mojaves were mainly from the Arizona area; what do you think they were doing in the Southern Nevada area? Actually, their territory extended clear up this side of Needles, and those Mojaves were leaving at Needles when Jedidiah Smith came through in 1828. Is that right? Yes, (unintelligible) down there around (unintelligible), and so their range extended clear up to Black Canyon, that’s for sure. And there, it began to run into the Pueblo people’s range that occupied Southern Nevada and Southern Utah and on across into the (unintelligible) country. Then, later on, of course, when the Paiute came in, the Paiute crowded out these Lost City people, and we found their evidences down there in Black Canyon around Little Beach, but they UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater 11 had a later arrival than the Mojaves. This (unintelligible) with the Paiutes—they went through south just around Needles. Okay. The Lost City, who does that relate to? Is that the Pueblos? Those were Pueblo, and I would call that a fringe type of Pueblo; this was on the edge of the Pueblo territory, so to speak. It was the outback country as far as the Pueblo was concerned. Oh. Do you think they had any influence from these other tribes, like the Mojave? Oh, definitely. They mixed a lot, that is, undoubtedly met and swapped things, and you’d have a certain amount of cultural exchange—no doubt about that. To the extent that they might have shifted customs or something of that nature, I doubt. But their arts and crafts, undoubtedly there was an exchange there to help each other out, maybe one would have a better kind of pottery and better kind of a weapon or something rather just by meeting peaceably there, they undoubtedly swapped ideas. Did you happen to run into any modern Indians when you first came here? Were there any Indians left? Oh, yes. The Moapas up here—and they’re still there. Where the Muddy River Valley up here near Glendale, just north of Las Vegas about fifty miles. So there were Indians up there. Of course, I don’t think the (unintelligible) come down into here, but they were close. But the Moapas are here today. Just trying to think of another question on Indians— Well, I might point out that during the time we were here, we found various Indian sites, and especially looking along the (unintelligible) were going out of circulation, but down here at Searchlight, for example, if you’re going into Searchlight, all along the river near Fire Mountain, there was a terrace along there, and there were lots of boulders, about the size of a bushel basket UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater 12 or bigger, and petroglyphs were all over those things. And we found places where they had apparently camped on those terraces. And we tried to salvage a lot of those petroglyphs, and then Lake Mojave started to come up—the only way you could get to those things was either by jeep on the Arizona side, and that was a tough trip, or by boat from the Nevada side. And so we got a boat and went across to the Arizona side to get these petroglyphs, and we’d load a boat up until the back end of it is almost underwater, and come back to the Nevada side, and we got out quite a few. And the best petroglyph boulders were there—beautiful things. And down that area, too, we found some shelters, we found old baskets, things of that nature. Right down below Hoover Dam in some of those caves down in there, we found large water jars, oyas, which they used for storing water. Still whole, in good shape? Well, possibly—they were in good shape (unintelligible) water at that time, but they were used for that originally. Could you explain the difference between a petroglyph and a hieroglyph? Hieroglyph, of course, is a type of, like a picture writing in a sense. It has a meaning much like a language of some kind, you can read it. A petroglyph is a symbol of some sort that is picked into the rock—a hieroglyph’s usually written on. And a pictograph is also written on. A hieroglyph, though, can be interpreted; a pictograph and a petroglyph, as far as we know, as no real significance. Although, I have a sneaking suspicion, after seeing lots of them here and there, that a lot of these symbols we see were clan symbols, and the reason why you saw them at different springs around is because that’s where the clans stopped. Leroy was here, so to speak. Just to mark out their own boundaries? UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater 13 I could be. I would like to say to mark out boundaries, but it would indicate where they’d been. Now, the only time I ever saw a petroglyph that I thought actually had a message, a real message, was over here in the Grand Wash, toward the upper end of Lake Mead. And there was a big boulder in there that had a petroglyph of a man running, obviously running in one direction, and there was a bird above him, obviously a bird, going the same way. So, an archeologist was with me—decided (unintelligible) meaning at all, because the water was so important in that country, if he went this way, like the river fly, you oughta hit water. We set a compass course, and less than a half mile was (unintelligible). Is that right? The only thing that I know that I can say in my own mind, with any assurance, had a real meaning to it. These symbols—they have had some significance. Maybe they had something to do with, maybe this was the place to hunt bighorn—you find a lot of bighorn symbols, stuff like that. You always had a feeling that a lot of them were just, we (unintelligible) write things on the walls—graffiti, you know. (Laughs) We have that same problem in the national parks today, people want to write their name on something, and I think (unintelligible) were just as human and wanted to write their name on something, and these were their ways of expressing themselves. And I doubt seriously that they’d have a coordinated meaning. I’m kinda of at a loss (unintelligible) for a minute. I might tell you one thing that we found of unusual interest down here, making these studies. The lake was coming up; about 1939, we started running into a lot of dead fish. Out on the lake, you’d find them still alive, but floating belly up, and in a little while, they’d die. I brought a UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater 14 catfish in that was quite large, so big you couldn’t turn it around in the bathtub, and I put him in the bathtub, and he died anyway. And I checked him and the gill arches were inflamed, but why did he die, why were the gill arches inflamed? And for a long time, couldn’t figure that one out. And then, in the Tennessee Valley Authority, a man by the name of Dr. Levy, I read, had been running the same thing over there. So, I wrote him and asked him what they found out; here’s what had happened. When a reservoir is forming, it inundates the whole area and it covers up live vegetation. Now, the water itself, as it’s coming down, river water, has a certain amount of dissolved gases in it, ‘cause when it gets to become (unintelligible) distilled water off the edge of the current back in the reservoir somewhere, the (unintelligible) vegetation puts another gas into that water, and it becomes very high in dissolved gases that normally wouldn’t be there from the beginning vegetation. And so the fish would be brought into the current to feed come materials being brought down, they swim back into distilled water, and literally got gassed, because the gas content of the water they were using, you see, changed very abruptly, and it just wreaked havoc with their gill arches. Did you ever find a solution for it? Yes—quite worrying about it because we weren’t going to stop it, and wait until the decaying vegetation quite decaying down there, fresh green stuff. Pretty good idea. (Laughs) [Audio ends] I want to get back to the part about what wildlife you found. You were talking about, not very much was known about the area before the dam was built and before the National UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater 15 Park Service came in. Can you explain what you found when you did get here and the study you did begin? There had been some studies made on birds by the old biological survey. They at least has some lists, but not very extensive. They had a list they gave me about eighty different kinds of birds. Before I left here, they had 287 different kinds recorded from here. There hadn’t been much done through here in a sense of studying mammals, reptiles, anything like that; so, practically anything you found here was new knowledge on the area. And the easiest way to find out anything about mammals and reptiles was to visit these islands that were going under the newly formed lake—visit a point of land which originally had been a small mountaintop, and everything that was around, the (unintelligible) was all pushed up on top of the rising water. And if you visit an area, it would be maybe twenty, thirty feet across, maybe about over a maximum of (unintelligible) water, and you would find everything imaginable that lived in the area in the way of small animal life—various kinds of mice, woodrats, kangaroo rats, antelope squirrels, (unintelligible), rabbits. And then, of course, reptiles were easy to find there, because the place was always loaded with lizards, various kinds of lizards, various kinds of snakes, and this always posed an interesting problem because we had at least three different kinds of rattlesnakes in this area around the lake, and we always found them on the (unintelligible) almost invariably. So, one of my jobs, or the job that I chose for myself, I went down to the boat docks and got a rowboat, great big old thing, wide, and (unintelligible) and row out to these islands and the boat would touch, why, you could just hear things moving around and see things moving around. And salvage a lot of these things—take a gunnysack along out there and the lizards didn’t make any particular effort to get away from you. They’d just hang on a rock with the water lapping against them, and you’d pick them off these rocks, put them in gunnysacks, and bring them back to shore UNLV University Libraries Russell Grater 16 up in the (unintelligible)—you’d have a whole (unintelligible) lizards had recovered. And get mice—mice and woodrats and antelope squirrels, especially, if you just sat still a while, they’d investigate the (unintelligible) and hide them (unintelligible) take them ashore, they’d have great quantities of them. And then, you could find anything out there by turning over rocks—scorpions, things of this nature, centipedes, millipedes, most anything that lived in the area. On some of these islands, there were large forms of the Hemingway Wash down here, Hemingway Beach. Those islands, at one time had a couple families of foxes on them, and some of them had (unintelligible) some of these islands were formed. And just this side of Boulder Canyon, there was a (unintelligible) Bighorn Ram was trapped on top of it. And we used to, when we were taking these tours up lake, we’d take alfalfa hay, take a chunk of a bale of hay up there, and drop it off (unintelligible). And it was too wide and too deep—(unintelligible) try to swim ashore. But up on the north arm of the lake, what we call the Virgin River arm, another sheep island up there, where we had a ram and a coyote living together on the same island, which kind of refuted all these arguments about coyote because they lived together very peaceably for a couple years. And it might be interesting to you to know that some of the residents up at Overton thought that old ram was getting most of it, so they trapped a ewe and put it out there, and when they dropped the lake level after 1941, those animals then could just walk the shore. But you found various things; there were wild burros trapped on some of these places, but they could swim to shore. As these islands went under, though,