Irrigation Records from Bureau of Indian Affairs Now Digitized

The records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Irrigation Division held by the Cartographic Branch are fully digitized and available to view and download from the National Archives Catalog. The records of the BIA Irrigation Division consist of maps showing Indian reservations and irrigation projects and plans for the construction of irrigation facilities and structures. The records mostly date from the early 1900s to the mid-1940s and focus on the western portion of the United States.

Below is a map of the western United States showing activities of the Department of the Interior:

Record Group 75: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1793-1999. NAID: 351088297. Map of Part of United States West of the Mississippi River showing Activities of the Department of the Interior.

The BIA Irrigation Division provides irrigation water to Tribes and other water customers on Indian Reservations in the western United States. Formally established in 1924, the Division was responsible for investigating new irrigation projects, carrying out irrigation programs approved by Congress, and designing, constructing, maintaining, and operating works. Prior to 1924, irrigation activities were overseen by the Land Division. More information about the history of this government office may be found in the National Archives Catalog.

Below is a map of the Gila River Project in Arizona showing the location of the project and irrigable land:

Record Group 75: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1793-1999. NAID: 351086482. Map showing Casa Blanca Unit, Gila River Project, Pinal County, Arizona.

This series mostly consists of maps and drawings, but it also includes charts; related textual records including reports, letters, and memos; and a few photographs. While the majority of the records date from 1900 to 1948, a couple of the records date as far back as 1860. Some maps are annotated to show information from earlier dates as well. 

Below is a map showing allotted lands in the Yuma Indian Reservation in California:

Record Group 75: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1793-1999. NAID: 351087945. Map of Yuma Indian Reservation, Imperial County, California, Allotted Lands.

The records are arranged by state and then by name of Indian reservation or irrigation project. The states represented in this series include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Each reservation or irrigation project has its own file unit. There is also a file unit for the western United States. Click here to view a list of Indian reservations or irrigation projects (file units) covered in this series in our catalog.

Below is a drawing of a ditch rider’s cottage for the Wind River Irrigation Project in Wyoming. A ditch rider is a person who patrols and inspects irrigation systems and distributes water to farmers.

Record Group 75: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1793-1999. NAID: 351274084. Plan Showing Ditch Rider’s Cottage.

When searching for records on a specific reservation or irrigation project, we suggest looking in multiple file units. In addition to the file unit for the reservation or irrigation project, several states also contain a “General” file unit or contain separate file units for the reservation and irrigation project. For example, if you are searching for records of the Yuma Irrigation Project in California, we suggest you look for records in the California – Yuma Irrigation Project, California – Yuma Indian Reservation, California – General, and United States – Western file units. 

Below is a map of Oklahoma, annotated to show Indian reservations and the locations of school gardens:

Record Group 75: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1793-1999. NAID: 354519590. Map of State of Oklahoma.

The records in this series cover a variety of topics. The series contains numerous maps that show the locations of reservations including allotments and land ownership. There are also maps that show the location of irrigable and cultivated lands and current and proposed irrigation projects. The series also contains a great number of drawings for irrigation project structures including wells, canals and ditches, and pump stations and dams.

Below is a map of the Cheyenne Indian Reservation in South Dakota annotated to show land ownership by type:

Record Group 75: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1793-1999. NAID: 354519650. Map of Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, South Dakota.

These records are described in further detail in Special List 13, “Cartographic Records Of The Bureau Of Indian Affairs” starting on page 98. Additional records from the BIA Irrigation Division can be found by searching the National Archives Catalog. For more information on the Cartographic Branch, its records, obtaining copies, and conducting onsite research, please visit our website.

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