From Klamath Falls I cross the California border…past the WWII Japanese Internment camp at Newell near Tule Lake…euphemistically called the Tule Lake War Relocation Center…and head south toward Reno Nevada.
I have a blown-up photo of my father herding sheep on the Liskey Ranch on the drained tule lake beds. (tules are plants that grow in water.) In fact, when my father died, it was the lead article on the front page of the Tule Lake newspaper, which at the time was surprising to me. I hadn’t realized what he stood for in Freedom Country.
North and south of this border is the ORCAL (Oregon/California) freedom country where, as a little girl…my father’s shadow…I grew up listening to my father rant on his rounds of visits with his farmer friends about the government, the trilateral commission and the Federal Reserve and all other forms of perceived intrusion of the government in their lives. My father would get far-right mailings from far-right organizations that my mother wouldn’t let in her house…making him read them outside on the porch. He used to declare that if the govmt ever showed up at his house he would blow them away with his hunting rifle. Such was and is the mentality of these 19th Century land settlers and their descendants.
Fast forward to the near-end of the Bush-Cheney presidency. Thousands of farmers in the Klamath Basin Irrigation District (of which my father once was president at a time when they were letting excess water flow into the sea rather than let California have any of it) were struggling to keep their crops from turning to dust in a recent drought.
As growers were counting on a century-old complex of dams and canals to irrigate 400,000 square miles of potato and alfalfa and grazing range from water in the nearby Lower Klamath Lake, the Bureau of Reclamation was getting ready to shut down the water gates. Federal biologists announced that the Endangered Species Act had determined that diverting the water from Lower Klamath Lake to the Tule Lake farmland was necessary to save the lives of 3 endangered species of fish…the Shortnose Suckers, Lost River Suckers and the Coho Salmon….at least one of which was the fish that the Klamath Indians had fished for centuries. This was just the kind of thing that drove so many western farmers around the bend.
But I wonder now what my father would think about water being diverted from Klamath County Oregon to Tule Lake California.
My own opinion, at the time, was that, in the first place, all this was the result of draining Tule Lake to create more farm land with no assurance of an adequate future source of water. Mess with mother nature and this what you get.
In the meantime, I was not surprised to learn that protests against the federal water cut-off were edging toward violence. Farmers and their families organized a symbolic bucket brigade of 18,000 men and women on May 7, 2001, then staged raids in June and July, using blow torches and chain saw to open irrigation gate that the Bureau of Reclamation had welded shut. Some of them clashed with U.S. marshals who were called out when local law enforcement officers refused to intervene. One group of protesters formed a mounted cavalry, organizing a Klamath T Party of civil disobedience.
Anti-government activists from out of state, including militia activists from Montana, Michigan, Idaho and Nevada, gathered in August for a Freedom Day demonstration at Klamath Falls. You had farmers sitting in front of the locks. It was an emotionally charged and potentially explosive situation.
Vice President Dick Cheney asked the interior department to convene a God Squad. The Republicans had lost Oregon by only one half of one percent in the prior election in 2000 and all they needed for a Republican win in 2008 was a draw that pitted one group of scientists against another. Cheney’s shadow government was not looking for answers as to how the fish could be saved and the farmers still get water. This was not about fish. It was about politics.
So with plenty of television coverage the headgate was opened as farmers chanted, Let the water flow!
In late September 2002, the first of an estimated 77 thousand dead salmon began washing up on the banks of the Klamath River where it passed through Yurok tribal lands. The threatened Cohos were dying but in even larger numbers were Chinook salmon which was the staple of commercial fishing in northern California.
So, on my way to Vegas, I wasn’t surprised to see this archway with the word Freedom at the head of a dirt road leading into one of the ranches.
My iPhone google maps gets me around Reno to highway 95 to Las Vegas. Then no service appears on my phone as I drive through the seemingly unending Nevada desert. At dark, I stop in Tonapah to spend the night in a $38 with senior discount trucker motel with free WiFi where I let my son in Las Vegas know where I am via email.
The next morning I drive up to a Mexican dive for breakfast. An old guy was sitting on the sidewalk in front of the car. As I walked past him, he says I am from a good state.