50 Years Ago

Council tries seeding clouds for rain

By Bill Donovan
Special to the Times

July 10, 2014

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Through June and early July of 1964, one of the continuing stories in the Navajo Times was about the drought conditions on the Navajo Reservation and what the tribe could do about it.

Reports from livestock owners in 1964 indicated that conditions on the reservation were getting drastic with no water available for livestock and crops.

Most Navajo families, according to the Times, were hauling water for their daily needs and while the tribal government continued to promise to seek more money for water wells and other efforts, not much was happening.

Howard Gorman, the Council delegate from Ganado, was urging the tribal government to consider doing what it did in 1950 -- hire a professional rainmaker.

The situation in 1950 was so bad that the Navajo Tribal Council in early June contacted C.B. Barnes, president of the Precipitation Control Company in Phoenix, to bring rain to the reservation.

The Council gave him $2,500 to begin seeding clouds over the reservation with his airplanes. He began the process on June 29 and had his planes up everyday, except for July 3, for the next two weeks.

He told the Council that his plane spent the first few days in the southwestern portion of the reservation. His pilots observed rain falling on two of those three days.

He said his pilots saw productive clouds in other parts of the reservation on some of the other days but there were no reports of rain falling anywhere. At one meeting Arthur Lee, a Council delegate who represented the Castle Butte, Ariz., area, said his area really needed help an asked Barnes to send his planes to his area.

Barnes reported on July 11 that a storm appeared to be developing in the El Paso, Texas, area that seemed to be headed toward the Navajo Reservation. He added that the tribe had used up all of its $2,500 and needed to provide his company with more funds.

That afternoon, the Council agreed to give him $7,500 more for another three months in a very contentious vote with 31 in favor and 28 opposed.

While there was some rain reported during the days the pilots were seeding the clouds, questions were raised as to whether this rainfall was caused by the seeding or would have occurred anyway.

The company agreed to provide another 110 hours of flight time on days when clouds conditions were ripe for seeding and in those areas where water was the most needed.

After that vote, the Council waited to see what happened. They didn't have to wait very long.

That El Paso storm did come to the reservation and there was rain. In fact, the area's annual monsoon season began in mid-July and lasted through August. But most of the members of the Council still questioned whether the seeding did any good and in following years abandoned the practice.

In 1964, there was discussion about reviving the program but just a few days afterward that season's annual monsoon season arrived and the whole discussion was abandoned.

In other news, the fight over the budget for the 1964-1965 continued with no end in sight. The BIA was continuing to pay the bills for the tribe based on the previous budget but Navajos were getting concerned about whether the old guard and the supporters for the tribe's chairman, Raymond Nakai, would ever be able to get together.

Council Delegate John Brown thought he had a way to get over the impasse and on paper it might have seemed to be a good idea.

He tried to get the Council to agree to spend $28,800 to bring all of the chapter officials on the reservation to listen to the budget debate -- that would be 288 chapter officials from 96 chapters at $100 each.

The old guard, however, realized that the only purpose for bringing the chapter officials, almost all of whom supported Nakai, was to put pressure on them to approve Nakai's budget so the measure was defeated.

This was not a good week for former vice chairmen of the tribe. Two died within days of each other.

The first was Zhealy Tso, 79, who served as vice chairman in either the 1920s or 1930s. He would later be elected to the Council and served for eight years as a tribal judge.

Two days later, Maxwell Yazzie, 72, who served as vice chairman from 1928-1932, died when the pickup he was a passenger in overturned on U.S. Highway 89 near Graymountain, Ariz.

The pickup hit an embankment and rolled over three times. Yazzie was ejected during the first rollover and then the pickup rolled over him. His stepson, John Denetso, was also ejected and died in the accident.

Yazzie was also a former Council delegate but he was better known in government services for his role as an interpreter in many commission hearings and trials that occurred on the reservation and in federal court after World War II.

Probably the most famous of the trials was one known as the Utah Horse Case when a number of Navajo families sued the Bureau of Land Management for killing their horses during stock reduction.

Marshall Tome, who was now completing his first month as the paper's editor, still showed his sense of humor when he printed an article about a topless bathing suit contest that was held the previous week in Corpus Christi, Texas, where the winner was only 17 at the time of her victory -- 17 months, that is. She won the Miss Wading Pool contest.

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