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Walnut Grove Dam Failure

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Walnut Grove Dam, Yavapai County, Arizona

"Old folklore predicts anyone who drinks from the Hassayampa River can never again tell the truth. In the late 1800’s, the term “Hassayampers" began to be used and defined a person who came to the river in search for gold." Those who knew the river would often laugh, as they did in1880, knowing that the river most often presented itself as a mere trickle.

icn_favorite.gif Research for a book on this topic. The book was started in 2019 and is still in the works.
~• The Walnut Grove Dam was an ill-conceived and hastily built project spearheaded by Eastern investors under the umbrella of the Walnut Grove Water Storage Company and its sister organization the Piedmont Cattle Company.. The primary reservoir structure collapsed at its first major test during a major wet season. "During construction there were frequent complaints about low pay, a poor work force, and high construction and design costs – this led to there being 5 different chief engineers on the job, each serving as superintendent (one would go on to become Governor of Arizona)." Gee & Neff, op.cit. Note: the profession "engineer" is a term that was used loosely in that era. Many had no formal training and were merely supervisors.. One of such was Alexander Oswald Brodie, future Gov. of Arizona Territory, appointed by his friend Theodore Roosevelt. Brodie's employer was Henry Spingler Van Beuren, then president of the WGWSC.

the 1890 collapse killed c. 60-150 people†† as a wall of water rushed down the remote and largely unpopulated Hassayampa River Basin

location: 25 miles south of Prescott & eight miles below the small community of Walnut Grove, between Seal Mountain and Fort Hill. See also google maps for various locations mentioned in studies. Note: The outwash from the destruction downstream can be seen to this day, even from satellite views (!)

Contrary to what might be assumed, the predominant figures in the funding and execution of this mining venture were not Westerners or even settlers of AZ territory. The leaders were Eastern speculators and Englishmen who were mostly not present in day-to-day supervisory roles.

†† one of the reasons there is a wide variety of estimated dead was a result of a tendency to ignore non-Anglo' victims. The lives of poor workers of indigent and immigrant backgrounds were deemed not worthy of mention except in passing. (see document )

icn_favorite.gif ~• Please wander through the profiles and send me comments and corrections •~ {MMvB, volunteer curator}
icn_check.gif Please do not alter text below as I am using this material for a forthcoming manuscript related to this topic but feel free to add profiles.
Youtube song

note: Walnut Grove was named by the McNary family. They had been living at Walnut Grove, Neosho County, Kansas before settling the Hassayampa

Arizona Mining Project Ends in Disaster

The just-completed 110 ft.rock-fill dam failed in February 1890 wiping out everything in its path for miles. There was a 2+ mile long reservoir behind the dam. Incompetence, greed, poor engineering, and inadequate management of the work force all contributed to the failure. A wall of water, in some places more than 60 feet high raged through many miles of the Hassayampa River canyon into construction camps and settlements below. Few escaped and there were fewer eye-withess accounts. One notable exception was that of the then 26-yr-old Mary Louise Hanlon.
To put the destructive power into perspective, there was more water behind the dam that that of the South Fork Dam which, when it failed, caused the Johnstown Flood. The Walnut Grove Dam burst all at once.
The managing concern was called the Walnut Grove Water Storage Co. which had a host of investors, primarily from the East Coast. $12 million (1890 dollars) was invested in the project and involved substantial loan(s) from a highly capitalized Eastern Bank (Farmers' Loan & Trust). After the dam failed, efforts by successor organizations continued for two generations in attempts to continue a variety of dam projects. None came to fruition.

In the aftermath, the San Francisco Chronicle, was highly critical: citation. Additional modern retrospective analyses abound. ~• sources are being directly added to this project and to the profiles of many of the tagged profiles

icn_favorite.gif best set of modern Hassayampa photos ; "Old folklore predicts anyone who drinks from the river can never again tell the truth. In the late 1800’s, the term “Hassayampers" began to be used and defined a person who came to the river in search for gold."
icn_favorite.gif map of 1895 ; annotated version

Concept of this Project

One intention of this project is to link profiles of key players and victims in order to first gain a thorough appreciation of the causes of the dam failure and, second, to understand the failed projects pursued by the Van Beuren family in the aftermath.

Otherwise, please link any profile of the investors, the dead and anyone who is part of the story of this calamity.
The alphabetized and hyperlinked "<SURNAMES>" list below are intended to speed up identification of the interrelationships of the many players.
Newspaper reports are footnoted but, in many cases a subscription to will be needed to view such links. A number of downloaded newspaper articles are in the "<documents>" section.


note: an excellent Timeline was written c. 2009 by James Liggett in his book op. cit. I incorporate some of his work in italixcs

  • 1860s a settlement at Walnut Grove : see the Chapter on Churches in The Story of Arizona (1919)
  • 1863 Swilling Irrigating Canal Company on the Hassayampa with <WICKENBURG> John W. "Jack" Swilling bio
  • 1864 May founding of Prescott
  • 1869 : May 10 Opening of the First Transcontinental Railroad = "Last Spike" at Promontory Summit, Utah
  • 1881-188? Bates brothers achieve success in the Marcus Mine claim:
  • 1882 Dec: Prescott and 35th Parallel Railroad planned by <SELIGMAN> ~• part of the A &P railway system which would allow for trade with the outside world
  • 1883 Feb.: the <BATES> brothers recorded a mining claim in Prescott and claimed all the water in the Hassayampa River. He selected a site on the Abner WADE ranch for a dam. Newspaper and Wall St. promotion is underway back east. Stable URL:
  • 1885 Prescott Court House see last set (at bottom); also #93 Prescott Overview (ca 1885)
  • 1885 Baron Walter Von Richthofen (1848-1898) publishes Cattle Raising on the Plains of North America from which the Piedmont operation drew so heavily in promoting bond sales; D. Appleton, 1885 - Cattle - 102 pages
  • 1886, May 6 The Walnut Grove Water Storage Company was incorporated
  • 1886 (Aug) "Initial surveying began August 10, 1886" Blake and sons do this work. E.N. Robinson arrives
  • 1886 (Oct) pay outs from Piedmont and Walnut Grove Co. in AZ = Weekly Journal-Miner (Prescott, Arizona) 06 Oct 1886, Wed Page 3 ; see also <BLAKE>
  • 1886 (23 Oct.) Ex. Gov. Tritle entertains... guests include W.H. <Bates> and C.P. <Dake>
  • 1886 (Dec.) "Although the agreement between the WGWSC and Wade was for a dam 60 feet high, in late December, 1886, <BLAKE> told ex-Governor Frederick A. Tritle, who visited the camp, that the dam would be 80 or more feet high (Dill, 1987, p. 288). Later the dam was redesigned by E. N. <ROBINSON> .. to a height of 110 feet, at that time the highest dam in the United States (Moritz, 1945, p. 2). ~• Liggett, who points out that the huge water pressure rendered the valve system for placer mining inoperable as well as other even more serious probems.
  • 1887 (Jan) January 12, 1887— C. H. Dillingham, president of the Walnut Grove Water Storage Company, signed a contract with George D. Nagle and H. R. Leonard to build the Walnut Grove Dam. The Blake family is dismissed. See Dill. op. cit., page 289; safer Robinson plan for a spillway is scrapped. see also: <BIGELOW>; see also: Liggett page 149
  • 1887 the P&AC was started from Seligman in 1887, going south to the OO ranch divide to Chino Wash and then south via the wash grade to the valley floor and then up to Prescott. The SFP&P went from Phoenix to Ash Fork, with a branch to Prescott. The two rights of way were feet apart before the ascent via the granite dells to Prescott" so writes Tom Bullock of Pollock Pines, CA 1/27/2015 Tom is a grandson of the Bullock who built the RR. It did not last long, closing in
  • 1887 Jan 15: Blake fired; Robinson assumed post of chief engineer & superintendent. Dam reaches height of 30 feet see Liggett p.149
  • 1887 April : Robinson fired. Nagle handles construction without supervision for 1 month. Walter Gillette Bates become superintendent
  • 1887 April 6th report: WGWSC started a sawmill operation
  • 1887 (Aug) detailed enthusiastic description = Weekly Journal-Miner (Prescott, Arizona) 03 Aug 1887, Wed., p. 1
  • 1887 May : Asst. engineer (under Robinson) John M. Currier resigns
  • 1887 Aug 10: Luther Waggoner become superintendent engineer but leaves project before Dec. warning of design issues; 19 mile flume anticipated. It would run to Fool's Creek(the Bates'claims) ~• to the West ( this was not achieved )
    • see also his <timeline for Feb 25 1890>
  • 1887 mid October work on upper dam nearly complete
  • 1887 fall. Waggoner resigns. J.A. Anderson appointed
  • 1887 December : sailing on "Lake Seligman" (see note below) & <SELIGMAN>
  • 1887 December 14 • Weekly Journal-Miner 14 Dec 1887, Wed · Page 2 notice of <DILLINGHHAM> and <VAN BEUREN> as new heads of the WSWSC and the Piedmont Cattle Co.
  • 1887 (Christmas) celebration time Dake and Nagle = 1888 upper dam completed (except for spillway)
  • 1888 Jan. Dillingham resigns presidency of the WGWSC and becomes VP
  • 1888 March : Description of Crown Point claim in Weekly Journal-Miner 28 Mar 1888, Wed · Page 1 = "Eastern parties who have the capital will build a ten-stamp mill" (undoubtably refers to WGWSC investors
  • 1888 June 12th : 53 year-old Henry Spingler Van Beuren is elected president of WGWSC; Bates brothers move on to other local projects.
  • 1888 Dec. Blake, the former engineer, visits project and reports the "agreeable surprise" Dill p. 294
  • 1889 March Reservoir spills for 1st time. Lower Dam site obliterated Reconstruction started and was finished before the Feb 1890 upper dam break.
  • 1889 lower dam construction continues as part of an altered scheme for delivery of water to mining sites.
  • 1889, December B.S. Church, hydraulic engineer condemns final spillway design as reservoir fills to capacity. (about the same time as) Wells Bates orders spillway system to be enlarged see Liggett p.150
  • 1890 Demographic Portrait of Prescott in 1890
  • 1890 (Feb. 22) dam breaks during flood conditions in the Hassayampa water shed. It took 14 hours for residents of Prescott to receive word of the disaster.
    • there aren't many photos of the destruction. Here is one at Wickenburg
  • 1890 Feb 23 rescue of survivors begun from points distant one of many articles in newspapers < includes prelim. list of dead J.L. Hall of Piedmont Co. is among those who arrive first.
  • 1890 Mar 19 [ "philanthropy of HSvB" (read carefully keeping in mind that an effort was underway to exonerate the WGWSG from impending legal exposure)
  • 1890 Feb 24 condemnation of WGWSC by Luther <WAGONER>
  • 1890 Feb 24 Mary Hanlon writes long eyewitness account of the flood and its aftermath = letter to her mother
  • 1890 Feb 26 Weekly Journal-Miner 26 Feb 1890, Wed · Page 3 = long article with several accounts of the disaster and an attempt to establish the dead and survivors
  • 1890 May (sample) suit filed on behalf of <Haynes orphans> clipping1 ; clipping2
  • 1891 Feb 2 : trial begins: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona) 03 Feb 1891, Tue Page 1 : vanBeuren called as witness
  • 1891 February 18, "another" jury empaneled in Phoenix to try the WGWSC damage suit. (Weekly Journal-Miner (Prescott, Arizona), 18 Feb 1891, Wed., Page 4
  • 1891 WGWSC goes into receivership and effectively out of business when Farmers Loan and Trust of NYC forecloses
  • 1892 <BRODIE> claims rebuilding of the WG dam is "an assured fact"
  • 1892, March > reported: WCWSC has no funds to pay judgement against them
  • 1892, April WGWSC and Farmers Loan & Trust make an (interim?) agreement. Sale of assets stopped
  • 1893 May • The Panic of 1893 oversupply of silver, commodity prices tumble, stocks markets crash
  • 1894 (aside) hyperbole in Arizona Press concerning Farmers Loan & Trust
  • 1894 February debt and statehood issues in AZT
  • 1894 February large block of shares auctioned off in NYC and in 1896 also: another block, hypothecated
  • 1894 The Carey Act ; see:
  • 1896 W.H, Bates, now with his Stirling Placer Mining outfit attempts to cash-in 1 mile north of Wagoner (above failed site)
  • 1896 November Replacement dam contemplated that might provide electricity
  • 1899 March Brodie still working miing claims for Van Beuren = Arizona Republic; 05 Mar 1899, Sun · Page 3
  • 1901 Feb 28 Brodie closes Crown Point mine
  • 1906 Nov ; Death of Henry Spingler Van Beuren. Only child Eleanor Cecilia inherits remaining assets.
  • 1907 January largely inaccurate retrospective even gets names wrong. Includes: Brow's safe, Brodie, Hanlon and others. Written by a prospector with a penchant for hyperbole.. eg. "bulkheaded with a barn door"
  • 1907 Oct Assessment work by <HANLON>
    • this report fails to mention that WSGSC president Henry S. Van Beuren had died {November 29, 1906 (aged 72)}
  • by 1909 Walnut Grove had become a "privately held company" also: New wave of immigrant families in the watershed said to be hopeful for irrigation : Tucson Citizen (Tucson, Arizona); 17 Jun 1909, Thu. Page 6
  • 1908, June 1 • Sale on Courthouse steps re. Eleanor Wittmann Arizona Republic 21 May 1928, Mon · Page 4 > Luther Wagoner the engaged for survey work
  • 1909 John Merwin tries to buy out Crown Point mine from Van Beuren family, as represented by Joseph Wittmann and his wife "Eleanor Van Beuren
  • 1909 : Walnut Grove Dam "is to be rebuilt soon", or so claims the Bisbee Daily Review (Bisbee, Arizona) 15 Jun 1909, Tue Page 2 (no one is quoted in the article itself; dam project is headed by the WITTMANNs
  • 1910 Federal Gov't to step in (?) deal explained in press
  • 1914 Eye-witness account of dam collapse told many years later: Bisbee Daily Review (Bisbee, Arizona), 27 Jan 1907, Sun., Page 4 < much of this is invention.. esp. re. Ms. Hanlon.
  • 1915 (March) Helen Page Bates reminisces in Long Beach CA > see page 8
  • 1915 (Oct) Labor unrest in Copper country AZ & assessments for <WITTMANN> continue
  • 1916 June • W.A. Farish engaged as engineer by Joseph Wittmann and his wife Eleanior, the VB heir.
  • 1917 Eleanor Cecelia Wittmann (Van Beuren) dies December 23, 1917 ( age 47) : she was the successor to her father HSvB's mining interests along with her new husband Joseph Wittmann
  • 1921 November = application filed by the Wittmanns for water rights
  • 1924 March = said application accepted
  • 1925 February = construction begins on new dam (briefly) (deal between the Nadaburg Irrigation district, the Wittmanns and the Feds broke down and parties gradually lost interest)
  • 1928 Retrospective (should be read for many details Arizona Republic 21 May 1928, Mon · Page 4 see:
  • 1928 May = Placer mining by Jos. Wittmann still intended
  • 1938, Aug 19 Box Canyon Dam plan put on hold see Liggertt p. 132
  • 1939 May: Reports became mean-spirited in assessing the prospects of the then current Hassayampa project = The San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) 21 May 1939, Sun., p. 27
  • Last President of the WGWSC dies: (Joseph Wittmann, widower of Eleanor née Van Beuren November 09, 1942 (69)
    • His son, Joseph VB Wittmann (1907-1969), was involved with a replacement irrigation plan too... but that effort also failed to come to fruition. See lawsuit by landowners
  • 1981 (modern lore) ~• "The Killer Flood of Walnut Dam"
  • 1988 (critique of engineering
  • 1990 Congress creates The Hassayampa River Canyon Wilderness see:
  • 2022 - (current) = Land ownership mapping ~• note how much of Hassayampa area is owned by the BLM. The Upper Dam and Lower "service" dam land can be determined from this resource.



  • Liggett convincingly argues that the flaws in the dam building process could have been avoided by better design and management. Techniques in engineering were, in that era, of a standard adequate to the construction of a safe dam. In comparison, look at the story of the Croton Water Dam in New York, a project that fed the very city where the principals of the WGWSC all lived. ( )
    • see James Alexander Liggett, Jr.'s profile
  • Each profile attached to this project provides related documentation about Walnut Grove.
  • take notice that very few of the listed professions mentioned in the press are credentialed. For example, most, if not all of the "engineers" may have only been surveyors or geologists or miners with little or no technical training in dam building.
  • imaging from above shows the scars left from the flood. These are prominent from outer space and cover many miles heading south from the dam site.
  • There are hundreds of newspaper articles that have recently become available on-line. These reveal a "gold rush" mentality and a railroad access hysteria both of which contributing to the haste with which this project was undertaken.
  • Farmers' Loan and Trust 1894 pushed to sell water rights (in concert with the railroad) see also Farmers' absorbed by City Bank Ignominiously, a leader in the Farmers' organization has been blamed as a major player credited with causing the stock market Crash of 1929
  • The reservoir behind the dam was (briefly?) known as Lake Seligman. Also: Seligman AZ. These were named for the financier family see <SELIGMAN> Jesse (Isaias) Seligman , Joseph Seligman and James Seligman who invested broadly in the West both as bankers and railway men.


Society of New Mexico Publications in History, Vol. XIV (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1953)

Other Players

  • : was an American geologist, mining consultant, and educator, trained At Yale University. He had only a cursory appreciation of engineering.
    • Blake had two sons, Frank and Whitney, who were also employed for a time on the dam. (Liggett)
    • In all references to the design in the engineering literature, it is attributed to Blake. (Liggett p.49)
  • Crown Point Mine was a later venture for Brodie and Van Beuren
  • Weekly Journal-Miner (Prescott, Arizona) 28 Dec 1904, Wed., Page 5 reports interest of the Amalgamated Copper Company at Wickenburg
  • List of various additional figures in Weekly Journal-Miner (Prescott, Arizona) 03 Aug 1887, Wed Page 1
    • George Sines and Charles Keyes (saloon) ; Robert Brow (saloon)
  • Seligman Historic District ; see also "Havasu Harvey House"
  • cemeteries near Weaver District:

Beyond the Scope of this Project


  • a stab at humor: = Weekly Journal-Miner (Prescott, Arizona) 21 Dec 1887, Wed Page 1
    • ~• editorially speaking: Reading about the ad hoc design alterations such as the addition of a spillway should give anyone pause...
  • "the dam did not leak at all" ?? Leaks widely reported elsewhere in Liggett; Weekly Journal-Miner (Prescott, Arizona) 20 Jul 1887, Wed Page 4
  • Insane Asylum story The World (New York, New York)10 Jun 1897, Thu Page 14 A widow confidence ends in insanity. Worthless bonds in Walnut Grove figure in this story of deception.

Historical terms


  • I have not included any accounts of the numerous lawsuits, of which there were many... The influence that the WGWSC had with judges appears to have been irregular and unfair, if not illegal. In one prominent case, for example, read the treatment of the judge's instructions starting on page 84 of Liggett, J.A. (2009, 2010)
  • nearest accommodations: Gold Bar Ranch 18900 Cemetery Road, Kirkland, Arizona 86332 Office: (928) 427-3235 Cell/Text: (928) 460-0196