by Walter Smoter Frank.
Spanning the Colorado River between California and Arizona stand a concrete dam and bridge which are decorated with swastikas. These crosses, which have come to symbolize horror for millions of people, are recessed an inch and a half into the heavy concrete surrounding them and were undoubtedly meant to last for generations. Eerily similar to the proportion and design used by Adolf Hitler, there are forty-seven of the swastikas which range in size from eight inches square up to eighteen inches square.
Local lore has it that W.W.II German POWs were responsible for incorporating the swastika within the structures while helping renovate the dam and bridge during WWII. Although there was a German POW camp in the nearby Yuma AZ area during that period, the swastikas were not put there by German prisoners. They were put there by the United States Government.
In 1903 the United States Department of Interior, through the Bureau of Reclamation (then called the U.S. Reclamation Service), recommended that a dam be constructed across the Colorado River between CA and AZ above Yuma. It would be the main feature of an irrigation system meant to divert water to the arid land below the dam on either side of the river.
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The top layers of silt on the river bed were scraped out to a depth of twenty-five feet across the width of the river (nearly a mile) and 400 feet wide.
Three concrete cores, forty feet high and five feet wide, were poured across the river and a new mixture of earth and rock were dumped between the cores to make up the breast of the dam. The dam was then covered with eighteen inches of concrete.
Because of cost overruns, on Jan 23, 1907 the "work was assumed by the government and carried to completion on March 20, 1909 by force account under the immediate supervision of the engineers of the Reclamation Service."1
The following year, water diverted by the Laguna Diversion Dam ( as the dam was officially called) was irrigating thousands of acres of AZ, CA and Indian reservation farmland. Laguna Dam was the first dam constructed by the U.S. government across the Colorado River.
On both the CA and AZ ends of the dam, large concrete sluiceways (sometimes called spillways) were constructed by the government to carry the diverted waters.2
Large "gates" (up to 20 feet high and 40 feet across) could be raised or lowered to control water flows through the spillways while smaller spillways, called "turnouts" (upstream from the big gates), handled the water diverted into canal systems that fed the thirsty farmland down river. Controlling the water flow into the turnouts (and then into the canals) were smaller gates called "flashboards." Surrounded by masonry, there were thirty-four flashboards on the CA side of the dam and eight on the AZ side.
Each of the masonry piers between the flashboards on the AZ side of the dam is topped with a swastika. The concrete at these points is recessed one inch deep by twelve inches square and holds a nine inch swastika which is recessed an additional inch and a half into the concrete.
One hundred and fifty yards upstream from the AZ gate is the arched concrete bridge which was built to provide easy access to the top of the dam.
At the center of the arch, on both sides of the bridge, are the initials USRS (United States Reclamation Service). Fanning out from the initials on either side are ten swastikas, the last of which is eighteen inches square. As with the swastikas on the turnouts they are also recessed into the concrete in a similar manner
Today, those who visit the sight and notice the swastikas will come away amused, bewildered or appalled. When the Laguna Dam swastikas were set in concrete, however, no one raised so much as an eyebrow. The swastika, at that time (before Hitler and the Nazis gave it its present reputation), did not have the dark notoriety it has today.
In ancient times the swastika was common in both the old and new worlds. With the ends of its crossbars bent to the right, as on Laguna Dam, the swastika was a symbol of the sun, fire and lighting for peoples from Scandinavia to India and on to China.
In German mythology the swastika (usually represented in rotary fashion) was the fire whisk that twirled the earth into existence. To Buddhists it represented resignation or the wheel of the law. Later it came to symbolize life or good luck around the world. It decorated the shields of Crusaders in the middle ages and even today can be found over the doorways of public houses in Korea.
A swastika, on the other hand, with the crossbars bent to the left was considered a bad luck symbol to some nations. As an example, to Hindus it symbolized night or destruction.
Swastikas have also been found in the monumental remains of ancient Americans, including objects taken from old burial mounds within the United States. Similar art is also known to have been used by various Indian tribes up to the present century.
Because of the American Indians use of the swastika, some people believe that the swastikas were placed on Laguna Dan as a tribute to Indians. However, in 1908 (when the swastikas were set in place on Laguna Dam) Geronimo was still alive and the last major "battle" of the Indian Wars had taken place a little over a decade before. In 1908 the feeling of the U.S. government (and the majority of the American people) was anything but conciliatory toward Indians. This rumor understandingly originated because Laguna Dam is known as an "Indian weir dam," but the name has nothing to do with American Indians.
When preliminary investigations were conducted on the Laguna Dam site in 1903, core samples revealed that it would be infeasible to build a dam of a conventional design. For millenniums the Colorado River had deposited layer upon layer of alluvial deposits on the valley floor. Because of the depth of the silt, it was deemed financially impossible to construct a dam, as is usually the case, over bedrock. Consequently a dam of an unconventional design was needed--a dam resting on silt.
Nowhere in the United States did such a dam exist. Government engineers were forced to look overseas for safe examples. They finally found the type of dam they were looking for on the Jumna River in northern India. Laguna Dam is called an "Indian weir dam" because of its origin.
While in India, U.S. government representatives also picked up the story of the ancient Hindu God Indra, who at one time, represented thunder, lighting and rain. Indra (who had four arms and was represented by the swastika with its four arms) had the power to control water. There were those in the U.S. government who thought the swastika would be a fitting symbol for the U.S. Reclamation Service.3 During its early years the United States Bureau of Reclamation used the swastika for its symbol. The swastikas on Laguna Dam are a legacy of that period.
The Service also designed a Reclamation flag with a large swastika at its center with the U S R S letters in the four corners.4 It is not known how long the swastika was used by the Service, if any other structures ever exhibited the symbol or when the Reclamation Service dropped the Symbol. When impassioned citizens, however, attempted to destroy the swastikas on Laguna Dam during WWII (see “BridgeCloseUp” photo above) guards were posted around the clock to protect the site.5 Laguna Dam is the only government project left standing in the United States where swastikas are an integrated part of the structure.
(One can travel Laguna Dam Road (five miles east of Yuma AZ on route 95) and follow it (eight miles) to where the county pavement ends. A few hundred yards along a continuing graveled road, one will see the large abandoned gate described and pictured in this article. A hundred and fifty yards further along rests the bridge. Because of its proximity to the road many people have seen the swastikas on the bridge, but few are aware of the swastikas on the turnouts. To view them one must cross the bridge and follow the old concrete sluiceway down to the large gate and view them from the NW side of the sluiceway.)
Copyright © 2004 Smoter.