By Tom Kollenborn
There are those who believe there is an unlimited supply of water. But in the 1890s prospectors, miners and cattlemen fought over small seeps and springs in the desert around Superstition Mountain. The Cottonwood Springs water feud was between a cattleman and a stable owner in the Goldfield mining camp around 1894. The story goes something like this.
When the first Mormon gold miners arrived here from Mesa City in 1881, there wasn’t much water in the area. There were no deep wells like we have today. The legendary sources of water in those days were Willow Springs, Cottonwood Springs and a bi-annual seep known as “First Water.”
The alternative sources for water in those days was an eleven-mile trip to Bagley Flat and the Salt River or packing water from Mesa City— a twenty mile journey.
Finding water in the early days at the Goldfield Camp was no easy task, and the water came at a premium. When the road was built during the early 1890’s, water was then hauled to the camp from Mesa City.
The Weeks family had a spring near their place south of the Goldfield Camp and provided water at ten cents a span. That meant it cost ten cents for two horses to have a drive of water. Water was a premium in the area, and all sources of water had been claimed at that point.
The cattlemen in the surrounding hills had water sources for their cattle. Sid Lamb had a windmill and a well at Willow Springs and eventually developed the seep or spring at Cottonwood Spring.
John Richards, who owned a corral in Goldfield City in 1894, decided he would haul water from Willow and Cottonwood Springs for his corral. This water was much closer than Mesa City or the Salt River, but it wasn’t long before some real problems began to arise.
Sid Lamb wanted to prevent Richards from hauling water from his spring, because of the limited supply of water the springs produced. The Lamb Brothers had cattle on the range they had to protect and supply with water. Lamb and his brothers filed mill rights on both of the springs in an attempt to prevent Richards from using the water. Water was scarce and expensive in the early 1890s and led to a feud between Lamb and Richards.
Lamb found John Richards at another one of his springs. It was at Cottonwood Springs and there was a confrontation between the two men. Richards was cleaning out the spring when Sid Lamb and Walter Rogers rode up on him.
Lamb told Richards to leave the spring alone. He said the water was for his cattle and ordered him to get out. After an exchange of words, Richards invited Lamb and Rogers to get off their horses. Lamb and Rogers complied with Richard’s request. Lamb attempted to draw his gun, but Richards was faster. Lamb thought discretion in this case was the better part of valor and didn’t shoot. Lamb and Rogers remounted to ride off, but Richards threw a rock knocking Lamb off his horse. Lamb got back on his horse and left. He and Rogers filed a complaint against John Richards with the Sheriff of Pinal County, and Richards was arrested.
The Lamb Brothers claimed the active or permanent springs in the area for stock water. They had been ranching in this area since the 1880s.
This disagreement continued for a couple of years before an abundant supple of water was located in the Mammoth Mine. When they began pumping water, Goldfield Camp had all the water they needed, and the feud ended.
Water is absolute essential for survival on the desert; however, most people take it for granted.