About the Author

Christopher Wells is an assistant professor of environmental history at Macalester College. He received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin, and specializes in environmental history, the history of technology, and U.S. cultural and intellectual history.

The Early Conservation Movement

Captain Jim, Letter to Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1915)


When Congress created the Grand Cañon Forest Reserve, its boundaries completely surrounded the Havasupai reservation and encompassed the tribe’s traditional hunting, gathering, and grazing territories. Suddenly, when Native Americans hunted deer on their traditional lands, they were committing the crime of “poaching.” As state efforts to enforce game protection laws increased, they prompted this letter from a tribe member to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, demanding permission to hunt so that there would “be no trouble with the Game Wardens.”

Excerpt from Captain Jim's letter of September 15, 1915:
A long time ago the Gods gave the deer to the Indian for himself. The women and children all like deer meat very much. The Indian men like buckskins to trade for grub, saddles, horses, saddles, blankets, and money. A long time ago . . . the Indians all go out on the plateau and hunt deer for two or three months and then all come back to Supai [village] to stay. . . . Now the Indians are all afraid about the hunting and never go far away. I want you to send me a hunting license and tell me good and straight that I may hunt deer. . . . The white man should now help the Indians by giving him permission to hunt deer as there be no trouble with the Game Wardens. . . . This is all.


Captain Jim. Letter to Commissioner of Indian Affairs, September 25, 1915, File 115, Havasupai Agency, Central Classified Files, 1907-39, Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, RG 75, National Archives, as quoted in Karl Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001).