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University of California Berkeley 

University of California Bancroft Library/Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office 

Walter Clay Lowdermilk 


In Two Volumes 

An Interview Conducted by 
Ma lea Chal I 





All uses of this manuscript are covered by a 
legal agreement between the Regents of the University 
of California and Walter Clay Lowdermilk, dated 
July 9, 1968. The manuscript is thereby made 
available for research purposes. All literary 
rights in the manuscript, including the right to 
publish, are reserved to The Bancroft Library of 
the University of California at Berkeley. No part 
of the manuscript may be quoted for publication 
without the written permission of the Director of 
The Bancroft Library of the University of California 
at Berkeley. 

Requests for permission to quote for publication 
should be addressed to the Regional Oral History 
Office, 486 Library, and should include identification 
of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use 
of the passages, and identification of the user. The 
legal agreement with Walter Clay Lowdermilk requires 
that he be notified of the request and allowed 
thirty days in which to respond. 











The following interview with Dr. Walter Clay Lowdermilk was under 
taken by the Regional Oral History Office in January 1967 at the request 
of Dr. David K. Todd, Professor of Civil Engineering, and Dr. Albert 
Lepawsky, Professor of Political Science, both of whom served as fac 
ulty advisors for the project. Professor Arthur F. Plllsbury, direc 
tor of the Statewide Water Resources Center, agreed with their appraisal 
of Dr. Lowdermi Ik's significance in the area of soil and water conserva 
tion and made possible a starting grant from the Water Resources Center. 
The memoir was planned to cover Dr. Lowdermi Ik's more than fifty years 
of conservation and natural resources management, and to chronicle 
through his career the development of the soil conservation movement 
in the United States, many countries of Europe, the Middle East, Africa, 
China, and Japan. 

As the project unfolded in its complexity and detail, it became 
apparent further funds were needed. Dr. Pillsbury made available two 
supplementary grants over the next fiscal year, which, with the Re 
gional Oral History Office's own budget, covered the major portion of 
the work. Additional funding was contributed by the UC Berkeley de 
partments of Soil Sciences, Geography, and Forestry. From the Univer 
sity of Wyoming's Western History Research Center came a check to aid 
in the indexing, from the Western Jewish History Center of the Judah 
L. Magnes Memorial Museum of Berkeley, funds for photographs. Private 
citizens, Dr. George Gordon and Professor Samuel Lepkovsky, added 
their personal donations. 

Two years later the two-volume manuscript was completed, and Dr. 
and Mrs. Lowdermilk turned over their extensive collection of papers 
to the Bancroft Library for the use of researchers. 

Wi I la Klug Baum 
Department Head 

31 March 1969 

486 The Bancroft Library 

Regional Oral History Office 

University of California at Berkeley 



The following interviews in fields related to agriculture 
and resources management have been completed by the Regional Oral 
History Office. Where the interview includes a substantial con 
tribution to more than one subject, the name is listed under each 
subject heading. Interviews are listed in order of completion. 

The Regional Oral History Office was established to tape 
record autobiographical interviews with persons who have contributed 
significantly to the development of the West. The Office, headed 
by Willa Baum, is under the administrative supervision of the 
director of The Bancroft Library. 

Agriculture and Land 
Bancroft, Philip 

Hutchison, Claude B. 

Miller, John A. 
Camp, Wofford B. 
Cobb, Cully A. 

Lowdermilk, Walter C. 
Swett, Frank 


Politics, Farming, and the Progressive Party in 

California. 1962 

The College of Agriculture, University of 
California, 1922-1952. 1962 

Brentwood Plan for Agricultural Labor. 1963 
Cotton, Irrigation, and the AAA. 1968 

The Cotton Section of the Agricultural Adjustment 
Administration, 1933-1937. 1968 

Soil, Forest and Water Conservation and Reclamation 
in China, Israel, Africa and the United States. 1968 

California Agricultural Cooperatives. 1968 

Irrigation and Water Resources 

Bartlett, Louis 
Downey, Stephen W. 
Lambert, Charles F. 
Durbrow, William 
Jones, Herbert 
Mason, J. Rupert 

Adams , Frank 
Banks, Harvey 
Harding, Sidney T. 
Leedom, Sam R. 
Camp, Wofford B. 
Lowdermilk, Walter C. 

Packard, Walter E. 

Memoirs. 1957 

California Water and Power Attorney. 1957 

Sacramento Valley Irrigation and Land. 1957 

Irrigation District Leader. 1958 

California Government and Public Issues. 1958 

Single Tax. Irrigation Districts, and Municipal 
Bankruptcy. 1958 

Irrigation. Reclamation and Water Administration. 1959 
California Water Prolect. 1955-1961. 1967 
A Life in Western Water Development. 1967 
California Water Development. 1930-1955. 1967 
Cotton. Irrigation, and the AAA. 1968 

Soil, Forest and Water Conservation and Reclamation 
in China, Israel, Africa and the United States. 1968 

Land and Power Development in California, Greece L and 

Latin America. 1968 


In all of my time I have never met a more interesting man to talk 
with than Walter Clay Lowdermilk. What he had to say was always worth 
while. I first met him in the I930's when he was Assistant Chief of the 
Soil Conservation Service in Washington. I then learned that at the age 
of fifteen he came from South Carolina with his parents and that his 
father located a homestead near Willcox, in the Sulphur Springs Valley, 
Cochise County, Arizona. 

I remember that he told me he was for three years a student at the 
University of Arizona, and then went to England as a Rhodes Scholar to 
obtain a degree in geology. Upon his return, he became a Forest Ranger 
in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona, where he had an opportunity to 
observe the damage done by erosion. 

I listened with interest when he told me about the service that he 
rendered during a five year period to the people living in the valley 
of the Yellow River in China, by demonstrating that flood control was 
the only way to prevent starvation. With that background of experience, 
he was most helpful to me in securing the enactment of the Soil Conserva 
tion Act of April 27, 1935. 

I had read it with interest and at my request there was printed in 
the Congressional Record of January 27, 1936, the text of an address en- 
tit lelT%oTT~Tros~io7rand" Its Control in the United States," by Dr. Walter 
C. Lowdermilk, Associate Chief of the Soil Conservation Service, at the 
Third International Congress of Soil Sciences in London, August 7, 1935. 

It is needless to say that I did not hesitate to call on him to 
assist me in the passage by the Senate of the Omnibus Flood Control Act 
of June 22, 1936. 

In later years, I enjoyed talking with him about his experiences over 
a period of ten years in the development of a master water plan for the 
irrigation of land in the Jordan Valley and the production of hydroelectric 
power for which the people of Israel were most grateful. 

Of the many men of distinction that I have come to know during my 
f{fty_f| ve years of service in the Congress, there is no one of them who 
has done more to make the world a better place for mankind to live by find 
ing ways for the development of its soil and water resources. 

March 28, 1968 
United States Senate 
Washington, D.C. 



Dr. Walter Clay Lowdermilk, now past eighty-one, has been a path 
finder in the development of the theories of erosion: nearly a half 
century ago he coined the expression, accelerated erosion, as distin 
guished from the geologic norm of erosion. Since then, his concern for 
the preservation and proper utilization of the world's land, water, and 
forests, has prompted him to conduct major studies in erosion, and to 
travel extensively to apply the results of his research to land use 
problems in the United States, Europe, Israel and the Middle East, 
Africa, China, and Japan. He is well known as the founder of the San 
Dimas Forest Experiment Station, and as the author of the important 
Jordan Valley Power and Irrigation Project. 

This oral history interview became an extensive autobiography of 
Dr. Lowdermilk, yet in recording his life we were also chronicling the 
development of the soil conservation movement in the United States and 
the major areas of the world. 

Dr. Lowdermilk was born in Liberty, North Carolina, in 1888, and 
grew up on farms in Oklahoma and Arizona. He went to Oxford as a Rhodes 
Scholar, studying forestry there with Sir William Schlich and with forst- 
meisters in the German forests. Following these years abroad, he re 
turned to this country and worked for the United States Forest Service 
for a period spanning eighteen years, during which he took time off to 
serve with the Lumberjack Regiment of the AEF, to teach forestry and 
study erosion in China, and to work for his Ph.D. in Forestry and Geology 
in Berkeley. 

The next fifteen years he was in Washington, D.C., with the Soil 
Erosion/Soil Conservation Service where he played a leading role in 
efforts to control erosion in the United States. As Assistant Chief 
of the Soil Conservation Service, he helped write the Soil Conservation 
Act, the first Omnibus Flood Control Act, and administered research 
programs aimed at developing land use measures suitable to the various 
geographical sections of the country. This background, during the years 
following his retirement from SCS, resulted in his appointments as a 
committee chairman on Truman's Water Resources Policy Commission, as a 
consultant to the Natural Resources Section of the United Nations Sec 
retariat, and as a consultant on soil and water conservation to the gov 
ernments of China, Japan, North Africa, West Africa, Yugoslavia, and 
Israel. His finding water in the desert community of Morongo, California, 
after his second retirement at the age of seventy, was a most interesting 
product of his years of study and action in behalf of the management of 
natural resources. Presently (1969), Dr. Lowdermilk is a consultant to 
the Save-the-Redwoods League. 

These various stages of his career and the thoughts he had about 
them can be seen by looking at the table of contents. They have obviously 

been many, culminating in honors and the sincere expressions of love 
and respect from countless people in different countries for the man 
who dedicated his life to bringing people into proper relationships 
with their land and waters. 

One of the aims of this oral history has been to provide material 
which could be used by students in many different fields: forest con 
servation in America and abroad; the Roosevelt and Truman presidential 
periods; American foreign policy, particularly foreign aid; British, 
French, and Italian colonial policies in Africa and the Middle East; 
Israel; agricultural practices throughout the world; theories of ad 
ministration. While this oral history contains so much material for 
different specialists, out of it emerges the picture of a man who re 
fused to be boxed in physically or intellectually, and whose wide- 
ranging knowledge often enabled him to understand and help solve prob 
lems which baffled experts. 

This refusal to be confined, coupled with his broad interests, 
might possibly be the result of Dr. lowdermi I k's background: his par 
ents were pioneers, and he grew up on farms in the developing wide open 
spaces of the western United States. "I like the feeling of being a 
pioneer," he once told me. Another time he said, "It's quite something 
to get out and read the story that has been engraved in the land . . . 
all those things we've done to it. And then when you look at it from 
the point of view of growing foodstuffs for rapidly increasing mankind, 
it becomes a problem of highest importance. So to be on the front line 
of this kind of exploration is to me quite an exciting thing . . . I 'm 
still on that trail and will be as long as I live." 

From his early youth to the present, Dr. Lowdermi Ik has always 
had a drive to know, a drive to achieve, and a love of challenge. 
These drives have been given purpose and direction by considerable 
intelligence, creativity, and physical stamina. Such qualities could, 
of course, produce a hard-driving, machine- 1 ike human, but add to them 
the humility of the scientist, a reverent feeling for nature, a deep 
concern for the struggles of humble men, a sense of optimism in the 
face of defeat, and a different kind of man emerges. 

Partly a reflection of his western American heritage, partly a 
reflection of his personal drives, since his days as a Rhodes Scholar 
in Oxford, he has carried in his notebook Rudyard Kipling's poem, 
"The Explorer," with its refrain: 

"Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges 
"Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. 

Both physically and intellectually he has gone "behind the ranges" seek 
ing the key problems besetting man in his continuous struggle to survive 
on this earth. 

Such concern led him to the headwaters of the Yellow River China's 


Sorrow to find out what caused the silt, for centuries responsible for 
floods which had beset the Chinese farmers. The significance of the ero 
sion and the incredible gullying that he saw in Northwest China prompted 
him to spend a lifetime studying erosion scientifically in order to find 
ways to control it. 

Without erosion, he reasoned, people could derive proper benefits 
from land and water, famine could be prevented, and men thus enabled to 
live in harmony with nature and with each other. He expressed this idea 
movingly in his famous Eleventh Commandment, which he dedicated to the 
pioneer settlers of Israel . 

Thou shalt inherit the holy earth as a faithful steward, con 
serving its resources and productivity from generation to 
generation; thou shalt safeguard thy fields from soil erosion, 
thy living waters from drying up, thy forests from desolation, 
and protect the hills from overgrazing by the herds, that thy 
descendants may have abundance forever. If any shall fail in 
this good stewardship of the land, thy fruitful fields shall 
become sterile stoney ground or wasting gullies, and thy des 
cendants shall decrease and live in poverty or perish from off 
the face of the earth. 

Despite his many years of hard work attempting to achieve the har 
monious relationship between man and the land, this goal seems almost 
hopelessly out of reach perhaps even more than it did fifty years. 
Dr. Lowdermilk is saddened by this, but not despairing. Even though 
he has witnessed what he believes to have been blunders on the part of 
the United States government and other nations in dealing with these 
problems; even though some of his own specific projects and plans have 
been ignored; even though for years he has seen and understood the prob 
lems of the developing countries and has warned that "civilization is 
running a race with famine and the outcome is in doubt;" even though 
he is disturbed that so much money goes for weapons rather than plows 
he remains quietly optimistic. 

For though his great hope is as yet unrealized, progress has 
occurred and Dr. Lowdermilk has seen many of his own dreams fulfilled. 
"It is unusual, but how gratifying," he says, "for a man to dream dreams, 
work hard to make them realities, and live to see them come true." 

The Jordan Valley Power and Irrigation Project, his vision of 1939, 
helped pave the way for the State of Israel. In Israel, Dr. Lowdermilk 
experienced the joy of working with measurable success to control ero 
sion and to help develop the land to utilize the benefits of the water 
that is available. And the grateful Israelis honored this special man 
who came to live and work among them by naming a Department of Agricul 
tural Engineering after him. Here, he claims, he wrote his biography 
on the land, and it was here that both he and Mrs. Lowdermilk feel they 
lived the happiest years of their lives together. 


No biography of Dr. Lowdermi Ik can ignore his wife, the very 
dynamic, intelligent Inez Marks Lowdermi Ik. She epitomizes the pic 
ture of the woman not behind but alongside the man. Her role as devoted 
wife and helpmate for forty-six years was cogently expressed by two 
speakers at the testimonial dinner honoring Dr. Lowdermi Ik in May, 1944. 
Abel Wolman, of Johns Hopkins University, said: 

The only thing I want to comment on with respect to them [his 
years] is that I do not know how he managed to pack it into 
the period in which he has lived, but I suspect that Mrs. 
Lowdermi Ik has assisted in the packing. She has covered the 
ground with him of course, and if I know the kind of wife 
that I understand she is, his life has been made simple. 
AM he had to do was traverse the deserts, to cover the 
monsoons, but his baggage and his clothes I am sure were 
always in good shape and the stimulation which she provided 
is one of the reasons why he is here looking fresh and ac 
tive and strong enough even to stand this ordeal. 

And Dr. Kan Lee, Commercial Counselor to the Chinese Embassy, said: 

With the permission of the chairman and our honorable 
guests, may I take this occasion to pay a tribute also 
to Mrs. Lowdermi Ik, who, before her marriage, was engaged 
in pioneering educational work in China. I hope I am not 
wrong in saying that it was through her that her husband 
first became interested in the problem of soil conserva 
tion. She has helped greatly to popularize the valuable 
contributions of her husband. Much credit, therefore, 
must go to Mrs. Lowdermi Ik as a chief source of inspira 
tion for Dr. Lowdermi Ik's soil conservation projects. 

Mrs. Lowdermi Ik has the physical stamina equal to that of her hus 
band and has been his companion and secretary on almost all the arduous 
travels. In addition, an astute observer of people, she has helped him 
to a deeper insight into people and places, which she often felt he 
missed while he was trudging through the fields concentrating on rocks, 
trees, soil, and water. 

Never traveling without her portable typewriter, she wrote notes 
and helped with drafts of reports and articles. Thus Dr. Lowdermi Ik 
was enabled to publish prol if ical ly, to tell people throughout the 
United States, Canada, Israel, and parts of Africa, what he saw and 
how he felt about it. Occasionally she was an author in her own right: 
in the early years of their married life in China, she wrote many ar 
ticles for the Dearborn Independent about China and its people, based 
upon experiences gained from her years as a missionary in the remote 
regions of that country. While living in Washington, D.C., many years 
later, she wrote two radio scripts which told about erosion in China 
and the United States. 


Inez Marks, the daughter of a Methodist minister, went to China 
as a missionary after college and planned to devote her life to this 
work. But she could not forget the student she had met in Arizona, and 
eleven years later, much to the dismay of her parents, she married the 
young forester and gave up active work in the church. However, she re 
mained a missionary if by this is meant a person strongly devoted to a 
set of principles who attempts to persuade others to his position. 
Through her tireless assistance on behalf of conservation, both human 
and material, refugee relief, and Israel; through her efforts at the 
typewriter and on the speaker's rostrum; and through her gracious hos 
pitality, she has helped persuade others to the position to which she 
and Dr. Lowdermilk have devoted their lives. 

This is the kind of spirit, coupled with strong self-discipline 
and an indomitable will, which enabled Mrs. Lowdermilk to enrich this 
oral history with that major portion labeled Written Questions and 
Answers. Although in order to help produce it she had to give up many 
of the activities which she had begun to enjoy since "retirement," she 
never gave up the gardening, or the teas and receptions for friends in 
Berkeley and for the many visiting dignitaries from around the world. 
After the war in the Middle East in June, 1967, she added to her rou 
tine a busy round of lectures on Israel. 

She has many interesting stories to tell about her life as the 
wife of a VIP in the capitals and the farm fields of the world; we 
only taped a few. We get further snatches in some of the reports and 
letters which she wrote to her family, excerpts of from which we have in 
serted in the manuscript. These personal accounts will be deposited in 
the Bancroft Library. 

Mrs. Lowdermilk, at seventy-nine, is a tall, rather statuesque 
woman with brown hair and bright blue eyes. She dresses in the some 
what formal style of most women of her generation. Her voice is strong, 
and she speaks articulately and to the point. She likes to read aloud, 
and through this means, she and Dr. Lowdermilk cover a wide range of 
material together newspapers, magazines, letters from friends through 
out the world, and from their two children, both of whom live away from 
Berkeley with their families. 

Dr. Lowdermilk, somewhat shorter than his wife, belies his eighty- 
one years. He is robust, with a strong, barely lined face, a sturdy 
handshake, a shock of white hair (kept trimmed by his wife since she 
discovered soon after their marriage that he was always too preoccupied 
to remember the barber), and a neatly trimmed white mustache. His eyes 
are small, and hidden beneath a massive brow. Their color varies from 
brown to green depending on the dominant color of the plaid wool shirt 
he is wearing. But when he laughs or smiles, which is often since he 
has a finely-honed sense of humor, his eyes disappear. 

Unless he is attending a reception or dinner, he dresses inform 
ally in his sport shirt and bolo tie. His favorite slide is a mosaic 
of a thunderbird, crafted by Zuni Indians. When he speaks, he gestures 

xi v 

with his hands to emphasize a point, sometimes thumping gently on the 
table or desk. 

The Lowdermilk home, large and gracious, overlooks a sweeping view 
of San Francisco Bay. The furnishings, much of them of museum caliber, 
denote the years of travel abroad, with the entrance hall and living 
room furnished almost completely with Chinese rugs, tables, screens, 
vases, framed pieces of rare Chinese hand work, paintings, and carved 
ivory. A massive chest in the living room comes from Korea. Through 
out the house are other oriental rugs, and brass and silver trays and 
pitchers from the Middle East. There are always flowers in the vases 
and pitchers, a combination of artificial blooms and whatever is blos 
soming in their well-kept old fashioned garden which is enjoyed by a 
variety of birds and several racoons which visit late at night. Throw 
ing out bread for the birds and racoons is as important an obligation 
as watering. 

The study, where we tape recorded, is lined with books showing 
Dr. Lowdermilk's many fields of interest, plaques and framed scrolls 
indicating his honors and citations, rocks and small dolls and other 
bric-a-brac collected from here and there. In addition, the Chinese 
screens, the Bokhara rugs on the floor, wall and cot, give it a warm 
and cosy air. The desk is full of papers, an indication of on-going 
work and study. 

The large dining room is Mrs. Lowdermilk's work-hospitality 
center. Its furnishings are plainly American: a large table, buffet 
and many chairs. The typewriter, papers and mail are usually on the 
dining room table, although they may be transferred to a desk on the 
glassed-in porch. Here the Written Questions and Answers were developed, 
and here is where we had our many conferences, some over lunch or after 
noon refreshments. 

This table is often quickly and completely cleared of work and 
then beautifully set for a festive tea. It is then Mrs. Lowdermilk 
uses her priceless dishes, handmade on the potter's wheel of the Dowager 
Empress, and decorated with the yellow color which, until the Manchus 
were deposed, was permitted only on the Empress' table. (Many years 
after Mrs. Lowdermilk acquired her dishes, Chiang Kai-shek gave a similar 
set to Queen Elizabeth of England as a wedding gift.) 

Developing this oral history has been a stimulating experience, al 
beit a long and demanding one, for the Lowdermilks, and for me, the 
interviewer. Because they desired a thorough document, they were will 
ing to tackle this project with the kind of drive and vitality which, 
I suspect, they have brought to all their challenging assignments. 

Ma lea Chall, Interviewer 
31 March 1969 

xv . 

THE TRIBUNE, Oakland, California 
July 1989 

Inez M. Lowdermilk 
dies in Oakland at 99 

TO* Tribunt 

Inez Marks Lowdermilk, a 
writer, world traveler, and 
noted educator and lecturer, 
died Thursday in Oakland. 
She was 99. 

As a girl, Mrs. Lowdermilk, 
a native of Oregon, wanted to 
do something worthwhile 
with her life. So in 1916 
after graduating with honors 
from the University of South 
ern California the Method 
ist Church sent her on a five- 
year mission to China's re 
mote Szechuan Province, 
where she opened IS girls' 

Upon her return,, she mar 
ried Walter Lowdermilk. who 
became an internationally 
known environmentalist and 
helped establish the U.S. Soil 
Conservation Service. To 
gether, they began a life of 
travel and work around the 

With their neighbor, author 
Pearl Buck, they barely es 
caped with their lives in the 
1927 "Nanking Incident" in 
China, in which revolutionary 
soldiers swept in to destroy 

Many years later, they vis 
ited the Holy Land, where as 
devout Christians, they be 
came staunch supporters of 

Mrs. Lowdermilk was later 
instrumental in starting the 
Berkeley Chapter of Hadas- 
sah and the California Chris 
tian Committee for Israel. 

Inez Marks Lowdermilk 

Barely escaped in China 

She would also become a 
popular lecturer, a legendary 
hostess and a radio personali 
ty, broadcasting to American 
farmers on the National 
Farm and Home Hour. 

In an interview at her 
Berkeley home with The 
Tribune in 1982, Mrs. Lowder 
milk, then 92, reflected on her 
life, saying: "... I'm driven. I 
say to myself, 'If you're need 
ed for something, do it. If you 
feel tired, do it anyway.' " 

Mrs. Lowdermilk is sur 
vived by a daughter, Winifred 
Hess, of Gaithersburg, Md ; a 
son, William Lowdermilk, of 
Stiver Springs. Md.; five 
grandchildren and four great 

Funeral arrangements are 

San Francisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle 
July 30, 1989 

Inez Marks 
Lowdermilk dies 

By Eric Brazil 


Inez Marks Lowdermilk, author, 
educator and humanitarian, whose 
life of commitment and adventure 
had wide-ranging international im 
part . is dead at age 99. 

Mrs. I,owdermilk died Thurs 
day in an Oakland retirement 

A native of Oregon, reared in 
Southern California, energetic and 
idealistic, young Inez Marks de 
parted on an epic journey to China 
after her 1916 USC graduation. 

She traveled far up the 
Kiver in China, then overland into 
Szechuan. 1,000 miles beyond the 
nearest railhead, as a Methodist 
educational missionary. 

"I was appalled to find girls who 
rould not read or write, for there 
were no schools to attend, except in 
cities," she recalled in a newspaper 
interview a decade ago. "All the 
girls hobbled painfully on small 
stumps of crippled, bound feet." 

Hy 1924. Mrs. I/owdermilk had 
upsned 15 schools with more than 
i>00 female students, trained 26 
teachers and traveled thousands of 
miles afoot and in sedan chair 
through the Chinese hinterlands. 
~Sh became an influential force in 
the campaign that abolished the 
custom of foot binding. 
., Jn 1922. she married Dr. Ralph 
,-Clay I-owdermilk, then the head of 
,ap^ American-sponsored famine 
prevention program at Nanking 
Union University. In Nanking she 
'WHS a neighbor and fast friend of 
Nobel Prize-winning American au 
thor Pearl Buck. 

Dr. Lowdermilk. who died in 
1974, achieved world acclaim as an 
authority on soil conservation and 

Mrs. I/owdermilk. a tall woman 
usually described in newspaper ar 
ticles as "stately." was an active 
participant in her husband's 
globe-trotting work and a prolific 


Mrs. Lowdermilk helped bring 
about much change in Israel. 

A 19;<9 visit to Palestine 
changed their lives. 

Not only had the land been 
wrecked by centuries of erosion. 
but t he Jewish people were ravaged 
by the Holocaust and wracked by 
the violent birth pangs of Israel. 

"Mother went hack to America 
to tell the tragedy of Jewish suffer 
ing," said her daughter, Mrs. Win 
ifred Hess of Gaithersburg. Md. 
Mrs. Ixiwdermilk raised funds for 
rescuing European Jewish children 
and bringing them to Israel. She 
founded the Berkeley-based Chris 
tian Committee for Israel. 

In 1942. she and her husband 
co-authored "Palestine: Land of 
Promise." The book's thesis was 
that Israel could support millions 
more Jews by effectively utilizing 
its natural resources. It became a 
document that influenced the Unit 
ed Nations vote establishing the 
Jewish slate. 

In all. the Lowdermilks worked 
in Israel for six years during the 
1950s. Dr. Lowdermilk's work had 
such far-reaching effects on Israel 
that he is regarded as the father of 
its water plan and modern agricul 

Dr. Moses Cyrus Weller. a Jew 
ish National Fund representative, 
once quipix-d: "Israel is a land flow 
ing with Lowdermilk and honey." 
Israel's Institute ot Technology at 
Haifa was renamed the Lowder 
milk School of Agricultural Engi 

Ai age 88. Mrs I/owdermilk was 

writing her biography. "All in a 
Lifetime," which was privately 
published in 1985. "At my age. I 
guess one is expected to be sitting 
in a rocking chair. But I can't. Ev 
en' day is crammed full of activi 
ties. Why, I'm even busier than 
when I was 86 or 87," she told an 

Israel and China remained abid 
ing interests throughout her life. 
She visited Israel in 1976 to dedi 
cate a new forest in memory of her 
husband. And she was still 
boarding visiting women students 
from China at her Berkeley home 
while in her 90s.. 

"Her energy 1 amazed me, and it 
amazed everybody else," said Mrs. 

In addition to her daughter. 
Mrs. Lowdermilk is survived by her 
son William I/owdermilk of Silver 
Springs.. Md.. five grandchildren 
and four great-grandchildren. 

No funeral service will be held. 
Contributions may be made to the 
Lowdermilk Scholarship Fund, 
Haifa Technion University, Haifa. 
Krael. in her name. 

Arrangements were made by 
!. N'ary-Morgan-Engel & Jackson 
"i Oakland. 

LpWOKMILK.IntxM*rkl InOJKuno ju'v 
}'. 1989. wife of me late Wilier Ciy Low- 
ae-miiH. motner o( Winifred Hess of Gann- 
'iOu'K. Md and W.lham LOwaermilK o< 
Silver Sor "US M . also Survived Oy five 
:'f.*nacn'idren and four great crandcntid- 
i .1 well Known writer, educator and 
"turer.a rati veol Oregon aged 99 years 
No services neia Contributions may oe 
MClt? to tne Lowdermilk Scholarship Funo 
o'i Tnn.on Society. 170 Mar- 
S- %l SF 9410?. in ner name 
Arrangement! Ot McNARY-MORGAN-EN 


Research and Planni ng 

This oral history comprises two sections, the Written Questions 
and Answers, and the Taped Questions and Answers. The written portion 
is a unique addition to the oral memoir, but its presence indicates 
the flexibility of oral history in gathering historical material. 

It was Dr. and Mrs. Lowdermilk's feeling that he had covered too 
much territory, both physically and intellectually, for a complete ac 
counting of his life's work by the usual taping method. After consid 
erable discussion, and some trial and error, the Lowdermilks and the 
interviewer devised a special working arrangement which would permit 
their story to be told as completely as possible. 

Dr. Lowdermilk's life was divided chronologically into periods 
based on his particular activities during his eighty-one years. After 
reading his publications and other relevant material, and conferring 
with the Lowdermilks, the interviewer gave them a detailed outline of 
questions relating to each period a week or more in advance of each 
writing-interview stage. 

The Lowdermilks then painstakingly searched their memories, read 
their letters, diaries, published and unpublished reports and articles, 
reviewed the facts and emotions of the period, and came up with answers 
and comments. Mrs. Lowdermilk typed these in dialogue form in order to 
retain the character of the taped interview. She composed questions to 
cover items suggested in the outline, or to bring out some other impor 
tant information which they wanted to discuss. Needless to say, this 
allows the interviewer to seem exceptionally erudite. 

Following submission of this written material, if the interviewer 
thought that the subject required more detail or greater depth, she 
prepared additional questions and then taped an interview with Dr. Low- 
dermilk. One taping usually completed the subject, but the complexi 
ties of fifteen years with the Soil Conservation Service and six years 
in Israel required many taping sessions for each of these periods. 

Time and Setting of_ the Interview 

Altogether there were twenty-two taping sessions between March, 
1967, and April, 1968. Most were held once a week, but occasionally 
a month or two would elapse between recorded interviews. When taping. 
Dr. Lowdermilk and the interviewer worked alone in his study; the two 
interviews with Mrs. Lowdermilk took place, however, in the dining room 
when the three of us were having lunch. 

xv i 


The interviewer edited the transcript and the written questions 
and answers at the same time. Most overlapping and duplication were 
cut from the transcript. Some material was rearranged in order to 
develop a topic as clearly as possible. Such editing has done away 
with some of the conversational tone, but because this interview Is 
so long and so detailed, we decided that setting forth the facts and 
providing for ease of research was of primary importance. 

Beginning in February, 1968, the edited manuscript, one or two 
chapters at a time both written and taped was given to the Lowder- 
milks for their final editing. Mrs. Lowdermilk reviewed it all first, 
noting changes she thought important, then read it aloud to Dr. Low- 
dermilk. At this point they discussed further editing, cut duplication 
that had remained, and further tightened the style. Here too they in 
serted information which had occurred to them while they reviewed the 
manuscript, or answered questions which the interviewer had thought of 
in the interim between research, taping, and editing. By May I, in 
record time, they had completed the editing. 


The interviewer has been responsible for the arrangement of the 
chapters, the titles and the sub-headings, in both the written and 
taped sections, providing many of each in order to help chart a way 
through this lengthy and fact-filled document. The thirty-three single 
pages from reports and letters which are inserted, wherever relevant, 
in the document have not been listed separately. They refer the re 
searcher to the scope of additional source material which the Lowdermilks 
have given to the Bancroft Library. 

The index is intended to supplement the table of contents. Subject 

matter clearly defined in the sub-headings has not been indexed. The 

researcher will need to use both the index and table of contents to find 
the information he seeks. 




1. March 13, 1967 

2. March 14 

3. March 20 

4. March 22 

5. March 27 

6. March 30 

7. April 27 

8. May 4 

9. May 31 

10. June 15 

11. July 12 

12. July 19 

13. July 26 

14. September 26 

15. October 3 

16. October 13 

17. October 24 

18. October 31 

19. November 7 


Family background 

Schooling in Missouri, Arizona and Oxford 

Forest Service: Tonto National Forest 
Tenth Engineers, AEF 

Forest Service: Missoula, Montana 

China: first trip 

Mrs. Lowdermilk talks about the Nanking Incident 

China: second trip 

Mrs. Lowdermilk talks about experiences in 
Washington, D. C. and Israel 

Soil Conservation Service 

Soil Conservation Service (cont'd.) 

Survey of Europe and the Middle East 

Survey of Europe and the Middle East (cont'd.) 

Survey of Europe and the Middle East (cont'd.) 

Soil Conservation Service (cont'd.) 

FAO Technical Committee on Forestry and 
Forest Products 

French North Africa 
British Colonial Africa 

United Nations Secretariat 

Truman's Water Resources Policy Commission 

Israel: the Jewish farmer 
The Eleventh Commandment 

Israel: Soil Conservation Service 

Israel: Department of Agricultural Engineering 

xvi ii 

20. February 6, 1968 Israel : Department of Agricultural Engineering 

Other activities, people in Israel 

21. February 13 Loyalty investigation 

22. April I Redwoods 


Walter Clay Lowdermilk 

1888 Born July I, Liberty, North Carolina. 

1912-15 Rhodes Scholar, Oxford: Forestry and Geology. 

1914 Belgium Relief Commission. 

1915-17 United States Forest Service, Tonto National Forest, Arizona. 

1917-20 World War I, Tenth Engineers, A.E.F. 

1920-22 United States Forest Service, Missoula, Montana. 

1922 Marriage to Inez Marks, August 15. 

1922-27 Professor of Forestry, Union University of Nanking, China. 

1927-29 Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley: Forestry and Geology. 

1929-33 Founded San Dimas Hydrological Experiment Station and other 
Forest Experiment Stations. 

1933-47 Assistant Chief, Soil Erosion Service and Soil Conservation 
Service, Washington, D.C. 

1938-39 Surveyed erosion in Europe and Middle East for Department of 

1 942 Wrote Palestine, Land o_f_ Promise. 

1942-44 China: Consultant to Executive Yuan on erosion control and 
agricultural production. 

1945 Paricutin, Mexico: Group leader for National Research Council 
on study of erosion in volcanic ash. 

1948 Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia: Consultant to French Colonial 
government on problems of soil erosion and methods of con 
serving farm, pasture lands and forests. 

1949 British West Africa: Consultant to British Colonial office 
and British and American missionary societies in eleven coun 
tries, to appraise local problems related to conservation of 
land and water. 

1950 United States: Chairman, Basic Data Committee, Truman Water 
Resources Policy Commission. 

1951 Japan: Advisor to Allied Powers on erosion and flood control. 

1951-53 Israel: Consultant (FAO) on development of soil and water 

1954 United Nations, New York: Assigned to develop a coordinated 
water program for the U.N. 


1955-57 Israel: Consultant (FAO) on development of a Department of 
Agricultural Engineering at Tech n ion- Israel Institute of 

1957 Yugoslavia: Consultant (FAO) on integration of land and 
water policies for the Cetina River Valley. 

1958-62 Morongo Valley, California: Directed search for water for 

residents of the area where Lowdermilks had a retirement home. 

1962- Berkeley, California: Consultant to Save-the-Redwoods League; 
Research Associate, Geography Department, UCB. 

xx i 


Vo I ume I 


Preface v j j 

Foreword by Senator Carl Hayden ix 

Introduction x 

Interview History xvi 

Walter Clay Lowdermilk A Brief Biography xx 


[Written questions and answers] I 

Early Education and Work 2 

Life at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, 1912-1915 4 
Work With Belgium Relief Commission, 1914 

Graduating From Oxford 10 

[Taped questions and answers] 13 

Parents and the Westward Migration 13 

Brothers and Sisters 16 

Early Education 
Training in the German Forests, 1912-1915 18 

Herr Forstmeister Hebe I, Specialist in 

Growing Oak For Furniture 20 

Americans Learn Forest Management in Germany 

The British Foresters 
Study Methods in Oxford 24 


[Written questions and answers] 

Ranger in the Tonto National Forest 

Santa Fe National Forest 26 

xxi i 

[iTaped questions and answers]] 28 

Tonto National Forest 28 

Lumbermen vs. Government 29 

Cattlemen vs. Sheep Men 30 

Personal Challenges 32 

Santa Fe National Forest 33 


[Written questions and answers] 35 

The Voyage to Europe 35 

Timber Acquisition Officer 36 

Settling Timber Account After the Armistice 36 

Commission on War Damages in Invaded Regions 37 

CTaped questions and answers] 38 

Timber Acquisition Officer 38 

Settling the Two Million Dollar Claim 38 

Commission on War Damages in Invaded Regions 40 


CWritten questions and answers] 42 

Appointed Regional Research Officer 42 

Problems of Slash Disposal 44 
Development of Forest Conservation in the 

the United States 46 

Forestry Pioneers 47 

[Taped questions and answers] 50 

Duties as Research Officer 50 

Slash Disposal 

Plant Succession 

Forestry Pioneers 57 

V CHINA, 1922-1927 

CWritten questions and answers] 59 

Lowdermilk's Marriage and Decision to go to China 60 

Developing the Theory of Man-Made Erosion 61 

The Yellow River and Silt 61 

Temple Forests Thrive Amid Eroded Land 63 

Setting up Experiments to Find out the Facts 64 

Lowdermilk Set in Direction of His Life's Work 

Reporting the Results of Experimentation 65 

xx i i i 

Hwai River 55 

Other Studies Reported 67 

Theory on Famine 68 

Prospects for the Future 70 

Studies of Typhoons and Floods 72 

The Nanking Incident 73 


Comment on the Nanking Incident 80 

The Return to the United States 81 

[Taped questions and answers] 82 

Methods of Determining and Carrying Out Research 82 

Contacts With Other Scientists 83 

Visual Evidence of Erosion in China 84 

Measuring Runoff and Erosion 84 

Reaction of Chinese Scholars to Field Work 86 

Reading the Ancient Chinese Gazetteers 89 

The Hwai River Report 90 
Joint Expedition With 0. J. Todd to see 

Effects and Meaning of Silt 91 

Solving Problems Caused by Erosion 94 

LowdermMk Finds His Life Work 95 

Forestry in China in the 1920's 96 

Memories of Pearl Buck 99 
Mrs. Lowdermilk Tells of Her Experiences 

During the Nanking Incident 100 

The Voyage Back to the United States 107 

Decision About the Future 108 


[Written questions and answers] 110 

Decision to Get a Ph.D. I 10 

Experimentation on Runoff and Erosion Begins 110 

Devising and Maintaining the Soil Tanks 

Artificial Rain 

Soil Tubes 

Summary of Findings 

Definition of Accelerated Erosion 

Receiving the Ph.D. 116 

[Taped questions and answers] 

Review of a Century of Literature 
The Berkeley Experiments 

Use of the Progressive Hypothesis 

Professor Louderback 
Evaluating Experimental Data for Thesis 

xx iv 


[Written questions and answers] 121 

Forest Experiment Centers |2I 

Developing the San Dimas Experiment 122 

Specifications 122 

Locating the Watershed 123 

A New Design for Forest Service Buildings 124 

Experiments 125 

Recharging Ground Waters 126 

Fire of I960 12? 

Using the C.C.C. |28 

Colleagues In San Dimas 128 

Edward Kotok 129 

The Depression |30 

Building the Family Home 131 

Appointment to the Soil Erosion Service 133 

Meeting Rexford Tugwell 133 

Tugwell Sends Lowdermilk to Washington 134 

Reunions at San Dimas 135 


[Written questions and answers] 136 

Part I The Soil Erosion Service, 1933-1935 136 

Arrival in Washington 136 

Activity at Headquarters 137 

Hiring Personnel 138 

Sedimentation Study 138 

Aerial Mapping 139 

Field Work 141 

Navajo Indian Reservation 141 

Gila River: The San Simon Wash and the 

Cattlemen 143 

Early Work on Omnibus Flood Control Act of 1936 146 

Taylor Grazing Act 146 

Attitudes of Cattlemen 147 

Transfer of Soil Erosion Service to 

Department of Agriculture 148 

Passing the Soil Conservation Act 150 
Relations With Extension Service and Farm 

Bureau Federation 150 

Part 2 The Soil Conservation Service, 1935-1938 151 
Reasons for Districts in Soil Conservation Service 151 

Ben James 1 Farm 

Developing the Districts 

Success of Districts 

Reasons for Regional Administration 157 


Relations With A. A. A. 158 

Coordination of Specialists: The Farm Planner 159 

Obtaining Cooperation of Farmers |6I 

Ingenious Fanner: Sam Gowder |62 

Demonstration Areas (54 

Lowdermilk Appointed Chief of Research |65 

Research Programs [55 

Erosion Experiment Stations 166 

Puerto Rico 167 

Sedimentation Studies 168 

Relations With Other Organizations [70 

Relations With TVA |7| 

Shelterbelt Project 172 

Use of Civilian Conservation Corps 174 

Duties 175 

Management 176 

Flaw in Recruitment |77 

Extent of Erosion in U.S. in I930's 178 

Life in Washington 179 

Cosmos Club |80 

Appointment to Survey Old Lands in Europe 

and the Middle East 180 

Part 3 The Soil Conservation Service, 1939-1947 182 

Return to Washington 182 

Friendship With Justice Brandeis 182 

Speaking Tour Across the U.S. 184 

Heart Attack and Recuperation 185 

Writing Palestine, Land of Promise 187 

Publishing Palestine, Land of Promise 188 

Commendation Dinner 192 

Various Activities, 1944-1947 193 

Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry 

on Palestine 193 

Decision to Retire 195 

[Japed questions and answers!) 198 

Part 1 The Soil Erosion Service and the Soil 

Conservation Service, 1933-1938 198 

Knowledge of Erosion in 1933 198 

Controversies Among Specialists 199 

Bennett vs. Kellogg: The Extent of Erosion 199 

Silt Problems in Reservoirs 201 

Reasons for Sedimentation Studies 202 

Soils Men Interpreting Erosion 203 

Whitney and Marbut 203 

Demonstration of Erosion 204 
Problems of Recording Erosion 
Foresters: Changing Concepts 
Plant Men vs. Engineers 

Integration and Coordination of Specialists 207 

xxv i 

Wood lots 207 

Gu I I 1 es 209 

Farm Ponds 209 

Getting Cooperation of the Fanner 211 
Philosophy Regarding Cooperation With the Farmer 211 
Soil Conservation Districts Designed to 

Achieve Cooperation 213 

Hiring the Social Psychologist 213 

The Soil Conservation Service and the Extension 

Service 214 

Background of the Controversy 215 

Examples of Difficulties 215 
Lowdermilk's Three Lines of Defense Against 

Erosion 217 

Controversy Between Engineers and Agronomists 218 

Research in Soil Conservation Service 220 

Experiment Station: Coshocton, Ohio 220 

Guthrle, Oklahoma 222 

Aerial Surveys and Land Classification 224 

Administration of Research 225 

Financing 225 

Organizing 226 

Techniques of Administration 227 

Omnibus Flood Control Act of 1936 228 
Arthur C. Ringland Analyzes the Administration 

of the Act 228 

Conflict With the Corps of Engineers 229 

Multi-purpose Projects 230 

Communal Forests 231 

Memorable Relationships 23la 

Henry Wai lace 232 

Harold I ekes 234 

Reaction to Department of Conservation 234 
M. L. Wi Ison 

Isaiah Bowman 236 
The Library of Congress: Dr. Herbert Putnam 
Use of Gazetteers 

China, as Background for Conservation 
Mi I ton Eisenhower 

Louis Bromfield 240 

Part 2 The Soil Conservation Service, 1939-1947 
Changes in Research Program 
Relations With Bennett 
Gi Ibert Grosvenor 
Soil Conservation Districts 
Speaking Tour Through the United States 

Farmers Are Important 

Children Understand 

"Conquest of the Land" 

Conservation and the Churches 251 

xxv i i 

Writing a General Report of the Survey Trip 252 

Theories on Regulating the Use of Land 252 

Development of Theories of Water Rights 254 

Individual Enterprise and Regulation 255 

Flood Control Act of 1944 256 

Watershed Development: Urban and Agricultural 258 

Technical Committee on Forestry and Forest Products 259 

Measuring Needs of Woods 260 

FAO and Forestry 260 

Justice Louis Brandels 261 

Mrs. Lowdentiilk Tells About Washington, D.C. 262 

White House Receptions 262 

Mrs. Roosevelt and the Girls' Reformatory 263 

Herbert Hoover 264 

Soil Conservation Service: Missionary Zeal 265 

xxv i 1 1 


Vo I ume I I 



Part I Land Use Survey of Europe and the 
Middle East, 1938-1939 

[Written questions and answers] 266 

Planning the Trip and its Objectives 266 

England 269 

Holland 271 

Land From the Sea 271 

Bicycles 274 

Lowdermilk Children Analyzed Holland 275 

Belgium Prepares for War 275 

France 276 

Reclaiming Land From Sand Dunes 276 

Fish Ponds 278 

Strip Cropping by Inheritance 280 

Farming on Ancient Phoenician Terraces 282 

Exploring Caves 283 

Torrents and Mud Flows 284 

Italy 288 

Hi I Iside Architecture 289 

Reclaiming the Pontine Marshes 290 

Breaking Up Large Estates 293 

Sicily 294 

Guidelines for Survey in North Africa 295 

Destruction of Roman Culture and Agriculture 296 

Traveling Through Tunisia 297 

El Djem 297 

Timgad 298 

Speitla 300 

Djemila 300 

Agriculture and the Romans 301 

French Reclamation in North Africa 301 

Experiencing Cold and Rain in North Africa 303 

Preparations for War 


Ital ian Colonization 

Analysis of Italian Colonization 308 

xx ix 

Ital ian Officials 309 

Cities in Libya 310 

Egypt 310 

Agriculture 31 1 

Critique of the Aswan Dam 312 

Crossing Into Palestine Through Sina! 314 

Palestine 315 

Surveying Palestine With Archaeologists 316 

Trans-Jordan 318 
Meeting Leading Scientists and Officials 

in Palestine 319 

Evaluating the Settlements 321 

Balfour Declaration 322 

Report on Settlements 323 

Arab-Jewish Problems and the White Paper 323 
Developing the Idea for the Jordan Valley 

Authority 325 

The Eleventh Commandment 326 

I raq 328 

Following the Pipe Line Through the Mud 328 
Decline of the Garden of Eden: Erosion and Silt 331 

Cain and Abel 332 

Old and the New in Iraq 334 

Iraq: Empty Breadbasket 335 

Lebanon 336 
Phoenician Terraces 

Problems of Farming the Terraces in Lebanon 338 

Cedars of Lebanon 339 
Visiting the Human Cargo Boats: Jewish Refugees 340 

Syria 341 

The Dead Cities: Erosion at its Worst 342 

Saint Simon 342 

The Dead Cities: Prosperity and Destruction 343 

Water Resources in Syria 

Baalbek 345 

Other Ancient Sites 346 


Forests, Old and New 

Erosion and Si It 

Solutions to Land Use Problems 350 

Returning to the United States 

Part I Land Use Survey of Europe and the 
Middle East, 1938-1939 

[Taped questions and answers] 

Surveys of Old Lands Seen as a Challenge 
Clarence Cannon's Interest in Land Use Survey 
Thoughts on Dr. Lowdermilk's Appointment 
Attitudes of Europeans Toward Impending War 


Dr. Lowdermilk Analyzes the Munich Pact and Other 

Problems of the Survey 357 

Traveling With the Family 358 

McKnight: From Secretary to Attache 360 

Land Use Practices in Italy 36 | 

British Mandate, American and Jewish Agency 

Officials in Palestine 362 

Planting Forests 363 

Agriculture 364 

Judah Magnes 355 

Arab Scientists 365 

Understanding Erosion in Europe and the Middle East 366 

Developing Ideas About Agricultural Archaeology 367 

Nelson Glueck 368 

Yigael Yadln 368 

P. L. 0. Guy 369 

Sir Flinders Petrie 369 

C. S. Jarvis 370 

Theories on the Devastation of Land: Climate 

Versus Culture 370 

French Scientists Study the History of Land Use 372 

Berbers 373 

Jewish Settlements 373 

Frederick Clements 374 

Controlling Climate 375 

Comparing Terracing Practices of Ancient Peoples 375 

The Making of a Research Scientist 377 

Professor Bessy Great Teacher 377 

The Eleventh Commandment 378 

Part 2 Return to China, 1942-1944 

[^Written questions and answers] 379 

Harrowing Journey to China 380 

Flying Over Africa and the Middle East 382 

Flying Over India to China 383 

Mrs. Lowdermilk Waits for News 383 

The Flight to Chungking 384 

The Terraces of Szechwan 385 

Arriving in Chungking 385 

Life in Chungking 386 

A Critique of Pre-War Japanese-U.S. Relations 387 

Meeting Old Friends 

Preparing For the Project 389 

Opening the Waters at Kwanshien 390 

The Staff 392 

Graves Near the Cities 393 
Traveling Into Northwest China 
Establishing Demonstration Projects 

Si king 396 

XXX i 

More Silt in the King River 397 

Settling the Refugees 397 

Hwakial ing 393 

Life in Caves 399 

Dr. Lowdermilk Given Precious Gifts 400 

Traveling to Tibet 400 

The Great Wall of China 400 

Touring Tibet: Lake Koko-Nor 401 

Kumbum 401 

Recommendations for Pilot Projects Denied by the 

American Government 403 

Official American Attitude Toward Aid to China 404 

The Chinese Farmer: An Evaluation 405 

Part 2 Return to China, 1942-1944 

D~aped questions and answers] 408 

The Chinese Staff 408 

Instructions to Staff 408 

Developing Engineering Plans 409 

Working With the Farmers 410 

Pebble Mulching 411 

Revegetation of Gullies 412 

Roads 412 

Part 3 Study of Erosion in Paricutin, Mexico, 1945 

[Written questions and answers] 414 

Origin of the Volcano 414 

Experiences at Survey Headquarters 416 

Organizing the Study 417 

Reaction of Villagers 418 

Studies of Erosion in Volcanic Ash 419 

Floods and Mud Flows 419 

Boulders 420 

Summary of Study 421 

Pub I i cations 422 


[Written questions and answers] 423 

French Protectorate Officials 423 

Morocco 424 

Goat Culture 425 

Difficulties Involved in Modernizing Agriculture 426 

French Farmers in Morocco 427 

Franklin Roosevelt's Statement 428 

French Provide Benefits to the Population 

Field Trips Throughout Morocco 430 

xxx i i 

Unique Trees 431 

Chain of Wei Is 432 

Moroccan Independence 433 

Report and Recommendations 434 

Algeria 435 

Agricultural Practices and Attitudes 435 

Banquette Terraces 436 

Marshal I Plan Aid 437 

Agriculture in the Sahara 438 

Finding Water on the Desert 439 

Converting Dry Lakes to Reservoirs 440 

The Berbers 441 

Report and Recommendations 442 

French-Algerian Relations 442 

Tunisia 443 

Problems of Overgrazing 444 

Report and Recommendations 444 

Jews in North Africa 445 

Lowdermilks Adopt a Moroccan Jewish Family 445 

[Taped questions and answersU 447 

Analysis of the French as Colonial Governors 447 
Lowdermilk Challenges American State Department 

Official 448 

Handling the Population Increase 449 

Thoughts on Independence 451 


[Written questions and answers!] 452 

Scope of the Project 452 

Plans for the Tour 453 

Africa: From the Air and on the Ground 453 

Summary of Findings 454 

British West Africa 455 

Colonial Practices 455 

Water Resources Not Developed 457 

Agriculture Not Developed 457 

Shifting Cultivation and its Consequences 458 

Suggestions for Increasing Food Production 460 

Fertilizer 460 

Roads, Railroads, Machinery 461 

Increase Prices 462 

Cooperatives 463 

Colonial Policies Retard Progress in Agriculture 

Analysis of the African as a Farmer 465 

Male-Female Roles 465 

Witchcraft 466 

Tribal Chiefs 467 

Lack of Personal Responsibility for Land 468 

xxx i i i 

Mistrust of Government 470 

Mistrust of the White Man 471 

Education: Inadequate and Misdirected 473 

Emphasis on Administration: Not Land 

Development 475 

Problems of Under-educated Youth 476 

Suggestions for Improving Education 477 

Summary of Suggestions 480 

Conclusions Regarding the African as a Farmer 481 

Memorable Experiences of the Tour 484 

Itu Leper Colony 484 

Ashanti Chiefs Honor the Lowdermilks 485 

The Missing Corpse 487 

Life in a Mission Village 488 

Other Missions 489 

Stranded in a Swamp 490 

Africa's Future 490 

L~ Taped questions and answers] 493 

John Reisner 493 

How Dr. Lowdermilk Wins a Farmer's Confidence 494 

Groundnut Fiasco in Tanganyika 495 

Critique of British Colonial Policy 497 

Southern Rhodesia 499 
Lowdermilk Turns Down Offer to Live in 

Southern Rhodesia 500 

Ants in Africa 501 

Other Experiences in Africa 503 


CWritten questions and answers] 505 

Lowdermilk Requested to Serve on the Commission 505 

Organization of the Commission 506 

Reason for the Study 507 
River Basins to be Considered as a Unit of 

Development 509 
Commission Recommendations 

Ohio River 51 I 

Rio Grande River 

Alabama-Coosa River 

Conclusion 515 

CTaped questions and answers] 

Morris L. Cooke 516 

Electricity Comes to a Farmhouse 
Washington During the New Deal 
Origin of the Water Policy Commission 

Concepts of Flood Plain Zoning 519 

xxx iv 

Basic Data Committee 520 

[Written questions and answers] 522 

Third Pan Pacific Science Congress 522 
Lowdermilk Reads Paper on Causes of Soil 

Erosion in China 524 

Consultant on General Douglas MacArthur's Staff 525 

Soil and Water Problems in Japan 526 

Geologic Erosion 527 

Erosion Control 528 

Rice Paddies 529 

Flood Control on the Akui River 530 

Sabo Dams 531 

Problems With Mud Flows 532 

Japan: Pilot Area in Erosion Control 532 

Tone River Basin 533 

Using Models 534 

Competition for Land 534 

Analysis of the Japanese Farmer 535 

Agriculture in Postwar Japan 535 

Reports 536 

Education 537 

[Taped questions and answers] 538 

Meeting an Old Friend 538 

General Douglas MacArthur 539 

Wolf Ladejinsky 539 


[Written questions and answers] 540 

Concern For Rivers Shared by Two or More Countries 541 

Critique of the Aswan Dam 541 

Development of the Jordan River Thwarted 543 

Suggestions for the Tigris-Euphrates Basin 544 

U. N. Prefers Mekong Delta 544 

Other Assignments 545 

Colleagues 546 

[Taped questions and answers] 547 

Dr. and Mrs. Lowdermilk Caught in the McCarthy 
Fly Trap 

Accusations Listed 548 


United Nations Activity in Mekong River Basin 

Working Arrangements in the U. N. 554 


Dr. Lowdermi I k's Report 556 

Col leagues 557 

Life in New York 557 


Part I Developing the Soil Conservation Service, 1951-1953 
[Written questions and answers] 559 

Dr. Lowdermi Ik Offers to Work in Israel 560 

Starting to Work 561 

Talking About Erosion 562 

Classifying the Land 563 

Draining the Swamps 565 

F.A.O. Hires Dr. Lowdermilk to Work in Israel 566 

Putting New Citizens to Work on the Land 566 

Field Work 568 

Developing Water Resources 569 

Dr. Lowdermilk Writes About Israel 571 

The Lowdermi Iks Enjoy Living in Israel 573 

Extraordinary Agricultural Production 574 

Reasons for Success in Israel 576 

Finishing the Soil Conservation Assignment 577 

A Fami ly Wedding 578 

Taking a Vacation 578 

Speaking for Technion 578 

Attending Conference on National Resources 579 

Lowdermilk Offered Position With the U.N. 579 

L~Taped questions and answers] 581 

Pioneer Scientists in Agriculture 581 

Aaron Aaronsohn 581 

Activity During World War I 
Aaronsohn 's Death 
The Herbarium 
Wild Wheat 
Harding Grass 
A. D. Gordon 586 

Jews in Palestine Become Farmers 
Sam Hamburg 

Changing Concepts of Agriculture 
Adolph Reifenberg 
Chaim Weizmann 
Analysis of Joint Palestine Survey Commission 

Israel Exports Food and Flowers 591 

Israel Accepts Dr. Lowdermi Ik's Offer to Serve 
as a Consultant 592 

Nathan Gil Studies Conservation in the 
United States 


U.S. Soil Conservation Service Training 

Schools 593 

Meeting Again in Israel 594 

Developing the Soil Conservation Service in Israel 595 

Relationships With a Counterpart 595 

Lowdermilk's Method of Work as a Consultant 596 

Problems in Achieving Success 597 

Erosion Not Understood 597 

Farming on the Terraces 598 

Obtaining Rainfall Data 599 

Lectures 600 

Dr. Lowdermi Ik Evaluates His Work in Israel 601 

The Druses Advance Grape Production 602 

Mr. and Mrs. Ben-Gurion 603 

Trees in the Negev 604 

Dr. Lowdermi Ik's Theories on Small Industries in 

Agricultural Settlements 604 

Ruhama 605 

Hanita 606 

Israel: An Example to Emerging Nations 607 

Part 2 Developing the School of Agricultural Engineering, 

[^Written questions and answers] 608 

Assignment: Organize School of Agricultural 

Engineering 608 

Organizing the School 609 

Curriculum 610 

Israel Challenges the Agricultural Engineer 611 

Planning the New Buildings 612 

Raindrop Studies 613 

The Old and New Technion Campus 614 

Relations With Students and Faculty 615 

Open House Atop Mount Carmel 616 

The Sinai Campaign 617 

Peace and Quiet on Lake Huleh 617 

Notified of War 618 

Evidence of War 619 

Reactions to U.S. Position 620 

Prisoners of War 621 

Background of the War 622 

Leaving Israel: Retiring 623 

f_Taped questions and answers!) 624 

Developing Program and Course of Study for the 

New School 624 

The Faculty 625 

Des i gn i ng the Bu i I d i ngs 626 

Value of the School to the Developing Countries 627 

Dr. Nathan Buras 627 

xxxv i i 

Part 3 Three Return Visits to Israel, 1959, I960, 1964 

[Written questions and answers] 629 

International Farmer's Conference, 1959 629 

Special Activities for Dr. Lowdermilk 632 
School of Agricultural Engineering Named 

After Dr. Lowdermilk 633 

The Role of Science and Technology in the Development 

of Emerging Nations, I960 633 

Solutions to Population and Economic Problems 634 

Variations in Per Capita Income 635 

Seeing How Israel Restores the Land 636 

Special Guests of the State of Israel, 1964 637 

Dr. Lowdermilk Sees His Biography on the Land 638 

"Father of the Water Plan" ' 638 

Breaking Ground for the Lowdermilk School of 

Agricultural Engineering 639 

Part 4 An Evaluation of the Jewish- Israel I Farmer 

[Written questions and answers] 641 

Motivation 641 

Cooperation 642 

A Mind to Work 643 

Education 644 

Success 645 

The Future 646 


[Written questions and answers] 647 

Dr. Lowdermilk's Skills Needed in Yugoslavia 647 

Hotel Room is "Tapped" 648 

First Impressions of the People 649 

Hand Labor in the Fields 650 

Headquarters at Split 650 

Serious Farm Problems 651 

Planning the Little T.V.A. 652 

Pasture Management 653 

Electricity " 653 

Asking the Farmer 654 

Irrigation 654 

Lack of Religious Liberty 655 

Yugoslav-American Relations 656 

Dr. Lowdermilk Leaves Amid Praises 657 


[Written questions and answers] 658 

xxxv i i i 

A Critique of Technical Aid Programs 658 

American Aid 659 

Food and Famine 660 

Instability in the World 661 

Philosophy on Conservation 662 

Man Ruins His Land 662 

Land Use to Feed Bi 1 1 ions 663 

There is no Substitute for Food 664 

Conclusions About Conservation 666 


CWritten questions and answers] 668 

Moving to Morongo Valley 668 

Locating Water 669 

Financing the Water 670 

Leaving Morongo 671 

Rejection of Feather River Water 671 

Development of the Property Owner's Association 672 

Writing the Chamber of Commerce By-laws 673 

Other Activities in Morongo 674 

Life in Berkeley 674 

Consultant in the Redwoods 675 

Oral History 676 

The Lowdermilk Family 676 

fTaped questions and answers] 677 

Consultant to the Save-the-Redwoods League 677 

Bui I Creek 678 

Preventing Flood Damage 681 

Other Recommendations 682 

Saving Ancient Trees 683 


Publications of Walter Clay Lowdermilk 686 

Citations and Awards 695 




[Written questions and ani,wprs1 

Chall: Will you tell me about yourself and your family? 

WCL: I was born in Liberty, North Carolina, July I, 1888. We do 

not know when our foreparents came to America, but legend has 
it that three brothers came o\er from Holland, settled in New 
York and were later driven out by the British. At that time, 
my forebears migrated southward along the Atlantic Piedmont. 
We know that one of them settled in Pennsylvania where numer 
ous Lowdermilks live today. Another family settled in North 
Carolina and were my immediate forefathers. Another group 
went west and we find some of them in Arizona. 

Chall: What did these pioneers in your family do? 

WCL: The Lowdermilks were farmers, lumbermen and engineers. They 
were Protestant in religion arid conservative in politics, 
probably Republicans. They always managed to have a farm, 
regardless of other undertakings. 

Chall: Would you tell me something o1 your parents? 

WCL: My mother and father were ver> opposite in temperament. My 

mother was of English descent, from Lawrences and Covingtons. 
They were English scholars anc preachers. My mother was the 
daughter of a minister and a school teacher. She gave us a 
sound religious training. We children all went to Sunday 
School and church. My mother tried to instill in us the 
desire for an education. I wts the oldest and the only one 
to go on to college, but all my sisters had Normal School 
training. My one brother was very capable and became a bank 
cashier. It was not easy for girls to get an education in 
those days when finances were limited. 

My father was a Lowdermill< and a Van Cannon from early 
Hoi land stock. He was a mechanical genius and developed 
machinery for sawmills. He also was a great hunter and early 
taught me how to hunt and handle a gun safely and to be a 
good shot. He loved the greal out-of-doors and was not so 
interested in formal education but was a self-taught man of 
much abi I ity. 

Largely due to our mother, we developed splendid family 
loyalty. But my mother often despaired of the individualistic 
traits in each of her childrer. We were all strong-willed, 
which many would call stubborn. She used to say, "Just look 

'VOL: at -the set of their chins and you know whv each child is so 
determined and difficult." 

My father was a loyal Democrat good or bad, right or 
wrong while I was always for whomsoever I thought to be the 
best man. I remember many teirific discussions over politics, 
even until long after I was rm rried. When we visited my par 
ents at the time of the elections for Herbert Hoover and A I 
Smith, we almost had a family quarrel. 

Education and Work 

Chall: Dr. Lowdermilk, will you describe your early school days? 

WCL: My schooling began in a little red school house with one room 
and one teacher for all classes and grades. I had little 
trouble le'arning the prescribed studies and quickly did my 
lessons and then had nothing ~lo do. I evidently was an annoy 
ance to my teachers for I would draw comic strips and pass 
them around to the other students. This distracted teachers 
as well as the children. As c result, my teachers, to keep me 
occupied, appointed me to go end listen and help some other 
class with their reading or spelling. Sometimes the teacher 
had me make drawings on the blackboard, to be copied by the 
class. Sketching was natural for me. 

Chall: Where did you go when you graduated from the little red school 

WCL: When ready for high school, I liked the idea of the preparatory 
school of Park College, in Parkville, Missouri. We had a 
neighbor whose daughter was tha fiancee of a senior at Park 
College. He arranged for me to go to Park and be his room 
mate during his senior year. In those days I was a physical 
culture enthusiast and an admirer of Bernard McFadden. I 
placed great emphasis on discipline and self-control. 

Chall: What was there about Park Collage that especially appealed 
to you? 

WCL: It was necessary for me to worK my way through school. I 

liked the arrangements for self-help at Park. Students were 
divided into "families," according to the number of hours a 
day they worked for their keep and tuition. I belonged to a 
"family" called Number Four, wiere students worked four hours 
a day. 

V-'~L: I was mechanically incline. While in this preparatory 
school for Park College, I wa . given the job of running the 
electric plant on evenings fn>m about six to midnight. During 
my spare time at the plant, I was able to study. Among other 
things, I memorized ten chapters of Proverbs and won a prize 
of a ten dollar gold piece, for highest grade in Old Testament 
Bible. This prize was most welcome to me then. 

There was something about the close-knit association and 
friendships of Park people that has persisted on through 
life. I have met Park friend:, all over the world. 

Park College was founded ty the McAfees as a Presbyterian 
college with a strong mission.iry spirit. Many students after 
graduation went as missionaries to other countries. Since 
then Park has become interdenominational , but continues 
former pol icies. 

During a summer vacation vhen I was sixteen years old, I 
worked in an ice plant on the night shift as an oiler. One 
night the fireman and I discovered that the big boiler was 
forming a dangerous blister. Instantly I ordered the fire 
man to draw the fire. I rushed to "turn on the water pump 
into the boiler so as to brine; down the steam pressure in the 
boiler, and I held down the g< vernor of the big Corliss engine 
to race it in order to lessen steam pressure. Apparently this 
quick action saved the plant 1 rom a disastrous explosion. For 
this, the owners offered to send me to college with all ex 
penses paid to study refrigeration engineering. The only thing 
they asked was that I would return and work for them (Rumley- 
Dawley Co.) at a good salary for five years. But I was not 
yet ready to be thus circumscribed, for I did not yet know 
what I wanted to do for my iHe work. 

Chall: When did you first think aboul trying for a Rhodes Scholarship? 

WCL: Even before going to Park College, I had a dream of winning 

a Rhodes Scholarship, which I had heard about through a friend. 
I wanted to make all efforts in that direction. In those days 
applicants had to pass "resporsions" (entrance examinations 
to Oxford). The examination required among other things, pro 
ficiency in Latin and in Greeh . The other subjects of mathe 
matics and biology were easy lor me so I gave special emphasis 
to Greek and Latin to be strong in these subjects. 

Then the rule was that every three years, only two student 
candidates from each state were awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. 
I applied as a candidate from the state of Arizona where my 
parents were living. 

Student Activity, University cf Arizona 

Chall: Where did you go to college? 

WCL: After Park, 1 transferred to 1he University of Arizona at 

Tucson, for my last three years at college. I had to work my 
way entirely. I was unusually fortunate however, for I found 
more tutoring to do than I coi'ld manage. The fee was one dol 
lar an hour, equivalent to several dollars now. I remember we 
could get a good steak dinner for twenty-five cenls, and every 
thing else was in proportion. During the summers I organized 
a little academy for tutoring, where I taught both in classes 
and individually. In those days I played a good <jame of tennis 
with excellent players on the University courts. 

It was while in college at Tucson that I was elected 
president of the student body. There were about two thousand 
students at that time. Every one remembered my surprise and 
embarrassment when asked to make a speech after my election. 
I stood on the platform and started out, "As I look over your 
faces ..." Then I could net think of what more to say, so 
I repeated it and still could not go on. Suddenly it struck 
me to say, "As I look over your faces, I see your hair." The 
applause and laughter were tremendous, but it convinced me 
that it was important to learn to speak in public. 

Chall: Did you have any other activities while in the University? 

WCL: Well, I started the first newsoaper ever to be published at 
the University of Arizona. I named it, "The Arizona Life." 
Later it was renamed, "The Arizona Wild Cat." I remember an 
editorial I wrote on the sinking of the Titanic In I912 which 
was widely acclaimed. 

Chall: What was your major subject at the University? 
WCL: I specialized in chemistry. 

Life at Oxford as_ a_ Rhodes Scholar, 19I2-I9I5 

Chall: Did you continue in chemistry at Oxford? 

WCL: No, because when I was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship, I learned 
that with certain subjects, studies on the continent were 

WCL: Included for vacation periods. 1 decldoc 1 to specialize 'n 

forestry in the School of Run I Economy in Oxford, so that dur 
ing the long summers I could >//ork under thu Forstmeisters in 
Germany, where forestry was practiced with great refinements. 
I also decided to prepare to t-ake a degree in geology as well, 
for my credits would make thi , possible. 

Chall: You were invited to enter Waddam College in Oxford. What 
was it I i ke? 

WCL: It is one of the most beautiful but not the largest of the 

college buildings of Oxford. Its picturesque cut stone build 
ings were three hundred years old and covered with ivy. These 
buildings had been designed bv Sir Christopher Wren, the 
famous architect of that time The main hall had a hammer 
beamed ceiling and many love I 1 old paintings on the walls. 
In the grand dining room we ale in state each evening, wear 
ing our scholars' gowns and u; ing the battered but solid 
silverware and pure silver dr ; nking mugs that had been used 
for hundreds of years. 

But I could not rave over the food. The British never 
seasoned their vegetables and cooked potatoes and cabbage 
without salt. I never wanted to see Brussels sprouts again 
after leaving Oxford. 

Chall: Were the rules very strict in Oxford? We think of such an old 
school as being very conservative. 

WCL: Yes, there were many regulaticns. One had to be in by mid 
night or crawl over the back vail and sneak in through a win 
dow. Just once I found the gteat front gate locked. I roused 
the gateman who let me in, bu1 reported me to the Warden who 
called me up on the carpet. Next day I was given a stern 
warning never to let it happer again, and I did not! 

Regardless of all the dignity of Oxford, boys will be 
pranksters wherever they are. I remember one Guy Fox Day, 
which is similar to our April Fool's Day. I went out to see 
why the crowd had gathered arcund the tall Martyr's Monument 
Spire, a hundred or more feet in height, and were all looking 
upward. There on the pinnacle, inverted and hanging at a 
jaunty angle, was the humble utility vessel always found in 
a cabinet beside the bed before the days of plumbing. The 
University sought volunteers 1o make the dangerous climb, but 
no one volunteered, and the expert climber of the niglrt before 
did not come forth to reveal his identity. Finally, the 
University authorities had to shoot the poor thing to pieces 
to get it down. Otherwise, it might have remained indefinitely. 

Chall: Dr. Lowdermilk, will you tell Tie something about the routine 

^iial I : in your life in Oxford. 

WCL: Each morning at six, the scou-* pulled out c flat bathtub from 
under my bed with a great cl alter which awakened me. Then he 
poured in about an inch of waler over the bottom <jnd put in a 
sponge which I was to use for a cold bath and rubdown. He 
took my order for breakfast, end by the time I was dressed, my 
breakfast was served In my room in front of the fireplace. 

Every student had two roorrs, a "bedder" and a "sitter." 
There was only local heat in c small coal -burn ing fireplace. 
There was no running hot or ccld water; this was carried to 
each room by the scout or servant in a big pitcher. 

For breakfast or lunch we could invite to our rooms other 
students from our college, or the other colleges, to eat with 
us. Many were the lively discussions: on politics in England, 
America and on the continent, on studies and discoveries, on 
athletics, and one's progress in studies. Most Oxford men 
went to church on Sunday, largely as a duty, but there were 
few discussions on religion. Whenever a student wanted no 
company and wished to be alone, he "sported his oak," or shut 
his heavy oak door and locked it from the inside. 

Chall: What about athletics in Oxford:' 

WCL: I found athletics in Oxford ar d Arizona very different. In 

Tucson, we played tennis, fool ball, basketball, or took track, 
to compete with others to win. But in Oxford, athletics were 
for exercise primarily. A sti dent would watch others in 
these various games and find e. group which displayed more of 
his own skill or lack of it, end he would join that group and 
play just for exercise. Durirg vacation I played tennis, but 
during the winter I rowed in 1 he crew for Wadham College, and 
because ours was the winning crew one year, we each were allowed 
to keep our oars. 

Chall: Oxford at that time was str icily a man's institution. Did you 
have any contact with girls? 

WCL: Oh, we had plenty of opportunities to entertain girls, but 

it was strictly on the chaperc ne basis. She was omnipresent. 
One of the happy memories was of inviting girls to visit us 
and go "punting" on the tree-shaded Cherwell River, which was 
just over our back wall. Sometimes we punted quite a distance 
to a garden restaurant along 1he banks of 1he Cherwell where 
we went ashore to eat strawberries and thick cream. 

At commencements, the colleges would have an all-night 
dance and small groups of friends had their special booth where 
the chaperone sat. After each dance we relumed to the 

VCL: chaperone's booth to chat and to change dancing partners. 

Then the final gala part was ,i breakfast together. But It was 
all very dignified and formal. 

I made some close friends among the British students and 
was invited to their homes; I still correspond with some. It 
was customary in Oxford each r emester for every undergraduate 
student to make a formal tea-lime call on his Don, or Tutor. 
This gave a social contact between professors and students. 

Chall: Was the educational system at Oxford much different from what 
it was in the United States? 

WCL: Decidedly so. Throughout the three-year course o< study, there 
are no tests or examinations, except where lectures and labora 
tory experiments are given. The Tutor directs hi', students in 
assimilating a vast amount of knowledge about which one must 
have a usable knowledge in hir field of study. 

Then at the close of the three years, 1here i c _. a week-long 
examination on any questions 1 hat come under one's studies. 
Cramming for exams is disastrous, as a fellow Rhodes Scholar 
learned, for he cracked up mentally before the week was, over. 
It was the habit of most of us to take off several days for 
rest, relaxation, exercise anc fun. Then *e were ready for 
the long grind of examinations . The questions asked were to 
draw out one's knowledge of fects and subjects. Ihe student 
was graded, not on the number of questions he answered, but 
on his mastery of the subjects on which he wrote. 

Chall: This sounds as if Oxford was c.uite a hard grind. Were the 
lecture and study sessions year-round? 

WCL: Thank goodness, no. In Oxforc the class work lasted only six 
months and the remainder was spent in three long vacations. 
This gave us time for the more serious reading designated by 
our Tutor, as well as time for recreation. I spent four sum 
mers or vacations on the continent. In Germany I studied 
forestry under the German Forsfmeisters who were expert in 
the care and maintenance of fc rests. I lived in German homes 
so as to have a mastery of the German language. 

Work W i t h Be I g i urn Re I i e f Commi 55 ion, I9I4 

Chall: Where were you when World War I broke out, in Oxford or 


WCL: At that time, two British students and I were making a tour to 
see various kinds of forest management in Germany. We were 
caught at Freudenstadt. The fritish students were immediately 
called back to England, while I stayed in Germany for another 
month. How times have changec 1 . At that time, I had no pass 
port but I was able to get a "temporary one from the American 
Consul at Stuttgart and returned to Oxford. Almost immedi 
ately the United States Ambassador, Brandt Whitlock, made a 
call for Rhodes Scholars who spoke German and French to volun 
teer to work with Herbert Hoover on his program to feed the 
starving Belgians. 

Cha I I : So this was how you happened 1o work with Herbert Hoover on 
the Commission for Relief in Eelgium. Was this interesting? 

WCL: Yes indeed, it was a wonderful opportunity to do something 

useful and to have this persoral contact with a future Presi 
dent of the United States. DC you know the background for 
thi s re I ief work? 

Chal I : No, not ful ly. 

WCL: Well, the Germans were conquerors. They wanted the Belgians 
to become laborers, for there was much to be done. The 
courageous Belgians steadfastly refused. This angered the 
Germans who said to the Belgians, "If you won't work, you don't 
eat," so food supplies were cut off and the Belgians were 
starving! Hoover was sent over to see what could be done. He 
pointed out to the German military command that this planned 
starvation of the Belgian people would give Germany a black 
eye among nations of the worlc. He urged Germany to allow us 
to feed the Belgians. 

Finally an agreement was nade whereby Germany would not 
torpedo the American food ships. England demanded the assur 
ance that no food thus given ty America would reach German 
stomachs, and Germany Insistec that the distribution would-be 
such as to prevent spying among those overseeing distribution. 

Chal I: Then you were one of those called in to help distribute food 
stuffs to the Belgian people? 

WCL: Yes. When Ambassador Whitlock appealed for Rhoder, Scholars 
who could speak both French and German fluently, -there were 
fifteen of us who fulfilled tha qualifications anc we were 
sent over at once. 

Most of the foodstuffs were unloaded at Rotterdam, Holland. 
The Germans had taken over all the Belgian railroads and high 
ways, but had not wanted to bother with the big, low-moving 
canal barges. The Commission for Relief in Belgium took over 
the canal systems. 


I was one of those assigned tc Belgium at the doc Is to oversee 
the unloading and di stribution of vast amounts of foodstuffs. 
It was touching to see the jo*' among Belgian housewives who 
could have bread made of whitr flour, after the coarse black 
bread they had been eating, "hey said, "Today we have cake," 
meaning white bread was such c. treat. 

Chal 1 : Did the Belgian people seem grateful for this American help? 

WCL: My, yes! It was very touchinc to see the joy of housewives at 
distribution points. We did have one rather unusual experience 
however. Generous Iowa farmers wanted to s.hare with the heroic 
Belgians their special corn crop. They chartered a bio cargo 
boat and filled it full to overflowing with shellud corn it 
seemed to me there were mountains of golden yellow corn. But 
the Belgians had never eaten corn. They only used it for 
animal food. It seemed repukive to them; they would not eat 
it. Hoover brought over groups of domestic science teachers 
to demonstrate how to prepare good corn bread for table use. 
Finally, Hoover had the corn ground to a very fine flour and 
mixed it with wheat flour, and bread was made from this. The 
people did not know they were at last eating the corn. Many 
shiploads of corn were prepared in this way and consumed. All 
were happy with the outcome. 

Chal I: Hoover was highly respected for his relief work. Did you 
accord him this respect too? 

WCL: Yes, Hoover was a marvelous administrator and organizer. He 
demanded that all of us keep accurate records of all transac 
tions. We all called him "the Chief," and whatever our Chief 
wanted done was carried out all down along the line, from the 
highest to the most lowly job. There was marvelous esprit de 
corps in our staff. It is renarkable that those who worked 
with Hoover during the aid to the starving people of Europe 
have met annually in reunions. Whenever possible, we attended 
the big banquet in New York where "the Chief" presided. 

All of our names are engraved in stone in the great Hoover 
Memorial Tower at Stanford University. When we were married, 
the Commission gave us a lovely sterling silver bowl from 
Tiffany's in New York. 

I was invited by Herbert r-oover to continue with him in 
definitely and I considered it, but I decided to return to 
Oxford and get my degree in my chosen field of work and then 
see what opened up. 

I would like to give a few figures as to what this American 
Relief Association (A.R.A.), under Hoover's personal lirection, 
did to help the peoples of Europe between I"I4 anc 1924. During 

The Commission for Relief in Belgium 













Chairman of iht Commlitlon 


Director in America 



120 Broadway, New York 

RECTOR 8125 


Haitian! Director 

.'l-lanl Trraiu-ir 




Seeclol AfftaU 
G. W. OlDOiNOfl 

SfcrO*rt Apftal Commit*, 


March Tenth 
19 17 

Dear I3r. Lowdermilki- 

Aa the membership of the Commission has grown it has be 
come increasingly difficult to keep in touch with the individual 
men who have sacrificed so much for our v;ork. \7ith a view to com 
memorating your connection with the C.R.B. and in order that you 
may have a definite though small recognition of your services, we 
have cast a service medal in Brussels, and I have arranged with 
this office to send yours under sep. orate cover. In presenting 
this to you, I take the opportunity of expressing my heartfelt 
gratitude for your assistance. 

I know that you value, as I do, the opportunity that fa&s 
been given to all of us to serve a v/orthy people and, furthermore, 
we can always be proud tht we have furthered *lie interests of 
our own country abroad by increasing the respect for our flag. I 
look upon the C.R.B. as the most exclusive organization in the 
v;orld f and its success and the prominent place it rill have in 
history is due in a large measure to your loyalty end the whole 
hearted support accorded me throughout. 

Yours faithfully, 


ilr. Loiter 0. Lovdermilk, 




WCL: this period, Hoover spent five and one-quarter billion dollars 
and delivered to Europe more than thirty-three million tons of 
commodities, mostly American foodstuffs. Great amounts of 
clothing and medical supplies were distributed. Exceedingly 
accurate records were kept. If it had not been for Hoover 
and his leadership in feeding the starving, it is estimated 
that ten million people in occupied regions of Belgium and 
northern France might have perished. During the Armistice 
period, peoples of central and eastern Europe would have died 
by the millions in the greatest famine the world had seen in 
the past 350 years. There are millions alive and able-bodied 
today who owe their lives entirely to this chi Id- feed ing work 
from 1919 to 1923, and international famine relief. 

Also, millions of Russians owe their lives to the American 
Relief Administration in the terrible famine of 1921-1922. It 
is to their shame that they gave no credit to the United States 
and made snide remarks against Hoover. They did not want their 
people to know of this outside help, for they were in the 
throes of impressing the people with the glories of the Russian 
revolution. But their attitude does not in any manner minimize 
the splendid relief work of Herbert Hoover and the great num 
bers of devoted people who worked with him. 

Graduating From Oxford 
Chall: So you returned to Oxford to get your degrees? 

WCL: Yes, I completed the requirements for two degrees: one In 
forestry and one in geology, covering the three years of 

The subject of the thesis in forestry was "A Working Plan 
for the Forest of Salmunster, Germany." This I wrote in German, 
No thesis was required for the degree in geology. But the 
University of Oxford conferred on me a "First I" in Geology 
Honors Examinations. 

Chall: What do you mean by a "First I"? 

WCL: Well, this was conferred in a "striking way." The Vice- 
Chance I I or of the University hit me over the head with the 
catalogue of the University of Oxford and said something in 
Latin which I forget. This ceremony took place before an 
assembly of the University of Oxford. 

As recognition of this First, I was permitted to make a 
choice of books. Accordingly I chose a magnificent four-volume 
set of an Encyclopedia of_ Forest Science and Practice. Since 


.CL: this was, at that time, the highest authority, I considered it 
a fitting reward for my studies in the School of Forestry. 

I wrote my thesis in German for I had applied myself dili 
gently in learning German. Knowledge of this language opened 
up a wide field of theory and practice in the international 
science of forestry. 

Chal I : Will you summarize what the Rhodes Scholarship meant to you? 

WCL: After more than half a century, it is hard for me to encompass 
what this all meant to me. I feel that the Rhodes Scholarship 
is the greatest academic prize in modern times. It marked 
my transition from a local country boy in a western atmosphere 
to a student of the international scene in a society whose 
outlook, history and interest were far wider than those in 
which I had been brought up. I developed a point of view that 
is based upon the recognition that the modern world is not 
confined to one people, one language, or to one political 
faith, but touches on al I . I found myself in an academic 
system where the methods of instruction and study were widely 
different from those in which I had been trained. To me, 
this meant a widening of my own vision and acceptance of a 
challenge to determine by comparison what are the good and 
what are the bad points in our society. 

It meant much to me, through the Rhodes Scholarship, to 
become a member of a small, but select and congenial, loosely- 
knit group of able men of superior quality. Friendships have 
been stimulating and enduring. In Oxford I met my own select 
countrymen from every state in the Union, which improved my 
insight into the essential unity in diversity of the United 

Oxford teaches freedom social, political and intellectual, 
Every member of the University is expected to be himself, and 
to develop along the path he has chosen for himself. We res 
pect each other and are respected by our fellows, regardless 
of one's chosen field. Respect for learning permeates the 
whole atmosphere. 

With an Oxford training, one feels he has a foundation 
fashioned at one of the world's greatest centers of learning. 
This gives one the right, and imposes on him the duty, to make 
an open-minded examination of his own mind and the discovery 
of what it can do. 

Chal I: Did it mean much to you that you received a "First" in 
schol arshi p? 


WCL: Well, this is a distinction highly esteemed by the student 

But I hope this summary of what Oxford has meant to me 
does not exemplify the trenchant words of Max Beerbohm, who 
said, "When I was growing up, I was an amiable, studious and 
well-mannered youth. It was only Oxford that made me 

L~Taped questions and answers^] 

Parents and the Westward Migration 

Chall: You have provided quite a bit of interesting Information In 
your written questions and answers, but I do have a few more 
questions. Where did your parents meet? 

WCL: In the Piedmont, in Randolph County, North Carolina. My 
mother's father was a minister of the Christian Church. 

Chall: Were they fundamentalist in their beliefs about religion? 
Did they follow the Bible as closely as did the Bible Belt 

WCL: They were quite a liberal type, more liberal than the ultra- 
fundamentalists. I was named after Uncle Walter Lawrence, one 
of my mother's brothers. 

Chall: And where did the Clay come from, by the way? 

WCL: That came from my father's side. In those days Henry Clay 
had made quite a name for himself, and my father was named 
Henry Clay Lowdermilk. He had his own timber business, and 
was a genial pioneering type of person. My father and mother 
migrated from North Carolina very early. I grew up in the 

Chall: Where? 

WCL: In Oklahoma and Arizona. I don't remember our life in the 
Carolina's, because I was just a mere child at that time. 
I can't recall the year. But the timber business apparently 
went on the rocks. That may have been the stimulus on my 
father to "go West." There were some members of an earlier 
branch of the family who had preceded us in Arkansas. They 
were miners and business people. 

Chall: Were these your father's relalives who were miners? 

WCL: Yes. I remember we stopped over with them for a couple of 
years. My father got a farm and later sold It, and moved 
further to the West and finally homesteaded in Arizona. 

We didn't jump from the East to the West, but it was more, 
let's say, a migration from place to place to California, very 



WCL: much as the family with the "long Rifle." 
Chal I : Can you trace it? 

WCL: Let's see. Our first stop was in Arkansas. My father took 
up one of those hillbilly farms. That's where I learned to 
plant corn. And I'll never forget how beautifully my mother 
would roast sweet potatoes in an oven. I don't think they 
grow them as rich as then. When we'd roast them, a sweet 
syrup would ooze out of those sweet potatoes. 

Chal I: What did your father grow on this hillbilly farm? 

WCL: Corn, potatoes, and fruit trees in orchards. Of course there 
was a pasture and my father ran hogs in the woods. 

Chall: Was this a subsistence kind of farm? 

WCL: More or less. His idea was that we were going farther west; 
this was just a stopover. He took part also, when I was Just 
a small child, in that famous race for land in Oklahoma. 

Chall: How old were you when you moved to Sulphur Springs Valley in 
Ari zona? 

WCL: I was about fifteen years old. 

Chall: That's where your father homes, teaded , In Arizona? 

WCL: Yes, with a 160-acre homestead in Wilcox, Sulphur Springs 

Chall: What did you raise in Sulphur Springs Valley? 

WCL: Cattle and vegetables. My falher was also a stationary engi 
neer, and was in demand. As things were developing, he had 
plenty of work. There was a premium on men with mechanical 

Chall: How had he become a stationary engineer? Is this something 
that he had learned? 

WCL: Yes, from childhood. He was very inventive. He was quite a 
mechanical genius in many ways., and he was always working on 
some better way of doing thincis mechanically quite original. 
And he was a crack shot. 

Chall: Oh? 

WCL: I used to go out hunting with him. He taught me how to 
handle a gun, even though the gun was longer than I was. 


WCL: He wouldn't let me go out with other boys, but only with him 
or alone. He taught me how to carry a gun, how to be careful 
with it. And he was a very good instructor In marksmanship. 
So I too became quite a marksman. Much later I was Chairman 
of the Montana State Rifle Association, when I was a Forest 
Service Research officer. 

Chall: When you were living in Sulphur Springs Valley, farming the 
land and hunting, I assume it was wild open country then? 

WCL: Yes, open after Geronimo, the Apache, had been killed. 
Chall: Can you tell me a little more about your mother? 

WCL: My mother was a marvelous person, a very saintly person. 
She had been a schoolteacher, and a good one. 

Chall: Did she teach the children at all? 

WCL: In those days, and even when we were on the farm out in 

Arizona, she would hold us children to a program each Friday 
evening. Each one would prepare something, either a poem to 
memorize, or some story to tell things of that sort that were 
distinctly with educational content, as spelling bees. 

Chall: She was the daughter of a minister did she give you your 
rel igious training? 

WCL: Yes, I would say so. Father was not ... he was a free and 

easy sort of person, not emotional at all but a practical per 
son. He had a very wide circle of friends, and he was always 
leading parties to go hunting, because in "those days people 
depended a great deal upon game for a meat supply. 

Chall: So your mother took care of the spiritual side of the children. 
Did she read the Bible to you? 

WCL: Oh yes, and taught us to memorize special passages. 
Chall: Where did you come by your feeling for nature? 

WCL: My father appreciated nature for its beauty as well as for 
its practical use. When hunting, he would climb a hill to 
get the view, or explore the streams. He was always wanting 
more land, but it had to have water on it and forests. I ap 
preciate my father more and more. Later in my travels as a 
forester, soil conservationist and hydrologist, I found oppor 
tunity to appreciate natural phenomena as my father did. 

Chall: And what attribute in your character did you think your mother 
i nst i I led i n you? 


WCL: My mother was quite an intelligent person and a student, criti 
cally searching for reasons. 

Chall: Where do you think you might have got the feeling for hard 
work and disciplined effort? 

WCL: We had the spirit to make the best of opportunities available 
to us; and we were willing to work hard for it and we had a 
lot of fun in doing it. The s,pirit of accepting a challenge 
and doing what was necessary prevailed. 

Brothers and Sisters 

Chall: How many brothers and sisters did you have? 

WCL: One brother and three sisters--f ive of us. I was the oldest. 
My brother went into the banking business but died of a heart 
attack at the age of fifty-four, before his time. My sisters 
were all married and are still living. They are all beautiful, 
highly respected and useful members of their communities, and 
are married to prominent men. 

Chall: Where do they live? 

WCL: Ruth Beaton lives in Portland, Oregon; Flora Rivers in Santa 
Maria, California; and Esther Gung'l in Tucson, Arizona. 

Chall: Did they come by any of these traits that you have, scholar 
ship, scientific interest, that sort of thing? 

WCL: Yes, very much so. My oldest sister, Flora, is one of my 

"heroines. 1 ' She married a young man who was in the auto busi 
ness in the early days. Then he had an auto accident which 
didn't kill him, but injured him so that he lived about six 
months before he finally died from his injuries. This used up 
all the resources of the family, so my sister, with four little 
children, took over the responsibility to educate her four young 
sters and trained herself as a secre-tary. Some of her friends 
suggested that she run for election as County Clerk. She was 
elected time after time until years later she retired. Now 
she's worth about $250,000. She holds quite a lot of stock in 
Standard Cil as well as real estate. For she was thrifty, and 
so she trained her children. 

As I have said, all my sisters are quit*; exceptional women, 


WCL: but I have singled out Flora as a heroine of mine because she 
succeeded against very great odds. They had a hard struggle, 
but every one of her children has done well. There's one of 
them, Dorothy, who lives near the Claremont Hotel In one of the 
lovely residences there. Her husband is a successful lawyer 
in San Francisco. My sister'-? oldest boy is president of the 
Bank of America in Atwater, California. And her other daughter, 
who unfortunately died early in 1968, lived In San Marino at 
Pasadena. Her husband is a wealthy man. Every one of her 
children has done well. 

Chat I : Well, then she must have acquired some of the same traits of 
character that your wife said you acquired from your family. 
Self-discipline seems to have been one of them and a desire 
to train yourself carefully. From whom did the theory of 
self-discipline come? 

WCL: I think it was from my mother. 


Chall: What do you remember of spec i;: I interest about some subjects 
you learned in school? 

WCL: I remember that one of my tea< hers taught me the diagraming of 
sentences. To me, this is one of the clearest and best ways 
of teaching the relationships of phrases and words in the struc 
ture of sentences. 

Chall: That's because you have a scientific bent. How early do you 
think you were taught to diagram? 

WCL: Quite early, and I always liked to diagram sentences. If you 
could diagram your thoughts, then you could think and present 
ideas more clearly. 

Chall: Did you go directly from Park Academy to college? 

WCL: I had two years at Park Acaderry to graduate. Then I took a 

year off to teach school. I taught school in Anadarko, Okla 
homa. And then I went back tc Park as a freshman in college. 
After I finished the freshman year, I took the examination 
for the Rhodes Scholarship, at the University In Lawrence, 

Chall: I see. 

WCL: I passed and was notified to appear before the Rhodes committee 
in Arizona, because, as you recall, I had chosen to be a candi 
date from the state of Arizona rather than from Missouri, where 
I was in college, for I had this choice. I decided I had better 
transfer to the University of Arizona, which I did. 

Chall: Did this cause you difficulties? 

WCL: Yes. My passing the examination made me a candidate from 

Arizona, but to my surprise, there were already three others in 
Arizona who were candidates. A friend in Oxford had telegraphed 
through the committee in Arizona that three applicants had 
passed. So they were congratulating themselves that alj^ had 
passed. And then surprisingly when the official mail came, here 
was this man Lowdermilk who had also passed and was a candidate, 
whom nobody at the University of Arizona knew of eat all. So I 
wasn't received with very much warmth. But after a time I won 
the loyalty and support of the student body. In a year's time 
the student body had elected me president. I mado my letter 
in college athletics. Among other things, I had the record 
for the hammer throw. In time my turn came to be designated 
as Rhodes Scholar from Arizona. I made the long trip to Oxford 
in September 1912. This was the beginning of a new world for 

Chall: You have written quite completely about life at Oxford, but I 
want you to tell me something more about your work and study 
in the German forests. 

Trai ning i n the German Forests, 1912-1915 

WCL: At Oxford, as you know, we were "up" only six months out of 

the year. The other six months we were on vacation, supposedly, 
But it was in the vacation that we were expected to do our 
most serious reading or study, as indicated under the guidance 
of a program laid out for us by our tutors. 

I had elected to read in the School of Forestry. I spent 
four summers on these "vacations" on the Continent. It was 
when I did my practical work in the German forests, according 
to the course of study as set up in Oxford, under Sir William 
Schlich. In our thesis for the degree, we curried out studies 
to gather information for a working plan for a definite area 
of forest land in a German forest. We had to survey and to 


WCL: map it, to make a survey of soils and vegetation and forest 
stands. We had to establish the growth rates, timber volume 
by stands, and those facts that were necessary to preparation 
of a working plan that was supposed to be practical and to be 
founded on sound scientific knowledge. After we had carried 
out our studies for management of a definite forest tract and 
had finished our thesis on this work, we were then sent to 
visit forests of different kinds and under different types of 
management, to give us a broader view of the subject of forest 
management responsive to different sites and physiographic 
conditions. This final study tour took us students to forest 
regions in Germany and in parts of France. 

This program was interrupted by the outbreak of World 
War I. I was then in Germany along with two British students. 
We were in the little town of Freudenstadt in the Black Forest 
when the newsboys rushed out on the streets carrying newspapers 
and calling out, "Extra! Extra!" in German. This newspaper 
announced the declaration of war by Germany against France. 
This was the beginning of the First World War. British stu 
dents found it necessary to leave immediately for England. 
But I didn't see why I should have to leave so quickly, because 
the United States was not yet involved. I used the time to 
good advantage by translating some German works on forest 
si I vicultural systems of management which Engler had worked 
out in the Schwartz Wald. And in afternoons, I would take my 
exercise walking into the forests where Engler had worked out 
his theories in practice. 

Chall: Was Engler an old-time forester? 

WCL: Oh yes. He was one of the top authorities in German forestry. 
He had worked out a special system of si Ivicultural treatment 
that I wanted to bring to the United States. To this end, I 
translated his work, "Feme I Schlag Betrief," from the German. 

Chall: You felt his contribution was unique, that we didn't havejt 
in this country, or we weren't concerned with it at the time? 

WCL: We were not concerned; or we had a lot of ideas, but they 
never had been put to the test in the United States. 

Chal I : I see. 

WCL: Because it takes time in forestry for many of these measures 
to come to fruition. 

Chall: The Germans were leaders in forest management at that time? 

WCL: Yes. German forstmeisters were trained in making very close 
observations of natural conditions and in knowing how to 


WCL: modify those conditions, as an objective of management for a 

Sir William Schlich, of course, was in charge of our school 
ing, and arranged plans for the four of us a Scotsman, an 
Englishman, a South African and myself who were mature students 
and were out to learn all we could. We were workers too. Sir 
William liked our progress, so he had us assigned to go to 
Germany to work with forstme inters who had been outstandingly 
successful in their forest management. Among the best German 
forstmeisters was Herr Hebel of Salmunster Hessen Nassau. His 
work was so interesting and important, and taught me so much, 
that I want to go into it in <letai 1 . 

Chal I : That's a fine idea. 

Herr Forstmeister Hebel, Spec'alist in Growing Oak For Furniture 
[Written by Dr. Lowdermilk for insertion here] 

WCL: Herr Forstmeister Hebel, of the State Forer,t of Salmunster, 

had become widely known for his ability and success in growing 
oak timber especially suited for the manufacture of high-quality 
furniture. The lumber for this purpose must have narrow, uni 
form annual growth rings. As a wood technologist will tell us, 
the annual growth ring of hardwood species, especially of oak, 
is made up of two layers: one. is the narrower and softer 
spring growth and the other ii. the summer growth, wider and 
harder. So if spring growth makes up most of an annual growth 
ring, then the lumber is softer, more easily worked and does 
not readily crack on drying. But if the summer growth makes up 
most of the annual growth, then the lumber is characterized by 
alternating hard and soft layers of growth rings; the lumber 
is harder to work. The sharp difference between soft spring 
wood and hard summer wood makes lumber easy to split and it is 
more difficult to make accurate joints. 

The si Iviculturist like Forstmeister Hebel, as distinct 
from the Agriculturist, sets up his objective of growing uni 
formly narrow annual rings th&t give us less pronounced hard 
summer wood. He must control the sunlight that falls on his 
forest stand. He does this by getting a close and uniform 
spacing of young trees. This uniform restocking is the first 
essential. Oak seedlings will be planted to fill in gaps if 
they occurred. 

Thereafter the si I vicu I turist must carrv out a program of 
systematic thinnings of young trees to maintain the uniformity 
of the stand. He will encourage competition among the trees, 


WCL: especially in the period of more rapid growth so that the 

ratio between tree crowns and tree roots shall be uniform, to 
keep the stems of the trees of the stand shaded by a closed 
canopy of tree crowns. Sunlight on tree stems encourages dor 
mant buds to grow into branches. But the si I viculturfst must 
manage his stand so that the stems are kept in the shade, thus 
discouraging the growth of dormant buds. Then the trees of 
the stand compete with each other for the sunlight above. They 
grow tall and straight. Here the si I viculturist controls this 
competition by maintaining the trees of the stand at a given 
density, so as to keep the annual rings as uniform as possible 
by judicious thinning and by introducing an understory of a 
species of trees that endures shade, such as beech trees. 
This understory shades the lower part of tree stems and pre 
vents the formation of branches from latent buds. Tree stems 
are kept in dense shade to discourage development of branches. 

This is important, for a branch that develops on the stem 
means that as the tree grows in diameter, a knot is formed that 
renders the lumber much less valuable than lumber without knots, 
or clear lumber, as it is known in the lumber trade. In 
Europe, such shade-producing understories are commonly pro 
duced by natural seeding or planting of beech trees. 

The spread and density of tree crowns become very impor 
tant in encouraging stimulation, distribution and uniform spac 
ing of young trees of the stand. Judicious thinning is neces 
sary then, to remove diseased and malformed trees and to keep 
proper lighting for growth and straightness of the tree stems. 

To maintain the trends of several factors integrated in a 
developing forest, the si I viculturist needs some indicator such 
as an instrument photometer, and better ye1 , the close observa 
tion of plant indicators. 

In Germany, especially in Hessen Nassau, this need is sup 
plied by huckleberries that form a soil cover. The huckle 
berry growth gives rise to a forest soil mulch that protects 
from soil erosion during heavy rains. Moreover, the terminal 
ends of huckleberry branches are very sensitive to light. Herr 
Forstmeister Rebel taught us 1o observe very closely the be 
havior of terminal branches of this huckleberry ground^cover. 
If the terminal leaves were dying back, this would indicate to 
the si Iviculturist that light intensity getting through the 
forest crown was diminishing. But, on the other hand, if 
terminal leaves of huckleberry plants were growing, adding new 
leaves, then the intensity of light through the crown canopy 
was increasing. 

These indications would show the aggregate trends of light 
necessary for photosynthesis and would suggest to the 


WCL: si Iviculturist whether to increase or decrease thinnings within 
the stand. 

So successful had Herr Hebe I been in growing narrow-ringed 
and soft-textured and clear lumber, free 01 knots and of high 
quality, that he had been awarded citationr. for his achievements, 

The tendency has developer that clear lumber is giving way 
to pulp and chip production from which compress boards are be 
ing manufactured. This trend turns timber production into more 
of a technology than a plant :cience. 

Chall: I didn't know that these things had been worked out so scienti 
fically as they had in Germany. You got good training. 

WCL: Oh yes. We were taught to dhignose a whole situation, analyze 
factors of the problems, and then either bring them together 
to integrate them so that you would modify the measures, or 
adjust them to other measures. 

Chall: Yes, you always came out with some kind of a principle based 
on a total evaluation of the situation. 

Americans Learn Forest Management i n Germany 

WCL: That's right. I did my thesis in German and Sir William 
Schlich signed it. We were his favorite sludents, and we 
didn't want to fail him because we admired him so much. 

People in the United States were beginning to get inter 
ested in scientific forestry, among them Gifford Pinchot, Henry 
Solon Graves and Fernow. A group of prominent Americans went 
over to see Sir William Schlich. Sir William became the prin 
cipal contact between interesled Americans and German scientists 
in the new forestry. It came to be popular for American scien 
tists and educators to visit Germany and to see first-hand how 
the science of forestry was developing. Many Americans got 
their grasp of what forests really were about. And that stimu 
lated a big movement among our pioneer foresters here in the 
United States. Now I don't know if we need to go into our 
attitude toward the forest resources of the country, except 
to say that the general opinion was that they were inexhaustible. 

Chall: That seems to have been the theory at that time. 


WCL: And the wasteful use of the timber by cutting. Of course, 
much of the farm land was covered with forests, and so the 
tree was an enemy to the farmer who was pioneering in the 
breaking of new land. So the attitude toward the forest was 
hostile rather than friendly. 

The British Foresters 

One other thing I wanted -;o say is thai the Britishers, 
in the training of young foresters for British Colonies, 
selected qualified and sound ^oung men, good students. Their 
esprit de corps was splendid. I enjoyed working with the 
Britishers because most of the men who were my classmates 
were being trained in forestr\ for some colonial post, in 
central South Africa, India ot Cyprus. 

At one time, Cyprus was denuded of trees, and the land had 
been grazed to the roots. British forestry brought back and 
developed one of the finest fc rests of the Middle East. This 
was convincing proof that the destruction of the former forest 
was not due to an adverse climatic change. British foresters, 
who also had pasture men on their staff, did an outstanding 
job in the restoration of the forest of Cyprus. 

I learned to know many young British foresters who were 
candidates for the British Colonial Services. One of my 
greatest friends was for yean in India bu1 now is the pro 
fessor of forestry at Oxford, H. G. Champion. He's a very fine 
man and a very able forester. 

Chall: And he was one of your fellow students? 

WCL: Yes, we did our field work in Germany together. 

There was Bill Watt, from South Africa. When I was on my 
trip to China we were held up in Durban, South Africa, by a 
wrecked engine on our ship. The American consul told me that 
we wouldn't get a plane for three weeks. I knew -that my 
Oxford classmate Bill Watt was there, and made known my pres 
ence. He said he wanted to show me some of the country of 
South Africa. 

Chall: Oh, while you were waiting? 

WCL: It's amazing how these Oxford contacts have been so very in 
teresting. There was Bill Watt, an Irishman; there was the 
Englishman, Champion; a Scotsman named Ian Clark, and he^was 
a burly fellow. When he put on his kilt he was a magnificent 


WCL: specimen. Then there was a follow by the name of Nicholson 

who was a brilliant young fellow. Sir William threw us together. 

I look back on my association with thof>e keen, able people 
with a great deal of pleasure. Later on they became leading 
authorities in the British Empire. So I was known over quite 
an area: England, Ireland, Scotland, Africa, New Zealand and 
India they all know me. 

Chall: You could always have a little reunion when you traveled 

Studv Methods in Oxford 

Chall: Would you explain the exam inal ion system at Oxford a little 
more f u I ly? 

WCL: We were not graded on the numter of questions we answered. 

We were graded on the thoroughness and grasp of our answers. 
In the examination in which I got the highest grade, I 
answered only two questions. In the United States, if we 
have ten questions, you're supposed to answer the ten. But 
there, the fewer questions you answer, the chances are, you' 
get a higher mark, if you demor strate a thorough knowledge of 
your subject. 

Chall: But you had to be thorough. 

WCL: Yes. In other words, you were supposed to know your facts. 
It was what we could do with 1 hose facts that counted. And 
I think that was one of the most important things that I 
learned at Oxford that became the basis of my studies: 

^Written questions and answers] 

Chall: I presume that now after graduation, you returned to the 
United States? 

WCL: Yes. 

Ranger in the Tonto National Forest 

Chall: What was the first work you did in the Forest Service? 

WCL: My first appointment was as assistant forest ranger at Payson, 
Arizona, in the Tonto National Forest, at ninety dollars a 
month, stringing telephone wires on trees to establish com 
munications in the Tonto Forest. Some felt this was quite a 
comedown from Oxford, to begin in such a lowly position. But 
I enjoyed the frontier life, outdoor living, doing my own 
cooking. My fine intelligent horse was my all-day companion. 

Chall: What kind of a forest was the Tonto? 

WCL: There was little timber here, for the Tonto Forest was used 
mostly for grazing by big cattle ranchers and sheep herders 
who had fought deadly range wars until the U.S. Forest Service 
took over. 

I used to say that if Suhuara cacti were trees, I had a 
big forest to supervise. I also policed the sheep driveway 
from the winter desert pasture, through the Tonto to summer 
pastures in the mountains, to prevent sheepmen and cattlemen 
from shooting each other. 

In my horseback trips of inspection, I was delighted from 
time to time to see one cow "baby-sitting" for several calves 
while other mother cows sought grazing in the vicinity. Cows 
would take turns "calf-sitting" for mother cows who had tucked 
their calves close together under bushes for shade. 

Chall: This was quite a pioneer experience for you. What was the 
spirit of these pioneers? 



WCL: Well, this was a region where it was the custom to leave your 

kitchen door unlocked so that if any horseman passing by needed 
food or a bed, he could go in and make himself at home. But 
the unwritten law was that each guest would clean up the dishes 
and the kitchen and leave the wood box filled for the next 

During the summer's inspections by horseback, I returned 
to my cabin after dark and on one occasion saw a bulging gunny- 
sack hanging from a tree branch outside my kitchen door. I cut 
it down and carried it inside. I lighted my coal oil lamp and 
opened the sack. There on my table was tho most beautiful 
piece of beef I ever saw. I set to work to make hot biscuits, 
which I ate with butter and honey along with a big slz/ling 
steak. I cleaned up the dishes, took out my pipe, put my feel 
up before the stove, and began to ponder who could have given 
me this treat of fresh meat. 

I recalled that about a month before, a cattleman had come 

by, saying that floods had ruined his mountain road and made 

it impossible for his chuck Wogon to get through to the store 

for supplies, and asking if I had any to spare. I gave him 
half my flour and bacon. 

Shortly after I had received the meat, this cattleman rode 
by and waved at me and called out, "Did you get the meat?" My 
hunch was correct. 

Later, cattlemen complained that too many people, unac 
quainted with the ways of the frontier, were coming in and 
stealing and leaving kitchens in disorder. Increase of popu 
lation was beginning to have &n effect on our gracious back- 
country living. 

Chall: Did you remain long in the Tonto Forest? 

Santa Fe National Forest 

WCL: No, for soon I was transferred to the Santa Fe National 

Forest, a true timber forest that brought into play much of 
the knowledge I had been taught in forestry. This was 3_new 
country to me. It was a picturesque area in the upper Rio 
Grande Valley where mountains rose on Hicorita Peak to 
thirteen thousand feet. I manned the Peak with a forest 
guard who was a fire lookout. 

Chall: What were your duties here? 

WCL: In the Santa Fe Forest my duties included administration of 
timber sales on government land. The Sant.a Barbara Tie and 
Pole Company, which was a subsidiary of the Santa Fe Railroad, 
had contracted for the timber on Santa Barbara Creek to make 
into hewed and sawed railway ties. In the spring, these were 
floated down the Santa Barbara stream, in high water fed by 
melting snow, to the Rio Grande. Also I had to mark timber 
in the timber sale area to be cut, and to scale logs that 
were skidded into the sawmill pond. Further, it was my duty 
to see that lands were left in good condition and that slash 
was disposed of safely to reduce fire hazards. Timber was 
cut, up to eleven thousand fe^t. 

Chall: Why did you leave this Santa le Forest work? 

WCL: Just as soon as the United Stutes declared war on Germany in 
1917, I volunteered and was assigned to the Tenth Engineers, 
A.E.F.; that became the Lumberjack Regiment of the American 
Expeditionary Forces. 

CTaped questions and answers] 

Chall: What I hoped that we could get into today was your original 
experience as a forest ranger. You had gained quite a bit 
of background in Oxford that was useful to you. 

WCL: Oh yes. 

Tonto National Forest 

Chall: Now when you were in the Tonto Forest were you living a 
rather solitary life? 

WCL: Well, in the ranger station there was room for me. At times 
the ranger's wife would have me in to meals, but ordinarily 
I went out to the store or to a little restaurant in the town 
of Payson, Arizona. Payson hus now become quite a resort 
area. In those days there were just a few houses and stores 
where the ranchers roundabout got their supplies and their 
mai I . 

Chall: Where was this cabin where you were doing your own house 
keeping? Did you just use that when you were out tn the 

WCL: Yes. The ranger was at Payson and the headquarters were 

there. But then he assigned me to Pine, Arizona, which is 
under the Mogollon Rim. Do you know Arizona at all? 

Chall: Not well enough to know the Mogollon Rim. 

WCL: It's in the Coconino Plateau, into which eroded the Grand 

Canyon. And that Plateau extends to the south of the Grand 
Canyon. There's quite a pine forest covering much of this 
area, and you come to what is called the Mogollon Rim, which 
is an old fault escarpment. When rain storms come up against 
this, there are terrific lightning storms. I've been out in 
them when the sparks were coming off my hands and my shoes 
cracked. I guess I was safer there than being a distance 
away from it, because this was where the electricity was 
forming and it hadn't reached such high voltages. So it 



WCL: wasn't really as dangerous as it seemed. But this is the 
Mogo lion Rim. 

Chall: Were there pine forests around it? 

WCL: Yes, especially up on the Coconino Plateau there's some find 
timber. But primarily it is more or less oaks. The Arizona 
cypress is endemic here. There's only a small area of the 
world where the Cyp ressu s_ a r i zon i ca and the Cypressus labra 
grow. The bark peals off; it's distinctive in that respect . 
You find it all over the west now and it's used for an orna 
mental shade tree. I've seen it in England and in Europe. 
In South Africa throughout the Basutoland and at about 
ten thousand feet elevation, ! was surprised to find two 
rows of Arizona cypress. 

Chall: It had been planted there? 

WCL: Yes. It's a very favored tree because it usually has a good 
form, it doesn't have any diseases, it's resistant to insects 
and also it's hardy. 

Chall: Is it drought-resistant? 

WCL: Yes. It is especially used for planting in rows. I always 
look upon it as a friend. 

Chall: Then you were really doing two things while you were in Tonto. 
You were protecting the forest as it was, and you were also 
watching over the cattle land. 

Lumbermen vs. Government 

WCL: You have to realize that the term "forest" In the Forest Ser 
vice speaks of an administrative area, and not necessarily of 
the type of vegetation that lives on it. In the early days 
there was a contest between the government and the lumbermen 
who were anxious to keep the land in the private domain. And 
they had a graft of getting school teachers during their vaca 
tions to homestead quarter-sections of land that contained 
fine stands of timber. These young women from the eastern 
part of the country came out and the land office was quite 
generous in letting most anything go. So they would home 
stead this quarter-section of fine timber and make no attempt 
whatsoever to cultivate it or build a house on it. Then the 


WCL: lumber company would buy it from them at a very low figure. 
Chal I : I see. 

WCL: So this kind of steal went on in the public domain over vast 
areas. This applied pretty much to land covered wfth good 
timber. Then we had the bordering areas which were blocked 
out without any attempt to follow the forest boundary. These 
areas were blocked out for administrative purposes and also 
for watershed protection, because the Forest Service Is res 
ponsible not only for growing timber or growing grass for 
pasture, but also for controlling storm waters and erosion. 
In these other areas where grazing was the principle use, 
there was a competition betweon the cattlemen and the sheep 

Cattlemen vs. Sheep Men 

Chal I: Did you get into the fights between cattlemen and sheep men? 

WCL: Yes, I was a part of this period. The catilemen would say 
that sheep would ruin the ran<je for cows, and cows wouldn't 
graze after sheep. 

Chal I: Well, there wasn't much left, was there? 

WCL: Well, in some places there was,. You can manage grazing if 
it's properly done, just as you can manage a forest. It's 
a resource, and if you don't over-graze the land give it 
time to rest, it recovers. You see, the nutrient portion 
of the plants is stored in the roots, and you have to have 
leafage to produce the nutrients to store in roots. If 
you permit rests to take place so that the leaf grows up, 
then you strengthen the root system and that will increase 
the growth of grassy forage vegetation. Then also the theory 
that cattle won't graze after sheep is more or less a myth. 
Of course, it was their competition around waterholes that 
brought on the fights usually. 

Chal I : Oh, for water. 

WCL: Yes. Of course, the sheep men could come in and get out. 
The cow man had to have some cultivated land to grow some 
hay for forage, so he couldn't follow the animals around. 
He had to learn to graze his cattle around his headquarters. 


WCL: But the sheep man had his own supplies and he could go off 
anywhere he wanted to. He wouldn't restrict himself to what 
was accepted as the cow man's country, so the cow man would 
shoot at him not for fun either. Around this area, I know of 
about twenty men who were killed. 

Chal I : Well, what were you able to do then? Were you trying to en 
courage the understanding of the proper use of vegetation, or 
were you just trying to keep ""'he sheep and cattle men ;ipart? 
Were you really a policeman, or were you trying to educate? 

WCL: Of course, as rangers there w,is nothing we would run away 
from. Anything that came up that concerned the use of the 
area and the safety of people was our concern. But before, 
when the public domain was open, this war went on. The cow 
men could run some sheep men out and the sheep men would run 
the cow men out. But when the area was withdrawn and brought 
under the public domain of the; National Forests, then the 
Forest Service administered the land and they brought the 
cattle men and the sheep men 'ogether. They recognized that 
both had rights to raise their livestock under certain super 

Chall: I see. 

WCL: And of course, the principal thing that tho sheep men wanted 
was to raise their herds in the desert in the winter time. 
And then in the spring, migrate to where they would graze in 
the grassy glades in the high mountains. Then in the fall of 
the year they would come down again and cross over all this 
territory. Now, the Forest Service proposed, and got them to 
agree, to set up driveways. />nd my job war. to keep the sheep 
and herders in the driveway. Of course if the driveway had 
been grazed down badly, a sheep herder might go around behind 
the mountain and hole up there for three days or so and feed 
up his herd and then come into the driveway and go on. So I 
had to hunt these out and keep them on the move. 

Chall: I see. You must have been on horseback much of the time. 

WCL: Oh yes, all the time. I lived on a horse. I had to hcive 
several mounts. Well, that I enjoyed very much. 

Chall: Yes, you were a real rugged outdoorsman. Now during this 
period, were you studying anything new? 


Personal Chal lenges 

WCL: Well, that's where my geology came in to very good advantage, 
because to work out the geologic structure, the history of an 
area, is quite a challenging thing. Of course I had a degree 
in geology. So I had quite a good background to work out the 
geology of the area I was in. 

Chall: Were you supposed to be doing this too? Or was this just a 
personal challenge? 

WCL: Just a challenge. But that's what made our Forest Service 

so fine. There was William B. Greeley. Ho was a big, genial, 
keen, broad-minded man. And he had entered the Service as a 
ranger. So that's when you could discuss your own territory. 
Many of these Forestry people may not have been geologists, 
but they were interested in all that was going on in their 
region, and the wildlife too. Curiously enough, I ate more 
venison in Germany from the German forests than I ever did 
here because they managed their game there. Here we simply 
murdered our game. 

Chal 1 : At that time. 

WCL: Of course, now in some places we have a superabundance of game. 

Chall: So you were just enjoying the fruits of your background as you 
went around on horseback. 

WCL: Well, then of course, one had to be self-reliant to be a 

forest ranger. You had to do what was necessary to get on and 
to have the right attitude, (tut so many young men now try to 
inch out, to get the most money they can per month and advan 
tages this way and that way, without seeming to have any chal 
lenge. Some of them today don't get my admiration. 

But back in this period, you had men looking to the future. 
Actually foresters have been the forerunners, the pioneers, 
in most conservation programs and philosophy, even more than 
our agriculturalists or our agronomists. Of course the 
agronomist is always thinking of the next harvest. But the 
forester has to think in terms of decades or hundreds of years 
because his crop doesn't mature so quickly. And this very act 
of thinking ahead, planning for the future, creates a type of 
mental competence, mental interest and stimulation that is good 
medicine, and it would be good medicine for a lot of these 
newer fellows today. 


Santa Fe_ National Forest 

Chall: Did you stay long in the Tontc Forest? 


WCL: I was on the Tonto at first, but later on I was transferred 

to the Santa Fe National Forest which is a true timber forest. 
My only trouble with the job of fire lookout was that the snow 
didn't melt away until toward the end of July, so that the 
lower country could dry up anc be a high fire hazard before we 
could man the Peak, so we set our lookouts lower down to give 
a wider view over the lower country. I've explained my duties 
regarding timber sales in my written answers to your questions. 

Chall: Where were your headquarters? 

WCL: The headquarters camp of this company was at Tres Ritos (Three 
Rivers), located at 10,500 feet elevation where three beautiful 
trout streams came together. In winter we were snowed in for 
at least two months with little communication with the outside. 
The time might have laid heavily on our hands, except that dur 
ing these long, long snowbound days, the tie inspector of the 
Santa Fe Railroad and I decided to become proficient in chess. 
So we bought the books containing records of the games of the 
masters. We would play those to see how they would go about 
it and their objectives. Then we would go on our own and see 
how we got on. Well, anyway we had a very interesting time, 
and my interest in chess has never died out since that time. 

Chall: Was this the first that you'd ever played chess? 

WCL: Yes. I'd played checkers, bu1 this was the first time that 
I played chess. When I was In the War, Captain Coolidge was 
the field man of the Committe des Bo is de la Guerre Committee 
of the War Timber. He was stationed at Paris and I was at 
Besancon on the northeastern front. And we had to have meet 
ings on policies, new orders and so on that were coming out. 
So I would go to Paris, and after we had taken care of our 
business then we'd go down to the Cafe de Regence or the Cafe 
du Univers where the world's headquarters of chess was, and 
we'd play there. Sometimes we'd get whopped. But I held up 
much better than I thought I might. 

Chall: All those winters in the woods gave you valuable training. 

WCL: Among other things in the Santa Fe Forest, I was appointed 

to make surveys and to select lands that had deep soils with 
water nearby and general topography suitable for cultivation 
to grow food crops in case that a threat of war might come 
from an invasion from Mexico. But no invasion ever took place. 


WCL: There was quite a feeling thai the Germans would incite Mexico 
to invade the United States through New Mexico, because more 
than half the people are Mexicans in New Mexico. 

Chall: I see. 

WCL: And if they did that, we rangers would call ourselves a thin 

green line and be the first to meet the attack. And so we had 
ammunition. I had a rifle on my saddle and a revolver and stores 
of ammunition. 

Chall: So you were ready. 

WCL: I still derive great pleasure from my memories of the gorgeous 
scenery and coloring of this region, where the purplish green 
of the alpine fir and cork bark fir, and the bold patterns of 
old burns of forest fires, are marked by the golden yellows of 
aspen trees that come in after the burns. 

Chall: After the burning, the aspens come in? 

WCL: Yes, they always do. They follow the fires because the aspens 
start and then they grow up. Underneath other trees, in time 
they die out. At least the roots remain alive. Then when the 
fire runs over, with the removal of competition from the other 
vegetation around, the aspens sprout up quickly. So with a 
big fire, after a couple of years, you could trace; the boundary 
of the fire by this golden yellow. And not all the area would 
be burned, so you would have -this purplish green, especially 
in the shadowy, mountainous araas, and it was simply gorgeous. 

Chal I : It would be. 

WCL: And on my beautiful horse riding on the high trail, it was 

really an experience. And yet I got paid for it. Daughter] 

Chall: That's always even better. 

WCL: Before long, the United States declared war on Germany in 

1917. I volunteered and was assigned to the Tenth Engineers. 




' '*. 

st 10, 

Lr. '"alter C. Lowdermilk, 

Forest Service. 

You are hereby notified that you have been appointed to the 
position of Forest Ranpor, - ----__-_______ _ 

on the miscellaneous roll of the FOREST SERVICE, at a salary 
of $ 1100 per annum , to take effect on A, -ust L, l'.>17 . 

3y transfer from the statutory roll. 

You have been granted loara wit ho t pay from tlio termination 
of July 31, 191V, until furtuar order, you ha: ing e.itered tiie 
wi li t p. ry a or vi c c . 

By direction of the Secretary of Agriculture: 

Appointment Clerk. 
Legal residence: 


[Written questions and answers] 

Chall: What did you do after enlisting in the Armv? 

I was inducted into the Army in Fort McDowell, on Angel Island 
in the San Francisco Bay. Here we trained for a month and then 
were shipped to Washington, D.C., and there training continued. 
I was promoted to Technical Sergeant First Class. We set out 
for England via Halifax. 

The Voyage to Europe 

Chall: Did your group have a good time getting acquainted on board 
sh ip? 

WCL: Well, yes and no. We had a miserable voyage. It was so stormy 
that many of our Tenth Engineers were desperately seasick and 
periodical I y' rushed to the rail. We all remember how our mascot, 
a little goat, staggered to the rail and knelt down on its knees 
alongside his American buddies and contributed hii bit to the 

When we arrived at night and marched through Glascow, 
Scotland, anxious local people reached out to pinch us, to 
assure themselves that at last the Americans had come and that 
we were not ghosts. From Glascow, we were almost immediately 
shipped to northeast France. Our French railway cars were 
designated, "Capacity 8 horses 40 men." 

Chall: What did your Lumberjack Regiment do on arrival? 

WCL: We began at once to establish camps within the forests of the 

Jura Mountains to house our lumberjacks, and began cut-ting logs 
immediately to be ready as soon as the sawmill could be set up. 
Our expeditionary forces were in need of lumber and timbers in 
large quantities. The sawmill roared day and night. I remem 
ber waking up one night with a start. Then 1 realized that the 
noisy mill had stopped the silence had awakened ne. 

35 ' 

August M, 1918. 

From : 1st Liout. Pred Morrison, 10th 2n<?inocrs 

To : C. 0. 10th Engineers (Thru i ilitur.;. 3h;~?t.tels; 

Subject : Military Administration- JJeooranend ition St. 1st class 
Walter C. Lowdormilk for commission. 

1. oorgoant First class Walter G. Lowie.* :ilk has been 
a no/riber of Company ?, 10th Engineers (Forestry) to which ho untJ 
I hoth -in \ltaohci; r.ince liii^nst IP, 10 IV. '<-. h-. .; iK-or. couHua.nd since I:ovemb,;r 103 /. 

n. :ao\v ii.i i to ue a rau.u of cto/lin. /orth, i iie 

uiorl. be<'.rin^ , well educated and oi uausu tlly rood 'poroojial- 
itv. T T O poai:eases a thorou.'/h workin- knowlou; o of tceluiicul 
i'oroatry v rl t*3 the ooniained fcnowledrce of Pronoh for<;str.\ met node 
:ii.u ?orevry -prjuitiaoc; a?, related to Ainerictin ox::loit tion;: 1 - oi 1 

and 'oitnj-^.iono 7;iti rcsToct to loj--. in^ 'ihu'to-i-:.. il' 1 i^' " :r, r .'a ' 
;xbl^ yul: "'fonoh flaontly. I GBpocii**!!,-.' oo i OM hi ji m .-i 

r.ian o-" .;::treno doTc-tion to dut. : r t iudittttrioun .O,VC.K ^u 
I brliovo t/; '-". "rif: v/onl'i make u valuable officer in yon 
?ont?-try oj 1 '-^. 1 'Ionian* rol-it^fl indnstrios. 



.i l. f O.L 

1st Lieut., Knirs?., 'J.S.a. 


Timber Acquisition Officer 

Chall: What was your personal assignment? 

WCL: I was soon commissioned and assigned the task of Timber Ac 
quisition Officer. This meant that I was to search out bodies 
of timber suitable for the needs of our American armies in 
northern France. 

Chall: How did American methods of cutting compare with French methods? 

WCL: The French lumberjacks were very careful in their procedures of 
felling trees. A man with a hoop around himself and the tree 
and with spiked shoes, climbed the tree, cutting off all branches 
and leaving only a tuft at the top. Then by very careful and 
accurate undercutting at the stump, they would fell the tree 
with remarkable accuracy within a foot or two of where they 
chose. In this way, the tree fell with a minimum of damage to 
surrounding young growth on which the new forest depended. 

But our American lumberjacks refused to climb and cut the 
branches this way. This was war and our armies required timber, 
so they slaughtered the French forests by felling trees, 
branches and all, destroying surrounding young growth without 
concern for future forests. 

Chall: Did you return to the United States immediately after the 
Armi stice? 

Sett I ing Timber Account After the Armistice 

WCL: Of course the operations ceased after the Armistice, but I was 
asked to remain on for quite a time. Then my job, with a few 
assistants, was to survey the timber that had not been cut but 
that our Army had agreed to pay for. I had to sign over to 
French authorities the sawmills of northeastern France (there 
were nearly a dozen of them), including timber and facilities, 
to release our American Army from any further responsibilities. 

This new assignment meant that I was given a car and driver 
and an assistant officer, and for several months I traveled 
over east and northeast France. As a Timber Acquisition Of 
ficer, it had been my responsibility to see that cur sealers 


WCL: kept accurate records of timber cut and processed, looking to 
final settlement with the French government. When the French 
account or bill was given us, there was a discrepancy of about 
two million dollars in their favor. We were able to establish 
the accuracy of our records. They did not contest our totals. 
Thus we saved our government a large sum of money in the final 

Commission on War Damages in I nvaded Regions 

Chall: How long did you remain in France? 

WCL: It was a year or more after the fighting stopped. Part of the 
time I spent in Paris on a Commission that ended tar too soon, 
for we had a good set-up, good pay and generous expense money. 
This was a special Commission of about five of us, set up at 
the request of President Woodrow Wilson, who questioned the ac 
curacy of the big claims made by France against Germany for 
war damages in the invaded regions. Somehow, the Allies came 
to an agreement and our Commission was terminated. 

[Taped questions and answers] 

Timber Acquisition Officer 

Chal!: What were some of your duties as Timber Acquisition Officer? 

WC I. : This meant that I was to search out bodies of timber to fill 
the needs of American armies in France, and to locate mills 
and other sites in northern France to saw up this timber. For 
example, we had to build docking facilities at St. Nazaire, 
France. The docking facilities that the French had built were 
quite inadequate for the use that was made of them. 

When we began to bring over our military supplies in great 
quantities, then we had to increase the docking sites, and so 
docks had to be built and we needed piling. Tree;., suitable 
for piling must be a certain size, straight, and also not too 
big in diameter. So I had a small staff of cruisers, and we 
cruised the forests to find out what kind of timbor and how 
much there was within the range of our sawmill. 

Chal I: For all kinds of purposes that you knew you needed? 

WCL: Yes. So that was one of my jobs. Of course, French foresters 

didn't want to see us cut this fastest growing stage of timber 
small, straight. The big trees were all right. To then I said, 
"Monsieur La Bode, here is timber of those sizes we most need, 
and here are others." And he then said, "Oh, mon dieu, vous 
connaissez mon bo is mieux que moi!" ("My God, you know my 
forest better than I do!") Then of course we had to have 
barbed wire and entanglement stakes by the millions. 

Chal I : Your ability to speak French must have served you well. 

Sett I ing the Two Mi I I ion Pol lar Claim 

Chall: What caused the two million dollar discrepancy between your 
figures and those of the French? 






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WCL: The French depend on volume tables. Of cou -se on.; of the thing? 
we always do when going into a forest area, is to work up 
volume tables which are based on the diameters and heights of 
trees. And then we have formulae to determine th<a amount of 
volume within trees of certain diameters and cert. tin heights. 
Now in the cruise of the timber, the size of the tree at 
breeist height four and one-half feet above the ground is 
measured or estimated. 

Of course in France we measured trees with calipers. But 
when it comes to the height of the tree, the French determine 
the average height of trees for these dimensions, and record 
and work out the volume. Now the heights of the frees, as I 
said, were determined beforehand. But the French set up 
averages for different sites. 

Where the soil is fertile the trees will grow taller and 
the dimension of the tree will be quite different. For 
example, if you are on a sandy dry slope, the height of the 
tree will be much less; the average height, even fhough for 
the same diameter, of the tree will be shorter. Now if you 
have; two bodies of timber, and in one the soil is fertile and 
the slopes face north and there is a cooler moistor climate, 
then your trees will be taller. But on the dry sites, your 
tree will not be so tall. Well, ordinarily the French will 
outline certain areas where they will take these fwo heights 
and average them, so the volume of timber for this area will 
then be based upon the average height for these measured 
diameters. Now in order for this volume table to work, it 
would have to be based on an average height. But if your 
forest authorities want to see that you get the timber on a 
rocky slope and be charged as if it were the average, the 
quantity of timber is less and yet you have to pay more for 
an adequate supply to meet your needs. And you see, nobody 
had pointed this out. 

I explained it to Colonel Greeley. He saw my point. 
So we Americans made a stand. We contested the scale of the 
French foresters, which wasn't a very nice thing to do, since 
we were Allies in a victorious war, but we were paying a big 
price anyway. 

Chall: So the French accepted it when it was pointed out to them. 

WCL: The French had no comeback, because they knew they had used 

this trick. Then there was one other case. We also included 
the branch wood which the French use for fuel. They piled it 
up in what they called "steers," that is, a meter tall and a 
meter on each of three sides this equalled a cubic meter of 
piled wood. And of course we Americans wouldn't pile it, we 
left it on the ground as slash. But I had kept a scale on 

6 Jam,, '!&. 

Captain Roger K. MoGee, 

engineers (Forestry), Lerier (Doubs), 

Assignment of Lt. ... C. Lovdeznilk* 

1. Lt. .-. C. Lowdermilk has been detached froa the 24th Company, 20th 
Engineers and instructed to report to you for duty at Lerlor. Lt. Loudens ilk 
...lil >ro *t~ *-it- ixi i.i*o Jin&ii&at itoteMklaijamtt KIB will net be assigned to 
any racancies in your command. 2he purpose of the abore instructions is to 
bavo Lt Lowdermilk arailable in the Besanoon District for the next three 
weeks in order to assist this office and the American Delegate on the C.I.B.G. 
at Paris in investigating matters which may arise in connection with the 
settlement of timber purchases, daaage claims, or the transfer of lumber or 
technical engineer equipment to the French. Lt. Lowdermilic should be held 
arailable for duties of this character and should not be giren an assignment 
as detachment oomaander. He will, of course, be arailable to assist yourself 
in carrying out any instructions which you may receive in regard to the abort 

By direction of Brig. Gen. Jadwini 

W. B. 



WCL: this. So they accused us when their scale didn't agree with 
ours. And they said, "Well, you lost it in the branch wood 
which you didn't make use of." I let them make that point. 
Then I reminded them that at Gevrey Chambertin they had wanted 
the branch wood themselves. And all we were charged for by 
the French government was supposedly just the stem wood. And 
they agreed to it when I showed them the discrepancy. In this 
case, we were both working on the same basis. And then I said, 
"The reason why the volume is different is because your for 
esters only marked where the trees were short, and not where 
the trees were tall." Then they finally Sciid, "Well, we have 
conceded on price, and we expect you to concede on volume." 

Chall: I guess your ability to keep records was o1 vital importance 
during these transactions. 

WCL: Well, it was very interesting. It was rather a tense situa 
tion because for instance, they said, "You've got all these 
branches left in the woods and the uncut ends of trees." Then 
I got crews from our own forces and a lot of string and I set 
these boys out to run string to mark off lanes. And then I 
had the boys measure every piece of wood in them that was a 
meter long or thirty centimeters in diameter. Thore were 
thousands of pieces, and I had it all listed up on paper and 
presented it. And the French foresters thought, "What will 
these Americans do?" 

Chall: These brash young men. 

WCL: Then they couldn't use the argument that we had left it in 
the woods anymore. Still, their volume was short. We were 
paying them for more timber than we were getting. 

Chall: But even with all that, you came out two million dollars or 
so ahead? 

WCL: Well, they agreed to accept our figures, and then we didn't 
lose it. This gets me back into a very interesting stage 
of my life. Oh, I had lots of fun. 

Chall: You enjoyed the challenges. 

Commission on_ War Damages J_n_ Invaded Regions 
Chall: What was your work on the special commission set up by 

Chal 1 : President Wi I son? 

WCL: He questioned the accuracy of big claims rruide by Franco against 

Germany for the war damage in the invaded regions, such as fields 
riddled with trenches and buildings destroyed, railroads and 
equipment ruined, forests shattered and ruined by shell explo 
sions and embedding of shrapnel. You see, when the shrapnel 
would embed itself in the wood they couldn't use fhe logs in 
the sawmill, because the saw would cut into the shrapnel and be 
ruined. It was worthless except for firewood. So the French 
had a legitimate claim here. The bridges also of course were 
destroyed. France had suffered heavily from the invasion of 
the German army, and apparently they wanted adequate repaymenl . 
But then somehow the A I 1 ies came to an agreement ond our Com 
mission was terminated. 

Chal I: How did it happen that you were appointed to these special 
commi ssions? 

WCL: Well, of course, we were there. And I might say l-hat I had a 
rather distinctive position because I had had very good train 
ing and also experience in German forests, which was quite 
something in those days. Then of course I was acfive ;md on 
the staff of our Commander, Colonel Greeley, and '50 they put 
me to work. 

[Written questions and answersD 

Chall: What did you do when your war work was ended? 

WCL: Of course I came back to the U.S. Forest Service where I had 
a good job ! 

During World War I, my chief in the Tenth Engineers 
was Colonel William B. Greeley. After my extra time in France 
on the Liquidation Commission, I returned to the United States 
and visited Colonel Greeley in Washington, D.C. He was now 
Chief of the United States Forest Service. 

Colonel Greeley gave me an opportunity to choose the line 
of work I wished to follow in the Forest Service. He said the 
three most promising branches were administration, forest pro 
tection, and forest research. I chose forest research. 

Therefore, I went to Dr. Earle Clapp, Chief of Research o1 
the National Forest Service. He had surveyed the status of 
forest research throughout the national forests, jnd had been 
successful in getting several Forest Experiment Stations es 
tablished and equipped. He had appointed capable forest 
scientists to man these Experiment Stations. But with all 
this, there was still little application of the results of 
this research by the Operations staff of the Forest Service. 

So when the war was over, Dr. Clapp got the support of 
Colonel Greeley to set up a new position in each National 
Forest Region of the country and to man this position in each 
case with a well-trained forester. This new officer was to 
be called Regional Research Officer. Dr. Clapp had traveled 
widely around the nation to interview candidates and to in 
struct the appointees in objectives in this nation-wide 

Appoi nted Regional Research Of f icer 

Chall: Were you one of those interviewed by Dr. Clapp for this 

WCL: Yes. There was need for one such officer for each region of 



WCL: the Forest Service. I was interviewed and offered this posi 
tion for Region One; that included the so-called "Inland Empire" 
of the western white pine (Pinus monticola) belt .and tributary 
forest areas. This region Included the northeastern part of the 
state of Washington, northern Idaho, and northwest Montana. 
Missoula was my headquarters. My goal was to get the results 
of forest research put into practice by the Operations or 
Administrative Branch of the Forest Service. 

Chall: How did you carry on this new type of work? 

WCL: There were no precedents. Each regional man was thrown upon 

his own resources. We had a free hand to imbue operations per 
sonnel of the Forest Service with the importance of research 
and the desirability of applying the results of research where- 
ever fitting. An unmentioned objective wab to overcome the 
slurs cast at forest scientists, called by Operations, "long 
hairs." Presumably, we were impractical theorists. 

Chall: How did you begin this work? 

WCL: First I visited and became thoroughly acquainted with all 
members of the Forest Research Station and field r.taff of 
Region One, and with the problems under study and the status 
of findings so far reached. Having done this, I visited the 
Operations staff, including logging si I viculturists, marking 
timber to be cut, and forest protection people, providing for 
detection and suppression of forest fires, and road and log 
ging railroad construction. I became well acquainted with 
such problems and works. 

Chall: About how long did this take you? 

WCL: It took me a few months to isolate a number of urgent prob 
lems and to ask many questions under all kinds of circum 
stances. Then I began a search for the key problem of the 
woods under forest management. 

At last, after about six to eight months, I decided that 
slash disposal, associated with the logging of forest trees 
for timber and lumber, was the measure that, despite strict 
regulations, was costing a heavy charge against the timber 
stands of the national forests. Here results were the least 

Chall: What kinds of timber species were you dealing with? 

WCL: Forests of the Inland Empire enjoyed ample rainfall, were 

favored with good soils and rapid growth of all species. These 
forest tree species included: 


WCL: I. Western White Pine (Pinus monticola) 

2. Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga Douglas! i) 

3. Western Larch (Larix occidentales) 

4. White Fir (Abies grandis) 

5. Western Red Cedar (Thuja pi icata) 

6. Western Hemlock (Tsuga) 

7. Englemann Spruce (Picea Englemanni i ) 

Chall: Which of these species was in greatest demand at that time? 

WCL: Western white pine was in greatest demand. The big trees 

provided clear lumber, an exceedingly high-quality wood. Trees 
were six to eight feet in diameter and brought good prices. In 
those days, the Diamond and Ohio natch companies were sharply 
bidding against each other for these glorious and magnificent 
trees. What a pity it was to cut these beautiful logs for the 
lowly purpose of making little matches! 

So the Forest Service was induced to call for bids to log 
these woods. But species other than white pine which eire valu 
able today would not at that time yield returns to justify log 
ging and processing. These so-called "weed species" wore left 
stand i ng! 

Problems of Slash Disposal 

Chall: Were there laws at that time to clean up the slash left on 
the ground? 

WCL: According to Idaho state laws, it was necessary to set fire 
to logging slash to reduce fire hazards after logging. Such 
slash fires also killed weed species and under-sized trees. By 
this means the forest floor was burned more or less clean for a 
time. Fire hazards were reduced until dead weed trees began to 
rot at ground level. All such dead and dry trees then blew 
down and left the cut over and burned over forest land a 
jackstraw-I ike pile of flammable material. 

Chall: Then I suppose these became another fire hazard? 

WCL: Yes, all too frequently succeeding fires burned where past 

fires had been. These burned out the humus from the soil. On 
these burned out soils, ashes were compacted by the rains; 
storm runoff was increased and contributed to higher flood 
stages and soil erosion. Thus natural forest conditions were 


WCL : destroyed. In the end, the condition of the forest land was 
dep lorable. 

A forest stand so badly damaged was sure to deteriorate; 
restocking of valuable species was woefully inadequate. 

Chall: Then did you decide this was the key problem for your studies? 

WCL: Yes, I decided that for Region One, the key problem was how 
the disposal of logging slash was to be carried out for the 
best results. 

Jim Gerard, an able and a practical self-trained silvi- 
culturalist, who was also our regional logging enqineer, 
collaborated with me in a series of slash disposal experi 
ments in logged over areas. Along with customary piling and 
burning of slash, we tried out "live burning" of slash. This 
practice consisted of starting fires at convenient distances 
apart in damp or wet slash. We would use dry wood to get a 
hot fire going. Then we tossed branches of slash and other 
logging debris onto the hot fires. Such hot fires would dry 
out the slash even though soggy with wet snow. From then on, 
even in light rains we were able to reduce the hazards of 
logging slash by live burning! 

Wet slash would be burned out in this manner, but 1he 
forest mulch or forest litter would not be burned, it would 
remain in place and protect the soil and favor infiltration 
of waters from rains and snow melt. Thus we controlled 
erosion and conserved soils of logged over lands also. 

Chall: Did others in the Forest Service recognize this as, a key 

WCL: Yes, we were so successful in this method of disposing of 

logging slash that state authorities recommended that Idaho 
law be revised by the Legislature in accordance with our 
findings. This was done. 

WCL: This slash disposal problem was tough. Do you feel your 

Oxford and German training helped you to solve it successfully? 

Chall: Yes, perhaps so. We made more progress in its solution in 
Region One than anywhere else. For this success, I give 
credit to my thorough training under German Forstmeisters as 
well as to the technical studies in the School of Forestry 
in Oxford under my venerable Professor, Sir William Schlich, 
and to collaboration with able field men in our forest regions. 


Development of_ Forest Conservation in the United States 

Chall: Dr. Lowdermi I k, will you discuss the development of forest 
conservation in the United States at this time. 

WCL: Theory and practice of forestry aroused a powerful appeal in 
a small group of public-minded Americans. In the first place, 
forest resources of America were enormous. Land covered by 
primeval stands of the finest timber in the world made up 
much of the public domain of the new country of the United 

In accordance with the long-range policy of Abraham Lincoln 
to settle up the vast domain, it was possible for timbermen to 
connive with people of the frontier, including hundreds of 
school teachers, to homestead land with stands of valuable 
timber. These homesteads were then deeded over to timbermen, 
and this enabled them to build up great fortunes in timber 
holdings for a small amount of money. These vast timberlands 
became a great steal! Early Americans seemed to feel that 
our forests were inexhaustible and conservation unnecessary. 

Also, these bodies of timber were cut and burned in a 
careless and wasteful manner that aroused the indignation of 
forestry pioneers. A few great spirits joined together to 
protect and to manage these forest areas in line with princi 
ples of sustained yields of forest management, and of regula 
tion of regimens of streams. 

Chall: Who were some of those who tried to reverse the policy of 
exploitation of forests? 

WCL: One of the first and greatest was George Marsh, a Vermonter, 
who first gave expression to a theory that mankind was waste- 
fully destroying natural resources in such a manner as to 
undermine the future of the country. 

Abraham Lincoln had appointed George Marsh Ambassador to 
Italy during the Civil War. Being a studious man, and with 
little to do as an Ambassador far from our Civil War in the 
United States, George Marsh became interested in the decline 
and destruction of resources of the ancient Roman Empire. 

He traveled over much of the Mediterranean lands and wrote 
an epoch-making book, called Man and Nature. Further studies 
amplified the theme and in another book, The. Earth as Modified 
by Human Action, Marsh described the ruins of the populous 
and prosperous Roman Empire. Marsh deplored the ruin of re 
sources and consequent fall of Rome. 







These implications aroused a few great minds and gave rise 
to the call of governors by Theodore Roosevelt to the White 
House Conference in 1908, to consider problems of the conserva 
tion of natural resources. 

Several excellent papers 
Among them was one on minera 
by Professor Salisbury, 
on the horrible fate of 

were read at this Conference. 


one on 

a geologist; and one by 
timber resources. 

land resources 
Gifford Pinchot 

Out of these deliberations the case of forest destruction 
caught the public ear, whereas wastage by erosion of the soils, 
more basic than trees, did not. Pinchot aroused the people of 
the new nation to the importance of saving the forests and man 
aging them to supply the present and future needs of a rapidly 
growing country. Pinchot warned of an on-coming timber famine. 

How did the government react to this newly aroused public 
opin ion? 

Responses developed in different ways. One was to set aside 
tracts of land, called the Public Domain, into National Forests. 

You will be interested that in California the cry of an 
on-coming timber famine induced many people to plant Eucalyptus 
trees a rapidly-growing tree species from Australia to get 
rich quick. In selecting this species for thousands of planta 
tions, tree planters overlooked one item the wood was worthless 
except for fire wood because of its twisted grain. It's one of 
the best examples of how one needs to know all the facts before 
he acts. 

Was there opposition to setting aside forest lands for the 
Publ ic Domai n? 

Yes indeed. The timber interests were most vocal against set 
ting aside forest lands for National Forests, for this inter 
fered with the building of timber empires and great fortunes 
at public expense. There then began a race to include as much 
timber lands in National Forests as possible within the authori 
zation by an Act of Congress. This became a lively subject 
throughout the land. 

Forestry Pioneers 

WCL: But there were few opportunities of learning about scientific 


WCL: forestry in the United States. Bernhard Fernow, a Professor 
of Forestry from Germany, was made the head of one of the 
first schools of forestry in the United States, at Cornell 
University. Others were established. Dean Henry Solon Graves 
set up the Yale School of Forestry, and on his faculty was a 
foremost si Iviculturist, Professor James Tourney. 

Professor Car! Schenck established the Biltmore School. 
It was a unique traveling school of forestry, for sons of 
wealthy men. The idea was to save time and quickly to intro 
duce his students to actual forest properties undergoing 
management. Lectures were held on shipboard and stops were 
made to inspect forests and lumbering in different locations 
as field work. The idea of this sort of school was good, but 
the school failed because students treated their education in 
forestry as a lark. 

Chall: How was scientific forestry introduced into America? 

WCL: This happened in a rather unusual way. The East India Company 
of British India induced the German government to send them a 
trained forester to draw up a program for growing and manage 
ment of teak forests, to replace those being rapidly logged 
out in India. The German government sent William Schlich to 
British India. The Company was well pleased with Schlich's 
plans and employed him to carry them out. Later, his success 
earned him a Knighthood when he became a British subject in 
about 1886. 

Sir William Schlich of course knew German foresters and 
the new science and practice of forestry. He was considered 
the greatest living authority and his textbooks were widely 
used . 

It became a common practice for Americans interested in 
forestry to call on Sir William in Oxford, who would conduct 
them to forests on the Continent where some of the best 
examples of managed forests could be studied. So there were 
many meetings with Gifford Pinchot, Henry Solon Graves, 
Fernow, Raphael Zon and many others. Thus Americans were 
introduced to the practice of scientific forestry in Germany. 
Forestry became a popular enterprise. 

By this time, the Forest School at Oxford was commissioned 
to train forestry candidates for British Colonial Forest Ser 
vices, under the guidance of William Schlich. It was about 
this time that Hugh Bryan and I arrived in Oxford, and I chose 
to "do" two schools, one in forestry and the other in geology 
in my three years at Oxford. I did practical forestry field 
work in the State forests of Hessen Nassau. Dr. Schenck' s 
traveling school was closed down before my arrival in Germany. 


Chall: Apparently Professor Schenck and these pioneers in forestry 
had a stimulating influence on you. Were there others too? 

WCL: I certainly give great credit to Sir William Schlich, who was 
my professor all through my studies in theory and practice in 
Oxford and had a great influence in directing my thinking in 
forestry. Also, had opportunities later to meet Gifford 
Pinchot, especially at his home in Washington. He continued 
to arouse public interest and support to save our diminishing 
forest stands. 

Then too, there was Raphael Zon, during the first part of 
this century, who brought to the United States a fund of 
knowledge on the influences of forests on floods <md stream 
flow. For some time his published works on forests and waters 
opened up this subject to us. Some years later, I followed on 
into forest hydrology and Zon's mantle fell on my shoulders 
for a time. 

Then too, I knew Roy Headley, Chief of Operations of the 
Forest Service. In fact, he supported my approach to the 
study of logging slash disposal referred to above. 

Dr. Clapp's book, A National Program of Forest Research, 
influenced me too. There was A I do Leopold, a fine man and a 
personal friend, in the field of fish and game, who was also 
our outstanding philosopher in conservation of natural resources, 

Also, my good friend, Ridgley Chapline, with whom I often 
discussed erosion problems on grazing lands. Clarence Forsling 
and I worked together in research in the southwestern region. 
When Samuel T. Dana, Director of the Forest Experiment Station 
at Amherst College, came west, ! showed him around, and we 
discussed our problems in establishing research in forest man 
agement of forest lands of the west. 

I also worked closely with Walter Mulford, head of the 
Forestry Department of the University of California. He was 
on the committee for my doctorate and we also had close contact 
during the years of my erosion studies in California. 

Chall: Were there also forestry schools developing during this period? 

WCL: There were a number of universities besides Cornell and Yale 
establishing forest schools in response to a general demand 
for learning "the science and practice of forestry. Some of 
them developed into fine schools, as those in Anne Arbor, 
Michigan, and the Missoula, Montana Forestry School. The 
Universities of Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin developed 
outstanding Forest Products Laboratories. 

L~Taped questions and answers] 

Chall: So then after the various settlements had been worked out, 
you came back to the United States. 

WCL: When I came back, I was interviewed by Dr. Earle Clapp and 

offered the position of Regional Research Officer for Region 
One. That included the so-called inland empire of the Western 
White Pine belt and tributary forest areas. 

Chall: You really went into the wilds, didn't you? 

WCL: Oh yes. Missoula was my headquarters and my chief was the 
venerable R. H. Rut I edge as Regional Forester, a wonderful 
man. He was one of those gentle, -thoughtful , fair, honest men 
that the Forest Service seemed to produce, a man who had the 
confidence of the people with whom he dealt. You needed such 
men, because in those days the settlers and cattlemen were not 
very favorable toward the Forest Service. 

Chall: No, you were curtailing their complete freedom. 

WCL: That's right. We wanted to see regulations carried out. 

Chall: By the way, where were you when Mr. Clapp interviewed you? 
Did you come back to the Tonto or the Santa Fe Forest? 

WCL: He found me in Region Three at the Albuquerque headquarters. 
And incidentally, Region Three of our Southwest established 
an esprit de corps. If you'd once been in the Forest Service 
there, somehow you were especially attached to it as you went 
to other places. For instance, we have Starker Leopold at the 
University here, who is the son of my close friend, the late 
Aldo Leopold of Region Three. His two sons, Starker and Luna, 
are both of them marvelous fellows, very able, very effective. 

Duties as Research Officer 

Chall: This is a most interesting sidelight on the Forest Service. 
What now did you have facing you in Region One? 










November 20, 1919, 

I.Ir. , /alter 0. Lowdermilk, 

Hi.- soul a, Montana. 
Dear Llr. Lov/deriailk: 

Upon the occasion of your' leaving this District to 
assume your netf duties in District 1, I v/unt you to know that 
\ve are he.vjrtily appreciative of the good work that you have 
done here -,nd that we feel proud to graduate you into your pre 
sent important position in spite of the fact tteit ; ve f as a Dis 
trict, are the losers by the transaction. It cannot be too 
strongly emphasized that the entire Forest Service is still very 
much in need of young technical men who have the combination of 
experience, personality, earnestness and enthusiasm. 

It is our hope that you will feel that this District 
lias contriuuted something to what you will undoubtedly accomplish 
in your new position and we hope that we shall occasionally have 
the opportunity of seeing you and hearin;; of your <.vork and prog 

Very sincerely yours, 

i'RAKK C. fl. tOOLEH, Acting District Forester, 


~ -*- '-* // '" 1 " "* "* 


WCL: As Regional Forest Research Officer, I began my t.isk. I 

visited and became thoroughly acquainted with all members of 
the Forest Research station and field staff, and with the prob 
lems under study and the status of the findings so far reached. 

Chall: What were some of these findings? 

WCL: Now, for example, research had discovered that the white pine 
seed, of the Western white pine (Pinus monticola), are stored 
in the duff or litter, and if we could preserve that duff, then 
we could be assured that the white pine seeds weru stored 
more or less as in a refrigerator and they would grow when the 
stand was opened up to sunlight. This was established at Ex 
periment Stations before I came into the picture. The opera 
tions people dealing with slash were supposed to keep this in 
mi nd . 

Slash Disposal 

Chall: After you had become acquainted with the staff and their 
problems, what did you do? 

WCL: In a few months I had isolated a number of urgent problems. 

Then I began to search for the key problem of the woods under 
forest management. What I call the key problem is one which, 
when solved, solves many other sub-problems along with it. 

Chall: Oh, I see. 

WCL: You know that in a log jam, there's some key log; if you blow 
that out, then it frees the whole jam. 

Chall: And you decided that slash disposal was the key problem? 

WCL: Yes. In these days, as I mentioned in my written answers to 

questions, the Diamond Match and Ohio Match companies were bid 
ding against each other for the Western white pine. 

I used to rebel against it, but of course, really, we were 
cutting those stands too early. And I advocated the principle 
that a stand of timber was not economically ripe to be cut 
until the cut stand would pay for measures to conserve the 
crop. Because, as I have written, the other trees in the 
forest were not considered valuable enough to pay for any 
special measures, or even to cut them, so they were left stand 

Then a state law in Idaho required that after a cutover 
area is finished, the lumbermen had to go in and burn the slash, 


WCL: but this slash disposal would burn and kill all these other 
so-called weed trees. It removed the slash from the forest 
floor for a time, but in a short time these dead trees rotted 
off at the ground level and they would fall, becoming great 
pi les of dead timber. 

I made a study of slash disposal, with Miller, the Dean of 
the Forest School of Idaho, entitled "Minimum Requirements in 
Forest Management." And then there's the study I made with 
Jim Gerard. He hadn't gone to forest school. But I told him 
he was one of the best si I viculturists we had In Region One. 
"Well," he said, "I never went to forest school." I said, 
"But you've got the knowledge; I don't care how you got it, 
I give you credit for it." 

Chall: Was he one of the operational men? 

WCL: Yes. And that's where we worked together. I made him senior 
author in my study of slash disposal. 

Chall: So this first burning of slash, while seemingly a protective 
measure, created a serious problem. 

WCL: Yes. It was an accepted practice of the time and the place 
in this inland empire. Fire hazards were reduced until the 
dead weed trees began to rot and blow down. Then in fact, it 
was practically impossible to fight a fire in that material 
because it was so flashy and fire advanced so rapidly in It. 
So whenever a f i re occurred in this material, we had to re 
treat back to the green forest where we had a better chance 
of stopping it. 

Chall: How long would it take between the time that the first fire 
had been made over the original slash and the dead trees 
began to fall down? 

WCL: Three to five years usually. It would depend on the size of 
the trees, because the dead tree would begin to rot at the 
soil surface. And if the tree was big, it would take a 
longer time, and smaller trees would fall over in a shorter 

But it was these contrasts that I photographed and also 
sampled with our methods of cruising, in studies of slash dis 
posal to determine the relative amount of timber and size, 
that made such an impression on Roy Head ley. Here we were 
supposed to cut the forest, clean it up and safeguard it from 
further damage, but with all these jackstraw piles of dead 
trees, it increased fire hazard in dangerous proportions. In 
other words, we weren't achieving the purpose for which these 
measures had been taken. 


Chall: Right, and also you were reducing the opportunity for new 
growth; fires were burning out the undergrowth. 

WCL: Yes, exactly. That's a very important point. The restocking 

timber growing trees had practically stopped. Succeeding 
; ires burned out the humus that was lying on the surface of the 
soil. And then the ashes of such fires were compacted by the 
rains, so the runoff and erosion were increased. Flood stages 
down river were increased. So we had evidence here that things 
had gone wrong in a big way, and therefore we had to make a new 
approach to safeguard the forests from conditions that had des 
troyed the forest land and left it in a deplorable condition. 
The old forest stands were badly damaged and began to deter 
iorate, so the restocking of species was inadequate. 

Thus the forest fires in this area were a very critical 
problem. Vast areas of natural forest had been burned over. 
We made studies of these burns, because we were concerned with 
restoring growing stands of timber. We classified the burns 
into first and second and third burns. The first burn through 
the green forest killed many of the trees, and then in many 
cases old snags would catch on fire, and if they were on a 
slope they'd burn off and then the stem of the tree would fall 
and shoot down like a fiery arrow. 

This sort of thing is very difficult to deal with in fight 
ing a fire. You might have a fire halfway up a slope and with 
these arrow-like snags on fire, the punk or rotted material 
would be slowly smoldering. They would shoot right down through 
the fire line, spreading fire down the slope. The only thing 
to do in a case such as this was to drop down to the bottom of 
the slope and establish a new fire line. 

These first burns would not entirely burn up all the green 
timber, because there were moist places in the soil. Green 
timber served as a barrier to fires. Then there would be trees 
left in rocky places and they would serve as seed trees. Such 
trees that had escaped the first fire would re-seed those por 
tions that had been burned over, and the stand would not neces 
sarily be totally destroyed. Such areas would be restocked 
in a reasonable time. 

But if after a time, when some of these trees had rotted 
off and fallen to the ground and young growth had grown up 
vigorously, then if there was a second fire, all this dry 
material became fuel for a very hot fire. And then these hot 
forest fires destroyed all the young growth and burned out 
the dead and downed material and the litter. 

Chall: It was the second fire that was the most dangerous. 


WCL: This second fire is very destructive and H burns out 1he 
humus from the soil, and steep slopes in the soil begin to 
creep and roll downhill. Winds come in and whip up ashes. They 
are terrible places to be caught in, because the ijshes become 

There were times when enough material had survived these 
other two fires to become fuel for a third and still hotter 
fire in the area. This only added to the destruction of the 
second fire. So the forest was destroyed, leaving only ashes 
with brown-reddish oxydized minerals. These were powdered, 
puffy sorts of ashes to be taken up and carried by the wind 
into dust storms of acrid ash. 

Chall: You just lost more and more forest with each successive fire? 

WCL: That's right. So slash disposal was the key problem. As you 
can see, if we could solve it, then other problems would auto 
matically be solved. Jim Gerard was the logging engineer and 
operations man of the Forest Service while I was the research 
officer. We sought to bring theory and practice together in 
the forest, so we worked out a live burning technique. 

The accepted practice of the Forest Service was to pile 
and burn logging slash, and logging engineers allowed from 
fifty cents to a dollar a thousand board feet for the burning 
of the slash. The logger didn't have to pay because it was 
assumed that he would use that money to dispose of the slash 
by this pile and burn method. Many times the handling of fire 
in the woods was badly done. One must know what he's doing 
when he sets a fire in the forest. 

So the great difficulty was that these piles of slash be 
came wet from rain or snow and would not burn. So many times 
the woodsmen tried using coal oil and torches to start the 
fire going, but that oftentimes didn't work. 

Then finally they set the fires on the lower slopes, be 
cause that was most accessible, and since they were having 
difficulty in getting the slash to burn, the woodsmen became 
careless and set these fires along the base of slopes. As the 
sun came out and the wind rose and dried out the forest, the 
fire was burning at the most dangerous location. Because the 
fire runs up slope so readily, they were in trouble, because 
chances are, they couldn't put out the fires. So again we 
weren't accomplishing what we set out to do. 

Chall: The whole process was incorrect altogether, wasn't it? 

WCL: It certainly was not working. Now the method that Jim and I 
agreed on, was to go out into the forest where it was wet 


WCL: even snow might be lying on the ground. We prepared dry mate 
rial and we set fires going at regular intervals. Then we 
would toss onto the fire the pieces of slash, branches, tops 
and butt cuts. 

The fire itself then dried out this slash material, and it 
would burn. We had a crew of men to keep adding wet slash onto 
the hot fires. And we thus burned up this hazardous portion of 
the slash, but the forest litter in between the piles was not 

Chall: I see. You could control what was still growing. 

WCL: And this litter, you see, would increase the intake of rain 
and make possible the infiltration of rain into the soil and 
prevent erosion. 

Chall: You were getting at the key problem. Now did this take more 
men to control the proper spacing? 

WCL: Yes, some more, but it was effective, and the forest was left 
in a safe and satisfactory condition. Later on we devised 
methods to locate the hazardous areas, for instance, on both 
sides of a trail, where hunters might be travel inq through 
the forest, and we'd fire-proof a strip on each side. Also 
on roads where trucks and wagons traveled, and then along 
streams where fishermen walked up and down we treated these, 
but did not try to treat all the forest. In this way we re 
duced the labor costs of slash disposal with better results. 

Even in light rains we were able to reduce the hazards of 
the logging slash. The wet slash was burned, but the forest 
mulch, the forest litter, was not burned and remained to pro 
tect the soil, to increase filtration and reduce soil erosion 
from the overland flow of unabsorbed storm waters. So suc 
cessful were we in this method of disposing of logging slash, 
that the state laws on burning slash in Idaho were changed. 

Plant Succession 

Chall: During this period in Region One, you also made studies on 
plant succession and restocking, did you not? 

WCL: Yes, I have a paper on plant succession and will place it on 
file with you. And then there was the Mi I acre study on re 
stocking, which was a breakthrough in methods in surveys of 
vegetative types. An adaptation of this method was used in 
the forest type survey of California. 


WCL: This was the method of surveying restocking conditions, what 
! call the Mi I acre Restocking Survey. For instance, as the 
result of these fires that burned the logged over areas, the 
Forest Service was trying to bring pressure to bejr on the 
private lumbermen to increase the intensity of fire protection. 
They charged so much per acre for fire protection. For instance, 
one, two, or three hour controls, meant that any portion of the 
area could be visited by a man ready to fight fires within one, 
two or three hours. In other words, we set up controls so that 
we could be sure that fires wouldn't get away and burn out of 
control. At least, that was our hope. 

Now, we had many of the timbermen deny that they hod ruined 
the forests, saying that they had only obeyed the law. I said, 
"Let's determine how much of this area j_s_ restocked." At first 
we used a chain sixty-six feet long and~~brie-tenth of the 
chain wide, that was what we called a strip traverse for sur 
veying. Then for each of these strips, we'd count the seed 
lings of trees that came back from seed showered from seed 

At that time, this was the general and accepted method of 
what we call ecological studies. To determine the vegetation, 
what the mixture was, and how many different species, one 
sampled an area. 

I developed another way of estimating the spacing between 
seedlings that would give the number of seedlings in a plot by 
area. We wouldn't count them, but we'd estimate the total 
number of seedlings in a strip a chain long and a tenth of a 
chain wide 66 x 6.6 feet. Then I realized that in one chain 
various conditions would be represented. A spot on one end 
might have thousands of cedar seedlings, so many more than 
could possibly grow into trees. They'd choke themselves out. 
At another place there would be no seedlings at all. 

"Our method is all wrong," I said to Dean Miller of the 
Idaho Forest School, who represented the state of Idaho in our 
cooperative study of the U.S. Forest Service with state for 
estry departments. I couldn't sleep that night until I had 
worked out this scheme of using a mi I acre a mi I acre is a 
thousandth of an acre as a unit of restocking instead of a 
number of seedlings. 

I said, "Now a I I we need to know is: Is this or that 
mi lacre stocked or not?" Because obviously if we had a hun 
dred seedlings growing on one mi lacre, all could not possibly 
grow into forest trees. 

Chall: But some would, is that it? Did you try to determine why one 
section was we I I stocked and another one barren? Or were you 


Chal I : concerned only with the fact that part of it had some seedlings 
on it? 

WCL: When we began to study the area, we made observations of the 
aspect of soils, of the slopes, whether facing north, south, 
east or west and we recorded this by milacres. ' would record 
the surface conditions by milacres, whether there was forest 
mulch, bare surface, erosion pavement or stony ground. That 
way, we were able to determine and record conditions favorable 
or unfavorable for restocking. 

Forestry Pioneers 

Chal I: Did you know Raphael Zon? Can you tell me something about him? 

WCL: Oh yes, I knew him very well and thought highly of him. In 

fact, as a young forester I wanted to follow in his footsteps. 

Chall: And Graves or Schenck? 

WCL: Oh yes. I met Schenck; he was in Germany not far from the 
center of our field studies at Essen Darmstadt. But Henry 
Solon Graves I knew very well. I had not met him personally 
until 1927. I'd been to China and had come back, and ! took 
part in the annual meeting of the American Society of Foresters 
in San Francisco. 

When I met Solon Graves there, I said, "I'm very delighted 
to meet you, Dean Graves. Do you remember the Gasthoff zum 
Engel in Sal Munster?" 

"Oh yes, yes, yes," he said. "That's where we used to 

And I said, "Do you remember that in the Gasthoff there 
is a book, and in that little book there is a list of the names 
of all the foresters who had drunk an unusual amount of beer at 
one sitting?" 

He didn't answer. 

And I said, "Did you know that your nane Is in that 
book?" [laughter] 

This was the Gasthoff where we stayed while studying under 


WCL: Herr Forstmeister Hebel. We enjoyed it very much. You know, 
actually there was a very choice group of minds and people 
that took part in the early developments of forestry. 

Chal I : You were in on the birth of it, and that's what made it so 

WCL: Yes. 

V CHINA, 1922-1927 

CWritten questions and answers] 

Chall: Why did you leave the Forest Service when all was so rosy 
for you? 

WCL: Well, it may sound foolish, but it was a young woman that 
caused my decision to leave. 

Chall: Yes, I understand you had an interesting romance and that it 
led to your work in China. How did this come about? 

WCL: It was in Arizona that this most far-reaching influence which 
changed the course of my life work took place. I met a girl 
named Inez May Marks, whom much leter I married. We had met 
in the little white church in Wilcox, Arizona, when I was home 
from the University of Arizona, waiting for the time to enter 
Oxford University. She was spending a few months with her 

Her father had been a Methodist minister and was in 
Arizona for his health. Inez and I met a few timos on social 
occasions and at church. Once or twice I spent Sunday after 
church on their ranch, four miles out in Sulphur Springs Val 
ley. Years later, she complained that I never even held her 
hand . 

Then Inez returned to Pasadena and attended the University 
of Southern California at Los Angeles, and I went to Oxford. 
We kept the world between us for eleven years. She got her 
Bachelor's and Master's degrees from USC, and then in 1916 
went out to Szechuan Province, China, on the border of Tibet, 
where for five years, she was an early version of a Peace 
Corps worker, under the Methodist Church. She opened and 
organized seventeen primary schools in cities surrounding 
Chengtu, the capitol of Szechuan Province. She was respon 
sible for twenty-six teachers and more than six hundred little 
Chinese girls in their schools. 

Inez also pioneered in persuading parents to allow the un 
binding of their daughters' feet. They resisted this new move 
ment because only slave girls had natural feet at that time, 
and they feared their daughters would not find suitable hus 
bands unless their feet were bound according to time-honored 


Letters from Inez told of fascinating and challenging 



WCL: experiences and courageous contacts now and then with bandits 
of Szechuan during this tumultuous warlord period. Being of 
pioneer urges myself, I grew to have much interest in her 
experiences and achievements. 

Eleven years after our meeting in Arizona, writing off and 
on mostly off we found ourselves for the first time, back In 
the United States at the same time. I had an urge to see her 
again after all these intervening years during which we both 
had changed much, so I wrote and made arrangements to visit 
her in Pasadena for the Rose Parade and football game of New 
Year's Day, 1922. 

After forty-eight hours, we took the tram up Mount Lowe and 
walked out to Inspiration Point, for that was in pre-smog days. 
I proposed to Inez and she accepted me, but immediately said, 
"I hope we can go back to China together for China needs you 
more than does our Forest Service. Others will take your place 
here, but in China there is no one to do the big job required 
on famine prevention but you." 

We returned home and shocked Inez 1 parents by announcing 
we were engaged. Inez tried to calm them by saying she knew 
our marriage was made in heaven. Her father replied, "It must 
have been made in heaven for there was not time to have made 
it on earth." 

Lowdermi I k's Marriage and Deci si on to_ cjo t_ Ch i na 

WCL: I was very dubious about going to China, because as Research 
Officer for Region One, I had been advancing rapidly, but my 
fiancee was optimistic and never doubted I would go. She 
urged me to send my qualifications to the new Famine Prevention 
Project, carried on by the Union University of Nanking, China, 
which had headquarters in New York. It had received an allot 
ment of two million dollars left over from the great famines 
of 1920-1921. 

Rains had been early and crops good so the money raised 
in the States had not been needed. Since these funds could 
not now be returned to donors, the plan was to have experts go 
out to China to improve Chinese agriculture, such as improve 
ment of cotton seed, irradication of wheat rust, and produc 
tion of disease-free seeds for distribution to Chinese farmers. 
Other experts had developed disease-free silk worm eggs so that 


s . 7/1 11 ^1 / 




> * ' 

.-ivr'-at 31.192;:. 

L'r. vulter C. Lc:vdernilk, 

Forest Service. 

You are hereby notified that your resignation from the posi 
tion of j'oreyli ",::iininer t - - - - -- 

at a salary of $ 2500 per -nm.rj- - O n the en s 

roll of the FOREST SERVICE, has been accepted to take effect at 

the termination of i5 

By direction of the Secretary of Agriculture: 




WCL: silk worms would not die just as they were supposed to spin 
si Ik. 

Men for all these agricultural projects had been secured, 
but Mr. John Reisner, Dean of the Nanking Agricultural and 
Forestry School, had been unable to find a trained and exper 
ienced forester who was willing to go out on the limited salary 
of a professor at the Union University. These famine funds, 
you see, were strictly for the benefit of Chinese farmers and 
not for enrichment of foreign experts. 

Immediately word came back from New York, urging me to 
leave at once for China as the other experts had already been 
there one year. I did not know just what I was to do as a 
forester about preventing famines and floods, but I was to 
begin at once my year of language study. 

We were married August 15, and after a brief honeymoon at 
Santa Barbara, we sailed for China the first of September, 1922. 

Chall: So that is why you left the U.S. Forest Service and went to 
China. How did you find out what you wanted to do there? 

Developing the Theory of_ Man-Made Erosion 

WCL: It was from my first expedition into interior China, in 1923, 
after my year of language study, that the course of my life 
work was changed from forestry to that of land and water con 
servation. This ultimately included the relation of peoples 
to their lands and has led to many ramifications since then. 
On this first expedition, the full and fateful significance 
of soil erosion and its consequences was burned into my con 

The Yel low River and Silt 

I had wanted to see the Yellow River and examine the site where 
this river, in 1852, broke from its enormous system of inner 
and outer dikes and changed its course four hundred miles to 
the north, to empty into the Gulf of Chihli, instead of the 
Yellow Sea. This flood, and others like it through the cen 
turies, snuffed out millions of lives. 


WCL: As we traveled across the flat plains of Honan Province, 

we saw a great flat-topped ridge, reaching from horizon to hori 
zon. This was the outer dike. We climbed this forty to fifty 
foot ridge and looked out on another vast plain some ten feet 
lower than crests of the dike. About seven miles further on 
rose another flat-topped ridge which we climbed. This was the 
inner dike. Before us lay the Yellow River, "China's Sorrow," 
laden with silt eroded from inland China's farm fields. Now 
the river was flowing quietly, with the low gradient of one 
foot per mile on the delta plain, and silently dropping its 
burden of silt. 

Here in a channel fully forty or fifty feet above the sur 
face of the plain, this gigantic river had been lifted up off 
the plain over the entire four-hundred-mile course across its 
delta and had been held in this uplifted channel by hand labor 
of millions of men without machines, or engines, without steel 
or construction timber, and without stone. These millions of 
farmers, with bare hands, carrying poles with little baskets at 
each end, had built here through thousands of years, a stupen 
dous monument to human cooperation and the will to survive. 

Since the days of Ta-Yu, nearly four thousand years ago, the 
battle with floods with this tremendous river have been lost and 
won, time and again. Any lack of vigilance would cause a break 
in the dike and Herculean cooperative work would be required 
to put the river back again into its channel. 

As I stood there with a cold November wind tugging at my 
trench coat, I meditated on what these Chinese farmers had 
endured and would continue to do to survive, toiling on by the 
millions in a situation that was hopeless. For there was no 
end to the demand of the river for higher and higher dikes. As 
it annually dropped its burden of silt, it lessened the capacity 
of the channel between dikes to carry flood waters. 

Then suddenly jjf_ dawned upon me_ that silt was the villain! 
Si It was the great enemy causing this endless, hopeless struggle! 
Silt had defeated the courageous to i I i ng farmers, val iant as_ 
they were! 

I then and there determined to see from whence came all this 
silt. Where was all this excessive erosion taking place? The 
famine prevention funds gave me ample financing to make expedi 
tions with my Chinese colleagues and students. 

Chal I : This must have been an exciting kind of expedition. 

WCL: Yes. We prepared to make a series of carefully planned agri 
cultural explorations. On this first trip we were fortunate 
to have along with us Mr. 0. J. Todd, an engineer who later, in 


WCL: 1935, put the Yellow River back in its channel. We made a 

two-thousand-mile survey up into the province of Shensi, west 
of the Yellow River, into the great loess deposits of wind-laid 
soils of northwest China. It was here in these fertile soils 
that the Cradle of Chinese Civilization developed, and here 
China had her Golden Age. 

During the ice age, there was insufficient moisture to 
build up an ice sheet. Instead, this dry region developed 
into a great dust bowl, and soils from the desert of Gob! 
blew in to form these fertile but highly erodable lands. It 
is through these deep loess deposits that the Yellow River 
drains and picks up its burden of silt. 

Chall: Did you make any interesting discoveries on this expedition? 

Temple Forests Thrive Amid Eroded Land 

WCL: When I saw the headwaters of some of the tributaries of the 
Yellow River, I made a surprising find. The great American 
geographer, Ellsworth Huntington, and a great German geologist, 
Ferdinand von Richthofen, had ascribed the decline of north 
west China to an adverse change of climate. There were evi 
dences enough that there had been periods of greater prosperity 
and more populous cities. 

Now, scant numbers of people living behind city walls 
within great empty spaces, and large formerly used irrigation 
works now filled with silt, out of commission and useless, 
indicated a change from former prosperity to decadence. But 
around some Buddhist temples, I was astonished to find temple 
forests which priests had preserved for places of meditation, 
and managed for growing timber for repairs. 

Being a forester as well as a soilsman, 1 was pretty much 
excited. I studied these forests carefully and found that 
there was no erosion of soil within them, that the ground was 
covered with forest litter and the trees were reproducing 
themselves naturally, in response to the climate and rainfall 
of the day. Outside the country was cut with enormous gullies, 
some of them up to five hundred feet deep. I measured one up 
to six hundred feet deep. 

Then I said that before we accept the conclusion that the 
decline and semi-depopulation of northwest China is due to an 
adverse change of climate, let us discover how far this ero 
sion of the land has brought on such a decline. It seemed 
apparent enough to me that erosion alone was sufficient to 


WCL: account for the decline of a civilization and that we didn't 
need to rely on a theory of change of climate. Because of my 
scientific training, I determined to make a series of experi 
mental studies to measure the rainfall and runoff to see what 
had happened in various watersheds of the region. 

Sett i ng up Experiments to_ Find out the Facts 

Chall: Will you be more explicit concerning these first experimental 

WCL: My first summer's work during the rainy season was a great 
disappointment. The streams ran so full of soil and debris 
and boulders that at my cross sections of the stream, I was 
unable to measure the flow accurately. Then I hit upon the 
idea of going back where the raindrops strike the ground and 
set up what we called runoff plots. This was one of the first 
times such tests had ever been made. 

In 1925, we set up three installations about one hundred 
miles apart. I did some of the hardest work I ever did in my 
life, but nonetheless some of the most fascinating. We were 
able to get quantitative measurements on runoff and erosion 
from comparative plots within and outside these temple forests. 
Even in heavy rains in the same area and with the same gradient, 
the water that filtered through the forest litter ran off 
through the plots only slightly murky, whereas it flowed off 
the denuded plots as liquid mud. 

It was now that I realized with certainty that here was the 
monster enemy that had brought about a change in China's north 
west. It was not an adverse change in climate as Ellsworth 
Huntington and Ferdinand von Richthofen had suggested. Erosion, 
because it brought about lesser carrying capacity of the land, 
had been equally capable of undermining and destroying a civili 
zation and reducing its population. 

Lowdermi I k set J_n_ Pi rection of_ his Life's Work 
Chall: So this momentous discovery changed your direction from 


Chall: forestry to concern for erosion and its effects on peoples 
and civil izations? 

WCL: Yes, a radical change came over me. Heretofore, I had worked 
hard at whatever work I undertook, but I never felt fully 
satisfied. On each birthday I would say, "Here I am, X years 
old and have not accomplished a darned thing yet." But these 
revealing studies proved to me the importance of the relation 
of peoples to their lands in the rise and fall of civiliza 

It was here that I coined the now much used expression, 
"Man-made Deserts." I knew what had happened to China. Now I 
wondered if this same enemy, erosion, had been responsible for 
creating man-made deserts in North Africa and the Middle East, 
in old Roman lands that formerly were flourishing but were now 
sterile and rocky, for I had seen pictures and read about the 
desert conditions of formerly prosperous and populous lands 
there. Now there was no question as to my life work. I knew 
I was on the right track for me. 

Report! ng the Resu Its of Experimentation 

Chall: Did you immediately write up these discoveries? 

WCL: Yes, a fine opportunity presented itself. I was asked to 

represent the United States Forest Service at the Third Pan 
Pacific Science Congress in Tokyo, Japan, in the fall of 1926. 
The Japanese made a great deal of this meeting, which brought 
together representatives and scientists from most countries 
bordering the Pacific Ocean. It was to be their coming-out 
party, to show that Japanese scientists had made remarkable 
advances on their own and were not simply copyists as had been 

I chose this opportunity to give my first report on my 
experiments in China to an international body of scientists. 
It was entitled "Factors Effecting Storm Runoff and Soil 
Erosion." My findings aroused considerable interest and much 
attention was given the paper, for as far as I know, this was 
the first time that anyone had ever set out to measure what 
happens to rain when it falls on soils which are covered and 
on soils which are bare of vegetation. 

Chall: Your headquarters were at the Union University of Nanking, 

Northwest China - Hwai River Basin. Erosion on a tremendous scale in highly erodable loess soil. 
Farmers have terraced gullies in order to grow food. 


ChaM: China. Did you do any teaching there? 

WCL: Of course, my first duty was to make regional studies, to 

formulate my hypotheses, and to work out and develop practical 
and workable programs. But when not on expeditions, I taught 
some courses in forestry and agricultural geology during school 
terms, and taught physical education to young college students. 

This was a new thing for college students in China at that 
time, for it had been the custom for scholars never to exert 
themselves physically and above all, to do no manual work. 
(They even hired a coolie in those days to carry their hymn 
books to church for them.) This was one reason why I in 
sisted that we go out into the fields with farmers and work 
along with them to give dignity to the farmer in this most 
important of all professions, that of growing food for all 
the people. 

Chall: Where did you get your equipment for your experiments? 

WCL: China had few if any scientific instruments. It was necessary 
for me to design and have Chinese tinsmiths in Nanking use 
what materials were available to make my tipping buckets. 
These devices measured rainfall and the amounts of erosion in 
the runoff. This had to be all original work for it had never 
been done anywhere before, as far as I know. I credit my 
pioneer father's example and inventive ability as helpful to 
me in China when there was no equipment I could buy for my 
experimental studies. 

Chall: Did you speak English or Chinese on your expeditions? 

WCL: I had had a full year of study at the famous University of 

Nanking Language School and I could speak Mandarin, the main 
dialect of China, and make my simple wants known anywhere north 
of the Yangtse and from the coast to Tibet. But fortunately, 
all my Chinese staff spoke English quite well and this was 
helpful for us all in our scientific discussions. 

Hwai River 

Chall: I see that you made a very extensive study of the Hwai River 
during your famine prevention assignment. 

WCL: Yes, this report on the Hwai River study was given to William 
E. Souter, General Secretary of the Chinese Foreign Famine 
Relief Commission in Shanghai, and to John R. Reir,ner, Dean of 
the University of Nanking School of Agriculture and Forestry. 


WCL: I submitted this on March 4, 1927, just three weeks before the 
Nanking Incident when all our constructive works ceased and we 
were ordered out of China. I entitled this report "Cover and 
Erosion Survey of the Hwai River Basin." 

This Hwai River report contains the results of a survey of 
vegetative cover and erosion, chiefly of the mountainous area 
that covers some 330 miles in the Hwai catchment basin to the 
south of the main river. This region contributes large volumes 
of torrential runoff into the Hwai floods. Erosion in these 
lands generated movements of sand that followed down the drain 
ages, filling the channels of the Hwai River and its tribu 
taries so that they became actually rivers of sand. 

This voluminous report contains some 160 typewritten pages, 
besides scores of pages of illustrative pictures, maps and 
charts. At the end is an appendix of Famine and Flood Records, 
which cover a period of a thousand years and more. The Yellow 
River first burst its banks or dikes in the fourteenth century 
and overflowed into the Hwai, but the floods in the Hwai did 
not become very serious until the sixteenth century. 

These excessive flood ings began with the rapid increase 
in population, when pressure for food-growing lands pushed 
cultivation up the slopes of hills and mountains. There were 
no measures for erosion control on these soils suddenly bared 
of vegetative cover of trees, shrubs and grasses. This sui 
cidal agriculture on sloping lands deprived farmers of their 
fertile topsoils and caused enormous loss of life on the 
flooded plains toward the sea as the waters dropped their 
burden of si I ts. 

Other Studies Reported 

Chall: Was this Hwai River survey the most important you undertook? 

WCL: I would not say so. I made a three-year study and survey of 
erosion and floods on the Fen Ho in Shansi Province. This is 
what I reported to the Third Pan Pacific Science Congress in 
Tokyo in 1926. Then I made a survey and wrote "A History of 
Wu Tai Shan in Shansi Province," which was published in the 
proceedings in the Royal Asiatic Society of London, 1938. 
Also I made a vegetation and erosion survey in Anwhei Province, 
and also a survey near Nanking of "Purple Mountain and its 
Reforestation . " 

One two and one-half month experiment I shall never forget 
was in the summer of 1925 at Tsin Tao, northeast China on the 


WCL: coast. I set up instruments to measure runoff and erosion on 

the slopes of protected forests that the Germans had reforested 
when Tsin Tao was a German colony. A corresponding set of 
plots I put on adjoining denuded lands in this region where 
rains are proverbially scarce. Immediately the heavens coop 
erated by pouring down the average rainfall of twelve inches in 
thirty hours. Rain continued to fall off and on most of the 
summer. I was thrilled, for my instruments worked perfectly, 
and the water ran only murky as it flowed through the litter- 
covered soils in the forested plots, and poured off as liquid 
mud from the denuded plots. 

The poor people of Tsin Tao were drowned out. Rumor 
spread that the excess rain was due to this man's prayers for 
erosion in action. An editorial in the local city newspaper 
in English urged this erosion expert to desist his prayers for 
rain and allow the community to dry out. 

Chal I : Did you use special methods of study for all areas? 

WCL: Yes, my method of study was to make regional explorations and 
surveys. I wanted to discover major factors in the landscapes 
and to set up experimental studies of stream-flow, runoff and 
erosion, and to evaluate the significant processes involved. 
We made use of the historical records of the "Gazetteers," or 
county records, which often date back a thousand years or more. 
Then we compared the descriptions of China in the past with 
present conditions as we found them. 

It was a great disappointment when all these studies and 
planned surveys for the future were suddenly terminated by the 
first Communist drive which forced all of us to leave this 
part of China. All these surveys were preliminary to programs 
of works that could have been adapted to help Chinese farmers 
control erosion to save their lands and grow more food. 

Fifteen years later, on my second trip to China in 1942, 
I carried out these programs in some areas of northwest China, 
to demonstrate to farmers how to save their lands and increase 
production. I will report on this when telling of the second 
trip to Chi na. 

Theory on Fami ne 

Chal I: After five years on the Famine Prevention Project, what were 



Chall: your conclusions regarding famines? 

WCL: It has been forty-five years since I began studying famines. 

I have come to certain conclusions regarding starving peoples. 
Today again, we must face up to the hideous spectre of famine. 
Two-thirds of the peoples of the world are undernourished now, 
and hundreds of millions go to bed hungry every night. In this 
world-wide population explosion, 180,000 new hungry mouths ar 
rive daily on this planet, or something over sixty-five million 
every year. Of these, one million each month arrive in India 
alone, as reported by F.A.O. Demographers tell us that the 
present population of some three and one-half billion will 
become seven billion souls by the end of the century. 

These seven billion are not mere statistics, but are in 
dividual human beings who will be our children's children and 
must have food, clothing, housing, jobs, and services of all 
ki nds. 

In spite of our embarrassing surpluses, which we had shipped 
millions of tons around the world to hungry peoples, the food 
situation for them is getting worse rather than better. Starva 
tion on a gigantic scale looms on the horizon that will make the 
1920-1921 Chinese famine, when twenty million died of hunger, 
seem peanuts in comparison. 

Chall: I understand the Food and Agriculture Organization of the 

United Nations is taking steps to improve this food situation? 

WCL: Yes, with this prospect of famines in the offing, the F.A.O. 

has launched a campaign cal led "Freedom From Hunger," and seeks 
to enlist all members of the UN to take part. The emphasis is 
laid on self-help in producing a nation's own food supply. But 
so far, the response is very disappointing. 

Chall: Dr. Lowdermilk, what happens in time of famines? 

WCL: In my opinion, there is no more horrible way to die than by 
starvation. Food riots are terrifying. Starving people will 
not keep the peace, neither will they stay within their own 
borders, neither will they keep their treaties. A starving 
farmer will eat his seed grain, even though he knows that it 
is disastrous for his future to do so. Parents will sell their 
children for a little food for themselves and the hope that the 
child may be kept alive by someone else. The entire fabric of 
society falls apart. The law of the jungle rules as people 
fight for food. But in the latter stages of starvation, people 
become tragically silent, and almost motionless as they wait 
out the long days and nights of slow death. 

Chall: This must have been most difficult for you, with vour western 

Chall: attitude of the infinite value of the individual. 

WCL: Yes, it was appalling to me to see people in China in this 
slow dying condition and be able to do little or nothing to 
help them. The Chinese said to me often, "Why are you so con 
cerned? When one dies there will be one less mouth to feed. 
Don't you know that this is heaven's way of reducing popula 
tion so that there will be more food for the ones that are left?" 

Prospects for the Future 

Chall: Do you feel that it is possible for our earth to feed, with a 
good standard of living, all the present populations? 

WCL: For years I have been saying that civilization is running a 

race with famine, and the outcome is very much in doubt. The 
doubt is due, not so much to shortages in resources of the good 
earth, plundered as are some, and unused as are others, but to 
the lag in the take-up of modern ways of farming. In my opinion, 
our planet could feed, on a higher standard than that of today, 
twice the present population if all earth's resources were fully 
developed and used with scientific conservation methods. 

Chall: You especially studied famines in China. How about your studies 
in Africa? 

WCL: I fear that in the not-too-distant future, Africa also will 
suffer severe starvation. I found some countries doubling 
their numbers in twenty-five years or less, yet still the far 
mers largely practiced an iron age agriculture, using primi 
tive tools, and using fire and shifting cultivation which 
destroys the soils for sustained use. They could not grow 
foodstuffs enough to keep pace with these explosive rates of 
increase in population. 

In my reports on African studies later on, I shall discuss 
at some length just why it is that farmers in these less devel 
oped nations have this lag in the take-up of modern methods of 
growing food. 

Chall: Do the farmers recognize their critical situation? 

WCL: No, except perhaps a few. When I spoke to a conference of 
African ministers, explaining why their fields produce less 
and less and the farmers were falling behind in growing 


WCL: foodstuffs, one minister rose and said, "Now we know why hunger 
already done catch us." 

Chal 1 : Would birth control give us time in this race with famine? 

WCL: Some, of course, but there are difficulties in making it ac 
ceptable. I know of one International Chinese-American Commis 
sion some years ago in China, where the chairman managed to get 
both Chinese and American members of the mission fo agree to a 
watered-down resolution that indirectly advocated some type of 
birth control. But a Chinese told me afterward that the reaction 
of the Chinese members was, "Ah, America fears our numbers." 

At another time during an International Farmers' Convention 
in Israel in 1959, a resolution calling for some measure for 
limitation of population was voted down. Representatives of 
African states said they wanted nothing to do with such a re 
solution. They said, "This is a white man's trick to keep down 
the numbers of black peoples." They said, "On the contrary, 
the African states want more people to give them more power in 
the councils of the United Nations." 

This indicates the delicate situation and difficulties in 
dealing with this issue of birth control across international 

But despite all our technical assistance and the sharing 
of a maximum of our depleted surplus foods, hungry nations will 
remain hungry unless they themselves adjust their numbers and 
at the same time increase production of their own food supplies. 

Chall: You made a report on famines in China, did you not? 

WCL: Yes, in my report on the Hwai River, I have a heartbreaking 
record of more than twenty principle famines which we found 
detailed in county Gazetteers dating from 966 A.D. Elsewhere 
I have a record of some famines in droughts in centuries B.C. 
In my Hwai records, we noted that deaths from starvation at 
various periods took from fifty percent to ninety percent of 
the population. These records of famines tell of people eat 
ing others who had died, of relatives eating members of the 
family, and how people ate clay to have something inside them. 
A famine is a ghastly curse on humanity. 


Studies of Typhoons and Floods 

WCL: Another interesting study during this period was one on typhoons 
and floods that I was making with the Catholic Sicawey Observa 
tory near Shanghai. Father Froc and Father Gherzi collaborated 
with me especially in recording the movement of typhoons. I 
had money .in my famine prevention fund with which to buy instru 
ments, and Father Gherzi had churches and priests at various 
locations in the hinterland. These priests were very meticu 
lous in reading the instruments and keeping accurate records of 
rainfall, and flood stages, temperature and humidity. We sent 
all this recorded information to the Chinese government; I gave 
a copy to the Sicawey Observatory and kept another in my files. 
We were pioneers in this type of scientific research in China. 

I wanted to study floods as the result of the typhoons 
that came from the western Pacific and swept inland into China. 
We found we could plot floods by the way these typhoons in 
vaded and advanced across the land and up the drainages of 

While typhoons were sometimes disastrous, especially near 
the coast, they were also necessary and beneficial to carry 
quantities of water into the interior to drop as heavy rains. 
If they failed to reach far enough inland, then drought condi 
tions would ensue, and the rivers would be too low to provide 
enough water further down for irrigation. 

Chall: Were these Catholic Fathers scientists and eager to take part 
in this research project? 

WCL: Yes, these Jesuit priests were keen and fully grasped what we 
were attempting to find out. We were all especially inter 
ested in my theory which I called epicycles. When typhoons 
blow inland and drop heavy rains, of course part of them rush 
back rapidly toward the sea. 

But there also begins local evaporation on the land where 
these rains fell. As this evaporation rises, the moisture is 
caught in the upper current of winds still blowing inland. This 
evaporated moisture then becomes incorporated into the original 
moisture in the typhoon winds and enables more moisture to be 
blown still further into the interior, to fall as rain. 

Chall: So this phenomena was what you called epicycles? 

WCL: Yes, I aroused quite a lot of interest among scientific groups 
in China. My hypothesis was that if forests were cut and lands 
grazed or cultivated, then, unless the lands were prepared by 


WCL: conservation measures to hold the rains that fell, there would 
be considerable runoff and water would be sent back in floods 
toward the sea. This would prevent the evaporation previously 
described and less moisture would rise into the upper air to 
join the winds blowing inland, thus reducing the inland sweep 
of rains on the land. 

The Nanki ng I nc! dent 

Chall: The Nanking Incident seems to have brought about a complete 
change in your life plans. 

WCL: Yes, completely so. The tragic and historic event that took 
place on March 24, 1927, in the great old walled city of 
Nanking, China, also brought about a change in the lives of 
mi I I ions of people. 

For me, it meant giving up all my work and plans for China, 
It meant losing all our possessions and returning penniless 
to the United States to find a new job. The only bright spot 
for me was that I was able to help save the lives of the 120 
Americans within the city around the large American Union 
Uni vers i ty . 

For Chiang Kai-shek, it brought about a complete reversal 
from friendliness to Russia and Communism, to the bitter 
hatred toward Russia and Communism, against whose forces he 
has been at war ever since. 

Immediately after leaving China, early in April, 1927, 
I wrote up a report on my activities during this terrible 
day and I will give it to you. 

I wrote this report just after our return from China with 
the thought of publication, but I never had it published. My 
original informal report on which this is based was sent to 
New York to the Famine Prevention Committee who had employed 
me through the Union University of Nanking. 


At eight o'clock, on the morning of March 24, 1927, President 
A. J. Bowen, Vice-President J. E. Williams and I were on the campus of 
the American Union University of Nanking, China, when a frightened Chinese 
ran toward us panting, "Soldiers are looting Dr. Horton Daniel's home. 
They threaten to kill." 

We supposed these looters were retreating northern soldiers fleeing 
from the victorious new revolutionary army sweeping northward from Can 
ton. We told them the southern army had entered the south gate and they 
had better run to the opposite city gate. We were totally unprepared 
for their reaction to our warning. 

They fired their rifles into upstairs windows and yelled, "Da wei 
guay ren! Da Yang guey dza!" ("Kill the foreigners, kill the foreign 
devils. l? ) 

A child in a neighboring house opened a veranda door and immediately 
a soldier wheeled and fired his rifle but missed. 

This was our first realization that Nationalist soldiers were anti- 
foreign. They cocked their rifles, roughly ordered the three of us to 
hold up our hands and began to rob us. While one soldier prodded us 
with his bayonet, another stripped us. 

As one soldier reached for Dr. William's watch, the heavy gold 
chain caught in his vest. He held on to the watch, saying, "Please, 
I'll give you anything, but don't take this last gift from my mother." 

A shot rang out and Dr. Williams crumpled at my feet where they 
continued to rob him as he lay dead. 

As they robbed me, I kept saying in Chinese, "Why did you kill 
him, why?" 

They tore off my wedding ring, watch, billfold, glasses were 
smashed on the ground, fountain pen taken and my overcoat and sweater 
yanked off. One swaggering little soldier with finger on the trigger 
started to shoot me. I expected to fall beside my good friend, Dr. 

Just then his corporal said, "Don't shoot him yet! 1 ' They then 
fired into the air and walked away with their loot. 

Soon Chinese professors and students learned of this tragedy and 
carried Dr. Williams' body to his house and hurried me and others to 
join the group of Americans which our Chinese colleagues began to as 
semble in Bailie Hall. 

Significantly they said, "This building will not burn." 

Prior to this day of infamy, the ancient walled city of Nanking, 
China, was a delightful and stimulating international community with 
cordial relations between Chinese and some four hundred Americans and 
two hundred British. 

Despite disturbing rumors, we were totally unprepared for this 
brutal anti-foreign attack by Russian-trained vanguards which had in 
filtrated the Chinese Nationalist army, driving northward. 

Communist infiltration into China had followed refusals by England 
and the United States to make a loan to Sun Yat-sen's new revolutionary 
government. Whereupon, Russia offered money as a gift and in addition, 
agreed to equip and to train special units for the army on condition 
that the Russian, Borodin, have a free hand in Communist propaganda in 
China. When Suii Yat-sen died, Chiang Kai-shek became his successor. 

Cities fell by propaganda, rather than by battle. Shanghai fell 
with little shooting. Nanking was the next objective. 

Our fear was that the 200,000 retreating, undisciplined northern 
troops from Shantung, under the ferocious war-lord Chang Chung Chang, 
might be unable to cross the Yangtse, and trap us in the city walls in 
a siege, or loot and burn the city. 

Previously I had been appointed contact man with the American 
Consul and the U.S. destroyers on the Yangtse, to represent our large 
community around the American University and to evacuate nationals 
should an emergency arise. 

For the most part, these Americans were educators, training 
Chinese in many fields required to modernize an old nation. I was one 
of a group working on a Famine Prevention Program; others were members 
of the Medical Schools and Hospitals. Most were teaching in various 
branches of this great American University or in the complex of auxil 
iary institutions, including religious schools and churches. 

I appointed a leader for each section within our part of the city, 
to maintain contact day and night. 

On March 21, we heard cannonading to the southwest. We took steps 
to evacuate women and children to save them from possible consequences 
of an attack upon the city. Early next day, we put 177 i) of our refugees 
quietly aboard the U. S. destroyers "Noa" and "Preston." 

However, there still remained some 120 Americans who were either 
unable to travel because of illness or refused to leave their posts. 
Over her strenuous protests, I saw my wife and our two-year-old son 
placed with others in a small compartment directly under the big gun 
on the "Noa.'' I little dreamed of their subsequent ordeal under fire. 


March 23, the frantic retreat began. From our high "Drum Tower" 
which overlooked the campus and converging streets, I watched northern 
army officers in over-loaded autos, carriages and rickshaws, force their 
way through masses of gray-clad foot soldiers, in a dash to reach and 
cross the Yangtse with its limited boats, before these retreating hordes 

With Dr. Williams' murder and mounting harrassments, we realized 
that it was the victorious southern soldiers who were fanatically anti- 
foreign. I sent trusted Chinese with notes to each of my section leaders, 
urging them to have all Americans in their groups disguise themselves and 
make their way inconspicuously to Bailie Hall in all haste. 

I phoned the United States Consul, J. K. Davis, down in the busi 
ness section near the port at Hsia Kwan, that Dr. Williams had been killed 
in cold blood at my side and that I had barely escaped with my life. He 
told me to keep in touch with him but the phone went dead. 

Later, we learned that at that time, soldiers were looting the 
Consulate and threatening the lives of all taking refuge there. The 
group fled to Socony Hill, whence they could signal the U.S. destroyers 
on the Yangtse. 

But our contacts with American authorities were broken. We were 
trapped deep within the city, surrounded by hostile and anti-foreign 
"mobs' of soldiers, determined to rob, humiliate and massacre us. 

It was a motley array of Americans, in all sorts of disguises as 
Chinese laborers, farmers, or men dressed as Chinese womenwho were 
straggling into the top floor of Bailie Hall. Each told a chilling 
story of brutality and narrow escape. 

On the back of a map, which I still have in my possession, 1 had 
each sign, and checked them off as they were brought in by friendly 
Chinese who were heart-broken at this shameful treatment of their Ameri 
can friends. 

Each escape was unique. Dr. C. S. Trimmer, in the University Hos 
pital, saw himself cut off by milling mobs. He played upon Chinese 
superstitious fear of madmen grabbed a bottle of mercurochrome, and 
smeared the vivid red liquid over his blonde hair, his face and arms. 
Then yelling and wildly waving his arms like a crazy man, he dashed 
through the startled mob and raced to Bailie Hall. 

Some Americans were caught and severely manhandled, as were Pro 
fessor Harry demons, Dr. P. F. Price and Dr. W. E. Macklin. It was 
the Chinese custom to make criminals kneel for execution by beheading, 
and soldiers with beheading knives tried to force saintly Dr. Price to 
kneel to be killed. 

He steadfastly refused, saying, "I am not a criminal; I will not 

kneel to be killed!" 

His unusual command of the Chinese language enabled him to hold off 
his captors until friendly Chinese came and ransomed him for six hundred 
Chinese dollars. 

Devoted Chinese also finally ransomed beloved Dr. Macklin in his 
famous hospital after a harrowing experience. 

Some soldiers dragged American women in the hospital from their beds 
and robbed them. Local Chinese rescued them but some others were raped 
in their homes. 

Professor Taylor was at home when soldiers looted his house and tied 
a rope around his neck. He choked as they dragged him outside to kill 
him. With a sudden superhuman effort, he broke loose and made a wild run 
to the campus. 

Soldiers pinned some of us against walls and prodded us with bayo 
nets as they increased their demands for more money and valuables. 

At the Claude Thompson home, soldiers started to shoot the grand 
mother because her wedding ring was stuck behind enlarged joints. Her 
daughter flung herself in front of her mother, with an impassioned 
promise to file off the ring and produce more money. This saved them 
both temporarily. 

But when a ring on the finger of Dr. Smith of the business commun 
ity could not be pulled off, the soldier cut off his finger. 

Chinese friends in Nanking were magnificent in risking their lives 
to save ours. They poured out their cash and treasures to bribe sol 
diers to release Americans they were tormenting. They provided all of 
us in Bailie Hall with blankets and warm clothing. They brought us hot 
food. All the while, Communist soldiers derided them as "running dogs" 
of foreigners. 

Borodin had ordered his Russian trained units to "Kill and destroy 
all foreign life and property in Nanking." When General Chiang Kai-shek, 
head of the revolutionary army, learned of this, he issued orders to the 
advancing army, "Protect all foreign life and property in Nanking." This 
conflict of orders explained why some soldiers rescued and protected, 
while others were intent on murder, as in the rescue of Professor Jones 
and others. 

From the top floor of Bailie Hall, we watched American buildings 
burn, and our homes looted, first by soldiers for valuables and then by 
civilian mobs whom they ordered to complete the job. 

Meantime some ninety Americans had, by devious means, reached 
Bailie Hall. Among them was Pearl Buck, author of "The Good Earth," 


and her family, so dearly beloved by the Chinese. They had been hidden 
and protected in the hut of a Chinese family that Pearl had befriended. 

Vicious soldiers with rifles and beheading knives continued to climb 
the three flights of stairs to rob and terrorize us. The frightened 
children stood trembling with their tiny hands in the air as soldiers 
robbed them, even taking off their shoes. Repeatedly soldiers threatened 
our group with death if we did not produce more valuables. 

Unknown to us then, the hour of 3:30 P.M. was set for the general 
massacre of all foreigners in Nanking. Bowen and Jones listened through 
the lattice under the eaves and heard the leader of our tormentors take 
a vote to come up again and demand one thousand Chinese yuan per head 
($45,000 for ninety people). 

"If they don't pay up at once, shall we kill them all this time?" 
he yelled. 

The soldiers shouted their approval and dashed into the building, 
shooting as they came, amidst ricocheting bullets. 

At the same time, Americans of the business district, gathered with 
Consul Davis on Socony Hill near the city wall, had suffered equal ter 
rorizing and some deaths, besides robbery and mal-handling. 

Here the Chinese army had set up field guns to demolish the build 
ing on Socony Hill with its seventy or more foreigners, including our 
courageous American Consul. Then as a last resort, Consul Davis sig 
nalled our American destroyers to open fire. 

They laid down a barrage accurately around Socony Hill, leaving the 
side nearest the sixty-foot city wall open for refugees to escape by 
using tied sheets and blankets as rope. These events at Socony Hill 
were described by Alice Tisdale Hobart in letters to her family and prin 
ted in Harper's, in July, 1927. 

Without knowing it, Consul Davis and our U.S. destroyers had, at 
the last minute, saved our lives also and prevented a massacre of both 
groups planned for 3:30 P.M. 

As our "executioners" at the University came up the stairs toward 
our helpless group, thundering explosions shook the building. The sol 
diers stopped, terrified. These were not Chinese guns they must be 
retaliating guns from the American destroyers. Their officers blew 
whistles to recall all looters, whom they marched away in formation in 
the opposite direction, indicating they were under orders all the while. 

This bombardment was a voice of authority these red soldiers and 
officers understood and respected. At last we were free from our tormen 
tors and all was quiet. 


Mr. Li, a Chinese professor who worked with me on Famine Preven 
tion, and I secured a car and two young soldiers as guards, to seek out 
missing Americans in the dark. 

We first drove down to the American Consulate. Lights still burning 
revealed a sacked and empty wreck. We stopped at several other places 
in our area where Americans were in hiding. I called their names at the 
top of my voice to come out, so they would recognize an American voice 
and know this was not a Chinese trick to reveal their hiding places. We 
sent everyone we found to Bailie Hall. 

The Theological Seminary was a pall of smoke and the central build 
ing was in flames. No one responded to our calls. 

Late at night after devious leads, we found Anna Moffett, a coura 
geous young teacher who was shot twice in the abdomen and had lain un 
attended for fifteen hours, hidden by Chinese friends under straw in a 
bamboo grove. We hurried Anna to Bailie Hall where her wounds were cared 
for by Dr. Daniels and she survived. 

Early next morning we renewed our search. We found one American in 
an empty cistern, another covered with discarded dirty uniforms in the 
back of a police station. Others had been hidden in their looted homes 
or in the straw huts of Chinese friends or servants. 

By noon, I reported to President Bowen that all thirty missing 
Americans were accounted for, and he instructed Reverend Roberts and 
me to make the perilous six-mile trip to the Yangtse River to contact 
our naval forces. 

We made our lonely way amid sullen, scowling faces and decapitated 
heads attached to street poles and sign boards, to discourage looting. 

Here at the water front, we picked our way around bodies of dead 
animals and dead soldiers. Communist officers on horses were haranguing 
crowds of defeated northern soldiers on the great benefits of Communism 
and 'San Min Chu I" ("The Three Principles of the People." taken from 
Lincoln's "Government of the People, by the People and for the People"). 

Our destroyers were anchored far off in midstream. Our hired boat 
was peppered with bullets each time we tried to leave shore. 

Finally, a Japanese landing party signalled our destroyers, and a 
launch with Consul General Davis and U.S. Marines, bristling with guns, 
took us to Admiral Hough on the flagship. He ordered us to evacuate 
everyone immediately and abandon all property and belongings. 

It was fortunate that Consul Davis persuaded Admiral Hough to 
delay until word came from us before carrying out his ultimatum to 
Chinese forces, to deliver all Americans within the city by eleven o'clock 
or he would shell the city gates, arsenal, military headquarters and all 


fortified points. The hour passed. Had he done so, with our 120 Ameri 
cans still in the city, few would have gotten out alive. 

We returned to the University and assembled our cavalcade. I led 
the long line of horse carriages and rickshaws while Revand Roberts 
brought up the rear, to see that no one was lett behind. 

Leaving Bailie Hall, we passed between double lines of our Chinese 
friends, co-workers, fellow faculty members and students. Many were 
weeping and all showed unspeakable grief in their faces. They realized 
we were all leaving, possibly never to return. It was a heart-rending 
experience for all of us. 

As darkness fell and we had not arrived, the Admiral was on the 
point of carrying out his second ultimatum which ended at dusk, but Con 
sul Davis again urged delay. 

When three hours overdue, the head of our cavalcade arrived, and 
all of us were distributed among American and British naval ships. 
Finally all our International Community was safely aboard, except the 
eight dead left behind. 

Comment on the Nanki ng I nci dent 

WCL: Just as the Germans tried out techniques of "blitzkrieg" against 
helpless Spaniards, so the Russians, in this Nanking Incident, 
used trained Chinese Communists to try out on us, for the first 
time as far as I know, Communist tactics of arousing and lead 
ing mobs to wreck American consulates and institutions, to hu 
miliate nationals of the free world to burn, loot and destroy 
property to mal-treat Americans especially, and in Nanking, 
plan a massacre of all foreigners. 

It was this "Nanking Outrage" that showed to General Chiang 
Kai-shek that the Russian Borodin and his comrades were wolves 
in sheep's clothing. They had discredited him before the Great 
Powers. From this day forth, General Chiang began his long and 
bitter fight against Communism, forcing the Reds to make a six- 
thousand-mile trek to northwest China. It 'is to his credit 
that he compensated all foreigners who made claims for their 
losses through their respective consulates. 

Moreover, this "Day of Infamy" began a breach in the 
"Favored Nation" friendship between Chinese and American peoples 
that dated back to America's "Open Door Policy," that prevented 


WCL: the partition of China by Empire Builders of the last century, 
also the United States return of Boxer indemnities in scholar 
ships for Chinese students. 

As Chinese Communists gained more and more control of 
government, this wedge, begun here in Nanking, China, has ever 

This breakup of friendship between our two great peoples 
is one of the greatest tragedies of the twentieth century. 

The Return to the United States 

Chall: Your Nanking troubles were very serious. Did things go well 
with you after you fled Nanking? 

WCL: I should say not. The tragic Nanking Incident ttvjt had driven 
us all out of China was over, but our troubles were not. 

For three days, I had had little or no food as I searched 
out Americans in hiding, until all except the eight fatal vic 
tims were safe on American destroyers. Only then did I have 
my first meal. The main dish was American tinned beef that 
proved to be spoiled, so we all became violently ill with 
ptomaine poisoning. 

My wife had reached Shanghai three days before the U.S. 
destroyer arrived with us aboard. She secured the last cabin 
available for the next sailing, in five days, on a President 
passenger liner bound for San Francisco. 

Sick as I was, I could not or would not go to the hospital 
as I should have done. There were too many things to attend to 
in leaving China. I had no clothes except what I had on, no 
watch, no glasses, just totally cleaned out of every personal 
possession. My wife and boy only had with them the one small 
suitcase they had taken for the temporary stay on the destroyer 
while waiting in Nanking. 

My wife has taped the story of our voyage back to the 
United States in a raging typhoon, so I'll not go into that, 
except to say that it was a grim experience. 

CHINA, 1922-1927 

CTaped questions and answers!] 

Methods of Determi ni ng and Carry! ng Out Research 

Chall: Dr. Lowdermilk, how did you decide how to proceed with your 
studies on famine prevention and erosion? 

WCL: Of course as a scientist, one rounds out a problem in its gen 
eral terms, and then begins to gather information on It. How 
can one overcome famines? How can one stop f am inns in a country 
with 700 million people? 

One is faced with a tremendous challenge and must have 
simple procedures to get at some of the basic problems. 

As I told you before, one of my methods is the progressive 
hypothesis, which is really a geological type of observational 
study. You set up, on the basis of what facts you have, a 
hypothesis. Then you proceed further, gathering more informa 
tion. And if one is intellectually honest and finds evidence 
against his hypothesis, he will accept that and modify the 
hypothesis in accordance with the new findings. This is a 
provisional hypothesis of course. 

Then as one goes on and finds more information, one must 
modify the hypothesis again, and so on. In other words, it's 
a progressive thing. 

Often there will be questions that we cannot discover by 
superficial observational studies. We need some sort of an 
experimental treatment. Especially where one is dealing in 
natural forces, there are situations that depend upon many 
factors. One must isolate those factors somehow to get a meas 
ure of their importance or their functions in the integrated 

One makes surveys, and then these observational studies, 
and then the experimental step. Then one must put all of it 
together and see how it works. Sometimes it does, sometimes 
it doesn't. If not, you've overlooked something. You find one 
thing and that leads to another. 



Contacts With Other Scientists 

Chall: Did you ever find that sometimes somebody else making a study 

in another part of the world might come across your conclusions 
and carry on from there? Or even that, independently, they were 
making studies similar to yours? 

WCL: Oh yes. For instance, I had my papers picked up by Russians, 
and they translated and reprinted them in Russian. And then, 
regarding my forest litter studies, I got to know a Dutchman in 
Indonesia. He had discovered the same thing and they were keep 
ing litter on the ground on rubber plantations. They were put 
ting in sort of a banquette type of terraces to catch water and 
prevent it from running off, allowing it to sink through the 
! itter. 

Then I had another case in Tiflis, Georgia, south of the 
Caucasus. This acquaintance was based on a paper I'd given 
for the International Soils Science Society in Oxford back in 
'35, and the Russian scientist and I got in touch with each 
other then. He too found that forest litter is important in 
the management of a watershed. 

So he had the river basin surveyed for depth and spread 
of litter. Those areas where the litter was deep and widely 
spread and unbroken gave him an assurance of regulation, and 
when they had less than this, they worked toward building up 
a I itter cover. 

Well, I was tipped off on this by Nick Mirov in the Uni 
versity of California Department of Geography. Nick Mirov was 
originally a Russian, but now he's an American citizen. He 
told me that it was dangerous to this man for me to write to 
him, because that was in Stalin's time, when they were very sus 
picious of any contacts Russian people had with the outside 
world. So I stopped writing. 

Then there's J. Russell Smith. He was a geographer at 
Columbia University. He had come to China, and when he found 
me studying erosion, he got excited because he had also been 
studying erosion. In those days I didn't have much of a build 
up on publications. So he made me a co-author with him on an 
article. I furnished the photographs and he and I wrote it up. 
It was published in the Geographic Magazine. 1 believe the 
title was "Erosion in Northwest China"" 

Chall: What was Mr. Smith doing in China? 

WCL: He had a sabbatical and was on a trip around the world. He had 
realized this erosion problem early. He found a solution in 


WCL: what he called tree crops. In Italy, he saw how they were 

growing chestnuts and other fruits and nuts on steep hillsides 
as a part of their food supply. With these trees they were able 
to maintain the soil in place without losing ?t by erosion. He 
wrote a book on tree crops. 

When he found in me another kindred soul who realized what 
this erosion was doing Daughter], I had a friend forever. We 
had the most wonderful friendship. He was one of my staunchest 

Visual Evidence of Erosion in China 

WCL: Here is a copy of my doctoral thesis, "Factors Affecting 
Surficia! Run-off of Rainfall and Surface Erosion of Soil 
Profiles." It has pictures in it which will give some idea of 
the problems I confronted in China. Here is one of those tem 
ple forests in which there was no erosion, but here are ter 
races the country's been gullied up. 

Now here's inside of this temple forest it's beautiful. 
This is Li Teh I, my first assistant. This land has been 
cleared of forest. I found the timber lying beside these 
fields was rotting, showing that they cleared the land not 
for timber but for the food they could grow in the forest soil. 

Very few people have seen this part of the world, but here 

we are on the frontier of advancing cultivation Here's 

another temple forest and this picture is inside a temple for 
est; there's no erosion. [Flips pages] And the runoffsee, 
this field has washed off until just stone is on the surface. 
We called this "Contrast Valley," and I set up Installations 
in here, and also out on this land where cultivation has been 
abandoned, and then down in this field which was still being 
cultivated but eroded. Here are the installations I set up 
and the machinery that I worked out with a tinsmith. 

Measur i ng Runoff and Erosion 
Chall: What exactly did you have going there? 


WCL: I had two tipping buckets. The Weather Bureau has what they 

call a tipping bucket rain gauge that is diagonal, and when it 
fills up it tips and this sets off an electrical contact. So 
you have a strip recorder to record the rate of rainfall as well 
as the amount. You see, we are very much interested in the in 
tensity of rain. 

I had the tipping bucket rain gauge. Then I decided to 
make a bigger tipping bucket for measuring the runoff. 

Chal I : How did you measure runoff? 

WCL: I had to establish plots, so that the water wouldn't run off 

except through our outlet pipe and wouldn't run inside from the 
outside. In other words, we'd catch only the rain that fell on 
the plot on which we had established the borders. 

Chal I: These plots represented all the kinds of land that were actually 
in those areas, so that you could test them? 

WCL: Yes. These were sample plots. You see, it's impossible to find 
out an average for all these things. You have to isolate your 
factor to get decisive results. You do not measure three or 
four things when you really want to measure only one. 

Chal I: Had nobody before measured what was running off? 

WCL: There were Dooley and Miller. They did not have an automatic 
device; they simply caught the runoff in a tank. They let it 
settle and then dipped off the water. This left the si Ity 
material . 

Chal I: And where had they done this? 

WCL: They did this in Missouri. The fact is, I had spent a whole 
season in northwest China trying to measure runoff from small 
watersheds by the method that had been used before in Switzer 
land. But when I was up in this farming region, the rain came 
down as fast as an inch an hour or faster. Well, actually that 
isn't so intense, but when the soil surface is bare and it's 
sealed over, then the runoff factor is very great, enormous, 
real ly. 

I spent a whole summer with a pack train for our equipment 
and three assistants doing work up in Shansi. This wasn't book 
stuff; this was work. We spent a whole summer without any 
quantitave results. 

But I had observational information. I used photographs, 
and then I gave a hypothetical explanation of what was going on 
as the basis of the hypothesis. I couldn't say that this was 

WCL: actually done, because we hadn't experimentally established it. 

When the runoff from the rain of an inch an hour rushed 
down off the slopes, there was a roar because the runoff was 
full of soil and debris and boulders. One could hear the boul 
ders striking each other, sort of a muffled sound like cannon 
ading. The smaller gravel hitting against the boulders sounded 
like machine-gun fire. In other words, these were torrential 
flows we called them mud flows, they were so powerful. 

Since then we have much information on mud flows, as we 
found in Mexico in the study of the Paricutin erosional pheno 
mena in the volcanic ash material. One can get fifty to sixty- 
five per cent and that usually gives a density of two; water 
has a density of one. With a density of two, such mud flows 
will actually float out large stones. That's the only way one 
can explain the great stones down at the end of outwash fans. 

Chal I : You were actually measuring then how much soil the rain took 

with it from these barren lands? And then contrasting it with 
what happened in the temple forests, where apparently you didn't 
lose anything? 

WCL: That's right. 

Chal I: It must have been quite exciting. 

WCL: I should say it was. I never have worked so hard, and there 
was nobody cheering because we were way out in interior China. 
But we didn't need to be cheered on. 

Reaction of Chinese Scholars to Field Work 

Chal I : How did your colleagues feel? 

WCL: Oh, they were fine. We'd get out in the field and analyze the 
problem, and what should be done. I always treated them on a 
par. They were graduates from accepted agricultural and for 
estry courses, but this was all book knowledge. 

Chal I: Then they didn't go out into the forests and fields as you had 
already done. 

WCL: But when I went out, they too would go. One time when we were 
making a cross-sectional survey of the vegetation of one of 


WCL: these drainage basins we used for experiments, we climbed up 
following a compass line. You can't deviate but must follow 
your line. We had a steep climb, so I sat down to rest. 

Then I asked them, "What do the neighboring Chinese farmers 
think about this?" 

They said, "We Chinese couldn't go out here .and do this If 
you weren't along." 

Chall: I see. It would be beneath their dignity as scholars. 

WCL: Exactly. And of course they expect a foreigner to do foolish 
things. L~ laughter] But I explained how we had to get on the 
ground, to find out what actually happens so as to establish our 
measures, or corrections, or improvements from a definite area 
of knowledge that we had established. 

Later, I would send my staff out on their own, assign them 
an area to make a similar survey. They were very enthusiastic. 
One of them got into a bandit territory where the Chinese were 
kidnapping people with money landlords particularly and hold 
ing them for ransom. If one dressed as a scholar or as gentry, 
he would be liable to such capture and kidnapping, and his 
family would have to pay ransom. And if they didn't pay, they'd 
ki I I him. 

It was dangerous and no fun. So my boys disguised them 
selves as lowly farmers and then went about the countryside and 
got information. C laughter] Those were wonderful boys. 

Chall: It's interesting that now in modern China the Communists have 
insisted that their students get out onto the farms and fields 
to work. 

WCL: They're only doing what I said in the first place. 

This was our group. Cshowing pictures]* This was Mr. Ip, 
who was a professor of forestry at Nanking, China. He was 
educated at Yale, so ordinarily he wouldn't get out. 

Here's Li Teh I. He's a very intelligent chap and loyal. 
After we were attacked in Nanking and our navy had laid down a 
barrage around the Socony Hill where many of the Americans had 
taken refuge, I said to Li, "We've got to get out and find 
these people." I knew I could trust him in any emergency. 

So he got a car, and we began to hunt out the missing Am 
ericans. It's quite a long story, which I've written and in 
cluded in this chapter. 

I k's report on the C/ur/ey of n,e K;oi H 


WCL: Li and I found that this first night, our forelgnors were so 

well hidden by friendly Chinese, they wouldn't be found by the 
Communists. Also I realized we couldn't take manv people in our 
small car, so that if we found any, we would disclose their hid 
ing place. There were some thirty or forty people around the 
University and we couldn't rescue them all that night. I de 
cided it would be better to let them stay hidden where they were 
unti I daytime. 

Chal I : But he was a help to you. 

WCL: Yes, I would not have gone out without him. We h;id tramped 

over a lot of country in northwest China and been in tight places, 
so I knew he wouldn't lose his head in an emergency. 

Then there's Ren Chen Tung. He was the son of a farmer up 
in the province of Shansi . There they have lime in the soil, 
and men grow tall. Ren was very loyal. He risked his life for 
me. When Communist soldiers were coming up the stairs in the 
University, shouting they were going to kill us, Ren put him 
self in a dangerous position and blocked their wav. They might 
have ki I led him. 

Chal I: They didn't though? 

WCL: They didn't surprisingly, for they were mean fellows. 

Whenever I went into northwest China when I was a professor 
at the University of Nanking, the Chinese were very generous in 
their attitude toward me. I was often asked to make talks, even 
way out in central Asia, where there was some student who had 
graduated from the University of Nanking. He might be on a mili 
tary assignment or a jaunt of some kind. 

Later on when I began to publish reports, I made my three 
Chinese assistants co-authors with me. Although they did not 
write anything, they were taking part in the accumulation of 
data and helped me in many ways. 

These papers were written in English. When I left China 
as a result of the Nanking Incident, my assistants wanted these 
reports published to give them prestige. They translated them 
into Chinese and published them, so that they were read all over 
China. When I was back in '42 to '44, I found out that I was 
well-known by these writings in the hinterland of China. 

Chal I: Very interesting. They were still quoting your theories and 
your findings and solutions to quite a number of problems? 

WCL: Yes, and this gave me a great deal of satisfaction. 


Read i ng the Ancient Ch i nese Gazetteers* 

Chal I: Could you go back for a moment and show me the ancient gazetteer 
you told me about the other day? You must have been having 
somebody translate them while you were still in China. 

WCL: Now this record dreading from a gazetteer] goes back to 966 A.D., 
and these county gazetteers report famines due to drought, fam 
ines due to floods, which were restricted to less areas but were 
much more destructive and violent. Then we have 1 amines due to 
grasshoppers locusts. Time after time there are references to 
them and to how they were so dense in the sky that they blotted 
out the sun. Then there are references to plagues and diseases. 

Chal I: You were concerned with famine due to floods primarily? 

WCL: We were interested in famines whatever the cause, but my ap 
proach was, "What can be done in this field that may enable us 
to prevent or avoid or alleviate famines?" 

Chal I: What exactly are these records you call gazetteers? 

WCL: In Chinese history, the county seems to be the moi,t permanent 

division of the land. You go back through early dynasties, and 
the boundaries of these county records will still be the same. 
These are the gazetteers, which were revised about once every 
ten years. These record the events or conditions that affected 
the people of that time; for instance, eclipses of the sun or 
moon, great storms or rains, floods, and that sort of thing. 

Now here are three different counties in the same province, 
and these are their records. 

Chal I: They go back a long way. Did one of your assistants do this 
translation for you? 

WCL: Oh yes. Some of my assistants were excellent translators who 
knew English well. When it came to the gazetteers, I just 
sat down at the table and opened up this book. Then I would 
say to the translator while turning the pages, "What's this 
about?" And he'd tell me. If it was something I wasn't in 
terested in, we'd pass it up. Then when he came to something 
on floods or famines, I'd have him translate it and put it in 
the records for our file for building up information. 

Let me just read this little item frorr the year 1504: 
*vore on gazetteers in Chapter VIM. 


WCL: "1504 Famine and flood in Hunan, Yanchou, Luchou , Fengyang. 

People eating each other. Flood rising in Fengyang about fif 
teen feet higher than ground level." 

Well, here's another one, in 1599. "People eat each other. 
Serious famine." There are many cases of cannibalism. This is 
why I say that in a famine, civilization falls apurt. 

When famines reach these extremes, the situation is prac 
tically hopeless. In a country like China, there was inadequate 
transportation, so that there would be famine one place, but a 
short distance away there would be plenty. The country is large 
enough to have favorable rains occur in one place and not occur 
in other places. Without transportation to exchange products 
or move food materials, then people were dependent pretty much 
on what was under foot. 

One of the methods of famine relief in ancient times was 
that if a population was undergoing starvation conditions, they 
would set out on a migration and go to those areas where there 
was food and where crops had not failed. It was understood 
they wouldn't stay very long in one place but move on. Often 
migrations would go up into the mountains or places where foods 
are not grown in such quantity but where there is usually 
greater diversity and perhaps animal life in addition 1o vegetables, 

Chall: Then would they ultimately stay some place, or would they go 

WCL: They generally went back to their original area and started 

all over again. There are reports of migrating groups caught 
by floods and being wiped out. 

Chall: Did you have the feeling that if you had been able to stay in 
China, you might have established land practices that would 
have provided more food and helped prevent floods, and that you 
actually could have been of some permanent help to the Chinese? 

WCL: Well, if one is a conservationist, one must be an optimist, and 
believe that somehow, somewhere, and sometime, you will be able 
to find the basic problem and do something constructive to save 
the lives of people involved. That is one's basic approach. 

The Hwai River Report 
WCL: This is one of my reports of the Hwai River drainage^ I used 


WCL: the device in this, of going to old honorable men of the com 
munity who knew what had happened in the past and got from them 
important evidence. 

For instance, one of the problems here was this river of 
sand coming out of the mountains into the Hwai River and filling 
it up to the banks. Then when flood waters came, they overflowed 
the banks and spread all over because the channel was clogged. 

Chall: You mean clogged with sand? 

WCL: There's erosional debris too; that's finer material. Here's a 

picture of one of the sand rivers. We have an historical record 
that formerly the sand had not yet reached this place. Here is 
a picture showing how they floated produce down river with rafts. 

Chall: Is that because it was so sandy they couldn't use a boat? 

WCL: Yes, the water became so shallow, they couldn't use boats any 
more, and so they used a very clever device of making bamboo 
rafts. When I get out with these people and see them doing 
things like this, I admire their ingenuity. They have an ex 
pression "giang ju," which means "adjust to circumstances." 

Joint Expedition W i t h (h_ J_._ Todd to see Effects ajid_ Meaning 
of Silt 

Chall: How did you happen to plan your joint expedition to Shensi 
Province with 0. J. Todd? 

WCL: I had seen where the Yellow River had broken out of its dikes 
in 1852, and instead of flowing into the Yellow Sea as it had 
for seven hundred years, it broke through the dikes and flowed 
to the north, four hundred miles into the Gulf of Chihli. I 
had heard that Todd was in China and we met to talk over the 

Chall: Hadn't Todd been in China before you? 

WCL: Yes, because he had started out early in the famine. I really 
got there after the famine was over. There was much still up 
set, distorted and disarranged, but the people had had a crop 
and the Famine Relief people had been able to get seeds for 
the farmers. That was important, because farmers had eaten 


WCL: all their seed grains. Then when the first crop came from new 
seeds and there had been favorable rains, they felt the relief 
period was over, and henceforth it was more or less reconstruc 
tion and assistance work. 

Chall: Who proposed this expedition together into northwest China? 

WCL: I told Todd, "I had to go up to see where all this silt was 
coming from." I talked to him about silt, but he had never 
been up the headwaters [of the Yellow River]. He had not been 
out in Shensi in northwest China, and was anxious to go and see 
the old irrigation project called King Ho, established in 225 B.C., 
at about the same time as the Gwanshen project, 240 B.C., which I 
told Todd about seeing. 

This King Ho irrigation scheme is the most striking example 
of how destructive erosion and silt can be. In the case of the 
Gwanshen project in Szechuan Province, the water came from the 
Min River drainage, on the eastern borders of Tibet in which 
the country rock is hard, not erodable like the loess soils. 
Stone decomposed very slowly, and soils were shallow and with 
considerable forest. Little could be farmed, so the native vege 
tation, as azaleas and rhodendrons, bloom in all their glory, and 
honeysuckles grow wild. It's a marvelous place in springtime. 

The Gwanshen project had clear water, but had what we call 
bedload, that is, gravel and boulders that are moved and rolled 
along the bottom of the stream bed but there was very little 
suspended material to make the water muddy. So by a simple 
engineering device that Li Bing worked out, they were able to 
farm this Chengtu plain of half a million acres for 2,250 years 
without a flood and without a famine. 

Now across the mountains in the loessal region to the 
north where the wind-laid soil covered much of the country and 
there were great gullies in it, the King Ho irrigation project 
had been established, and this was what Todd and I wanted to see. 

In Szechuan the project was a continuous successful opera 
tion with never serious interruptions, but over here in the King 
Ho where they had to deal with massive quantities of silt, our 
study of records show that up to a certain time they mentioned 
the silt as fertilizer, and were glad to have the land covered 
with sediments from streams. But then later these records tell 
about this mud that is very harmful to the ground. It packs 
the surface and doesn't take water in for irrigation. 

The depth of silt in irrigation waters had built up the 
land higher and higher until the intake was not high enough to 
give a flow to water. Then they had had to go higher upstream 
in order to have a grade so that water would flow down into the 


WCL: area to be irrigated. Each time this happened, the irrigation 
project was put out of commission until these repairs were made 
and the canal dug higher or deeper upstream. This irrigation 
project failed time after time. We have in this gazetteer the 
whole sad story of how many times this irrigation project had 
fai I ed in the past. 

Todd and I were both interested in this particular irriga 
tion project. He hadn't seen it, and I was eager to see where 
this silt was coming from, so we set up a cooperative expedi 
tion. I had the funds from our Famine Prevention program, and 
he had funds from the International Famine Relief Commission. 

Cha I 1 : Todd was struggling with this problem of silt in the work relief 
projects in rebuilding dikes, was he not? 

WCL: Yes. Todd carried out work relief, and he paid workers no 

money but paid them in food and grain. Actually he was res 
ponsible for putting more men to work than anybody has ever done 
in any place in the world, unless perhaps ancient Egypt. 

Then at a later time, he put the Yellow River back in its 
channel. After the Japanese invaded China, the Chinese broke 
the dikes so floods would drown the Japanese armies. Then 
later on, when conditions became settled, Todd put the river 
back in its channel. That's an event of heroism. 

Chall: Todd stayed there for many years then. 

WCL: Oh yes, longer than I did. He went back after the 1927 incident. 

Chall: When you were out with Todd, you had the feeling that much of 
this erosion was caused by improper use of land. According to 
your written material, you had already begun to assume -this? 

WCL: Now, to answer that question, I want to show you a picture. 

[shows picture of land deeply eroded, from "Ancient Irrigation 
in China," p. 215] These are tremendous gullies. Look, those 
little parcels are farms. There's a village. In places here 
they have even begun to terrace the slopes of these gullies.. 

Just ponder this picture. Here live hundreds of thousands 
of people and this is their land of fertile loessal soils; ?\'s 
very susceptible to erosion. This is the country out of which 
water comes for this King Ho irrigation project. This is why" 
the Yellow River is yellow. The Chinese call it Hwang Tu, 
ye I low earth . 

You see how this erosion undermines a civi I hratio'n? One 
does not have to have a microscope to see this destruction of 
land. In other words, here we're dealing with forces that 


WCL: determine the destiny of all civilization. It's difficult to 

get out and talk to even our farmers and get them to comprehend 
what this picture should tell us should warn us about. 

Chall: What could be done? Is it possible to farm this kind of land? 

WCL: The whole situation is so complex that we can't come out with 
a ready-made answer. When you propose something that can be 
done and that people will do, then you have advanced a long 
way. That's why I have called for pilot projects. 

Chall: How did Todd react to your conclusion about the origins and 
meaning of silt? 

WCL: He was in complete agreement. He was an engineer and I was a 
geologist and we were both trained observers in such matters. 

Solving Problems Caused ^y_ Erosion 

WCL: I told you about that canal; here is a picture of the intake 

["Ancient Irrigation in China," p. 217]. They've extended this 
intake up into the limestone country. This is Li Sheh, a good 
friend of mine who was a Chinese engineer. They had diverted 
water just about as far upstream as they could go, so they cut 
a tunnel through but this still brings in muddy water. 

Here's a picture of the diversion that tunnels water 
through the mountain to feed into the irrigation, but if the 
silt content goes up beyond fifteen percent by weight, it is 
necessary to shut off the water even though it is needed for 
i rrigation. 

Chall: Then what do they do, shovel the silt out? 
WCL: Oh no. It's too tremendous. 

Chall: Could it be done with machinery? Do you just go on diverting 

WCL: No. Of course they've got to reduce the erosion wherever it 
takes place. Where the raindrop strikes the ground, there's 
where you can really do something about it. 

Chall: Can you do different kinds of planting in the loess land? 


WCL: Oh yes, we can grow trees. But the situation which makes it so 
difficult is that demands of the people to grow food on the land 
are now so high they can't permit trees to grow. If they need 
fuel, they'll go out and pull up the trees they have planted for 
fuel, and to cook their food. So fuel becomes a part of their 
food supply, and as I've said many times, we have to be in pos 
session of a certain amount of abundance to act in an intelli 
gent way in the conservation of our resources, for "a starving 
farmer will eat his seed grain." You'll do it and I'M do it 
when we're faced with this grim decision. 

How can we catch up with this population explosion, and 
get a pause long enough to restore what we call forest condi 
tions, or rebuild the organic content of soils that have been 
so deprived of vegetation? 

It is a tremendous problem for which there isn't any ready 
and rapid solution. It would require a consistent and continu 
ing program based on measures that will work. 

You see, when land is cut up in gullies, it's ruined for 
food crops. We'll have to take these areas and terrace them. 
But economists will say you can't do that because it won't 
pay. But I say, "Yes, you will, because you will do what is 
necessary to survive. Survival is more important." Economics 
only sets priorities. 

Lowdermilk Finds his Life Work 

Chall: So when you saw this struggle with silt, you decided your life 
would be devoted to the study of silt and its consequences. 

WCL: Yes. I said, "Why should farmers of China have to work so hard 
moving all this earth to build up dikes, to protect their lands 
from flooding?" 

Previously I had said to Inez, "What am I doing out here? 
I can't teach these Chinese how to improve making things grow. 
They know all this. So why am I here?" 

But when I made that trip to the headwaters, and I found 
out where the silt was coming from and why, and saw the con 
trasts in the Buddhist temple forests, the problem took on its 
aspect of being a region-wide, world-wide problem, affecting all 
mankind and his future as well as the present. And then I 


WCL: knew why I was there. 

Forestry in China in the I920's 

Chal I : What was the position of forestry in China at that time? 

WCL: I discussed this in an article, "Forestry in Denuded China,"* 
but I will tell you a little more about it. 

In the first place there were no national forests at all. 
There were only those held in ownership by a few persons, gen 
erally families or clans. Where the land was too rough to 
cultivate, there was nothing else to do but leave forests and 
native vegetation to develop. Timber was cut out of them by 
the clan or fami ly. 

Then as time went on and the clan became more and more 
numerous, the land also was divided up, until the parcels that 
were left were so small that it didn't justify putting a bound 
ary around the forest. So the farmers became joint owners of 
a tract of forest. 

Then if one wanted to cut timber out of it, those who had 
certain rights to it would get permission to cut trees, from 
some of those who were joint owners. 

Chal I: Was there a head man in charge? 

WCL: Yes. A person could go ahead and cut forest once he had per 
mission, but no one protected the forest. It was nobody's 
real concern. There was no forest management; even protection 
from fire wasn't very rigidly taken care of. In other words, 
the forests had a very weak position. No foresters had 
responsibi I ity . 

The only forests that I found were those controlled by 
Buddhist priests. These were the temple forests I spoke of. 
Of course these gave us a sample of what the forest of this 
whole region may have been like at one time. I don't believe 
there was very much planting of forests by the priests the 
trees reproduced naturally. The priests protected the forest 

*Annals o_f_ the American Academy of_ Po I i t i ca 1 Soc i a I 
Science, Vol.~52, November, 1930. 


WCL: to have shade and seclusion and an agreeable atmosphere for 

meditation. If and when they needed repairs for their temple, 
they would cut one or more trees as they needed them. 

Now, I've been speaking of forests up in the Yellow River 
basin. China can be divided into three parts: there's the 
northern portion in which the Yellow River drains most of the 
land where there's an average rainfall of around twenty inches 
a year; then the Yangtze River basin which gets about forty 
inches of rain a year; and then south China, which has the 
Pearl River, the Red River and two smaller rivers, and where 
rainfall averages about sixty inches. So you can see that 
where there is a great amount of moisture available, you have 
a corresponding growth in forests when it's permitted to grow. 

In the Yangtze River basin, bamboo flourishes and the 
Chinese manage it and treat it as a crop. They eat the bamboo 
shoots as a food. Bamboo is called the farmer's best friend 
because it has a thousand and one uses. It is a practical 
material and grows rapidly and is strong and easily worked. 

There were areas where I had my boys make surveys. One 
of them ran into a big bamboo area where they were managing it 
as a forest. One characteristic of this bamboo that made it so 
useful was that it isn't heavy but very strong. 

The weight of logs would be a real problem in China. I 
showed you that bulletin on the Hwai River and the picture of 
the men carrying the bamboo rafts on their shoulders. Although 
these carriers were tremendously strong, logs were heavy and 
there was a limit to the load they could carry. For this rea 
son, farmers wouldn't let trees grow beyond a certain height or 
weight, because they had to be carried by men from the woods 
down to the stream. Because there were no roads, no carts, men 
carried by muscle power the logs from the river to lumber yards 
i n the cities. 

Chall: You mean they had no donkeys? 

WCL: No, they didn't even have donkeys up here. 

Chall: No animal labor at all, just human muscle? 

WCL: The farmers had what they call a yellow cow, a draught animal 
for plowing, but for some reason, the donkey didn't seem to 
thrive in this northern part of China. 

Now there's one other interesting thing about forests in 
the Yangtze belt of drainage. Fuel was one of the most impor 
tant uses of woody material. 1 took some foresters over to 
show them what forestry was in China, and showed them how the 


WCL: people cut the grass every year with sickles, and store this 

grass as their fuel supply. Then I showed them the differences 
between the cutting and burning practices of the villagers and 
of the Buddhist priests. 

We went into the kitchens of the Buddhist priests to see 
how they had designed their cooking stoves to burn grass, noth 
ing else. An old man or woman would use big chopsticks and 
reach into a bag of grass near the fire, take a little bit of 
grass and put it under the thin iron basin to heat food to be 
boiled or fried. One advantage was that when they didn't want 
any more fire, they didn't put more grass under, so they used 
the minimum of fuel for cooking purposes. 

I showed these guests Purple Mountain which we re-forested 
as part of our famine prevention program. In the annual cut 
ting of grasses with a sickle, they also cut new sprouts of the 
hardwood species where it was coming out from the edges of the 
root. Where we protected areas, these hardwood species began 
to grow. If the Chinese grass cutters would let them grow, the 
hardwood species would become another forest. 

I said, "We don't need to plant seedlings here." 

But they said, "If we don't plant pine, then we cannot get 
woodcutters to cut the grasses to bring into the town to burn." 

In some cases they set up regulations to protect grasses 
and seedlings and let them grow. Since the people couldn't dis 
tinguish the hardwoods, the authorities planted pine. If cut 
ters had pine in a bundle, it would give away the fact that 
they'd been cutting where they weren't supposed to. 

Often in forests that ought to have been growing timber, 
there was no timber at all, just grasses. But down in the val 
leys, one might see trees in rows, and irrigated. This was es 
pecially so out toward central China in the dry regions. This 
growing of timbers became more and more a feature of the country 
side because the Chinese needed large timbers for houses. 

Chall: So they were growing trees for a purpose. This was sort of a 
management technique. 

WCL: Oh yes. They not only set aside land for the trees, but would 
have little streams of water coming down to irrigate them. 

Chall: And who was doing that? 

WCL: The farmers would do it. You must remember that China never 

had landlordism to a very great extent. The Chinese might have 
a small home in the village and as he prospered, he would buy 


WCL: some land. His ideal was to buy up four or five acres which he 
would rent out to a farmer. Then he became in time a man more 
important in the community, and would continue to improve his 
cond it ion. 

The father of one of my assistants, Feng Chao Lin, had ac 
quired a few acres to rent. When the Communists came, they said, 
"You're a landlord," and they killed him. Hut landlordism, as 
in Egypt, Italy, Africa, or the Middle East, where a man held 
great areas of land, did not exist in China. 

There was the New Life movement going on in China at that 
time. Many of the governors were trying to develop their people 
and their industries, as Yen Shi-shan, who was the model governor 
of the province of Shansi and who cooperated with me and sent out 
police to see that my installations were not molested. 

These governors also set up schools and some had forestry 
departments. Forestry especially had a good name in China. Gen 
eral Wu Pei Fu, the scholarly war lord, had a model forest. Many 
of these governors or departments of forestry would plant up 
areas wherever they could get land, sometimes by ousting an enemy 
and taking over his land. Especially if there had been a poli 
tical war, the man who won would take over the land of the 
other. Then he would plant it up with trees. This is the way 
a certain number of jobs were created for foresters who had been 
trained. Chinese didn't have large sums of money to develop 
programs like we have, so they largely depended on farmers to 
do the tree planting as well as the agriculture. 

Memories of Pearl Buck 

Chall: Dr. Lowdermilk, you and Mrs. Lowdermilk have mentioned several 
times that you regard Pearl Buck as one of the most brilliant 
women you have ever known (the other being Rachel Yarden in 
Israel). Did your acquaintance with Mrs. Buck begin when you 
I i ved i n Ch i na? 

WCL: Yes, Pearl and Lossing, her first husband, were our next-door 
neighbors for five years in Nanking. We remember our delight 
when her first short stories began to be published. I do not 
believe Pearl had any real conception of her remarkable talents 
that were to bring her international recognition, considerable 
wealth, and many honors and prizes, including the Nobel Prize 
for literature. But it was interesting to watch her development 


which was forced on her by the urgent need to provide every 
possible opportunity for the development of her sadly retarded 
only daughter. 

When they stopped to visit us in Berkeley, enroute back to 
China with their adopted daughter, leaving Carol in an insti 
tution, Pearl said, "I must return to China, and though I can't 
hope for a best-seller, I must write a sufficiently good book 
to take care of Carol if anything should happen to me." 

The result was The Good Earth, which brought her fame 
and wealth and was the first of many books. She wrote rapidly, 
seldom had to even rewrite a sentence. Her secretary typed 
the manuscript, Pearl read it for corrections and it was 
ready for the publisher of Day and Day Company, who became 
her second husband. 

Pearl adopted some ten orphans and established "The Buck 
Foundation" to care for Oriental orphans left by our U.S. 
sol diers. 

Mrs. Lowdermi I k Tel Is of her Experiences During the Nanking 
I ncident 

Chall: Mrs. Lowdermi Ik, I wanted you to tell me about your experiences 
in the Nanking Incident, during most of which, as I understand 
it, you were aboard ship. 

Mrs. L.: That was a terrible experience for everybody. Walter has writ 
ten up his story, telling of his experiences within the city 
of Nanking. Altogether I had been through thirteen wars in 
west China. I was not afraid and refused to go onto the gun 
boat. However, my husband was the liaison in time of crisis 
between the American destroyers and the American consul, for 
the safety of the 120 American citizens in the city, largely 
around the American Union University. He insisted our two- 
year-old son and I go for temporary refuge; otherwise, he 
could not insist that other wives and children leave their 
homes and crowd onto the American destroyer. 

The Northern army was retreating because of the advance of 
Chiang Kai-shek and his forces. It was feared the Northern 
ers might retreat into Nanking, close the city gates, and we 
would be trapped in a besieged city, in which case we couldn't 


Mrs. L.: get food. Or we might be subjected to general looting as the 
Northern troops waited for boats to cross the Yangtze River. 

So the captains of the two U.S. destroyers and the American 
consul decided all women and children should be put aboard our 
destroyers anchored out in the Yangtze River. I objected ve 
hemently because it was most inconvenient to take a little 
two-year-old boy and crowd into ships quarters. 

We were allowed only one suitcase. We did not know whether 
we would stay for three days, a week, or what. But Walter 
said, "You've got to go, whether you want to or not. I can't 
make the other women go and take their children unless you 
go." So I had to be obedient in this case, [laughter] 

We had impossible quarters. We were crowded in the prow 
of the boat right under the big gun. In a space that was for 
six sailors, there were altogether thirteen women and babies. 
Our husbands came down to see us the next day, and we all 
wanted to go home, for everything seemed to be perfectly safe. 

Then the next morning, we heard shooting and saw a pal 1 
of smoke hanging over the city. We couldn't have our port 
holes open at all for fresh air, because soldiers were shoot 
ing from the shore at us and bullets were popping against 
our ship. 

In the afternoon, the time, 3:30, apparently had been set 
by the Communists within the Nationalist army to kill all 
foreigners. Word had gone out from the Russian adviser 
Borodin, "Kill and destroy all foreign life and property in 
Nanki ng ." 

We didn't know what was happening to our husbands within 
the city at the University, neither did we know what was 
happening at Sha Guan, where the Communist soldiers had set 
up guns to destroy the home on Socony Hill where Consul Gen 
eral Davis had gathered seventy or more Americans under his 
protection. He realized that the guns could demolish the 
house and kill all of them. As a last resort he sent one of 
our sai lors up on the roof to wig-wag a message to our des 
troyer to open fire. Of course, the ship knew the location 
of this gathering place that had been agreed upon in case of 
this emergency. 

At that moment, a sailor came running down the ladder 
steps and threw cotton on the table, saying, "Stuff the 
babies' ears immediately. We're going to open fire, and it 
will burst their eardrums." So each mother grabbed her baby 
on her lap. I had told our little son, who was interested 
in animals, that the big gun right on top of us, on the steel 


Mrs. L.: plate overhead, was going to talk. I put my hands over his 
ears in addition to stuffing them with cotton, and of course 
it was only a few moments until there was this terrific ex 
plosion, which shattered all the electric light globes, and 
we were in darkness with the screaming youngsters. 

From the explosion which sent the projectile off, we got 
the ejected huge cartridges as they tumbled down on the steel 
plate over our heads, which was also a bang. Then we got the 
sound when all that TNT exploded around Socony Hill. Alto 
gether we had 180 explosions to endure. 

If I had known what was happening, I would have felt very 
differently about this shooting into the city, which I deeply 
resented. Actually this shooting saved the lives of our hus 
bands in the city at the University, and also saved the lives 
of the seventy Americans who were with the American consul 
on Socony Hill. But as it was, I thought that we were blow 
ing up the city gates and the arsenal and important places 
in the Chinese city. 

I loved the Chinese, and I felt that this was the last 
straw for the white man, especially Americans, to do to our 
lovely city. So I was emotionally just furious as we listened 
to the 180 explosions. Of course, this was very hard on the 
screaming children in the darkness, for it lasted so long. 

Then when it was over and the shooting ceased, we still 
could not open any of our portholes because of firing from 
the shore. When it was dark, I went up the ladder steps onto 
the protected side of our destroyer to find an officer. I 
looked across to the north side of the river, and Pu Kow was 
all in flames, and one could see people silhouetted against 
the fire carrying their aged, their household bundles, or 
their children on their backs as they fled along the river 

The retreating soldiers had gotten into all fhe boats 
they could commandeer and had crossed the river. Then when 
safe, they began to loot and burn. But there was no shooting 
from that side, so I felt safe. 

When I found an officer, I said, "If we have no light at 
all, may we open a porthole?" 

He said, "No, lady, they're shooting too much from the Nan 
king side, but we are going to move you onto a refugee ship 
about midnight. So you will just have to put UD with the 
situation as it is until then." 

As they loaded the boat on the north side away from Nankinq 


Mrs. L.: and the shooting, I was standing ready to be loaded down the 

ladder steps when I heard one of our sailors say to an officer 
above, "Don't load her too heavy; the engine's on the blink 

It was an open boat where we sat entirely exposed to the 
elements. It was bitterly cold and was sleeting. The Yangtze 
River was flowing down, and the tide was coming in, so when 
the two of them met, the waters were very rough and choppy. 

We had thought it would be a short ride from our ship to 
the refugee ship, but we had a rude shock. All ships on the 
river were blacked out. Great huge hulks loomed up in the 
darkness, none of them with lights, and no one knew which were 
enemy ships or where our friendly refugee ship was anchored. 
Our boys had started out apparently without sufficient know 

A couple of times the engine stopped, and the sailors put 
their little caps over the flashlight as they worked with the 
engine, but immediately bullets began to pop around the water 
near us, and we were in a dangerous situation. Finally they 
got it started again, and twice we went up to big black hulks, 
and the sailors called out, "Are you expecting any women and 
children refugees tonight?" I remember one very blasphemous 
(unprintable) emphatic, "No!" So we had to start out search 
ing in the darkness for our refugee ship again. 

In the meantime, we had been wandering around on this 
turbulent Yangtze River in blackness (except for the distant 
light from the burning city of Pu Kow across the river) for 
more than two hours with a crippled engine, unable to find 
where we were to go. I was frozen and stiff holding our lit 
tle boy on my lap as the waves tossed us about and sleet stung 
my face. I remember distinctly having the feeling and almost 
a prayer that we would go down suddenly and have it a I I over 
with, instead of this suspense and utterly freezing misery. 

Finally our engine went totally dead again, and we bobbed 
helplessly about. But by this time, we were quite a distance 
up the Yangtze. Our sailors saw an occasional flashing light 
way down the river and assumed it might be a signal for us. 
Our sailors guided our boat in the current down to the light 
that from time to time seemed a signal. Finally we reached 
the landing craft beside the boat. 

I was frozen stiff and unable to lift our son off my lap, 
and to make things more difficult, I was also pregnant with 
our little girl who was born not too long after our arrival 
in America. One of the Marines took our two-year-old boy and 
carried him up the ladder while another one helped me. 


Mrs. L.: At the top of the ladder was Consul Davis, and I said, 
"What do you know about the men in the city?" 

He said, "The only word I have had was at eight o'clock 
this morning from your husband. He said that he had been with 
Dr. Williams when he had been shot in cold blood at his feet. 
They had all been robbed. I told your husband to keep in touch 
with me but the phone went dead, and I have never heard from 
anyone within the city since then. However, we do know from 
some Chinese reports that some Americans have been killed, and 
that many of their houses were burned and all homes were looted." 

Our refugee ship which was built for only eighty-five pas 
sengers now had 275 aboard. Everybody was hungry; nobody had 
been fed. This ship had all the seventy-plus refugees from 
Socony Hill. The ship's sailors made sandwiches by the hun 
dreds and got together what food they could to feed people 
without having them sit down at the table. Some stood, many 
sat on the floor, and everyone was excited, telling of their 

Of course, we were very alarmed as I heard that when a ring 
wouldn't come off of Dr. Smith's finger, they just chopped off 
his finger, and when somebody else had resisted being robbed 
he was ki I led. 

During this day, eight foreigners altogether had been killed, 
so we were much concerned for our husbands up in the city. We 
knew our homes were gone, but our hope was that something had 
saved our men from the mobs. 

Of course, we didn't know at that time that three-thirty 
had been set as the hour for the general massacre. Neither 
did we know that the Chinese Communist soldiers at the Univer 
sity campus, who had robbed and re-robbed our Americans until 
there was no possibility of getting any more money or valuables, 
had still voted whether to demand one thousand Chinese dollars 
each, or about ninety thousand dollars, immediately or they 
would kill them all. 

It would have been easier had we but known the American 
lives our destroyer was saving by our big guns, but we didn't. 
We left Nanking on the refugee boat not knowing whether our 
husbands were dead or alive. We were terribly crowded and 
there were no sleeping facilities except on the floor. 

The next morning we passed a Chinese fort. The captain 
came along ahead of time and told us to all lie down flat on 
the floor so that if any guns shot from this fort, we would 
be down low where the steel hull was under the windows. Sure 
enough, we were shot at, but no shells hit our ship. 


Mrs. L.: When we arrived in Shanghai, I knew this was the end of 
our stay in China. We were due to leave on furlough anyway 
in two months when our five-year term would be over, so I went 
immediately from the boat to the "President" passenger ship 
offices and secured almost the last cabins available on the 
next sailing to America. 

Then I had a terrible three-day wait. We didn't know 
whether our husbands were dead or alive. You see, it was 
before the days of radio, which might have enabled us to know 
immediately what was happening. 

Final I y we had word that third day that an American and a 
British destroyer were coming down with the Americans from 
within the city that Walter had gathered in Bailie Hall. Then, 
as he wrote in his report, it was up to him to locate and res 
cue the other thirty or more who were hidden and had not been 
able to reach Bailie Hall. He found one in an empty cistern, 
and another one covered up by old dirty police uniforms in 
the back of a police station, and others here arid there. And 
Anna Moffett he discovered her late at night lying in a bam 
boo grove covered up by her Chinese friends with straw. She 
had been shot at eight o'clock in the morning twice through 
the abdomen and had Iain there all day fifteen hours without 
medical attention. 

My husband was able, through the Chinese, to locate her, 
get her back to the University Bailie Hall where Dr. Daniels 
treated her wounds, and fortunately she survived; whereas, 
if Walter hadn't gotten her that night she probably would 
not have. 

We were overjoyed when we heard our husbands were coming, 
and of course all of us waited in eagerness at the dock to 
greet them. I had a shocking experience. The first man that 
I saw get off and walk past me was my neighbor, Mr. Holroyd, 
a six-foot-three, big strong man. He was white and tottering. 

I said, "What has happened? How are you?" 
And he said, "Oh, we've been through hell." 

Well, I thought, "You mean to say a great big man like you 
would go to pieces just because you had war experience?" I 
had been through enough of them. I had seen Chinese heads 
hanging by the dozens from telephone poles as I had come down, 
and I had seen them in west China, and I didn't think that 
there was anything a foreigner would see in China that should 
make him go to pieces like that. 

Then a little later, came the Dean of the r ,chrxjl of 


Mrs. L.: Agriculture and Forestry, Mr. Reisner, who was such a wonder 
ful man, and who was Walter's chief who had gotten these famine 
funds for the University to put on this famine prevention pro 
gram. He came by wearing a lady's overcoat and my best velvet 
hat. You see, all of their clothes had been stolen from them. 
The Chinese came up again and again to demand more from them 
in Bailie Hall, even taking the shoes off the little children's 

These Communist Chinese soldiers had beheading knives, and 
they were very fearsome and you gave them your clothes or any 
thing else that they wanted. Then later, our Chinese friends 
gathered up looted material to take to the shivering Americans. 
So I saw my velvet hat and this lady's coat on Mr. Reisner, 
and I thought, "This too is strange." 

I rushed up to him, and he also was white and tottering. 
So I said, "What has happened?" 

And he said, "Walter's coming on the next small boat from 
the destroyer to shore, and he'll tell you." 

I had the inner assurance that my husband, who had been an 
army officer and who I heard was the hero in the rescue of 
these foreigners from inside Nanking, that he_ wouldn't be 
overcome by anything the Chinese could do. When I saw him 
coming, I rushed to him and was astonished to find him white 
and tottering. I took his hand and led him over to a bench, 
and said, "For heaven's sake, Walter, what has happened? 
What is the matter with all of you men?" 

Then he told me how he had done without food for three 
days while he was hunting up the missing Americans and gather 
ing them together, and of his trip down to the Yangtze to 
prevent our Admiral from blowing up the city gates, as he had 
threatened if the Chinese did not deliver the Americans to 
the river bank by a given time. Walter had had practically 
no food for three days. 

Then finally, when this whole cavalcade that he had been 
leading reached the destroyers and all were safe on the des 
troyers, he had his first real meal in three days. This must 
have been before the days of our pure food laws, for what they 
were all given was spoiled meat from tin cans, so a I I of these 
men had terrible cases of food or ptomaine poisoning. 

Some of the men were taken directly on stretchers to hos 
pitals. Walter should have gone too, but we realized we 
could leave in five days. Walter had no possessions at all; 
everything had been stolen. He didn't have another pair of , 
socks or a sweater or coat or hat or watch or glasses or 


Mrs. L.: shaving kit or any of the numerous things a man must have. 
So he kept staggering around to do the necessary things to 
get off. 

We were most thankful for Julian Arnold, our American com 
mercial attache in Shanghai. He had already closed his beauti 
ful home for the summer and sent his servants away, and his 
family were already in Tsing tao and he was leaving. But he 
knew Walter and John Reisner, and when he found out the des 
perate situation, he returned, opened up his lovely big home, 
called back his servants, and we stayed there for five days. 

The Reisners and others stayed on for two weeks before 
they could get ship passage. In our living room, that cream 
camel's hair rug with the blue border came from Julian Arnold's 
floor. He was good enough to sell that to me so that I would 
have one Chinese rug from my whole household of rugs to take 
back to the States. I thought that was lovely of him. 

The Voyage Back to the United States 


Mrs. L.: We got on this first boat and immediately started out into 

one of the most terrific typhoons on record. It was not only 
between China and Japan but followed along with us, or we 
along with it, all the way from China to the Hawaiian Islands. 
Our cabin was on the second deck above the machinery deck, 
and yet waves would come entirely over the whole ship and 
leave us, even at that level, in total darkness. 

Walter estimated that the ship rose and fell sixty feet 
with each wave and roll. I'm the seasick kind anyway and I 
just die in a storm. Of course Walter was seasick too. Once 
an enormous wave hit our ship with a bang; it must have gone 
over the smokestacks. Our ship quivered down in darkness 
under the great weight of water. I remember how Walter threw 
himself back onto his bed, and said, "Well, if the ship goes 
down, I'm not going to try to save either of you." Daughter] 

WCL: How do you know I said this? 

Mrs. L.: Oh, I remember it very well. I've always had a sense of 

humor, and even in my seasickness that amused me. But this 
time he was so seasick he could watch both his little son 
and me die without trying to save either of us. [laughter] 

So we landed in America utterly penniless, looted of every 
thing, not a possession except what we had been able to secure 
in those brief days in Shanghai to start life over again. 


Mrs. L.: From Honolulu to San Francisco, the storm was still somewhat 
raging, but it was not a typhoon. 

Decision About the Future 

Mrs. L.: Walter worried constantly. He said, "Here I am coming back 
after five years, and now I've got to begin over again at 
the bottom. I don't know whether they'll take me at the For 
est Service; I don't know whether I can get a government job 
again." And he stewed and stewed. 

Finally I said, "Well, Walter, the Lord has taken care of 
us this far. We can depend upon it that something will open 
up." But he was very, very pessimistic. 

Everybody all over the United States was interested in the 
arrival of these first refugees that had been driven out of 
China under fearsome circumstances. Suddenly, Walter found 
himself being offered seven different, we 1 1 -pay ing jobs, a 
number of them to be chief of various Forest Experiment Sta 
tions, one back in Missoula and another down in the south 
somewhere. He was offered other excellent jobs. 

But now, our way of life was broken up so this we felt 
was a turning point. Walter in China had decided that his 
life work was to be the relation of peoples to their lands, 
and what farmers can do to the good earth to make it unfit 
for future habitation and growth of foodstuffs in fact, it 
is the determining factor in the rise and fall of civiliza 
tions, as he had seen in China. We decided that now would be 
the best time to get his Ph.D. and go ahead with these ero 
sion studies that he had carried on for the past five years, 
and continue scientifically to measure soil erosion and run 
off and its relation to the depletion of soils. 

Walter said, "Well, I'll leave it with you whether we 
take a job and begin to live again, or whether we continue 
for another period of extreme difficulty until I get my Ph.D." 

Without any hesitation I said, "Now is the time for you to 
get your Ph.D. Then after that we can go ahead in any kind 
of life work that you choose to do." 

We have never regretted that decision. Since then we've 
had a wonderful ly fascinating time together. He had his work 
in the United States, we have made studies in more than thirty 
countries, and I've been with him in all of them except two 
Puerto Rico and Mexico. While I didn't go on Walter's second 


Mrs. L.: trip to China, nevertheless I had formerly been into the edge 
of Tibet when in west China, whereas Walter made his expedi 
tion into Tibet from the northwest. 

When we landed in on my people in Pasadena, I was ill, the 
little son had measles and pneumonia, Walter had not recovered 
from his ptomaine, and we were stunned and bewildered, but 
thankful for the warm welcome from my family. My sister was 
wonderful. She is a capable practical nurse, and she took 
complete charge of the boy and probably sdved his life. 

The family rallied behind us, and because of their loyalty 
and willingness to share and cooperate, I lived there with 
them for a year in Pasadena while Walter got his Ph.D. in 
Berke ley. 

[Written questions and answers] 

Decision to get a_ Ph. D_._ 

Chall: Mrs. Lowdermilk said in the material she taped about your re 
turn from China that you decided to go back to school and get 
your Ph. D. and delay, for a time, earning a living. 

WCL: Yes. During the eighteen-day voyage home, I had worried about 
having no position after being gone so long in China. However, 
this was needless worry, for I was immediately offered seven 
fine positions, all of which were tempting in our present fi 
nancial state. 

In China, I had wished I might continue my erosion studies 
and get my doctorate. Now with this break in our lives, it 
seemed this was the time to do it. The Forest Experiment Sta 
tion, located in Giannini Hall on the University campus at 
Berkeley, which collaborated with the University Agricultural 
Department, offered me a fellowship with funds to set up ex 
perimental installations on a more comprehensive scale than I 
could do in China, to study factors in processes of runoff 
and erosion. 

I could use artificial rain over my plots, free from 
vagaries of rainy or dry seasons. I could choose light or 
heavy rains of any given duration as experiments required. 
This appealed to me. 

Experimentation on Runoff and Erosion Begi ns 

Chall: How soon did you start work at the University Experiment Station? 

WCL: In the summer of 1927, I registered at the University of Cali 
fornia for my postgraduate study to lead to a doctorate. My 
major was forestry. I took two minors, one in soil science and 
the other in geo I ogv. ffy problem, as approved by my advisor, 
Professor Arthur SjB^fiHy was entitled, Factors Effecting Surfi- 
cial Runoff of Rain and Erosion of Soil Profiles. The problem 



WCL: involved evaluation of factors which determine the division of 
rain into runoff from soil surfaces and its infiltration into 
soils and the consequent effects upon erosion of soil profiles. 

Chal I : How did you begin this work? 

WCL: Pretty much in the same general way as I made my studies in 

China. First I began the task by reading all the material that 
was available to me covering a period of more than one hundred 
years. Later my intensive review of this literature was made 
into a Bulletin as Part I I I of my thesis. I separated reports 
of experimental studies from those that were merely observa 
tional studies. I then evaluated these experimental studies 
within the light of my experiments and with my new findings. 

Chal I: Where did you develop the outdoor experiments? 

WCL: The first Berkeley experiment was located on Oxford Street 

Tract. It was designed as a Water Cycle Study, to differentiate 
it from surficial runoff plots on slopes. 

The most important finding of this experiment was the large 
difference between the runoff from soils covered with natural 
forest litter and runoff from soils where the litter had been 
burned bare. 

This comparison showed the very high percentage of rain as 
runoff from plots burned bare of litter. These differences varied 
from two to ten fold. 

Dev i s i ng and Mai ntai ning the Soi I Tanks 

Chal I: Did you use the plot method as you had done in China? 

WCL: No, for here I designed tanks of galvanized iron, encased in 

wooden frames. There were eight of them, with horizontal dimen 
sions of two by five feet. They were built to provide for soils 
two and one-half feet deep, with four inches of sand and gravel 
on the bottom and with a surface slope of thirty percent. We 
wanted soils used in these experiments to be uniform in their 
characteristics of percolation. 

Chal I: I understand you had a special method of filling the tanks 
with soils. What types of soils did you decide upon? 


WCL : Yes, I proposed to take up soil samples in shallow layers and 
then to repack them in layers in their original order, in one- 
to four-inch layers. I tamped them uniformly to their original 
volume. I decided on three widely separated soil series for 

(1) The Aiden soil series, a clay loam, was collected near 
Placerville, California. 

(2) The Holland series of fine sandy loam was collected 
thirty miles east of Sonora. 

(3) The Altamont series, a heavy clay loam from the 
Berkeley hills. 

These three widely separated soil samples represent typical 
soil profiles covered with characteristic vegetation. They were 
selected largely because of differences in rates of percolation 
through them. 

After the soils had been packed in tanks, forest litter or 
mulch which had covered the soils in the state of nature was 
placed on their respective surfaces. The soils wore then per 
mitted to settle during the rainy season from November, 1927 
to March, 1928. The experimental runs then were begun. We 
had set up eight tanks in pairs, with litter or mulch on all 
tanks. Then litter or mulch on tanks one, three, five and seven 
was burned clean with a Hauk torch before the application of 
rai n. 

Artificial Rain 

Chall: I am interested to know how you produced artificial rain. 

WCL: Artificial rain was provided by means of two horizontal 1.0 
inch pipes, fitted with special Skinner overhead sprinkling 
nozzles, size 2. These nozzles were from fifteen to twenty 
feet over the tanks and were spaced at two-foot intervals on 
each pipe, so as to stagger jets of water, one foot apart, and 
spread the fall of drops like rain. The angle of the line of 
jets was adjusted to varying wind velocities. Berkeley hydrant 
water was used under pressure of sixty pounds per square inch. 

Chall: How was this rainfall measured scientifically? 


WCL: I went into great detail about this in my thesis. But briefly, 
my method of measuring artificial rainfall involved the setting 
up of an installation for collecting the rain, natural and arti 
ficial, in a battery of standard rain gauges and troughs along 
the sides of soil tanks. This rain water was computed in equiva 
lent depths of rainfall over the experimental installation to 
permit the direct reading of water runoff and amount of percolation. 

Chall: Did you have visitors coming to see these experiments? 

WCL: Oh yes, this was quite a show place. Many Americans as well as 
foreign scientists came to see these experiments in operation. 
It made quite a hit to be able to read by the gauges just what 
was happening. They could see how the percolated water through 
the soil profile was collected in the layer of gravel and sand 
on the bottom of the tanks and was conducted thence directly 
into the percolation tank. 

Chal I : Were you able to accomplish more in your experiments by using 
artificial rain than you did with your plots in China? 

WCL: Decidedly yes. It also shortened the time for securing data. 
This artificial rain installation made it possible to: 

(1) simulate rain in various amounts and at various Intervals, 

(2) measure surficia! runoff from each tank, 

(3) separate and measure material eroded by surficial runoff, 

(4) measure percolated rain waters. 

We could make reruns when and as we wished and imitate or dupli 
cate any storm, including duration and intensity. 

In our studies, we applied artificial rain in seven series 
of ten rains of equal duration, totaling a depth of 198 inches 
in six months. This was besides natural rains, which we allowed 
to seep through before applying our artificial rain. 

In all experiments, the surficial runoff from tanks in which 
the litter had been burned was greater in every instance than 
runoff from tanks with litter-covered surfaces. The most sig 
nificant feature of the experiments was that litter continued 
to function regardless of the duration or amount of rain. 

The original experimental runs were completed in August, 
1928. The installation was maintained throughout the following 
year, and repeat runs were made in July and August of 1929, to 
discover if further settling or other influences might change 
the relationships discovered in the first series. 

In all experiments, the forest litter or mulch served to 
maintain the soils under them in a state of far greater 


WCL: absorptive or infiltration capacity than the same soils which 
had been burned bare of forest litter. 

Soi I Tubes 

Chall: Did you devise any other experiments to develop your erosion 

WCL: Yes, and 1 believe the one I called The Clear Versus Muddy 

Water Experiment, gave us the most important information. This 
experiment was carried on in the laboratory. It was designed 
to test relative rates of percolation of clear and muddy water 
through columns in the absence of a litter cover. Four soil 
tubes were filled and uniformly packed with the same soil samples. 
Clear water was run through the four soil tubes for parts of seven 
days to establish the percolating characteristics of each tube. 

Then a muddy water suspension was prepared by stirring 
samples of the same soil into water. Muddy water for the experi 
ment was siphoned from the supply mixture containing soil parti 
cles with diameters of .05mm and less, in accordance with Stokes 
Law for the rate of fall of soil particles in a liquid. Only 
silt and clay tractions were thus contained in the muddy water. 
This muddy water was agitated by a paddle driven by an electric 
motor to prevent settling in the supply container. 

As soon as the muddy water was applied to tubes, the rate 
of percolation diminished and within six hours the rate had 
further fallen to less than one-tenth of the clear water rate. 
We switched muddy water into the clear water tubes and clear 
water into the muddy water tubes. Immediately the rate of per 
colation diminished when muddy water was applied. 

The decisive results of this experiment demonstrated that 
muddy waters percolated at only a small fraction one-tenth 
of the rate of clear water through the soil of the experiment 
under otherwise similar conditions. 

Thus we found that fine suspended particles were filtered 
out at the soil surface, forming a thin layer of fine textured 
material, which determined the rate of percolation quite inde 
pendently of the percolation capacity of the soil column. The 
differences in the rate of percolation due to the muddy condi 
tion of water were sufficient to account for the major di f forf.-nco-. 
in absorption discovered in the Berkeley tfjnk experiment I worko<] 


WCL: almost day and night for nearly three weeks to complete this 
series of experiments. 

Thus the formation of a fine textured layer <jt the surface 
of a bare soil, as a result of filtering out suspended particles 
of soil from a percolating muddy water, is concluded to be the 
decisive condition which increased the surficial runoff from 
bared soil surfaces. This was a new concept of the function of 
forest litter and is now being used generally by hydrologists. 

Summary of Fi nd i ngs 

Chall: Will you make a summary of your findings in these experiments? 

WCL: Yes. We came to certain conclusions and published them in the 
Journal of Forestry [April, I930D. 

1. Forest litter in these experiments greatly reduced 
surficial runoff particularly in the finer textured soils. 

2. Destruction of the litter by fire, and consequent ex 
posure of the bare soil, greatly increased the amount of eroded 
material and reduced the rates of infiltration into the soil. 

3. Suspended particles in runoff water from bare soils 
were filtered out at the soil surface and to significant degrees 
sealed the pores and openings to seepage into the soil suffi 
ciently to account for the marked difference in the rates of 
absorption between bare and litter-covered soils. 

4. The capacity of forest litter to absorb rainfall is 
insignificant in comparison to its ability to maintain the maxi 
mum of percolating capacity of soil profiles, and is Important 
in retardation of flood flows at their beginnings. 

These findings of the Berkeley experiments appeared to 
clear up some of the difficulties and discrepancies made ap 
parent in my review of a voluminous literature. A statement 
could now be made which more accurately described the role of 
a mantle of vegetation and its natural mulch in water and ero 
sion control . 


Definition of Accelerated Erosion 

Chall: I understand that you coined the expression "accelerated ero 
sion." Will you explain what you mean by this? 

WCL: The geologic norm of erosion is erosion that goes on no faster 

than soil is formed. It is geologic erosion that carved out the 
valleys and gave rise to many of the spectacular beauties of 
nature. But "accelerated erosion" is where man or his agencies 
have cleared and bared the soil of its natural cover of vegeta 
tion, and set in motion erosion that goes on faster than soil 
is formed. It is this rapid destruction of soil that is the 
menace to nations and civilizations. 

Rece i v i ng the Ph . D. 

Chall: With the completion of studies in geology, soil science and 
your experiments in runoff, were you granted your doctorate? 

WCL: Yes, at the commencement exercises in June, 1929, I received 
my Doctor's degree. But actually, this was only further de 
velopment of my theoretical and practical studies in erosional 
phenomena which continued at Strawberry Canyon installations, 
at Bass Lake, and North Fork in the foothills of the Sierras, 
and culminated in my big San Dimas venture which was at that 
time the largest and most complete hydrologic study ever done. 

It was here that our objective of experimentation was en 
larged from influence of vegetative cover on erosion to the in 
fluence of vegetative cover on the yield of water from water 
sheds under different conditions of cover. This was vital to 
Southern California where water is more valuable than gold and 
they wanted to abstract the last drop of water possible from 
their watersheds for domestic and agricultural uses. 

Mrs. Lowdermilk and I were both relieved that my ventures 
were proving successful and that we could again set up a per 
manent home, this time in Berkeley. 

[Taped questions and answers] 

Rev 1 ew of_ a_ Century of_ Literature 

Chall: You have written quite extensively of the research work for 
your doctorate. What about the review of literature on ero 
sion which you spoke of the other day? 

WCL: This review of literature was to be the third part of my thesis, 
I describe these different experimental studies through the 
previous century and evaluate them in the light of the discov 
eries we made. And I wanted this to be a part of the thesis, 
to give background so we would have a clearer understanding of 
what we had really discovered or done. 

1 had to summarize this material to satisfy the University 
of California requirements, but I was never satisfied with it 
myself. The original manuscript, which I entitled "Influence 
of Forest Mulch and Litter on Surficial Runoff and Erosion," 
was publ ished in the Proceedings o_f_ the International Union p_f_ 
Forest Experiment Stations, in Sweden. 

My thesis was first published there because I had a fight 
here. I felt that my review of the literature showing where 
these other honest investigators had missed the point, where 
they had failed to get the full comprehension of what was in 
volved, was important. But they said "no," they just wanted a 
brief review. But I wanted my original manuscript to be pub 
lished to include this. 

Chall: So it was in Sweden that the complete thesis was published as 
you had desired. 

WCL: Yes. 

Chall: What, briefly, were some' of the theories of the pioneers in 
forest litter study? 

WCL: For instance, in 1873, Gustave Wex, who was a flood-control 

engineer on the Danube, had found as the drainage of the Danube 
was cleared for cultivation, that floods supposedly increased, 
while Becquerel, a French engineer, in 1878 said floods had 
diminished. Wex came out with his conclusion that the diminu 
tion of water in wells and streams occurring in forests in the 



WCL: basin of the Danube could be ascribed to progressive clearing 
of forests. 

Then, an American named Hough was early interested in this 
question and wrote a book that was published on the order of 

Chal 1 : Oh, when was this? 

WCL: This was way back in the I870's. Hough claimed that as forest 
areas were cleared and denuded, floods had increased. He re 
ferred to what a Frenchman, Imbenaux, had said on this subject. 
The Frenchman had referred to what Hough had said. It was very 
amusing, that kind of criss-cross of evaluations. 

The French engineer, Belgrand, didn't find any increase in 
stages of frequency of floods on the Seine River as the result 
of the clearing of the forests like that Gustav Wex thought he 
had found in the clearing of forests in the drainage on the 

So Engler set up in Switzerland the Emmenthal experiment, 
to clarify the confusion in this field. This was 1903-1917. 

Then my findings began to be reported in the literature 
and the mantle of Raphael Zon fell on my shoulders. That's why 
my international reputation is based on hydrology. But out of 
that has come this very detailed development of studies and ex 
periments on the effect of forests on the stream flow and on 

The Berkeley Experiments 

WCL: The whole problem of water and forests was set up in the Berkeley 
experiment station, and in 1930 I was made project leader In 
erosion stream-flow studies. These studies were financed by an 
appropriation from Congress. Funds were divided two ways, one 
part for agricultural or soil surveyors and the other to the For 
est Service. The Forest Service supported my studies. I carried 
on the Berkeley experiment and wrote many papers and reports on 
my work. 

Chal!: I have seen a copy of a paper entitled "Forest and Agricultural 
Influences in Streamflow and Erosion Control A Summary Review 
of Literature up to 1930," which was published by the Department 


Chal!: of Agriculture. Is this the same review of literature which 
was summarized as Part I I I of your thesis? 

WCL: Yes, it was. 


Use of the Progressive Hypothesis 

WCL: I continued my study in the geological aspect of erosion at the 
University of California. My background in geology enabled me 
to develop what I call my progressive hypothesis in field work. 
We set out on the basis of what facts we have available, then 
draw up a hypothesis. As new information is gathered, if it cor 
roborates the first hypothesis, all the better; if it doesn't, 
then we hunt for additional information. So our final hypothesis 
is more nearly a solution than any former hypothesis. 

It's really a geologic procedure in observational study. 
That's why I put geology as a basic science, along with mathe 
matics and physics and chemistry. The reason I do this is be 
cause in chemistry and in physics we have a laboratory type of 
study in which we control the variables. If we can control the 
variables, good. Then we have a controlled experimental approach 
to the problem. 

Now when we come to the earth with its multiplicity of 
physiographic processes, we cannot control these variables but 
have to deal with a complex. So we separate these variables by 
mathematical analysis and procedures. The method has been worked 
out in the science of geology to a very refined degree. 

Professor Louderback 

WCL: Lcuderback was my professor here at the University of California 
when I did my doctorate. I did two minors, big heavy minors. 
One was soils, the other was geology. Of course, I'd had geology 
before. But I took additional work in this minor under Louder- 
back. He was one of the towers of strength in the field of 
geology. Louderback was a past master in the progressive hypo 
thesis, which geologists accept as their method. 


WCL : We have, on the one hand, the experimental method of estab 
lishing information, and on the other hand, the method of obser 
vational studies, in which statistical treatment establishes the 
trends within a series of variables. We have to recognize that 
we are dealing with a complex. We set up a hypothesis which ex 
plains as best one can the observations that have been made. 
When this is not adequate, we continue the collection of perti 
nent information. 

Of course, we can combine the two methods, like we did at 
Paricutin Volcano [Mexico], where we took samples of the vol 
canic ash and measured its characteristics with laboratory tech 
niques to answer certain questions. 

Chall: This is the method you've always used? 

WCL: That's right. Throughout my field notebook, I have written 
down hypotheses that came to me at the time, on the basis of 
field observations. It's an interesting record. 

Chall: Yes, it would be. And to check back where you started and how 
different your ideas might have been at the beginning from what 
they are at the end. 

Eva I uati ng Experimental Data for Thesis 

Chall: Was your experimental data on the value of titter and mulch in 
runoff and erosion quite a clear proof of the importance of 

WCL: I took the data to a very famous biometrician, from Harvard. 

He had been asked by the University of California to be avail 
able to consult with the graduate students doing research on 
the treatment of data, to get the most benefit by biometric 
methods. I presented my material to him. He said, "Ah, well, 
the more you have to use statistics in evaluating your studies, 
the less sure you are of your results.' 1 [laughter] I replied, 
"Well, here's a man that can cast doubts on his own field; he's 
one after my own heart he's not afraid of anything." 

Chall: And what did he feel about your statistics? 

WCL: These were so decisive, he said, "You don't need to apply 
these coefficients of reliability and all." 

[Written questions and answers] 

Chall: What did you do after receiving your Ph. D. in June, 1929? 

WCL: The Forest Experiment Station authorized me to establish centers 
where various factors of the hydrologic cycle could be studied 
and measured: precipitation, temperature, evaporation, runoff, 
infiltration, percolation and transpiration. 

Forest Experiment Centers 

Chall: Where and when did you locate these centers? 

WCL: The first one I had already established before 1929. This 

was what we called a center for the study of forest influences 
in stream flow and soil erosion. It was established in Straw 
berry Canyon, immediately adjoining the University campus to the 
east. Another large installation was located, shortly after I 
completed my Ph. D., at North Fork, in the chaparral lands near 
the headquarters of the Sierra National Forest. 

Later we put in installations for experiments at Bass 
Lake. These two were located in the foothills of the Sierras, 
east of Fresno, California. These were subject to occasional 
winter snows and provided new factors in our studies. 

It was our plan to establish other experiments higher up 
where precipitation fell principally as snow. I had just ar 
ranged for a plane flight over the area, to locate suitable 
places, but I was called to Washington for emergency work at 
the beginning of the Franklin D. Roosevelt regime. I had 
thought I would return to my San Dimas experiment, which I con 
sider the most important of my California experiments. It has 
also been the most publicized. 



Developing the San Dimas Experiment 

Chall: Why do you feel this San Dimas experiment was the most important? 

WCL: Perhaps because this was the first big responsibility to which 
I had been assigned after returning from China and joining the 
Forest Service again. Ed Kotok, Director of the California For 
est Experiment Station with headquarters on the campus at Berke 
ley, appointed me Project Leader of Erosion and Stream-flow 
Studies, after ! completed my doctorate. This was for Region 
Five where I worked until I went to Washington. 

In my doctorate studies, I had thoroughly gone over the 
literature on several watershed experiments: (I) the Emmenthal 
Watershed experiment by Engler that involved a comparison of be 
havior of stream flow from two neighboring watersheds of similar 
altitude and area which differed in type of vegetative covering; 
(2) the Wagon Wheel Gap experiment, which was well done, and an 
improvement over the Emmenthal experiment, but still was incom 
plete; and (3) the Great Basin experiment, which also failed to 
answer urgently required scientific data. 

My staff and I sought to develop a program which would be 
a larger and more thorough watershed study than had ever before 
been undertaken. Director Ed Kotok gave us his approval in 
June, 1932, for what became the San Dimas experiment. 

Before we could obtain appropriations for such a large 
scale watershed study as I envisaged, which would run over a 
period of fifty years, it was necessary to develop our working 
plan and send it to the Forest Service headquarters in Washing 
ton. Here experts studied and appraised the plan to see if the 
project justified the expenditure; and then It was presented to 
Congress for an appropriation. Fortunately for us, it was 
quickly approved. 

Chall: Were there any restrictions placed on this big watershed study? 

Spec! f ications 

WCL: Yes. The area must be located in southern California with pre 
dominately chaparral cover, (2) be on National Forest land, 
thus protected from fire and free for continuity of study, (3) 
permit the entire flow to be kept under complete observation u^> 
well as flow from its several branch drainages, (4) be provided 
with reservoir basins sufficient in capacity to catch and to 



Berkeley, Calif onria. 
Re vised November 15, 1932 

I. Project 

II. Object 

Watershed and water conservation study in the chaparral 
region of California 

To determine methods of management of chaparral forests 
for maximum beneficial yield and conservation of water, 
and for flood control. 

(a) Reasons for the study 

Studies of the role of non-commercial chaparral forests in water 
supply and conservation are omitted from investigations of water resources 
in the State-wide water plan (1930). Such studies are required to complete 
information essential to enlightened management of watersheds. Practi 
cally all water yielding mountain watersheds lie within exterior bounda 
ries of national forests and the study becomes primarily a Federal 

The critical condition of water supply in southern California fur 
ther justifies such a study. The State Engineer reports that projects 
planned and under way to increase water supplies for the south coastal 
basins will cost in the aggregate the enormous sum of $350,000,000*00 
(1930). Additional supplies may come from the following sources; 

1. Salvage of local flood waters 

2. Salvage of local evapo-transpiration losses. 

3. Salvage of sewage waste 

4. Importation of water from Mono Basin and Colorado River* 

Effective increases by various means are estimated sufficient to 
cover 2200 square miles one foot deep each year, or more than 1,400,000 
acre feet. The salvage of local waters is estimated to comprise 20 
per cent of this amount, or about 300,000 acre feet annually. Stored 
water in this region has values for urban and irrigation use of from 
$15 to $20 per acre foot. Salvaging of present losses from local sup 
plies would have an annual value of 4 to 6 millions of dollars, which 
represents a capitalized value of about 100 millions of dollars. 


From: "Provisional Working Plan for Watershed and Water Conservation. 
Study in the Chaparral Region of California," written by Walter C. 
Lowdermi Ik, November 15, 1932. 


WCL: hold both flood waters and sediments that might be caught and 
impounded, (5) be of such size that it would provide a number 
of sub-drainages each with a perennial flow, where it would be 
possible to obtain data on stream-flow and sediment with a mini 
mum of cost and effort, (6) be one with a minimum of man's for 
mer activity or present occupancy, (7) have a minimum of water 
diversion except at the control dam, (8) be supplemented with 
a natural detrita! filled basin below the control dam, so that 
replenishment and depletion of the basin could be measured as 
a reflection of recharges from flow off the drainage area. 

Locating the Watershed 

Cha I I : This sounds like a difficult order. How did you go about 
finding such a location? 

WCL: First I went to the Forest Supervisor and Los Angeles flood 

control engineers and the presidents of local water companies. 
All these people concerned with water knew the southern Cali 
fornia watersheds and the amounts of flow from each. After 
consulting all these, I rented a plane and flew over all pros 
pective suitable sites. 

The San Dimas watershed seemed to fill all the previously 
mentioned requirements among the twenty-two possible watershed 
sites. Faults around the San Dimas watershed left it as if on 
a pedestal, isolated from the San Gabriel and San Antonio can 

Now with this location decided upon, I wanted to make a 
close personal survey of the ground cover. Herb Oilman, a 
grand fellow, and president of the San Dimas Water Company, 
and one of the strongest and best informed on water problems 
of this region, accompanied me on these ground investigations. 

We found the chaparral cover so dense in places that we 
either had to crawl under it, or if we were on steep slopes, 
get on top of the branches and literally roll down the slope 
to where we could find open footing. Our shirts were torn to 
shreds and we were covered with scratches but we were thus intro 
duced to our new thi rteen-thousand-acre watershed experimental 

Herb Gilman had a wonderful sense of humor. I must relate 
one instance. A disgruntled citrus grower was going to the^ 
water company office to complain that they had cut off his i r- 
riqation water before he had received his allotment. He met 
Herb Gilman, who said, "What is the trouble? You look 


WCL: disgruntled." The man explained his indignation. Herb Oilman 
said, "Yes, a man has to look after his own interests. Do you 
know what they are doing now?" 

The man said, "No, what are they doing?" Herb Gilman replied, 
"They are di luting the water." 

The man was still more belligerent then suddenly realized 
that he had gulped down Herb's ludicrous statement. 

Chal I : Now that you had located your watershed, how did you begin? 

WCL: Our project required us to put on a big construction program. 
We had to have dams, buildings, laboratories, offices, living 
quarters for permanent staff and stables for horses, because 
distant rain gauge readings were done on horseback. Heretofore, 
the Forest Service had prescribed pre-fab box-like buildings. 
These were ugly, stereotyped, without thought of suiting them 
to topography or the function they were to serve. 

A New Design for Forest Service Buildings 

.: At this time the depression was blighting the country. Men were 
unemployed and the government appropriated large funds for pro 
jects where numbers of men could be put to work. I knew of a 
very fine combined architect and contractor named Williams, who 
was so eager to keep himself and some of his men at work that 
he was willing to do the work of an architect at regular car 
penters' wages. I made floor plans for what we needed in build 
ings and had him design these buildings and fit them artisti 
cally into the landscape. 

Then I went to San Francisco to the Region Five headquar 
ters of the U.S. Forest Service. I dealt with Mr. Barrett, 
Chief of Lands. He was in charge of pre-fab structures on re 
quest of field staffs for housing units. I presented our 
special needs, but he was adamant in insisting that I choose 
from among the five standardized types of buildings. I asked 
him how long it would take to get these from him. He said there 
was a big backlog and it would probably take between six months 
and a year. 

Chal 1 : Did this refusal discourage you? 

WCL: No, for I had an ace card to play. I opened out my plans and 
said, "Here are my fully developed plans. They are ready to 
put men to work tomorrow. If you continue to insist thot I 
use these poorly adapted, unsuitable pre-fabs, you will hinder 


WCL: my project and stop employment of large numbers of men needing 
immediate assistance." 

Government orders had gone out to put men to work, so 
finally precedent and red tape were scrapped and we were told, 
"Go ahead." 

Chall: This must have given you great satisfaction. 

WCL: Yes, and the satisfaction did not stop here. The buildings 
went up, they were beautiful; they fitted into the mountain 
canyon landscape, each building was different, each suited the 
purpose required. 

The Chief of the Forest Service, Mr. Silcox, heard of this 
and came out to see it, and he was pleased. Then M. L. Wilson 
from the Agricultural Extension Service came, and he was pleased. 
Then Henry Wallace, Secretary of Agriculture, came and he was 
pleased; and hundreds of others came to see this new San Dimas 
Watershed experimental area. There were bunk houses and facili 
ties so that rather large forestry conferences were held there. 
They built a guest house which became my headquarters. 

Chall: I imagine after seeing your setup in San Dimas, it would be 
hard to go back to the former pre-fab houses. 

WCL: Well, as the result of my getting the fine buildings which gave 

the atmosphere of things well done, others claimed the same right, 
Soon the new range experiment station in the foothills of the 
Sierras was building a simple but beautiful tamped earth head 
quarters that was appropriate for the region, fully suitable for 
their requirements. And so it went. Numerous ones said they 
never ceased to bless me for fighting it out and getting Forest 
Service housing improved. 

Chall: What else besides new type Forest Service housing did San 
Dimas have to show? 


WCL: There were many things. We were a beehive of activity all over 
the thi rteen-thousand-acre hydrologic experimental area. Con 
struction was everywhere. Surveys established two sets of trip 
licate watersheds, one at a two-thousand-foot altitude at Tun 
Bark headquarters, and another at Fern Canyon, 5,:>00 feet above 
sea level . 

We set up two hundred standard rain gauges and fifty 


WCL: recording rain gauges whereby we measured the amount of rain 
fall and its intensities. This project alone required contour 
trails one thousand feet apart in elevation, a total of two 
hundred miles of roads and trails along which we placed our 
recording instruments. This enabled us to locate rain gauges 
in the bottoms of the canyons as well as on the ridges. 

All units of the watershed were equipped with elaborate 
setups in which electric signals permitted us to record into 
the central instrument room at headquarters, hydrologic phenomena 
that were going on in a storm. 

Also we set up at headquarters, a soils laboratory with all 
the latest equipment for determining the characteristics of 
soils water holding capacity and for measuring moisture con 
tent in place. We set up twenty-six lycimiters to determine 
the amount of transpiration and evaporation from sample plant 
ings of native vegetation. 

Then too, we had six dams under construction all at the 
same time, with installations to measure runoff, base flow and 
storm flow in various sub-watersheds. We had devices to cap 
ture and measure erosional detritis that was moved off slopes 
of the watershed. These enabled us to regulate storm runoff 
and to pass it on to the San Dimas flood control reservoir, and 
from thence into the Puddingstone reservoir, from which Herb 
Oilman recharged his ground water basin so as to prevent any 
water from escaping to the ocean. 

Recharging Ground Waters 

Chall: What do you mean by recharging ground waters? 

WCL: People are only beginning to realize how important it is to 

recharge underground water aquifers when irrigation depends on 
pumped water. Irrigation demands have often caused over-pumping 
of stored ground waters, as happened in the San Dimas citrus 
growing basin. 

At first, artesian water flowed from seeps and was ditched 
off for irrigation. Then as the water table dropped, small 
centrifugal pumps were used. When they had to pump from eighty- 
five feet, deep well pumps had to be used. Year by year this 
underground table sank lower and lower until the water company 
was pumping irrigation water from 461 feet. 

They realized they were hitting the bottom of the natural 
underground water storage of the basin. Unless some miracle 


WCL: happened, these valuable citrus groves would again revert to 

Chal I : This must have been alarming. What did they do about it? 

WCL: Herb Gi Iman, with all of us cooperating, set out to keep every 
drop of rain that fell locally and on the watershed, and began 
to refill this underground aquifer. Year after year, the water 
table rose until now the level is maintained at about eighty- 
five feet, where they began deep well pumping years ago. What 
ever water is pumped out during dry season irrigation is re 
placed by winter rains when irrigation ceases. 

Chall: How is this recharging done? 

WCL: In San Dimas we used two methods. Our first was by spreading 
the water over a large, level, gravelly basin below Big Dalton 
dam, to settle out silt and let clear water sink and percolate 
by gravity underground, without evaporation losses, into the 
San Dimas basin. 

Our second step was the regulation of storm runoff into 
the San Dimas reservoir, which was for flood control only and 
had to be kept empty to take care of emergency storms. So these 
waters were released into the Puddingstone reservoir by gravity 
for de-silting. From here, waters were poured directly back 
into the depleted wells, ready for being pumped out for irri 
gation during the next dry season. 

It was this experience that led me to advise the Israelis 
how to pour back winter flood waters into their wells or to 
sink it and thus replenish over-pumped irrigation wells during 
summer months. Some wells were being threatened near the sea 
by invasion of salt waters from the Mediterranean. 

Fire of I960 

WCL: Besides all the construction of trails, roads, dams, buildings 
and installations I mentioned before, we built a combined swim 
ming pool and emergency water reservoir. Incidentally, in the 
terrible fire of I960 when our watersheds all burned over, this 
reserve water reservoir and the brave men who stayed on to hold 
back the fire after being told to flee for their lives, saved 
all our fine buildings from destruction. A man named "Scotty 1 ' 
was the hero. For years he had kept his pump in order for just 
this emergency and it was in perfect condition. 


Using the C.C.C. 

Chall: How did you find men to do this enormous amount of construction 
going on at Tan Bark Flat headquarters and in the watershed? 

WCL: Well, we were in a desperate depression. The government was 

eager to have all agencies put men to work. To accelerate this, 
the government had organized the Civilian Conservation Corps, 
or C.C.C. Camps, composed of tens of thousands of boys who had 
been forced to quit school and who were unable to find work. 
They left home in great numbers, mainly to keep from being a 
burden on their parents, and they roamed the highways and bummed 
rides on railroads. 

We requested from the government, and received, two camps 
of two hundred boys each, and with these four hundred young men 
swarming all over the place, we really began to accomplish things 
The government furnished technical supervisors to direct the 
C.C.C. boys. 

Chall: Your scientific setup and resulting data, which was designed to 
run over a period of fifty years, have been described and pub 
lished, but how about the men who worked with you? 

Colleagues in San Dimas 

WCL: Although San Dimas is in southern California, our general head 
quarters were in Berkeley at the Forest Experiment Station in 
Gianinni Hall on the campus. We had excellent relations and 
cooperation from headquarters with Ed Kotok as Director. There 
was a fine esprit de corps among the entire working organization. 

My engineers were of the best: John S. Cotton later became 
a famous consulting engineer; Dov Krimgold, a hydrologist, was 
later a consultant to the United Nations; Sundling was conscien 
tious, dependable and hard working; Hamilton did a fine job in 
charge of meteorological measurements; and Percy Ftowe did a f i ne 
job in measuring stream flow and ground water. Earnest Coleman 
was a brilliant man, with his doctorate in watershed management, 
Storey was our expert soils man, and W. Garska our capable 
geologi st. 

Then I had excellent engineers from Purdue University who 
were overseers of the C.C.C. boys. I remember how highly skilled 
some of these country boys from Kentucky we-e in rock drilling. 
They had their own local methods but they were very efficient. 


WCL: The architect-carpenter, Williams, whom I first called in and 
who gave floor plans of buildings suitable for our needs, was 
the overall boss carpenter with whom all associations were pleas 

Don Sinclair was my local director for the San Dimas Center 
for erosion and streamflow studies. He was steady, hard-working 
and very cooperative and loyal. So you can see we all had a 
good time working together on a project of this magnitude. 

Chall: Were all your men interested in the purpose of the over-all pro 
ject, or mainly devoted to their individual responsibilities? 

WCL: If they were not interested in the work, they did not last long. 
We all realized that southern California was alarmed about her 
increasing population and the prospect of limited water supplies. 
To import water from the Colorado or from the north was more 
expensive and of inferior quality to rainwaters from the water 
sheds of southern California. 

For some years, I had come to realize that water, as a prod 
uct of the mountains, was the state's most valuable crop, that 
it was more valuable to California than timber, important as that 
is, and that for southern California, local water supplies were 
more valuable than gold. It was our job to find out how maximum 
supplies of this most precious of all minerals could be caught, 
held, and stored to be used beneficially, so that not a drop 
would flow away and waste in the ocean. 

We also wanted to know whether the yield would be greater 
from the steep mountain slopes when covered with vegetation or 
burned bare, so that rainwater would flow off as from a roof, 
without transpiration losses from vegetation. This battle of 
"to burn or not to burn" was raging back and forth with heated 
discussions. I am sure that all my men had my over-all objec 
tives in mind and they worked hard to establish the scientific 
truths called for in this program. We all recognized we were 
pioneering in new discoveries. 

Edward Kotok 

Chall: Dr. Lowdermilk, we have done an oral history with Mr. Kotok. 
Since you worked with him in the early stages of his career, 
could you tell me how you would evaluate him as a worker in 
the Forest Service? 

WCL: Ed Kotok was the recognized specialist on forest fires and their 
control in the United States. He was a hard worker, a good 


WCL: organizer and, while I would not say he was a scholar, he was a 
very intelligent man. He gave his men considerable freedom to 
go ahead and develop their own projects. He never hampered me 
in going ahead with my projects as I envisioned them. 

However, among the leaders of various divisions In the Ex 
periment Stations, there seemed to be a general feeling that Kotok 
took the credit for works done by Experiment Station workers and 
did not give his men due credit individually. But this was not 
overly important. 

The Depress ion 

Chal ! : Apparently, the depression helped you to do big things at San 
Dimas besides relieving unemployment. But how were people 
general ly affected? 

WCL: Almost everyone was thrown for a loop. Immediately after the 
crash, all salaries throughout the United States Government 
were cut fifteen percent. Budgets were geared to former in 
comes and now payments could not be met. This caused businesses 
as well as individuals to tumble into bankruptcy. Taxes could 
not be paid fine properties were sold just for tax delinquency. 
For one terrifying time, banks were closed. No money was to be 
had except by those who had cash in their bank deposit boxes. 

Consternation overwhelmed the people. How could this 
happen to a rich nation? People of wealth were suddenly poor 
people. As an example, Mrs. Bowles, who was donating Bowles 
Hall to the University, had borrowed cash from the bank, using 
stocks as security. Suddenly the value of her stocks dropped 
to almost nothing. The bank demanded cash repayment of the loan 
above the value of her stocks. That wiped her out completely, 
and the University, to whom she was donating the beautiful large 
building, had to come to her rescue, finish the building and 
take care of her besides. 

Some of our friends in Berkeley had similar experiences. 

They lost the value of their stocks. They were indebted to the 

bank for loans received on stocks as security and lost their 

homes besides. 

Chal I: Were people stunned when money was not available 7 How could 
they I i ve? 


WCL: Well, you could hardly call it living. I knew numbers of cap 
able, college-trained men who walked the streets ringing door 
bells, willing and offering to work for twenty-five cents an hour, 
so as to take home a little food for their families. There was 
a desperate clamor to sell apples, or anything, on street corners 
to make a few cents. People used up all their reserve savings. 
Those who still had jobs cheerfully accepted cuts in salaries 
so as to continue at work. 

Cha I I : Apparently you all took very seriously the responsibility of 
putting unemployed men to work? 

WCL: Yes indeed. When I began the soil erosion work first in Ari 
zona in 1934, we had to do rush jobs on inadequate plans. I 
remember sitting up in bed, sick with flu and a high fever, 
phoning to every hardware store in Phoenix, to buy shovels, 
picks, wheelbarrows, quantities of wire and steel posts to 
make check-dams and the like, so as to put sixteen hundred men 
to work Monday morning at Safford, thirty miles away; and this 
was Friday. If I failed, sixteen hundred men and their families 
would be heartsick. But I did not fail. 

We all felt the heavy responsibility to put men to work re 
gardless of personal difficulties. I put a capable man by the 
name of Flemming, an irrigation engineer, in charge, assisted 
by five men from the state engineer's office, and sent them with 
their transits on ahead to Stafford to make plans and stake out 
work for the sixteen hundred men for Monday morning. We were 
ready for them! 

Bu i I d i ng the Fami ly Home 

Chall: Why have you and Mrs. Lowdermilk, who have lived in many coun 
tries, always considered Berkeley your permanent home? 

WCL: There's a story back of the reason. When I was here sludying 
for my doctor's degree, I wrote my wife that I felt Berkeley 
was more like my home town than any place I had ever lived, and 
that I wanted to live and die in Berkeley. 

We had been rudely kicked out of China by Russian-trained 
Chinese Communists, and we needed a feeling of stability and of 
establishing ourselves. My wife is a go-getter and nothing i -.. 
impossible to her if she sets out with determination to do it. 
When she arrived from Pasadena, there were still some beautiful 


WCL: view lots. She set her heart on the finest of alla view lot 
just five blocks north of the campus known as "The Look-out 
Po i nt . " 

We had been wiped out by the Communists, my salary had been 
cut fifteen percent during the depression and now we had two 
small children. We had nothing to start on but fdith, hope and 
confidence that somehow we could realize our dream home in 

1 drew the floor plans, my wife won over some relatives to 
loan us money with no security but our word. She ordered shipped 
from China, rugs and carved chests and tables to sell and thus 
use to advantage the Chinese money Chiang Kai-shek had paid us in 
part for our losses in the Nanking Incident. 

This enabled us to buy the lot directly from the owner with 
out real estate fees. The Acacia Life Insurance gave us the 
last house building loan in the Bay Region during the depression, 
before they shut down on all loans as other companies had already 

We secured a very fine architect and contractor combined, 
Walter Broderick, who was anxious to keep his men employed, to 
build the house for us at cost plus six percent. He was honest 
and worked for our advantage, and before long, we had our dream 
home in Berkeley with glorious views of almost the entire Bay. 
Except for depression prices and wages, we never could have 
built this home and it is not for sale. 

Chall: How long did you live in this home before going to Washington? 

WCL: That's the sad part of it. We only had a year or so to enjoy 

it. Then I left, but my wife and two little ones stayed on for 
another year because at that time, we thought the Washington 
position might be only temporary and an emergency measure. Then 
we rented the house and went to Washington for fifteen years; 
and then more years under the United Nations and Food and Agri 
cultural Organization and as a consultant to other nations. 

But this home was our morale builder, and we always hoped 
that sooner or later, we would return to Berkeley, our home town, 
to live in our dream home. Now finally, we are enjoying "the 
last of life for which the first was made." 


Appointment to the Soi 1 Erosion Service 

Chall: How did your appointment to the Soil Erosion Service come about? 

WCL: Actually it was the result of a chance meeting wifh Rexford 
Tugwel I . He was then Undersecretary of Agriculture, and al 
though he was not an agriculturalist, he was a keen student of 
all aspects of industrial and economic development. He recog 
nized the menace of soil erosion to our nation's economy and 
became a strong advocate of using unemployed manpower 1o carry 
out projects on a large scale throughout the country. 

Meeting Rexford Tugwel I 

Chall: How did you meet Dr. Tugwel I? 

WCL: In an interesting way. My good friend, Knowles Ryerson, was 

introducing legumes, shrubs and grasses into the United States 
from other countries and testing them out at Plant Introduction 
Gardens, one of them at Chico, California. 

Ever since my China days, I had wished there might be an 
international setup with plant introduction gardens in South 
Africa, China and the United States, to cooperate on sharing 
legumes, especially those suitable for healing erosion gullies 
and soils damaged by sheet erosion or wind erosion. I had 
worked out this International Exchange Program and was ready to 
set it up as a project in I933 when I met Tugwel I. 

Ryerson telegraphed me that Dr. Tugwel I would visit the 
Chico station on Sunday and asked if I would join them. I put 
in my pocket the working plan of this project. I showed it to 
Dr. Tugwel I and he asked if I had another copy. I said, "Yes, 
take this one." 

Chall: Did you have much time with Dr. Tugwel I? 

WCL: Yes, for he wanted to see my Berkeley and San Dimas projects, 
so I had several days. We discussed the whole problem of soil 
erosion and what could be done about it. We discussed my China 
experiences and my conclusions that uncontrolled soil erosion 
on sloping lands is as disastrous to a civilization as an ad 
verse change of climate, and my conclusion that it was not an 
adverse change of climate that had brought on the decline of 
northwest China, but that it was due to the destruction caused 
by men and erosion. I explained that it was in China I coined 


WCL: the expression "man-made deserts" and the term "accelerated 

erosion," which I explained was a rapid man-induced erosion as 
against the geologic norm of erosion which goes on no faster 
than soil is formed. He was keenly interested. 

Tugwell Sends Lowdermilk to Washington 

Chall: You and Dr. Tugwell seemed to have much in common. Were you 
able to continue your friendship? 

WCL: Well, this brief time I spent with Rexford Tugwell caused a 
turning point in my life. I was told that the last day we 
spent together, President Roosevelt called Tugwell on the tele 
phone to discuss the appointment of Mr. Bennett for the Chief 
of the new Soil Erosion Service in process of formation. Dr. 
Tugwell replied to Roosevelt that he would agree only if this 
man Lowdermilk, with whom he had just spent several days, was 
appointed as Associate Chief. 

So it was in this way that I, a westerner, unknown to 
Washington circles, was called to leave my San Dimas project 
immediately, and go to Washington to become a national leader 
in soil and water conservation. This was in September, 1933. 

Chall: So this is how you came to give up your work which was advanc 
ing successfully and your new home in Berkeley. How did you 
feel about this change in your life? 

WCL: Actually I felt quite overwhelmed and humble. 1 hated to give 
up my work in California, but to me it was a great challenge 
to go where national policies were being formulated and have a 
part in working out programs and policies for safeguarding our 
soil and water resources on a national basis. 

My experiences with famines in China made me realize how 
a civilization can be undermined by the destructive forces of 
erosion by wind and by water, and this menace, with its threats, 
was well advanced in our own country. I wanted to contribute 
what I could to save our remaining good lands. 

Chall: Were you able to close up your work quickly? 

WCL: First, I had to go to my director, Ed Kotok, and report to him. 
Apparently he was not happy to make my transfer; but there was 
little he could say or do, for the request had come from Wash 
ington. I reported on the status of my works in erosion stream- 
flow projects in Region Five. I felt that each man had his 
special work well in hand and could go ahead with little 

WCL: interruption. 

At this time it was thought that this was an emergency call 
east, and that I was on loan from the Forest Service Experiment 
Station for a limited period. For this new work was financed by 
emergency funds that had been voted for the President and were 
released by him when and where they were most needed. All seemed 
to indicate that this was an emergency and temporary arrangement. 

Reunions at San Dimas 

Chall: On your many inspection trips around the country for the Soil 
Conservation Service, did you go back some times to see how 
your San Dimas project was progressing? 

WCL: Yes indeed. We had always been a happy family there and all my 
men were eager to show me what they had been doing and have me 
look over the new data. There was one such reunion I shall 
never forget. I had notified the San Dimas staff that my wife 
and I would be there on a certain day. What a surprise they 
gave us. 

The other men engineers, specialists in various fields, 
Don Sinclair, the director, and Dr. Robert Knapp and Dr. Vito 
Vanoni from the Ca I Tech Lab that were cooperating with us, 
prepared a big picnic dinner in the staff headquarters. They 
had baked an enormous twenty-six-pound turkey and stacked the 
plates beside it. All the men seemed horrified at the thought 
of carving it. But I rather like to carve furkey, and I aston 
ished the group by saying that I would be happy to do it and 
rose, took off my coat, brandished the carving knife and shar 
pener together and set to work. Soon plates of dressing and 
turkey were being passed down each side of the long table. The 
fine esprit de corps of those early years was mos1 enjoyable. 

A I I through the years, I have kept up rny association with 
the Forest Service, and after retirement, with the various Soil 
Conservation projects. The friendship among most of the per 
sonnel has been cordial. It is sad now to find so many of them 
slipping away from us, leaving a lonely feeling. 

[Written questions and answers] 

Part I The Soil Erosion Service, 1933-1935 

Arrival _i_n_ Washi ngton 

Cha II : Did your family go east with you at this time? 

WCL : No. I left my wife and two small children .alone in our new 
Berkeley home, packed a couple of suitcases and spent five 
nights and four days on the train. (Very different from the 
five-hour journey now by jet.) I remember I did not allow myself 
to visit with strangers, but used this time to meditate on pos- 
sibilities ahead. For here was the opportunity of an Age, to 
get something constructive done with long range benefits for 
my own country. 

I arrived in Washington and installed myself at the Cosmos 
Club which was to be my home for many months, and then walked 
over to the Winder Building a few blocks away to report to Hugh 
Bennett. He had already gathered around himself in this new 
Soil Erosion Service his old cronies from the Bureau of Soils 
with whom he had worked for years. It was understandable that 
he would be cool to the arrival of practically an unknown wes 
terner who had been appointed as Associate Chief without consul 
tation with him. He did not offer to shake hands. 

Chall: Was this the first time that you had met Bennett? 

WCL: No, for shortly after my return from China to the United States, 
a meeting was called in Washington, D.C., on the subject of soil 
erosion. Professor Charles Shaw, of the University of Cali 
fornia, who was on my doctorate committee and with whom I had 
many discussions on my work in China, urged me to send in a 

1 sent in my summary, but did not have time to prepare the 
entire paper. So Bennett knew something of my work and when he 
came west, I had him to my home to lunch. Charles Shaw and 1 
took him to see some striking examples of gully cutouts of al 
luvial valley floors in the vicinity of Lebek in southern 
Ca I i fornia. 



WCL: In this field conference, Bennett said little, but called 
on me to describe my findings in the enormous expanse of gully 
erosion in the wind-laid loess lands of northwest China, which 
is the most stupendous development of accelerated or man-induced 
soil erosion in the world. 1 insisted that we must measure, ex 
perimentally, the damages done by this "accelerated erosion." 

I told Bennett we must establish the scientific basis for 
this control of storm runoff and of soil erosion, as I had been 
doing in China and had carried on in the transfer of my erosion 
studies from China to California. This contact was several years 
prior to my call to Washington. 

Activity at_ Headquarters 

Chall: What were your headquarters in Washington like then? 

WCL: They were in the Winder Building, which was an old brick build 
ing, painted white. We began with one entire floor of ten rooms, 
but soon expanded to two floors. All was confusion and life was 
hectic. We had little furniture at first and had to use boxes 
for tables and desks and sometimes for chairs, as we gradually 
accumulated furniture. Workmen were carrying desks, equipment, 
boxes, putting up shelves and the 1 i ke, i n the midst of our at 
tempts to do our work. 

Adding to this confusion, there was a constant stream of 
visitors who had heard of the new Erosion Service being organized. 
Some came to apply for jobs while others wanted to tell us what 
they thought we ought to do. 

Our clerical help was green except for a few older secre 
taries, so it was necessary to create a "pool" to which we applied 
for a girl to take dictation. Most had recently graduated from 
business college and had little experience. It was unsatisfactory 
to have a different girl for each dictation, so we were each ap 
pointed personal secretaries. 

I shall never forget my first one. She was a young thinq 
from North Carolina with a slow Southern drawl, and had probably 
never done a day's work in her life. Her inability to spell far 
exceeded her excessive drawl. When I dictated letters and she 
brought them to me to sign, there was no similarHy between the 
letter dictated and the letter she created. We apparently were 
not meant for each other and I sent her back to the pool . 


Chall: This new Erosion Service was in the Department of the Interior? 

WCL: Yes. One of the first things I did was to get acquainted with 
the Department of Interior staff so that our operations would 
be carried out in accordance with their procedures. Most of the 
subordinates treated us as an emergency organization and reflected 
it in their services. But Secretary I ekes was especially Inter 
ested in us and wanted to develop our work as rapidly as pos 
sible, for we understood that it was his ambition fo create a 
Department of Conservation of Natural Resources. 

I would like to say here that from the first, I was opposed 
to the name "Soil Erosion Service," as if we were an organization 
to assist erosion, whereas our entire purpose was to control it 
and to conserve soils. From the first, I advocated that our 
name be changed to "Soil Conservation Service," which was later 

Hi r i ng Personnel 

Chall: With such a rapidly growing organization, how did you find men 
to f i II all the various positions? 

WCL: Well, generally men came to us to apply, for you remember that 
we were in a depression and many technical men were also out of 
work. We had no personnel officer so I took on the duties of 
this branch of service to meet the emergency period. But as 
soon as I found a man capable of doing this kind of work, we 
recommended his appointment, for all of these special appoint 
ments had to be made by I ekes. Most technical applicants were 
turned over to me for interviewing. 

One of my special duties was to think out ano to set various 
projects going, and then find a man capable of carrying on such 
duties. We then recommended his appointment and lurned over 
these responsibilities to the appointee. 

Chall: Tell us about how you went about this part of your new work? 

Sedimentation Study 
WCL: For instance, one of the men who applied was a man named Henry 


WCL: M. Eakin, of the Army Corps of Engineers, who had made studies 
in river sediments. He was capable, thorough and a hard worker. 
I had been concerned with the rapid filling of our reservoirs 
with sediments, for my experiences in China, where I saw the 
silting of irrigation works and the Yellow River channel, made 
me realize that erosion was capable of progressively destroying 
the water storage capacity of reservoirs until they were use 
less. In fact, this had already taken place in our country, 
especially in our southern states. 

I personally took up with Ickes the appointment of Eakin. 
I explained to him our great need to measure the amount of silt 
in reservoirs, to estimate the life span of reservoirs at their 
present rates of filling, and the amounts of sediments captured 
behind dams. I suggested to Mr. Ickes that we needed a "corpus 
delicti," to account for the body of the erosion going on so 
rapidly and to a great extent across our country. 

Secretary Ickes approved this special study and allocated 
funds so that I was able to give Eakin the position he had 
dreamed about for years. Eakin gathered together a fine staff 
and did a magnificent survey. His bulletin on sedimentation of 
reservoirs became our authority for the country. Among other 
things, he developed a "wear flume" to determine how rapidly 
sediments would wear down to smaller particles. 

Eakin was so happy in his work and he worked so relentlessly 
that he died of a heart attack. This was a big blow to our or 
ganization, but he had already contributed much new scientific 

Chal I: Were there other such works that you set up and for which you 
found the men to do the job? 

Aerial Mapping 

WCL: Yes. I am sure I was among the first to undertake aerial map 
ping for land-use studies. As you remember, I used army planes 
to make my surveys over the mountains of southern California 
watersheds to locate San Dimas from among twenty-two possible 
sites. That was a small undertaking, but it gave me confidence 
that this method would be the quickest and the cheapest to do 
the extensive mapping of large areas of 200,000 1o 500,000 acres 
that we wanted to use for demonstration projects in various ports 
of the country. 

This task was turned over to me. I found the Fair- 
child Aerial Survey Company set very high standards for their 


WCL : work which they had been doing for mining companies. I knew 

Mr. Elial, who was at heart a research scientist, and very able. 
He specialized in making topographical maps from aerial photo 
graphs. I saw the accuracy of their work in a second running 
of a contour line with only minute variations. 

I determined that Fairchild should do this important map 
ping for us, and though we had to ask for bids, other companies 
had to come up to Fairchild's high standards in order for their 
work to be accepted by us. It was this large-scale serial mapping 
of the Soil Erosion Service at that time that gave? rise to a 
number of reliable companies in this line of work. 

A task of this magnitude, of course, required a special 
appropriation. We had to justify the heavy expenditures re 
quired to Ickes' finance officer. If he agreed, he would rec 
ommend to Ickes that he ask Roosevelt for a lump sum from 
emergency funds. 

Chall: Did Ickes' budget officer agree to this new type of heavy ex 

WCL: Not at first, and for a time I feared he was going to turn me 
down. Then I said, "Just think what it would mean to have a 
photographic map of these badly eroded areas today as they were 
fifty years ago. Just think what it will mean fifty years from 
now for the government to know by photographic maps the condi 
tion of our lands today. Think what it will mean to have aerial 
topographic maps of Lake Mead, which is just now beginning to 
fill, and be able to determine the rate and amount of sediment-: 
that are accumulating in Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam." 

After this, there was no further discussion, and he agreed 
to request Ickes to include this expenditure for aerial photo 
graphic maps when he asked President Roosevelt for another al 
location of emergency funds. Money was soon made available. 

Chall: This sounds like a tremendous undertaking. Did you try to 
develop this along with your other work? 

WCL: No, for it has always been my purpose to set up projects and 

then find the right man for the job to carry on. In this case, 
it was a fine, ambitious young man named Charles Collier. I 
encouraged Charles to help develop a photogrammetic section of 
the service to prepare enlarged photographic prints for field 
mapping. This section was also called on to make mosaic maps 
of drainage basins which were being set up as demonstration 
projects of integrated soil and water conservation while under 

The aerial photographs were taken to a scale of two and 


WCL: one-half inches to the mile. These were used for mosaic maps, 
whereas the prints for field maps were enlarged usually to a 
scale of twelve inches to a mile. On such maps we were able to 
locate ourselves within ten feet on the ground, they were used 
as field maps by our soil scientists. 

To provide maps of this accuracy by former surveying methods 
would have required years of work and at prohibitive costs, and 
we had no time to waste in our work for controlling wind, wafer 
and soi I erosion. 

Field Work 

Chall: Could you always carry out these projects from your Washington 
office, or did you make trips to investigate new projects: 1 

WCL: Of course during the early organisation days, I had to be in 
Washington for there was much pressure in our work. But soon 
there were demands to look into projects in other parts of the 

country . 

Navajo Indian Reservation 

WCL: One of my first trips was to the Navajo Indian reservation in 
Arizona and New Mexico. When the Indian wars were over, the 
Navajo population of about five thousand was placed on a reser 
vation of inhospitable lands. Grazing was good in rainy seasons, 
Generally, squaw corn, planted several seeds to the hole and 
widely spaced, provided mature corn. 

But living for the Navajos and their herds was hard at 
best. As populations increased, it was necessary to increase 
their herds. These in turn overgrazed the land and erosion set 
in and gouged deep gullies through the few alluvial valleys. 
This lowered the water table and dried up the grass. 

No one paid much attention to the Indians. They were 
governed from Washington by a political appointee as Commis 
sioner for Indian Affairs. 

Then a drought came. I was called out to the reservation 
to look over the situation and see what could be done. The 


WCL: former five thousand population had increased to fifty thousand. 
Their herds had increased accordingly. There was no grass, the 
herds were dying and the Indians were starving. They had no place 
to go and they were not allowed to leave the reservation. The 
overgrazed lands were riddled with gullies. Outside help was 
desperately needed. 

At this time, Mr. Collier, Sr. was Commissioner of the Bu 
reau of Indian Affairs. He had ordered the Indians to kill off 
many of their herds. The Indians were angered and would not allow 
him on the reservation. He was under attack from many quarters 
and was glad to have the new Soil Erosion Service take immediate 
action in controlling erosion and rejuvenating the: depleted Indian 
lands, on an experimental area at Mexican Springs. This diverged 
the attention and anger of the Indians from him to the construc 
tive work the Indians knew was being done for their benefit. 

Chall: How did you go about starting this work? 

WCL: I had known Hugh Calkins as a Forest Service officer. He was 

acquainted with this southwestern region and was well liked and 
tactful. We made a survey of the entire area. We stayed over 
night at the most remote Indian village of Cayenta, 165 miles in 
a straight line to Flagstaff. This was said to have the poorest 
communications of any locality in the United States furtherest 
from a post office. Only a few white traders ever went there. 
But I wanted to have a picture of the entire reservation. The 
roads were so rough, I sprained my hip by continual bumps. Hugh 
Calkins agreed to take over the Navajo project. 

In this survey, I had visited the cliff dwellings in Chaco 
Canyon and had seen check dams for water spreading that were 
built by these Indian cliff dwellers several centuries ago. "these 
interested me very much. I have always tried to find native 
solutions to problems as a basis on which to build modern tech 

I was fortunate to find a young Indian who could speak 
English. He was glad to work for us and I appointed him "Straw 
Boss." Together we inspected the ancient check dams and evi 
dences of water spreading that had been built by his ancestors. 
He was delighted at my praise of them and their works. I told 
him he was to use this method along with suggested modern tech 
niques, and put his fellow tribesmen to work on the land for 

This work progressed rapidly and showed results. The rain 
waters were held back and spread over the valley floors instead 
of rushing off, carrying away soil from their fields. 

The project was so big and so urgent that along with the 


WCL: Indians, we asked for several C.C.C. camps. All they did, day 
in and day out, was to build dams in gullies, large and small. 
On one of my inspection trips later, I was amused to see the 
humor that our American boys are able to muster, no matter how 
dreary the surroundings. In front of the main building of one 
camp, I laughed to see in bold print on a board attached to an 
electric pole, the couplet: 

"Say we to the gullies, we'll dam you. 
Say the gullies to us, we'll be damned if you do." 

By the method of catching rain waters behind check dams 
and dams across the gullies, and spreading these waters over 
valley floors, the grass came back three and four feet high. 
The yields of squaw corn were fabulous I believe something like 
seventy bushels to the acre. The Indians were delighted. Hugh 
Calkins and his staff did a wonderful job on this Mexican Springs 
experimental area. 

But these Indian reservation lands were ill-suited to sus 
tain the Indian population explosion. Health conditions remained 
very bad. We rejoice with them that both oil and uranium have 
been found on their tribal lands, and the Navajos are getting 
rich and are now trying to work for the good of all the popula 
tion with their tribal wealth. 

Chall: It must have been very gratifying to demonstrate to the Navajos 
how they could bring back their lands into production. Did you 
have other such projects? 

Gila River: The San Simon Wash and the Cattlemen 

WCL: Yes, and simultaneously along with the Navajo work. Just as the 
new Soil Erosion Service was being organized in the Winder Build 
ing, our first location, the delegation from Arizona, Senator 
Carl Hayden, Senator Henry Ashurst and Congresswoman Mrs. Isabella 
Greenway, came to ask us for help. Floods on the Gila River were 
causing destruction of beautiful fertile alluvial lands that grew 
two bales of cotton to the acre, which was much more than was 
harvested in the east. They wanted dams to control such floods. 

Senator Hayden had known my father. He remembered that I 
had taken the 1910 census in Cochise County, Arizona, so it was 
natural that he would bring the delegation to my office. 

On my next inspection trip out to the Navajo pilot project 
at Mexican Springs, I went to inspect the Gila River problem. 
As is my custom, I wanted to see everything on the ground myself 


WCL: and not make decisions on hearsay. I went to Safford, borrowed 
a car and began to make local contacts and also to make a rapid 
survey of the Gila River, its tributaries, its alluvial flat 
lands and its mountain drainages. I gave special attention to 
the origin and characteristics of the famous San Simon Wash. 

Chall: What was the San Simon Wash? 

This Wash is a great gully and a tributary of the Gila River. 
It is a startling example of accelerated or man-induced erosion 
that advanced rapidly like a malignant cancer down through the 
alluvial valley. When I saw it, the San Simon Wa;;h was sixty 
miles long, ten to thirty feet deep and one to three thousand 
feet wide. This had lowered the water table, drained the val 
ley dry and ruined farming and grazing on these former beauti 
ful lands. 

I went to the editor of the Safford News to see if back 
copies were available which would indicate the former condition 
of the valley. I found that at one time there had been no Wash, 
but grasses that were belly-high to a horse. When General Fre 
mont's army passed through, they reported these grasses were so 
nutritious that they did not have to rest the hordes every other 
day, because the horses had strength to haul daily. 

Another paper had recorded how two fanners hjid plowed a 
furrow through the heavy grass to drain off flood waters that 
had begun to accumulate around the village of Solomonvi I le. 
There was no Wash yet, but overgrazing higher up was causing 
more flood waters to rush off the slopes. 

Another paper related that, though there was much runoff 
in early days, there was no Wash. It told of a mcin with a 
freight wagon who had left Bowie just as the flood waters started 
down the valley, and about the fact that the heavy grass cover 
made the waters spread out and move so slowly that the freight 
wagon arrived in Safford before the flood. 

I found that after the defeat and capture of the Apache 
Chief, Geremino, in 1875, the settlers began to come in, and the 
government made a survey of the Gila River valley. I went to 
the Land Office and was able to get photostatic copies of the 
original notes of the surveyors. 

I then hired surveyors and I chose four section lines across 
the Gila River valley which I proposed to re-survey. The notes 
written in 1875 reported the channel varied in width from sixty- 
six to one hundred feet. They reported high grass on either 
side. The channel was apparently very shallow. 

My survey then showed that in fifty-nine years, the channel 


WCL: had widened from the range of sixty-six to one hundred feet to 
from one thousand to three thousand feet; and in 1934 it was 
sixty miles long. No wonder the representatives of Arizona 
wanted drastic measures immediately to stop the growth of this 
malignant cancer spreading wider and longer through the valley. 

Cha I 1 : With this factual picture of what had been happening, did you 
feel that something could be done? 

WCL: Well, I had to tell the people of Safford valley that I would 
not recommend the construction of dams for control of flood 
waters, unless we could put the drainage area under management 
and control soil erosion on it. My remarks were received with 
skepticism. I asked for cattlemen using lands up on the drain 
ages to make a trip with me to see and discuss areas of severe 
overgrazing and resulting erosion. One by one they began to 
recognize that what they were doing could not be continued. 

But some of the men were holding out against my recommenda 
tions. Finally, a wizened, wind-tanned little man, who had said 
little all day, stood up in front of the cattlemen and said, 
"You boys know what he is talking about we cannol run our cat 
tle on this public domain outside our ranches. Our caltle, in 
stead of getting fatter, are getting thinner. We are not making 
any money now and you know it. I am for going along with this 
man from Washington and get these lands under some; sort of man 
agement that will build up the carrying capacity of the area." 

Then Mr. Wilson, a cattleman, and I rode horseback and saw 
much that I could not otherwise have seen. He took me to Mr. 
Lathrop, who ran the most cattle in the area. Mr. Wilson crowded 
Mr. Lathrop into a corner until he finally agreed. 

Now I had an agreement with the principle users of these 
lands to work out plans to restore the region as far as possible. 

Chall: Now that the cattlemen had agreed for you to work out plans, how 
did you go about this work on Public Domain lands? 

WCL: Of course, the first thing I did was to report to Senators Hayden 
and Ashurst and Congresswoman Greenway. My proposal was that 
we chould form a conservancy district which must be approved by 
Congress, for the Gila River flowed across lands of two states. 
Senator Ashurst, a cultured diplomat, was favorable to any meas 
ure we worked out but had no suggestions. Senator Carl Hayden, 
a brusque, quick-acting westerner, told me to go iihead and in 
vestigate how other conservancies had been established. 

The Miami Conservancy in Ohio, I found, had been the most 
successful in limiting floods, and I followed their methods of 
condemning land to get areas necessary for installations. My 

WCL: plans for a conservancy would give authority to u?; to act. 

I proposed a bi I I and Senator Hayden, from his experience, 
included specifications to be applied to measures. We discussed 
how the Corps of Army Engineers already had authority to control 
floods on main streams and rivers in the United States. But our 
proposition was to propose measures to control floods of little 
waters on upper drainages of these rivers. 

Work on Omnibus Flood Control Act of 1936 

WCL: Senator Hayden asked me, "Why shouldn't we provide for control 

of this kind on lands at the headwaters of all the streams where 
Army Engineers have control of floods on the Tower reaches?" 

I said to Hayden, "If you can get such a provision passed, 
it will be one of the most constructive measures for this decade." 

Hayden immediately took steps and got the support of Presi 
dent Roosevelt. Together, Senator Hayden and I worked on this 
bill, which gave me opportunities to use my past experiences in 
watershed management and flood control. 

The final result was the Omnibus Flood Control Act, passed 
in 1936, which called for the Department of Agriculture to be 
responsible for treating the headwaters of rivers and streams 
on which the Army Corps of Engineers had dams, dikes, levees and 
flood control structures down below in lower reaches. 

But the conservancy idea was dropped, for sponsors of the 
new Taylor Grazing Act, which had just been passed in 1934, felt 
that it would be a duplication. 

Taylor Grazing Act 

Chall: Why did they think so? 

WCL: This Taylor Grazing Act defined the rights of ranchers for 
grazing, and administered the range, and collected fees for 
grazing of stock on lands of the Public Dom--jin. This Act set 


WCL: up grazing districts but did little to encourage scientific 

grazing as we would have done in the conservancy. Its sponsors 
felt that that portion of the Act that provided for flood con 
trol on the upper watersheds carried out the same function as 
would the conservancy, although I think there would have been 
certain advantages in the conservancy. 

I am glad that now there are hundreds of watersheds treated 
all over the country. Whatever stops or greatly reduces the 
floods on little tributary valleys will stop most of the mud 
from getting into the great reservoirs and mainstreams and noth 
ing else will do it. Now many times in heavy rain storms, no 
damage is done because this treatment of upper watersheds has 
brought about the control of otherwise dangerous little waters. 

It was the Omnibus Flood Control Act of 1936 that Senator 
Hayden and I worked out that brought about control of the upper 
reaches of river valley tributaries, as well as flood control 
on the lower big streams. Hayden discussed this with Roosevelt 
who gave it his full support. 

Attitudes of Cattlemen 

Chall: Were you closely associated with this Taylor Grazing Act? 

WCL: Yes, in one way, I was. For it was at this time that a life 
time friendship was formed with Farrington Carpenter, who was 
the first Chief of the Bureau of Grazing. He was a wealthy cat 
tle rancher from Colorado. He was immensely popular and was known 
throughout the west and had large political backing. We both 
lived at the Cosmos Club at that time, and spent many hours to 
gether discussing grazing problems as well as flood and erosion 
problems in the west. 

Carpenter also enjoyed telling me of his fights with Ickes 
and members of his staff. Carpenter was a very outspoken west 
erner and was fearless to say what he thought. Ickes and his 
staff felt that Carpenter did not show them the proper respect. 
When he would return from his trips to the west, he would come 
in and say, "Well, I've come back to the Big Boss in Big Tepee 
on the Potomac," and similar remarks. The more Ickes resented 
Carpenter's humor, the more Carpenter was stimulated to express 
his independence. He kowtowed to no one, even "the Big Boss in 
the Big Tepee on the Potomac." 

Chall: If Farrington Carpenter, as Chief of the Bureau of Grazing, WEJL 
so popular with the stockmen, then I presume he was able to per 
suade stockmen to abide by the restrictions of the Taylor Gra/inq 




Well, probably no one in the United States could have done bet 
ter than Carpenter. Yet he too had constant battles with stock 
men who resisted being told what they could and could not do on 
Public Domain lands, and more so, on their own lands. Often 
Carpenter told me of such conflicts. 

He told me once about a large meeting of cattlemen where 
most were bitter at being told what they could and could not do 
on grazing lands. He said that one cattleman took off his ex 
pensive gold watch and held it up and said, "This watch is mine. 
I bought it and paid for it, and what I do with it is no one's 
damn business. I can do with it as I damn please and no one is 
going to tell me what I can do with what is my own. If I want 
to destroy what I own and what is mine, I have a right to do it.' 

With that, the cattleman, with one furious stroke, smashed 
this expensive gold watch with full force onto the arm of his 
chair to prove his point. There doubtless were others who held 
the same opinion but were not so demonstrative about it. 

Transfer o_f_ Soi I Erosion Service _to Department o_f_ Agriculture 

Chal I 


Dr. Lowdermilk, What part did you 
Soi! Conservation Act of 1935? 

have in the writing of the 

At first, as you know, we were acting under an emergency relief 
bill. But before long, it began to appear that the soil conser 
vation program under the Soil Erosion Service was not temporary 
but would become permanent. Secretary I ekes called on his law 
yer to draw up a bill which would outline the functions of a new 
Soil Erosion Service for the Department of Interior. I was called 
in for discussions on the new bill. 

In the meantime, I was obsessed with the need for farsighted, 
coordinated planning along all the lines into which the Soil Ero 
sion Service was branching out; for by this time we were working 
in soil science, agronomy, farm pastures, range management, for 
estry, wild life management, and agricultural engineering. Our 
work with the farmers was becoming very popular, but as popularity 
grew, hostility grew, for it seemed to the bureaus of the Deport 
ment of Agriculture that we were setting up a little Department 
of Agriculture in the Department of Interior. They did not like 
it at all and sai d so. 


WCL: For some reason, we heard nothing further from I ekes 1 law 
yer about the new bill. But nightly I would say to my wife, 
"We must make this law big enough and broad enough and farsighted 
enough, so that seventy-five or one hundred years from now, the 
government will be able to do whatever is necessary to control 
flood waters and erosion, and safeguard our country's soils and 

I was always free to discuss with Senator Hayden whatever 
I was thinking or doing. He was always most helpful. So I con 
tinued to work on what I thought would be needed in a permanent 
Soil Conservation Act. 

Suddenly I got wind that the bill that we had discussed 
with Ickes 1 lawyer was to be pushed through, putting our Soil 
Erosion Service permanently in the Department of Interior. 

But I had always felt that it would be better to be in the 
Department of Agriculture. In this, I was in discigreement with 
Bennett, for he was well established in Interior with many friends 
and henchmen, while in the Department of Agriculture he had an 
tagonized some bureaus and they were exceedingly hostile to him. 
So I could not discuss my ideas with Bennett. 

During the night, I formulated a plan. I did not want to 
go direct to Rexford Tugwell, for that would be too obvious. 
So at breakfast time, I phoned a trusted friend, Earl Bressman, 
in the inner circles of the Department of Agriculture and asked 
him to pick me up in his car on a certain corner, so that I could 
ride to work with him. 

I then told him what appeared to be in the works, and that 
unless the Department of Agriculture moved fast, the Soil Erosion 
Service would be established as a permanent bureau in the Depart 
ment of the Interior. I then went to Senator Hayden and told him 
what I had done. The Senator knew from our many discussions .that 
the bill I had been working on was comprehensive, looking to a 
sound soil and water conservation program with long-range objec 

Tugwell and others acted fast. I do not know just how it 
was done. Ickes was out of town for three days. Tugwell got 
President Roosevelt to issue an order for the transfer of the 
Soil Erosion Service to the Department of Agriculture. Ickes 
was furious about it when notified, and he rushed back to Wash 
ington. But it was too late. 


Passing the Soi I Conservation Act 

WCL: Senator Hayden arranged for the bill to be broughl out for hear 
ings. While the hearings were going on, Jed Johnson, a Congress 
man from Oklahoma and a member of the Appropriations Committee, 
left the room for a long distance call from Oklahoma. On his 
return to the hearings room, he told us that one of his strong 
constituents had called from Oklahoma City, saying thai the high 
plains were blowing away, that dust and sand in great clouds were 
covering the streets of Oklahoma City several inches deep. 

He had said, "Can't you do something about slopping wind 
erosion in our high plains?" Jed Johnson told him, "That's just 
what we are doing now holding hearings on a bill. If it's en 
acted, it will do something about these dusf storms, and water 
erosion as we I I . " 

When the bill came up for the vote, there war> not one dis 
senting vote in either the House or the Senate against our Soil 
Conservation Act, so strong was sentiment for our work, and the 
very evident need to control and conserve our lands and our 


Thus the question of transfer of our organization was set- 
tied in this unanimous approval of the bill that established our 
Service as a permanent bureau in the Department of Agriculture. 
It was named the Soil Conservation Service as many of us had 
wanted al I along . 

Of course most were satisfied with this outcome, but we 
had rude shocks at the antagonism that had grown up against us 
from bureaus in the Department of Agriculture. This hostility 
continued despite the unanimous passage of the Act that had 
settled most issues as the bureaus in the Department of Agri 
culture had wanted all along. Even so, there was still strong 
sentiment in Agriculture to split up our Service and to dis 
tribute its parts into allied branches of existing bureaus. 

Relations With Extension Service and Farm Bureau Federation 

WCL: While our Soil Erosion Service was in the Department of Interior, 
we also had a running battle with the Farm Bureau Federation, 
which was a nation-wide organization and played a largo part in 


WCL: much of the hostility and opposition to us. The Federation 

worked very closely with the Extension Service of the Depart 
ment of Agriculture. Good old M. L. Wilson, Chief of Agricul 
tural Extension, kept himself aloof from bickerings, but many 
of his staff around the country were militant and hostile and 
have not buried the hatchet yet. 

So these were the birth pains of the new Soil Conservation 
Service. The infant was lusty. The new Soil Conservation Ser 
vice fought its battles not with the farmers or people around 
tje country; the battles were all inter-departmental and inter- 
agency. But in spite of all this, the new Service developed 

Part II The Soil Conservation Service, 1935-1938 

Chal I : Dr. Lowdermilk, when you were helping to write the Soil Con 
servation Act, were you thinking ahead to the districts? 

Reasons for Districts in Soil Conservation Service 

WCL: No, for this work is like a chess game; we make a move and -then 
see what happens to direct us to make another move. Each stop 


WCL: leads to another step. 

Chall: What was it that led you to decide on the formation of districts 
as your next move? 

WCL: Two things: the Ben James' farm and a trip to our soil conser 
vation projects at Tyler, Texas, where we had one of our C.C.C. 
camps. The boys were laying out and constructing broad base 
terraces on a farmer's land. The object was to give a sample 
and let him take part in construction of these terraces so that 
he could continue to construct them himself. We made it a strict 
rule or policy that we would not do all the terraces needed, but 
only enough to demonstrate to the farmer how to Ciirry out these 
measures to safeguard his land from erosion. 

I came to the C.C.C. camp and was discussing plans for go 
ing over the farm. The night before, there had been a heavy 
rainstorm. The farmer who owned the land, <3nd on which we were 
doing the demonstration, came to our group and said to our man 
in charge, "Some of your terraces broke last night." 

Our terracing crew had worked up until quitting time the 
night before and had had no time that evening to bring the chan 
nels up to standard as was our general practice. The finishing 
work was planned for the following day. 

I said to the farmer, "Let's go see." Sure enough, at some 
of the low spots that had not been properly shaped up, there were 
breaks where water had collected in the terrace channels and had 
broken through. 

The storm water was running down-slope and cutting another 
small gully. Then this farmer made the point that he_ was not 
respons i ble for these terraces because they were the work of our 
crew, and therefore he_ was not responsible. 

The idea came to me very strongly that here this farmer 
assumed no responsibility for the proper construction of the 
terraces on his land. If anything went wrong, then our men were 
to be blamed and not the farmer. A lot of misunderstanding and 
trouble lay ahead if this became the accepted view. 

I concluded we needed to develop responsibility for works 
done on the land. So we would need some kind of on arrangement 
whereby the farmer and the government would collaborate in tho 
planning and construction of these measures to control storm 
waters and soil erosion. Something must be worked out to reo'.h 
our objective for working together in the interest;, of the farmer 
as vell as the government. 


Ben James' Farm 

Chall: You spoke of the Ben James' farm. What part did it have in 

formulating your idea of districts for collaboration of farmer 
and government? 

WCL: It played an important part. I saw it while I was on -this in 
spection trip in 1934, on the Duck Creek Demonstration Project 
in eastern Texas. Our field staff said they had it problem on 
the Ben James farm and asked me to advise them on how we should 
treat it. The Federal Land Bank some years before had loaned 
one thousand dollars on this farm. The representative of the 
bank had requested our Soil Conservation Service to fix it up. 

So I went out to see the Ben James farm with the bank rep 
resentative and our field staff. Here I saw a farm of 101.7 acres 
which had left on it about ten acres of topsoil. Besides serious 
sheet erosion, big gullies fifteen to twenty feet deep were eat 
ing headward up a fifteen percent slope. 

As we looked into these gullies, I asked, "What is this 
farm worth now?" After some discussion, the sale value at that 
time was put at about five hundred dollars. Then I asked, "What 
has become of all the material excavated out of these gullies?" 
So we followed the gullies across Ben James' property line on 
to his neighbor's farm of bottom land. There we found part of 
Ben James' farm turned upside down with the sterile material of 
the gully bottoms spread out on top of a fan that extended over 
good bottom land and was choking up a clear stream. 

Then I said, "Here is Ben James' farm, but what about Ben 
James?" "He is on relief," they said. 

To the bank representative I said, "If you will foreclose 
on this mortgage and take it in as Federal land, we will fix it 
up for you. We will not make a farm of it it is too far gone 
for that. But we will plant most of it up with trees and make 
a pasture out of the remainder." 

A year later, I went back to see the Ben James farm. The 
bank did not want to foreclose, but Ben James had abandoned the 
farm and become a sharecropper on a large farm in the vicinity. 

So here was our whole problem in a single farm, and this 
could be duplicated over and over again, formerly, Ben James 
had played his part in the community, not a large part perhfjp-., 
but still a contributing part. But as erosion wfj-,hed out tho 
productivity of his farm, the land was seriously domaqud ond 
Ben James was in difficulty. This tragedy in the use of lund 
concerned Ben James, his school district, his county, his stj1o 


WCL: and the federal government. For every taxpaying citizen in the 
United States could well be concerned in this farm of Ben James 
and others 1 i ke it. 

I pondered much on this problem. How could we set up a 
mechanism in which the farmer, the community, the state and 
federal government could carry out their respective respon 
sibilities and at the same time, conserve the individual Ini 
tiative of its people. This resource must be conserved and put 
to full use. For in no other way will principles of soil and 
water conservation be adapted and applied on each field varying 
from place to place, from time to time. 

Such incidents as these I have mentioned revealed basic needs 
for collaboration between the farmer and his government. The 
interest of the farmer and the government come together in the 
soil which grows the food for the nation from generation to gen 
eration. For in the Soil Conservation Districts, we seek the 
integration of a three-fold purpose: to give play to individual 
initiative, within a framework of social objectives, arrived at 
by the democratic process. 

It came to me that we might use the principle of irrigation 
and drainage districts, wherein farmers and the government work 
together to obtain an objective for the benefit of both farmer 
and government. I decided we would need Soil Conservation Dis 
tricts to achieve our objective. 

Developing the Districts 

WCL: On my return to Washington, I placed before Bennett this idea 
and suggested that we employ a capable man who wa!; well ac 
quainted with the problem of working with farmers, especially in 
the Extension Service. This especially equipped man was not 
easy to find. I repeatedly said that I would be willing to pay 
the right man a larger salary than my own, for the success of 
the whole idea would depend on the work and vision of the man 
in charge of getting these districts established across the 
country. We finally appointed Dillon Myer for this job. He had 
been very successful in Ohio in the Agricultural Extension 
Servi ce. 

Of course, there were a number of local problems to be 
worked out. We discussed the idea of forming Soil Conservation 
Districts with our staff and that of the office of Secretary 
Wallace. It was agreed that we should draft a model law, called 
a "Standard Act," which would set up procedures for making por,- 
sible the collaboration of the Department of Agriculture with 


WCL: the Soil Conservation Districts as representatives of the farmers 

Mr. Philip Glick, who was attorney for the Department of 
Agriculture, began work on a draft of this permissive legisla 
tion. After much consultation between Dillon Myer and our head 
quarters staff of the Soil Conservation Service, a "Standard Act" 
was finally formulated in 1936. 

Chall: When were these Soil Conservation Districts established? 

WCL: President Franklin D. Roosevelt called on Governors of states 

and suggested the desirability for states to pass enabling legis 
lation to form Soil Conservation Districts according to the "Stan 
dard Act." In these newly formed districts, farmers were to have 
the responsibility and initiative for taking steps to conserve 
their lands from erosion wastage. Supervisors of districts were 
empowered to call on any agency, state or federal, to assist them 
in their task of saving their lands. 

Some of the states adopted the Standard Act with few changes, 
but other states required considerable change before they would 
accept the legislation that would govern the formation and opera 
tion of Soil Conservation Districts within their borders. 

Bennett knew the people of the south and had many of his 
own men down there, and he called on them to test out plans and 
procedures and they complied and were a great success from the 
start. This may have been due in part to the good work of Dr. 
T. S. Buie, our Regional Conservator of the southeast region, with 
headquarters in South Carolina. 

Once the districts took hold, the idea spread rapidly over 
the United States; and in a comparatively short time, ninety 
percent of the farm lands were included in Soil Conservation 
Districts. The Soil Conservation Service program, now wedded 
so closely with local districts, has been instrumental in popu 
larizing soil conservation rapidly. Districts, because they are 
farmer-organized and farmer-directed, invite the confidence and 
participation of farmers in both the planning and application of 
soi I and water conservation work. 

Success of Districts 

WCL: Our Soil Conservation District program succeeded in the United 
States, because districts have been established on sound princi 
ples of putting to work the great resources of individual ini 
tiative and responsibility within a definite national objective 


WCL: of promoting the general welfare. 

Some features of the movement of Soil Conservation Dis 
tricts may be of interest: 

1. The districts are typically American, in that they pro 
vide a means of mutual action toward common objectives as deter 
mined by the majority. 

2. They are independent and are not controlled by either 
state or federal influences. When requested, the federal govern 
ment renders them aid. The districts exist for action. 

3. The districts are autonomous organizations that are able 
to plan programs, obtain information, procure government and 
other services, and do many other things that the same farmers 

as individuals working alone would not be able to do. 

4. These districts were a clearing house in the locality 
for carrying forward advanced agricultural programs and devel 
opments in general. They are in an authoritative position to 
make known to such professional workers as the county agent, 
soil conservation technician, forester, and highway engineer, 
the needs and desires of the local people. 

Chall: It must have been gratifying to you to see the rapid success 
of these Soil Conservation Districts. 

WCL: Yes. They justified our hopes and plans in a remarkable way. 
As our district supervisors increased in numbers and the dis 
tricts spread throughout the country, supervisors formed organi 
zations of state and national associations restricted to farmers 
of the nation. These associations became powerful spokesmen for 
the farmers who were independent of government control in run 
ning their districts. 

This was a good thing, for at one time these Soil Conserva 
tion Districts were able to prevent the breakup of the Soil Con 
servation Service in an inter-departmental 'Conf I ict, and to pre 
vent the Agricultural Conservation Program from combining its 
political provisions with our technical services to farmers. 
These districts continue a tower of strength in our program of 
soi I and water conservation. 


Reasons for Regional Administration 

Chall: We now know how the districts were formed, but why was the Soil 
Conservation Service based on regions rather than established 
political boundaries? 

At the beginning of our Soil Erosion Service, Bennett followed 
his former practice of directing all operations from our Wash 
ington office. This practice may have been suited to a bureau 
that dealt with only a few people and with specialized services 
within narrow boundaries. But as our services spread rapidly 
over the country, even to Puerto Rico, our business became more 
complex, and answering mail became a tremendous job. 

Bennett was determined to direct all our contacts from our 
Washington headquarters, especially with the south where he knew 
personally so many farmers and government field men. We were 
literally swamped with mail every day. 

When Bennett became too burdened with his part, he would 
take off on a trip. He enjoyed making speeches and was an ex 
cellent publicist for our cause. This left me with all the mail 
as well as the development of our research organization which 
at that time I was endeavoring to set up. For research has 
always been my specialty in which I was keenly interested. I 
was overwhelmed with work. I determined that something had to 
be done. 

Having been brought up in the Forest Service, so to speak, 
which had regionalized its operations as well as its research 
with very satisfactory results, I proposed to Bennett that we 
regionalize our Soil Conservation Service. Reluctantly, he 
agreed. I advised dividing the country into eleven regions 
which were later reduced to seven, and suggested that we appoint 
a regional conservator for each one, who would have charge of 
all activities in his respective region. These regional con 
servators would be responsible to us and we would deal through 
them. This would greatly reduce our load of details. 

This was the place to train future directors, because 
problems would not be so numerous and would not cover as much 
area, but they would have the kinds of problems that, as chief 
of the Service, they would be required to handle. One of the 
objectives was to prepare for effective continuation of our 
services. Of course in the minds of some, that was not a good 
idea. These bureaucrats wanted to get control. We chose out 
standing men who were well acquainted with their respective 
regions to take on these important positions. 


WCL: Once the plan became known, we generally got favorable 

reactions. The system worked beautifully, lightened our load 
in Washington, and gave us an opportunity to give more time to 
development and improving our administration of the rapidly 
growing Service. 

We had a few problems when Congressmen wanted to take up 
with our Washington office, various problems of their consti 
tuents. When we referred them to the regional conservator and 
said they would have to deal with him instead of us in the Wash 
ington office, some were indignant and caused some trouble. But 
this occasional friction was nothing compared to the load that 
was lifted from us in Washington headquarters. 

Relations With A. A. A. 

Cha I I : Did the Agricultural Adjustment Administration compete with 
the Soil Conservation Service in work for farmers? 

WCL: On paper, yes; but on land, no. For we gave technical assist 
ance to the farmers. The A. A. A. was a federal agency that sought 
to bring farm income into its proper relation to industrial in 
come through payments to farmers for adoption of conservation 
land-use practices. This promoted the spread of conservation 
practices and also relieved farmers of the economic stress 
caused by crop surpluses and consequent low prices for farm 
products . 

Schedules of payments were offered for reduction in acreage 
of soi I -depleting crops, generally those cash crops of which 
there was a national surplus. In addition, payments were made 
for soil-building practices, such as the use of legumes and grass, 
and, to some extent, for terracing, and contour furrowing, and 
the application of fertilizers and crushed limestone. 

Chall: How did the A. A. A. finance these expensive payments? 

WCL: They financed their work by levying a tax on flour and grain 
mills, which would be sufficient to equalize the income for 
this purpose. This was one of President Roosevelt's first New 
Deaf measures to help the farmers. It was inspired by Secre 
tary Wai lace. 

Naturally the grain mills resented this tax on them and 
challenged this act. After the issue had l.een in the courts 


WCL: for about three years, the Supreme Court ruled that the method 
of collecting this differential tax was unconstitutional, so 
this measure of collecting money to achieve a very important 
objective failed in its purpose. 

Some other method had to be found at once or the A. A. A. 
would have to shut down their operations. They were all as 
blue as indigo. Some of the staff had gathered in Director 
Peek's office when a news reporter who made daily rounds in the 
Department of Agriculture, came in to ask how they felt about 
the Supreme Court's decision the day before. Director Peek 
replied that they were ruined and could not go on with their 

Then the reporter said, "You have authority in the Soil 
Conservation Act, Public Law 46." Director Peek said, "Oh, no; 
there is no hope in that direction." 

The reporter said, "Have you read the bill all through? If 
you have not, I advise you to do it here, I have it i n my poc 
ket." And he handed it to Director Peek. 

When Peek finished reading the Act, I was told that he said, 
"My God," and put both hands down on the keys to call staff mem 
bers of the A. A. A. to his office. For he realized that this Soil 
Conservation Act was so broad in its scope that A. A. A. could 
continue to operate under its provisions. So they were able to 
carry on for a time. 

Then they proposed another act to incorporate the two 
agencies of the A. A. A. and our Soil Conservation Service into a 
single organization. But this would have swallowed us and under 
mined the entire technical aspect of our Soil Conservation Ser 
vice. Of course, we were against any such move and immediately 
marshalled our forces to resist any attempt at combining the 
two agencies, and it was not done. 

The Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act was, there 
fore, passed in 1936 to provide for continuance of A. A. A. pay 
ments to farmers. 

Coordination of Special ists: The Farm Planner 

Chall: Dr. Lowdermilk, your emphasis is always on the coordinated at 
tack on land-use problems. How did you deal with the farmer? 


WCL: From the first, we declared for and prescribed coordination of 
specialties of technical men concerned with services to our 
farmers. We had specialists in soil science, agronomy, farm 
pastures, farm forestry, wild life management, range management 
and agricultural engineering. At first, we would send out to a 
farmer who had asked for assistance, those specialists most needed 
for this area and this farm, who would work out together an inte 
grated farm conservation plan. 

But the farmer was usually overwhelmed by so many government 
men on his farm at a time, so we set up the position of farm plan 
ner, with exacting qualifications: he must be a technically 
trained expert in one of the above specialties; he must also have 
a good general knowledge of farming in the problem areas; he must 
have the ability to acquaint himself with the agriculture of the 
entire problem area in which he is working, and at the same time, 
learn the several solutions that had been worked out by top spe 
cialists who had already made a study of the area. 

Chall: How had these solutions been established for use by the planner? 

WCL: First, land-use capability surveys were made of problem areas; 
then the several specialists worked out a basic plan for treat 
ment of each problem. So you see, this new profession of farm 
planner had to be capable of informing himself on what our co 
ordinated staff had worked out. 

Provision was also made for the farm planner, if he en 
countered a problem for which he had no satisfactory solution, 
to call specialists of the Consulting Board of the area to come 
and inspect and suggest solutions. In this way, the farmer was 
given the expert service of the best technicians we had. 

Thus the farm planner became our "land doctor." He looked 
over the sick fields, diagnosed the problem and decided what 
treatment would be necessary for recovery. Sometimes several 
different treatments were called for on one farm. 

The farm planner was trained to read his land-use capability 
map, which had been prepared by soil scientists to indicate what 
areas were suitable for cultivated crops, what measures were re 
quired to conserve the soils of fields under cultivation, and 
what areas should be allotted to cover crops, such as improved 
pasture and wood lots. He prescribed the planting up of gullied 
areas for gully control and for wild life refuges. 

For simple engineering structures, the farm planner would 
prescribe standard treatments. But for more complex ot ructurt,-,, 
for multi -purposes in drainage and irrigation, he would ca! I in 
the engineering team. 


Obtain! ng Cooperation of Farmers 

Chall: When the majority of the farmers of an area voted to form a 

conservation district, did those who objected accept the deci 
sion of the majority and fall in line? 

WCL : No, not always. There always were some who refused to follow 

along and were uncooperative. As one farmer said to me, "We do 
not need anyone from Washington to come here and tell us what to 
do on our farm. Me and my two sons have already wore out two 
farms and this one is about wore out." 

Sure enough, the farmer and his sons had plowed up and down 
the slopes, and rain waters had riddled the fields with small 
gullies that were cutting deeper and deeper and had carried off 
his topsoils, so that he was largely farming sterile subsoil. 
Debris from his fields had been dumped on the farm lower down 
slope, while fine soils had been swept downstream to fill high- 
cost reservoirs with sediments. 

This farmer who did not want to be told what to do started 
a vicious chain of damage, reaching far away. It was a case of 
"the sins of the fathers being visited onto the children even 
unto the third and fourth generations," as said by the prophet 

of old . 

Chall: Then it was pretty much a question of general education for 

the nation to understand what soil erosion can do to the farmer 
as well as to his neighbors, his county, state and national 
we I I -be ing. 

WCL: Yes, and I shall never forget a contest in a farm magazine that 
offered a prize for the best one-hundred-word description of a 
deserted farm house in a gullied field. The prize was won by an 
I ndian, who wrote: 

"Picture show white man crazy. Cut down trees; make big 
tepee. Plow hill; water wash. Wind blow soil; grass gone. 
Door and window gone; whole place gone. Money gone. Papoose 
gone; Squaw too. No Chuckaway; No pigs, No corn, No plow, No 

hay, No pony. Indian no plow land. Keep grass; Buffalo eat 

grass; Indian eat buffalo. Hide make tepee; Make moccasin. 


Indian no make terrace. No make dam no give dam. All time 
eat. No hunt job. No hitch hike. No ask relief. No shoot 
pig. Great Spirit make grass. Indian no waste anything; Indian 
no work; White man crazy." 

The Indian's use of land was good for his former native way 
of life, but would have to give way to intensive use of land for 
increasing populations; however, not by wasteful exploitation as 
the white man had done which destroyed the lands that fed him. 
We must be born again, out of an economy of wasteful exploitation 
into an economy of full use with conservation of earth's resource 

I ngenious Farmer: Sam Gowder 

Chall: You have said that in China you found native farmers who had 
partially solved some of their land-use problems without help 
from scholars or technicians. Did you find this true among our 
farmers in the United States? 

WCL: Yes. I always evaluate farmer practices and when I see that they 
have devised even partial solutions, 1 compliment them and build 
on what they have done. I use them to demonstrate to other far 
mers what they can do to improve their lands. 

I was in northern Georgia one time, advising farmers to 
keep crop litter or mulch on sloping fields. A farmer remarked 
that his neighbor, Sam Gowder, had a strange practice. I asked 
to be taken to the Gowder farm. I found he was not using a turn 
ing plow that would expose the soils, but instead, a single-blade 
plow about four inches wide and twelve inches long which stirred 
the soil and encouraged rain percolation but left a layer of leaf 
litter and mulch on the surface. Here this uneducated hill far 
mer had thought out on his own a remarkable discovery. 

I asked Sam Gowder how he happened to use this method. He 
said that when he was a young man, he was a farm laborer and 
saw how farmers 'round about in the hilly country were clearinq 
forests, and cultivating sloping fields, and exposing soils t'> 
heavy rains until they were cultivating bright red subsoil 


WCL: rather than gray brown topsoil. 

When he decided to marry and start a home, he bought an in 
expensive hill farm. He recognized there was no erosion under 
the mulch of forest woodlot that was covered with leaves and lit 
ter. His fields for cultivation had a slope of seventeen percent 
which is steep for continued annual cropping, so Sam Gowder de 
cided to use this bull tongue plow and keep the crop litter or 
mulch on the ground. 

I was delighted to see that he was still cultivating top- 
soil whereas the fields of his neighbors had all eroded down 
to the bright red subsoil of that area. As a result of this 
method, Sam Gowder grew more cotton per acre than his neighbors, 
and better corn than his neighbors; and he always kept two or 
more bales of cotton stored in his barn as a bank saving account, 
so that he always had money for fertilizers and form machinery. 

Sam Gowder and I sat down on the forest litter of the wood- 
lot and I pulled apart the mulch to see its depth and the condi 
tion of the decomposing leaves. We examined the burrowing of 
little worms and other organisms that cause soils to retain 
capacity to absorb rains that fall on them. I asked him if he 
realized the functions of this forest litter and he said that 
he did; this was the reason why he was keeping litter at the 
surface of his cropland. 

Sam Gowder became quite famous; many visitors came to see 
what he had done. I personally escorted some Chinese govern 
ment officials who were concerned with improving agriculture in 
free China, to show them how we could often learn from unedu 
cated farmers. I had found terraces built in north China by 
uneducated farmers. 

Sam Gowder practiced soil conservation all right, but I 
guess I should not have taken my wife to see it; for whenever 
I praised him, my wife burst forth in indignation at his lack of 
conservation of human resources. His tired wife, who had not 
taken a day off in years that she could remember, had been told 
by her husband that she was to take the day off and visit with 
"that woman from Washington." Believe me, "that woman from 
Washington" (my wife) is still up in arms about Sam Gowder. 

His house had been built twenty years before my visit in 
1937, when they were married. In the ensuing twenty years, he 
had never put on the front steps. The only entrance was at the 
back door where there were no steps either, only two stones, 
uneven in height, which gave one an unexpected jolt. When my 
wife asked to go to the bathroom, she was told that there was 
none. Thinking this meant there was none in the house, my wif<; 
asked about the one in the yard. The answer was dgain that 


WCL: there was none. Then my wife said, "But where do you go when 

you want to go?" The reply was, "We just go out into the wood- 
lot among the bushes." Yet Mrs. Gowder had lived in this house 
for twenty years and brought up seven children! 

Another objection that, to my wife, wai; unforgi veable was 
that the water supply came from a spring two hundred feet below 
in a steep canyon. All the household water was carried up this 
trail by Mrs. Gowder and her children. All the big washings 
were carried down to the spring where Mrs. (k>wder washed and, on 
an outdoor fire, boiled her clothes. She hung the wash down 
there and then carried it back up the steep path 1o the house. 
This she had done for twenty years. Sam Gowder had never in 
stalled a pump to bring water into the house and conserve his 
tired wife's energy, although he had bought all the latest equip 
ment for his farm. 

The one concession my wife made to Sam Gowder was that he 
liked music and had bought an organ so the family and neighbors 
could enjoy Saturday and Sunday night sings together. 

Demonstration Areas 

Chall: Will you tell about the demonstration areas? 

WCL: We found that farmers wanted to be shown how to conserve their 
soils and how to produce bigger crops. The answer to this was 
the demonstrations. They are remarkably effective in giving 
farmers an opportunity to examine, criticize and learn modern 
conservation fanning methods. 

In setting up a demonstration area, the first step was to 
obtain a base map of the entire project area. If one was not 
already available, one was made from aerial photographs, for all 
our work areas were photographed from the air. Contour maps 
were drawn from the aerial photographs and enlarged to a scale 
of about twelve inches to the mile. With such photographs, our 
technical people could locate themselves on the photographs 
within ten feet of their actual position. 

A farm-by-farm survey was made, showing soil types, erosion 
conditions, slopes, current land use and any other important 
features. These were put directly on the base map. Then tech 
nicians were able to draw up individual farm plan'.; for each for 
mer in the area. Every step was considered on tho basis of need, 


WCL: adaptability, economic feasibility and physical relationships 
with adjoining lands. 

If the fanner decided to adopt the conservation plan finally 
worked out, he signed a cooperative working agreement with the 
federal government through the Soil Conservation Service. He 
agreed to follow the recommended land-use practices over a five 
year period and to contribute as much as possible of labor, power- 
animal or tractor seed, and materials. The government agreed to 
lay out the work, draw up structural specifications, and provide 
what materials and labor the farmer was unable to supply; and 
when lands had to be taken out of cultivation, to furnish suitable 
plantings for the eroded lands. 

These demonstration areas have proved most valuable in show 
ing farmers how to conserve rainfall, improve soils, and increase 
farm income by modern methods of conservation farming. 

Lowdermi I k Appoi nted Ch ief of Research 

Chall: When Rexford Tugwell called you from your hydrology work In 
California, you were appointed as Associate Chief of the Soil 
Erosion Service. Why was your title changed to Chief of Research? 

WCL: I am at heart a research man. Once Bennett, in one of our de 
partmental staff meetings, said that the Chief of the Bureau of 
Public Roads would not have an Associate Chief, implying that he 
did not like the idea either, and suggesting thai I become Chief 
of Research. I did not object, for I was eager to get more re 
search work done in our Soil Conservation Service, now that we 
were well established as a working organization. 

Chall: How did you go about establishing a research program for the 
Soil Conservation Service? 

Research Programs 

WCL: First we took a survey of what the situation was and began to 
build up our program. I felt a program of integrated research 


WCL: was essential to the success of a national program for soil and 
water conservation and correct land use. The problems involved 
were, and still are, almost endless; many of them are inter 
related and cannot be solved independently. Defense of lands 
upstream may be necessary for the protection of a reservoir or 
of farm land downstream, on which the welfare of those living in 
the lower part of the valley may depend. 

Plans for a comprehensive and coordinated national program 
of land use call for research in many specialized fields, require 
the collective efforts of many specialists, and must call into 
effective cooperation the agencies concerned with specific fields, 
The Soil Conservation research had to develop, in cooperation 
with state agricultural experimentstations, and other scientific 
and technical agencies, a forward-looking program of basic and 
applied research for various problem areas. 

Erosion Experiment Stations 

WCL: We had a beginning, you will recall, in the ten soil erosion 

stations that had been financed by the appropriation Congress 
man Buchanan (of Texas) had secured in 1930 from emergency funds 
set up by President Roosevelt. These were divided between the 
Bureau of Soil Surveys and the Forest Service, and had provided 
my funds for the San Dimas Hydrological Experiment Station. 
These ten stations were transferred to us when we became the Soil 
Conservation Service in the Department of Agriculture. In our 
first appropriations we got approval for funds to establish ten 
more such stations. 

We had splendid cooperation from Jim Jardine, Director of 
Research in the Department of Agriculture, and from the Forest 
Service. The ten new stations for watershed studies were pat 
terned somewhat after my original studies in San Dimas, but we 
also extended this type of investigation to agriculture and 

After conferring with the Forest Service and the Bureau of 
Land Management, we set up a network of hydrologic stations for 
problem areas where erosion and floods were critical factors in 
the use of land, both farm and grasslands. We proceeded system 
atically to find drainage basins, not too large and not too 
small, in important problem areas. 

I appointed Dov Krimgold, a hard-working brilliant hydrolo- 
gist, to locate such pilot areas. The first one was located in 
the Allegheny plateau, at Coshocton, Ohio, and Lloyd L. Harrold 
was made director. Such a fine job was done here that in spite 


WCL: of all changes in administration through the years, this re 
search station is still operating effectively. In Coshocton, 
we set up the most elaborate devices ever used in lysimeter stud 
ies. Dr. Krimgold also located sites for stations at Waco, Texas, 
and Hays, Kansas. 

At Coweeta in North Carolina, Dr. Charles R. Hursh was 
authorized to establish another hydrologic station and to se 
lect his staff. He was especially favored with sufficient rain 
fall so that there was a return flow underground, and the hydrolo 
gic cycle could be more completely followed than at San Dimas 
where we had streams of intermittent flow. We had here one of 
the neatest and most interesting studies. Dr. Hursh adapted 
himself to the mountain people in a remarkable way and the entire 
project was most successful. 

We located another station in Texas, not far from Waco. In 
this area, rains may come in very intense storms; and since the 
soil is shaley and less pervious than others, the storm runoff 
can reach very high stages. This was an interesting station and 
our data proved very valuable. 

We wanted to find facts on the grain-growing lands of the 
great plains, and we established another station near Hays in 
Kansas. Here the problem was not excess water, but insufficient 

One of our most important surveys was on the damage that 
had been done by wind and water erosion in the short time that 
we had occupied our pristine continent and wasteful ly used and 
misused our national resources. This was undertaken at Dalhart, 
Texas. This was a center for studies of wind erosion in the 
Dust Bowl . 

In these twenty stations we could study various types of 
problems around the country. Thus research in the Soil Conserva 
tion Service was carried on in these experiment stations where 
we collected basic data and in the demonstration projects which 
gradually covered much of the country and which I discussed 

Puerto Rico 

Chall: I would like to hear about your work in Puerto Rico where I 

understand you developed a bench terrace which they still call 
the "Lowdermilk terrace." Why did you go to Puerto Rico? 

WCL: When I was Chief of Research, I had to go to Puerto Rico to see 


WCL: what our agricultural research station was doing. This was one 
of the twenty. As usual, when I go to a new place, I I i ke to 
tour the area to see what the critical problems are before mak 
ing any suggestions as to what improvements might be made. 

Puerto Rico is an overpopulated island with limited coastal 
plains and steep sloping fields on which the farmers grow food 
for rapidly increasing numbers. It is a tropical country and 
heavy rains fall on sloping lands. I found that erosion was the 
serious problem here. I decided that the solution would be bench 
terraces, similar to what the Chinese farmers had installed in 
northwest China. I planned, however, to put these in on the con 
tour with scientific accuracy. 

I found native farmers trying to build flat terraces with 
shovels and wheel barrows which was slow and uneconomic. Many 
farmers would not put forth this effort, so I suggested that far 
mers plant strips one foot wide on the contour, using the rapidly- 
growing, sturdy elephant grasses or guatamala grasses. 

Then with each plowing, they would throw the earth outward 
against these grass strips so that the earth would lodge and be 
held on fhe contour. On the lower side of the grass strips, they 
were to plow away from it, and in this way, the land would flatten 
into cultivated bench terraces. Thus the slopes would be terraced 
without any additional operations, probably within three to four 

The width of the terrace so developed was determined by the 
steepness of the slope and the location of. the grass plantings. 
For years these were called "Lowdermilk terraces." I am told 
they have spread over the West Indies. 

Sedimentation Studies 

Chall: Did the study for measuring silt as it accumulated in Lake 
Mead reservoir come under your research department? 

WCL: Yes, and it happened in a rather interesting way. Andy Lawson, 
Professor Emeritus of Geology at the University of California, 
read in the paper one morning in 1936 that Boulder Dam (begun in 
February, 1931 and completed in March, 1936), later called Hoover 
Dam, was finished and that the gates to the great by-pass tunnel 
had been shut so that the lake had begun to fill. Andy Lawson 
wrote to Secretary Ickes that he should have an accurate survey 
of the boundaries of the drainage area of the Colorado River and 
asked if such a topographic map had been made. 


WCL: Secretary I ekes passed this letter on to me and asked me to 

see what could be done about this topographic map. I got together 
a few of our specialists and sent off a telegram to FairchMd Com 
pany, telling them of the project and asking them for help in set 
ting up specifications for this aerial mapping. They complied 
immediately, and we called for bids by telegraph, for flying and 
photographing both the area that was to be covered with water and 
the drainages that flowed into Lake Mead. 

In one week, this entire preparatory job was completed. We 
had called Fairchild, received specifications, asked for bids, 
accepted one from a reliable outfit and the planes were in the 
air carrying out their mission. Ickes was very pleased when I 
reported this to him. 

Chall: Did this complete your research work on sedimentation in Lake 

WCL: No, indeed. Our next step was to establish control points, both 
for the topographical survey and for the influence this great new 
body of water would have on the isostasy of the basin. The enor 
mous weight of this new body of water would depress the earth's 
crust beneath it. 

I personally knew Major William Bowie. He was Director of 
the Coast and Geodetic Survey and the leading authority in the 
United States on isostasy of the earth's crust. I requested 
Major Bowie to cooperate with us by allowing us to use his al 
ready surveyed stations as our control points for the topographic 
survey. Major Bowie was most cordial and offered to help in any 
way possible. His surveys to determine how much the earth's 
crust would be depressed by water backed up against Boulder Dam 
were done with the highest degree of accuracy. Thus we had ex 
cel lent control points for our surveys. 

This important and accurate topographical map of Lake Mead 
will enable scientists to know and keep track of the rate and 
amount of sediments being deposited in the lake as long as it 

Chall: Did you continue your studies on sedimentation begun in the Soil 
Erosion Service? 

WCL: Yes, when at San Dimas, I had worked out a program of collabora 
tion with Cal Tech at Pasadena. I had been able to supply 
emergency funds to Cal Tech to build a hydrologic laboratory, 
and this collaboration continued after I became Chief of Re 
search. I enjoyed going back from time to time to see the ex 
cellence of their work, and they seemed equally eager for me to 
see and discuss their findings with them. 


WCL: It was here that Dr. Bell demonstrated in models how muddy 
water behaves when entering a reservoir of clear water. Muddy 
water is a liquid of greater density than that of clear water 
and will underrun the clear water right up to the dam where it 
will deposit the silt. This begins to reduce the storage ca 
pacity of the reservoir and in time, would put it out of com 
mission, something that has happened frequently in some of 
the reservoirs in our south and west. 

Chall: Have scientists found solutions to this problem of silting? 

WCL: No. In North Africa, I found that French engineers adopted the 
practice of running muddy water through the turbines, which we 
in the United States have not done yet. This is an important 
finding. The French thus spill out the muddy water at the dam 
and so maintain the full storage capacity of the reservoir. 
This muddy water continues on downstream, carrying its load of 
sediments in suspension, and does not pick up another load of 
sediments below the dam. 

Our method in the United States has been to take off water 
for the turbines from gates in clear water. When this clear 
water has passed through the turbines, it has already deposited 
sediments behind the dam. The stream is then ready to begin 
work again and will pick up another capacity load of silt 
depending on grade and velocity and dig into the alluvial fill 
of the valley floor. This has been a common occurrence in our 
dams in the west. We now know that measures are required to 
settle out sediments and we have tried them at Parker Dam in 
southern California. 

Relations With Other Organizations 

Chall: In your research, did you establish any cooperative working ar 
rangements with other institutions? 

WCL: Yes, we set up cooperation with the experiment stations of the 
Land Grant colleges in all forty-eight states. We also had ex 
cellent relations with the scientific men of the nation. Dr. 
Isaiah Bowman, head of the National Research Council, and I had 
many luncheons together and his advice was always valuable. For 
years, I had a close association with Robert Millikan ut Cal Tech, 
and with J. C. Merriam, President of Carnegie Institute in Wash 


WCL: Perhaps it was because of my standing with the National 

Research Council and the National Academy of Sciences, and others, 
that I was made President of the American Geophysical Union for 
three years, from 1 941 -1 944. 

We established a national committee to have the benefit of 
consultants in planning and conducting our research. The hydrolic 
engineers of the country were very much interested in these studies 
and gave us excellent consulting service. Some of them were R. E. 
Morton from New York, who was one of our brilliant consultants; 
L. K. Sherman of Chicago; H. Horner of St. Louis; and Ira Hatfield. 

One reason for our success in these research stations was 
the complete devotion of the hard-working, capable staff toward 
our research objectives. As I made inspection trips from time to 
time, they took delight in showing me what they had done and in 
turn, receiving my congratulations. 

Relations With T.V.A. 

Chall: Did you work at all with the T.V.A.? 

WCL: Yes. I was invited by David Lilienthal, who was Chairman of the 
T.V.A. Board, to come to the Tennessee Valley from time to time 
and advise the staff on certain soil and erosion problems they 
had encountered. On my first trip to evaluate their works on 
erosion control, I pointed out that for the money expended, they 
were getting inadequate results from their small check dams in 
gullied areas. They were not using the idea of mulch or litter 
from natural vegetation to increase the intake of rain by soil. 

I emphasized the importance of using this method. I also 
urged them to take out of cultivation, sloping lands that were 
too steep for safe cultivation of crops. I also advised on the 
use of farm planning to integrate the uses of different kinds 
of land. 

On one of my early trips, I asked to be flown over the 
Tennessee Valley to get the general picture. The pilot had an 
old plane which delivered an oily odor from the engine. The 
pilot, sitting in the seat in front of me, desired to be helpful 
and allow me better views of the ground, so he tipped the little 
plane sharply first in one direction, and then the other. I 
never had such a severe case of air sickness in my life, either 
before or since. First I heaved out one side and then a little 


WCL: later, I heaved out the other side. All this was unknown to the 
pilot in the little open plane. It was a terrible experience. 

I was called back from time to time to advise on specific 
questions that the T.V.A. staff brought up. David Li I ienthal was 
always very interested in my findings, as was also their man in 
charge of agriculture. But the latter also enjoyed the help of 
a county agent who was of the old line Extension Service. While 
they sought my advice and were most cordial each time I came, 
they did not want the Soil Conservation Service to set up any 
demonstration projects in the Tennessee Valley. They did not 
want Bennett or his henchmen to have any part in the T.V.A., so 
Bennett became very hostile to them. 

On a field trip in the drainage of the Knox River in the 
Tennessee Valley Authority, the man in charge of buying lands 
that would be flooded by the new dam, was reading off names of 
farmers whose lands were to be bought for a reservoir site. I 
noticed that all had Anglo-Saxon names. I mentioned this and 
was told that this area had been settled in early days by a migra 
tion of people from England who occupied this isolated mountainous 
area and stayed. These Knox River farmers spoke old English as 
in Shakespeare's time and were direct descendants of this early 

Also, I was interested in one particular old farmer who 
refused to sell his land, because he said that the fire in his 
fireplace had never been allowed to go out in more than one hun 
dred years. He therefore stoutly refused to sell or move. Fi 
nally, the T.V.A. staff agreed to build a crib and place the 
entire fireplace in it with the fire going and move it to a new 
farm which the T.V.A. had helped him buy. The old man then was 
satisfied and the fire continued to burn cheerfully in his new 

Shel terbel t Project 

Chal I : Dr. Lowdermilk, did you have anything to do with the Shelterbelt 

WCL: Yes. Shortly after I went to Washington in 1933, l-'aphoul Zon 
asked me to be the director of his pet idea to put in ^heltor- 
belts as they had done in Russia where he had been thoroughly 
trained in scientific forestry. While I did not want 1o take 
the job as director, for I was busy starting the Soil Erosion 


WCL: Service, I agreed to give them the benefit of any experience or 
knowledge I had on the subject. 

People generally had the idea that all one had to do was 
to plant trees and they would grow anywhere. Roosevelt had an 
nounced a great Shelter-belt Project for the Great Plains. I at 
once raised the question about rainfall, in time and amounts, to 
know how far west moisture would be sufficient to grow trees. 
For I knew that much of the Great Plains area would not support 
trees throughout the year. 

I proposed that a careful study be made to indicate the 
western-most limits favorable to growth of trees for the shelter- 
belt and sent this memorandum to Silcox, Chief of Forestry, and 
to Rexford Tugwell. This memorandum apparently reduced the first 
ambitious plans for the shelterbelt, for the actual plantings 
were carried out further to the east where rainfall generally was 
more plentiful, as I had suggested. 

I advised that shelterbelt trees should be located on con 
tours, so as to make use of broad-base terracing to col lect and 
hold waters from melting snow and rain storms, and thereby supply 
greater moisture. I also prescribed that the drainage ditches 
of the highways through the Great Plains should be emptied into 
the channels of terraces to supply additional storm water to 
stimulate growth of shelter trees. Results were good in these 
plantings where extra moisture was given the trees, and the ground 
was kept clear of grasses to reduce competition with trees and 
grass for moisture. 

The shelterbelts were planted within a strip of land about 
one hundred miles wide, stretching from North Dakota to Texas. 
Each belt of trees was five to ten rows wide with tall growing 
trees in the center, such as the Chinese elm, box elder, white 
ash and others; and with shorter trees, such as the Russian olive 
and shrubs and bushes, on both sides. The main secret of making 
trees grow in the shelterbelt zone is to plant them with roots 
long enough to reach moisture in dry weather. 

As long as there was public works money to spend, the shel 
terbelt program progressed rapidly. Young trees were supplied 
by the government along with supervision in planting. But far 
mers were to do the field work and cultivate and care for the 
young trees and prevent damage from livestock. 

The program lasted seven years during which time more than 
200,000,000 trees were planted on some thirty thousand farms, 
making more than eighteen thousand miles of shelterbelt. Their 
success depended on farmers' care of the trees, and keeping fences 
mended and stock from damaging trees. 


WCL: Ten years later, in a survey of the shelter-belt, it was 

found that only five percent of the plantings had been entirely 
removed, and eighteen percent were in poor condition because 
cattle had been allowed in; but the remainder were in fine condi 
tion. The farmers were well pleased and were planting more trees, 
In 1955 some two thousand miles more of shelter-belts were planted, 

Use of Civilian Conservation Corps 

Chall: I know that at this time in the Soil Conservation Service you 
were using large numbers of boys in C.C.C. camps. Can you tell 
me something more about them? 

WCL: Yes. The bigger we grew, the more camps we used, until at one 
time, I know we had 110,000 C.C.C. boys working for us on our 
measures to save our soils and waters. The first camps 1 used, 
you remember, were at the San Dimas Forest Hydrological Experi 
ment Station in 1933. We were then among the f i rst to ask for 
and get two camps of two hundred boys each, or four hundred in 

These men were mostly unskilled but were eager to work. 
This convinced me that these camps were a wonderful method to 
get work done rapidly and with a minimum of expense, and at the 
same time, keep men at work during the depression years. For 
ten years, from 1933 to 1943, we used all the camps we could get 
a I lotted to us. 

This work played an outstanding role in the rehabilitation 
of teenagers during the depression when many were driven to 
dubious ways of existence. It gave me great satisfaction to 
follow the splendid effect of these camps on young men who, in 
great numbers, were leaving impoverished homes and taking to the 

Chall: How was it decided which government agency should have camps 
assigned them? 

WCL: That was one of the big problems. The many agencies of govern 
ment, such as the Forest Service, Soil Conservation Service, the 
State and National Park Services, and Interior's Land Management 
Branch, and others that required a labor force, had to apply for 
C.C.C. camps. Applications were due at definite times. If camps 
were available, they were assigned by Mr. Robert Fechner, the 
"Big Boss." 


WCL: All bureaus were clamoring for this cheap labor, so we 
found ourselves as a new bureau, competing with the old line 
bureaus. The Forest Service claimed they should have the most 
camps. Then I presented to Mr. Fechner the Soil Conservation 
Service viewpoint: that we were concerned with the present and 
future supplies of food and fibers, and also with the safeguard 
ing of the lands which produce these vital essentials; that to 
succeed we had to control flood waters and resulting erosion on 
lands of the nation. I pled that the Soil Conservation Service 
was surely as vital, or more so, to the nation as forest trees 
or other lines of work, and that we should have first claim. 

Fechner called in Christopher Granger of the Forest Service 
and asked me to come to his office and speak for the Soil Con 
servation Service, and while we argued, he listened. Apparently 
both Mr. Granger and I were convincing, for he did not want to 
make the final decision on the number of camps each could get. 
Instead, he said, "The President must decide." 

Chall: What kinds of work did these C.C.C. boys do on the land? 


WCL: We had them work on all types of projects across the country. 

They planted millions of trees where they were needed for check- 
Ing eroding soils, in gullies and on overgrazed slopes; and they 
re-seeded thousands of acres of depleted grass lands in our 
southwest grazing lands. We had the C.C.C. boys build thousands 
of check dams, putting in earth, rocks and brush to catch the 
silt and stop the deepening and widening of washes and gullies. 

They built hundreds of stock-watering ponds, to catch rain 
waters in ravines and gullies and thus hold it so that herds need 
not walk so far for available water. This enabled herds to graze 
much further out on the range. We also had the boys assist in 
building fish ponds and farm ponds. Many of the boys learned to 
drive tractors while others did the finishing hand work, such as 
spillways and the like. 

When our Dust Bowl began to blow, we in the Soil Conserva 
tion Service realized the need for special dry-land grasses to 
re-plant those parts of the plains that should never have been 
plowed. We set up nurseries to grow seed of native western grasses 
on which buffalo herds had thrived before cattlemen and wheat far 
mers came. To get seeds for the first planting, we had to search 
along railroad rights of way. Our men invented a sort of carpet 
sweeper, or vacuum cleaner, to harvest the seed of these wild 
grasses and in this job of gathering seeds and re-seeding, we had 


WCL: help from the C.C.C. boys. 

The state colleges and experiment stations, incidentally, 
had not thought of doing this and were displeased to have the 
new bureau taking the initiative, but we continued these Soil 
Conservation nurseries until 1953 when they were taken away from 


Our use of the C.C.C. camps was not confined just to work 
on government lands. Much work was done on private lands, for 
the tasks of controlling flood waters and stopping erosion were 
often far beyond the ability of individual farmers. Storm waters 
indiscriminately run wild across property lines and onto neigh 
boring farms where they dump accumulated debris of sands, mud and 
sometimes stones, or start a gully eating upward into a neighbor's 
farm. Fertile fine topsoils are generally swept downstream to 
rivers, and fill reservoirs with sediments and prevent flood con 
trol works from functioning. 


Chall: How was the management of these camps carried out? It must have 
been a big responsibility. 

WCL: The control, discipline and housekeeping of each camp required 
about ten percent or twenty young men for each camp of two hun 
dred. The U.S. Army, with a Captain or a Major as Commanding 
Officer, was responsible for camp work and discipline. The re 
maining 180 boys were outside workers doing whatever tasks they 
were appointed to do. 

The assignment of a camp carried with its authority a bud 
get to pay for straw bosses to supervise the young men at their 
daily tasks. Bureaus or agencies to whom the camps were assigned 
provided specialists to teach and supervise the straw bosses. 

They usually worked six hours a day. For this work, the 
young men received a wage, most of which was sent to their fami 
lies, with a small amount paid to each recruit for pocket money. 

It was good to see these city boys as well as country boys 
have opportunities to engage in wholesome outdoor constructive 
work on the lands of their own country. It was good to see how, 
with ample nourishing food and exercise, these young men filled 
out their bodies in good health and took pride in their work. 


Flaw in Recruitment 

Chall: I understand you felt there was one flaw in this wholesome 
undertaking of C.C.C. camps. What was it? 

WCL: Yes, that is true, and I had several talks with Mr. Fechner, the 
Director, about it and we were in agreement. It was that young 
men, or their families, had to be on relief to be eligible to 
take part in this constructive program. 

I thought it would have been good for all boys, rich and 
poor, city boys as well as boys from towns, to leave home com 
munities and to travel and to know their country and get a "feel" 
for the land, and a pride in having a part in conserving natural 
resources as a heritage of our nation. Both Director Fechner 
and I felt it might be well to fix the minimum length of such 
national service, but not the maximum. 

Chall: Were you able to change this admission requirement? 

WCL: Unfortunately, we were not able to have this humiliating re 
quirement of being on relief modified. As I remember, Director 
Fechner thought that the labor unions were afraid such camps 
if all boys were includedmight tend to lower wages for union 
labor or would reduce jobs for union men. 

I felt strongly that a long-range point of view could have 
found a way to provide for camps as an outlet for all teenagers, 
where rich and poor together might devote themselves to works of 
conservation of natural resources of our country. 

It was a big disappointment to me and many others when this 
mechanism, born of the great depression, was terminated in 1943. 
We used as many camps as we could get during the ten years they 
were in existence. Then the war called out able-bodied youth 
into military service. Now in 1968, we need at least summer 
camps for the tens of thousands of students who want .vacation 
jobs. Few are to be had, and life for them starts out psycho 
logical ly bad. 

Basically, our social efficiency should be able to take ad 
vantage of the greater efficiencies of automation that releases 
manpower from lesser skills for the conservation of natural re 

Extent of Erosion in U.S. In I950's 

Chall: When you first made your erosion and runoff studies in China, 
did you anticipate that they would become so important here in 
the United States? 

WCL: Yes and no. But my scientific studies to measure rainfall, run 
off and erosion convinced me that the wastage of the good earth 
by accelerated erosion (caused by man's destructive methods of 
using and misusing natural resources), would bring about national 
suicide in the United States faster than in other countries be 
cause of our high-powered machinery. We ripped up the earth 
faster than had ever been done elsewhere. 

These exposed soils eroded with each dash of rain and set 
in motion a long chain of events, destructive to the land and 
to the people who live on the land. I returned feeling I i ke a 
missionary who had come back to preach a new gospel that of 
saving the soil and the rains that fell on it. 

But of course I did not anticipate that I would be Chief 
of Research for the Soil Conservation Service and have a part 
in making policies directed at checking or stopping this des 
tructive menace to our fair land. The monetary loss annually 
to the country is enormous and impossible to reckon in all its 
ramif ications. 

The top fertile soil averages about seven inches in depth. 
Once this soil leaves the field it is lost irretrievably. A 
thousand tons would be required to cover one acre to a depth of 
seven inches, even if it could be hauled back. Researchers in 
the soil conservation stations estimate that nature requires 
from three hundred to one thousand years to build an inch of 
topsoil, and when seven inches erodes in a few years, two thou 
sand to seven thousand years of nature's work goes to waste. 

Chall: How widespread was erosion in our country when the Soil Conser 
vation Service first got appropriations to begin work to prevent 
the destructive work of erosion? 

WCL: It was worse than had been imagined. Our survey indicated that 
at least fifty million acres had been destroyed for further cul 
tivation by gullies. It would take years of work and expense 
just to check their growth and plant them up to trees. Further 
more, another 150 million acres of arable land was so eroded as 
to make farming difficult or unprofitable. About another 100 
million acres was fast becoming infected with this disease of 
the land. This report was a great shock to our congressmen and 
startling information to our thinking people of the country. 


WCL: Nature itself took this occasion to give a demonstration 

of the wind erosion that had damaged our great plains from Texas 
to North Dakota, because we had plowed up lands that never should 
have been plowed. When fine soils from exposed drought lands dark 
ened the skies of the nation, the American people were aroused. 
The Soil Conservation Act of 1935 was passed without one dissent 
ing vote in Congress, and enormous sums have since been spent to 
heal and to cure, when possible, the sick lands of the nation. 

Li f e i n Washington 

Chall: Life in Washington in the early years of the New Deal appears to 
have been quite hectic. Were there compensations? 

WCL: Yes indeed, there are many delightful events to remember. Presi 
dent and Mrs. Roosevelt set the tone for gracious hospitality. 
At this time, government was smaller and more intimate. Chiefs 
and assistant chiefs of bureaus were invited to the White House 
at least twice a year. In autumn, we attended a ball in the 
famous East Room where we danced while all former Presidents 
looked out at us from paintings around the wall; in spring, there 
was always a garden party on the White House lawn. Mrs. Roosevelt 
had smaller affairs or musicals to which my wife, along with other 
wives of government officials, was invited. 

We shared gracious hospitality and friendships among leaders 
of various bureaus and with scientific people in the capitol. My 
wife and I remember evenings spent together with the M. L. Wilsons, 
the Howard Tolleys, Mr. and Mrs. Milton Eisenhower, Justice 
Brandeis of the Supreme Court, Dr. Herbert Putnam of the Library 
of Congress, Secretary and Mrs. Henry Wallace, Mr. and Mrs. Gil 
bert Grosvenor of the National Geographic. 

It was in Washington I established my life-long friendship 
with Dr. Chaim Weizmann, who later became President of Israel, 
and with Albert Einstein, with whom I had a long and enjoyable 
friendship. I enjoyed the friendships of Clyde Marquis, Presi 
dent of the International Institute of Agriculture (Rome), Isaiah 
Bowman, with whom I had many profitable sessions, and Vannevar 
Bush of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and later, 
head of Carnegie Institute. Mr. and Mrs. Morris L. Cooke were 
close friends. He was head of Rural Electrification. I had close 
relationships with J. C. Merriam, head of the Carnegie Institute 
of Washington, C. Hart Merriam, first Chief of the Biological 
Survey, who was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt, and 


WCL: Al Black (Albert G.), Chief of the Bureau of Agricultural Eco 
nomics, with whom I maintained a life-long friendship. There 
were many, many others whose friendships remain as happy memories 
of these Washington days. 

Chal I : Where did you live in Washington during the first two years 
before your family joined you? 

Cosmos Club 

WCL: One of the delightful features of these first two years was liv 
ing at the Cosmos Club, across the street from the White House 
in the old mansion which had been Dolly Madison's home. This 
place not only was picturesque and full of historical reminders, 
but it was close to everything and within easy walking distance 
from our offices in the Winder Building, so that we could come 
back for lunches. 

But there was another more important attraction about liv 
ing at the Cosmos Club. This is the one club in the U.S. where 
the criterion for membership is not money or social standing, but 
is based solely on whether the member has achieved recognition 
for outstanding contributions to knowledge: in the sciences, in 
art and architecture, or as an author or historian. Each new 
member must be sponsored by several old members and meet the 
qualifications for membership. 

So daily we had contact with the intellectual elite from 
around the world. We met in halls, library, sitting rooms and 
at meal times. We attended Monday night lectures and afterward 
had talk fests with beer and pretzels. Here important policies 
of government were often worked out. It was a stimulating place 
to live, and numerous life-long friendships were made here. 

Appoi ntment to Survey Old Lands i n Europe and the Middle East 

Cha I I : Just when your research work was in full swing, why did you leave 
the country and make a survey of land-use in Europe and the 
Middle East? 

WCL: It seems that I am at heart a pioneer, and, as Kipling said in 
his poem, I cannot resist a new challenge to go and find what 


WCL: lies "Out beyond the ranges." This challenge was brought up in 
one of our meetings with the Bureau of the Budget, where we were 
presenting requests for enormous sums for our work in the Soil 
Conservation Service. 

Then one thoughtful member of the appropriations committee 
asked if we had made a study of old lands that had been occupied 
for two thousand years or more. Did we know, for example, if 
there had been problems of erosion and what had been done about 
them? He suggested that we might learn much that would benefit 
our own farmers and stockmen. 

Secretary Wallace, who was sitting in on this meeting, said 
we had not made such a survey. Then the chairman of the commit 
tee suggested that when the work had settled down a bit more, it 
would be a good idea to make such a study. 

It was known that I had made a study of the old lands that 
had cradled Chinese civilization in its infancy, and had coined 
the expression "man-made desert," as the result of man's long 
occupation there. The opinion seemed to be that I should go, 
especially to the old lands of the Roman Empire that had once 
been so prosperous but now lay in ruins. Was the present condi 
tion of these lands due to an adverse change of climate or had 
it been brought on by man's neglect to protect the lands from 
soi I erosion? 

ChaM: It does seem that you get well established in doing one impor 
tant job and then you are. called to another one. Did you ever 
regret this trip abroad? 

WCL: No, never once. For it was this survey of old lands that led me 
into international work and made the latter years of my life 
fruitful and satisfying. 

Bennett was delighted. While he often said during the first 
years of the Soil Conservation Service, "1 lean on Walter I i ke a 
sapling to an oak tree," the Service was now well established, with 
capable men in all departments, and it could almost run by itself. 
Bennett was popular as a speaker; he was now Chief of the Service 
and coveted being called "The Father of Soil Conservation." Since 
we had built up the Service from its very beginnings, it was to 
his advantage, he thought, to have me out of the picture. But it 
worked out to my advantage, I 'm sure. 

Part III The Soil Conservation Service, 1939-1947 

Return to Wash! ngton 

Chall: How were you received at the Soil Conservation Service when you 

WCL: Of course the staff knew, and I knew, that Bennett had given my 
research work to Mark Nichols permanently, and perhaps some felt 
there would be a certain strain. But instead I surprised them 
all by appearing in high good humor. I had grown a very distin 
guished goatee and appeared at the office that first morning wear 
ing a fine Arab Sheik's costume, complete in every detail, includ 
ing the elaborate sheathed knife in the sash belt, the baggy 
trousers, head dress, and the usual string of amber beads, con 
sidered the "figgety beads," to fondle and play with while one 

The result was that all the office staff came by to greet 
me and comment on my changed appearance and to laugh heartily. 


Chall: Did you still hold your same title of Assistant Chief of the 

WCL: Yes, and it was a busy time almost immediately. I had promised 
to write a full, detailed report but this could only be worked 
on between times. Plans had already been made for me to make 
extensive tours around the United States to make talks to our 
soil conservation regions and districts, field stations, agri 
cultural colleges, schools and farmers, to give them the benefit 
of my findings and seek to arouse in them a sense of urgency 
about the need to take all steps to safeguard our lands from 
soil erosion. For as Nathan Shaler said, "Of all the sinful 
wasters of the earth's resources, the very worst are the Ameri 
can people." There were some immediate requests to attend to also. 

Friendship Wi th Justice Brandeis 

Chall: I understand that Justice Brandeis of the Supreme Court was very 
anxious to see your report on Palestine. 

Fifteenth wedding anniversary, in 
Hollywood, where Mrs. Lowdermilk 
spoke at a luncheon in the Cocoanut 
Grove to raise money to aid refugee 
children -- Youth Aliyah. Mrs. Paul 
Muni, Chairman. August 15, 1937. 

At home on the University 

of Nanking campus with "Skip". 


In backyard of Berkeley 
home following dinner 
party for Palestinian 
students. 1947. 

In Sacramento, after receiving the 
Eleanor Roosevelt memorial award 
from Hadassah. May, 1967. 


Eighteenth wedding anniver 
sary August 15, 1940. 


WCL: Yes, even before my arrival, he had sent word through official 

channels that he wished to see my report. He had been very much 
concerned ever since the British issued the White Paper, say 
ing there was no further economic absorptive capacity for Jews 
in Palestine and all immigration must cease. He told some friends, 
who later passed on the word to me, that "if Lowdermilk also said 
there was no further absorptive capacity for Jews in Palestine, 
he would have to give up his dream for which he had been working 
and planning." 

As soon as a special folder of the report was completed, I 
took it over in person to Henry Wallace, then Secretary of Agri 
culture, to deliver to Justice Brandeis. The Secretary told me 
afterward that he thought he would glance at the first page and 
initial it and send it to the Justice, but he read the first page, 
and then continued to read until he finished the complete report 
of almost fifty typed pages, all in one sitting. 

Then he took it over in person to Justice Brandeis and as he 
handed it to him, said, "This is the best argument for Zionism 
that I have ever read." He was pleased because they were reclaim 
ing lands long unused and bringing them back into productivity. 

Cha I 1 : Did Justice Brandeis discuss the report with you personally? 

WCL: Yes. I believe it was the following Sunday that he had a very 
delightful reception for us and invited several other Justices 
of the Supreme Court as well as some newspaper men, and the dis 
cussions were very lively. The Justice overheard my wife tell 
ing some newsmen of the "human cargo" boats, and of the remark 
able rescue of orphans from Europe and their rapid rehabilita 
tion in Palestine, and asked her if she would speak to the Jewish 
women's organization called Hadassah. He said he felt that if 
they heard these stories from an outsider's viewpoint, they might 
believe what Hitler was doing to Jews and the tragedies that were 
happening to them. 

My wife is a very out-going person and had been deeply 
stirred by the plight of the refugees and immediately accepted. 
A week later, Mrs. Brandeis introduced her to a large Washington 
Hadassah group; and this led to her speaking to fifteen hundred 
at the Mayflower Hotel two weeks later, at their annual donor 
dinner. There Mrs. Paul Muni, wife of the actor, heard her and 
asked her to speak to her group in Hollywood, where six hundred 
women were paying seven dollars per plate to raise funds for the 
rescue of the European Jewish orphans. 

So Justice Brandeis was responsible for starting her on years 
of speaking and raising money for this humanitarian work, in which 
she felt or hoped that she was doing her be'it for "Christians to 
give the Jews a new deal." That was twenty-nine ye^rs M'JO, -jrvl 

What Vice-President Wallace Has 

Said About Walter day Lowdermilk 

"Some years ago, I called into the office of the Department 
of Agriculture a soil expert by the name of Dr. Lowdermilk. I said 
that I felt trouble closing in on the world, and I hoped he could 
go to certain lands overseas where there had been ancient civiliza 
tions, and discover as completely as possible, the evidence ... 
of the way in which soil, and therefore civilizations, had been 

"Dr. Lcwderailk took on the task. He returned from abroad 
ir.i C2.-5 tc cur office. The very first thing he gave na was a 

" 4 * * ^ * ~ * * t * ~" ~ * i * ^'_r*T a^ * ^j - * ~ TS2l*'tC ** ^""g. *"*^_ j? **^A ^ 1 f & v - 

enervations in Palestine. Dr. Lcwderzilk is not of Jewish descent 
but he had become the most complete Zionist convert anyone could 
ask for. 

"In reading Dr. Lowdermilk's report I was convinced that the 
material foundations of Zion were very real and deep indeed. Some 
of us ... have sometimes wondered how deep in the soil Zionist 
enthusiasms were. Dr. Lowdermilk set this question at rest. As 
an agriculturist and soil expert, he was profoundly impressed with 
the scientific character of the work, and as a human being he was 
infinitely inspired by the human beings whom he met there on the 
land .... 

"The Jewish people have been hungering for some kind of 
stability on the land for thousands of years on that ancient bit 
of land which Abraham paid for and which was abandoned for a time 
by Joseph and his brethren, but which was built up again, and is 
now being resettled for a third time resettled not by grace of 
government help, but through the funds, spirit and tradition of the 
Jewish people . 

"And so I, a Gentile, close to this effort, regard the trans 
lation of this spirit into tangible reality as one of the most 
exciting undertakings in the world for it is a spirit which comes 
down from olden times, but is at the same time forward looking." 

(Excerpt from an address by Vice-President Henry A. Wallace 
delivered on October 31, 1940.) 


WCL: she is equally concerned and active today whenever occasion 

arises. During the present period of crisis in the Middle East, 
she has spoken about Israel to many organizations in the Bay 
Area at least once a month, I think. 

Chall: Apparently the Palestine experience and Justice Brandeis' intro 
duction to Jewish audiences opened up an active new life for her. 
Did your contact with him also have a great influence on you? 

WCL: A warm friendship existed between us until the time he died. I 
was always free to go to him for discussion or advice. 1 remem 
ber I discussed with him my growing idea of the "beneficial use 
of land": that those who made the best use of land had the right 
to use it beneficially, and those whose wrong uses destroyed the 
land, forfeited the right to land much as the legal principle 
of beneficial use of water law came into being in southern Cali 
fornia. The Justice said, "Yes, I believe it will come about in 
time, but you are fifty years ahead of your time in some of your 


Speaki ng Tour Across the Uni ted States 

Did you start out on your speaking tour immediately after your 
return to Washington? 

WCL: As soon as possible. There was an enormous amount of correspond 
ence needed to plan the tours in the various sections of the 
country. Also I had to work up the general lecture, which I en 
titled, "The Conquest of the Land Through 7,000 Years." I have 
been told that there were more requests for this publication than 
for any other Bulletin of the Department of Agriculture. I tried 
to give the talk largely with pictures, for as the Chinese say, 
"One picture is worth ten thousand words." I had plenty of pic 
tures showing what soil erosion had done to lands and cities in 
northwest China and the Old Roman Empire. 

I always closed with "the Eleventh Commandment," which was 
dramatized by showing rapidly moving slides describing each idea 
of "the Eleventh Commandment." 

Chall: What all did you do on these tours in the United States? 

WCL: They were terrifically strenuous. Each region or district wanted 
to show me all they had been doing, ask advice on their land 
problems, show me their successes and failures, h.jve field and 


WCL: office discussions, some of which were very technical. Then 

there was some entertainment in homes, and always a very large 
meeting that had been widely advertised where I spoke and showed 
slides. Everywhere there were newspaper and radio interviews. 

One of these tours lasted seventy days, without one day of 
rest and relaxation. Another tour lasted sixty-five days, and 
another, more than forty days. Then there were shorter ones 
nearby in the east. 

The hard part was that each group of men was fresh and 
rested when they met me, just arriving from another district; but 
I had to go the strenuous pace they had planned for the short 
time I was to be with them. Some of the wives told Mrs. Lowder- 
milk that their husbands had to go to bed for a day to rest up 
after conducting my activities for three or four days. Yet I had 
to keep going week after week, or at least I thought I did. 

Our family doctor said I showed symptoms of total exhaus 
tion and suggested I rest for three months; but there seemed too 
much pressure to stop, and I had always had the good health needed 
to make my body do what I wished it to do. 

Heart Attack and Recuperation 

Chall: Did you contemplate that this pace might lead to a heart attack? 

WCL: No, but I knew what was happening on the night of July 17, 1941. 
My wife was able to get a doctor almost Immediately, and I was 
taken to Mount Alta Veteran's Hospital in an ambulance. Then I 
had the nine weeks' rest which I had refused to take some months 
before. I had wonderful care and made a complete recovery. I 
accepted my limitations and acted accordingly. 

1 became for many Exhibit A, in recovery, and was able to 
help numerous other men to go ahead with limitations at first 
rather than give up to being an Invalid. My recovery was rapid, 
and soon I was doing light work and planning to make a strenuous 
one-and-a-half-year trip to China which had been previously ar 

Chall: What kind of "easy work" did you do? 

WCL: Before the heart attack, I had been elected President of the 

American Geophysical Union, one of the largest, if not the lar 
gest, scientific organization in the earth's sciences in the 
United States. We felt there should be a larger membership. Since 
many scientists had never been invited to join, I suggested that we 


WCL: write a letter explaining the advantages of being a member and 
inviting them to join. This letter we sent out to six thousand 
scientists, and to make it personal, I signed each letter. The 
response was most gratifying. 

Then too, during this time I invented a "bomb sight" and 
gave it to Dr. Vannevar Bush who transmitted it to the military, 
who apparently thought enough of its possibilities that it was 
sent on to the field to be tested. However, just at that time 
the Norton bomb sight had been tested and proved to be success 
ful and mine was dropped. 

I began going to the office part time and then full time, 
and worked on my long report on the 1938-1939 trip across old 
lands,* and the maps and pictures that were to go with the re 
port. However, although I wrote hundreds of pages, the complete 
report was never finished, first, because of the war, and later, 
because of reorganization in the Department of Agriculture. Dur 
ing the war, only activities pertaining to the war effort had 
first priorities. Increased production of food was considered 
the most urgent need. 

But the material I had gathered on this trip was made use 
of in many ways: at technical and scientific meetings as well 
as in talking to farmer groups, to encourage them to continue to 
form Soil Conservation Districts and develop their conservation 
work. Our job was to urge fanners to conserve the soi I at the 
same time they were under the war pressure for increased produc 

I also wrote short articles, such as "The Flag is on the 
Plow," which was sent all over by the United States Foreign Ag 
ricultural Division. There was also demand to speak on our ex 
periences in the Holy Land; for now Palestine was a hot issue, 
because the British White Paper cut off all Jewish immigra 
tion into the one place designated by the League of Nations as 
a "Jewish National Home," and it was still in effect. 

Also at this time, I was often consulted by the State Depart 
ment regarding help for China, who was now our ally in fighting 
the Japanese in the Pacific, for we were just recovering from 
the shock of Pearl Harbor. My five years' experience in China 
with the University of Nanking, and my expeditions throughout 
the areas which were now occupied by Japanese forces, enabled 
me to share some important information. Also, at this time I 
was under appointment to go to China. 

*A Survey of Land Use in Certai n Countries p_t_ Europe and 
the NeaV East . A~ copy will be deposited in the Bancroft Library. 

Writing "Palestine, Land of Promise" 

Chall: How did it happen that during this busy time, you agreed to 
write a book on Palestine? 

WCL: Well, when I returned from our long trip to Palestine in Novem 
ber, 1938, Justice Brandeis was very anxious that my long report 
should be printed by the Department of Agriculture as a bulletin. 
But that could not be done according to regulations because 
Palestine was a foreign country. 

But as the situation of Jews under Hitler continued to wor 
sen, and the slaughter of Jews accelerated, and the British 
White Paper continued to exclude Jews from their homeland given 
them by the League of Nations and al I ports were closed to them, 
the situation was desperate. 

Justice Brandeis and Dr. Emanuel Neumann, of the Zionist 
Emergency Organization, felt that if an authoritative book on 
Palestine were written by a non-Jew, showing how the economic 
absorptive capacity in Palestine could be increased for several 
million Jews by fully using the unique geographic features of 
the country as I had been advocating, it might be of much 
i nf I uence. 

At first, we resisted the idea. I was too busy getting 
ready to go to China in September, 1942. Furthermore, we felt 
that there were many Jews much better informed on Palestine, and 
therefore more capable of writing such a book, than we were. 

But Dr. Neumann knew of my wife's deep concern for the Jew 
ish tragedies taking place in Europe and on the old human cargo 
boats floating the Mediterranean, so he approached her again. 
Finally, my wife argued that if this book would help, and if we 
could get it finished before September, it was our duty to do it. 
She said that we must forget the family vacation we had planned 
and bend all efforts to this supreme endeavor. 

Washington summers are not conducive to strenuous work. 
But we had a large basement recreation room in which we set up 
the ping-pong table and laid out folders for different chapters 
that we decided must be written. My wife accepted this chal 
lenge as her supreme effort to help clear up a black page In 
human history. Day and night she read, took notes, gathered 
material on Palestine past and present; and gradually, material 
for each chapter grew. 

In the meantime, I had to continue some work at the office; 
but I had much unused vacation time, and so I went to the office 


WCL: only one day a week and devoted the other six days to the book. 
We both buried ourselves in our basement recreation room, keep 
ing our bare feet cool on the waxed concrete floor. We gave up 
every other activity in order to complete the book before I had 
to leave for China. In the main, the manuscript was completed 
before I left on September 7, 1942. 

Had I not left the country, the book would not have been 
published because of excessive war-time red tape. It was for 
tunate that I was away and that it was up to my wife to accom 
plish the impossible. How she maneuvered to get the book pub 
lished by the time I returned from China is a unique story in 
itself. I'll have her add her own story to this chapter. 

Publ ishing "Palestine, Land of Promise" 

Mrs. L.: Well, as you know, it was war time and there were many restric 
tions and much red tape. If my husband had not been out of the 
country, the book would not have been published, for he would 
have had to go through channels for permission. This required 
the O.K. of the Soil Conservation Service, the O.K. of the 
Department of Agriculture, the O.K. of the State Department, 
and the O.K. of the Office of War Information. Any one of 
these offices could have stopped it. 

The Soil Conservation Chief, Bennett, had flatly refused 
me permission to have it published. Also the State Depart 
ment refused for fear that in telling of the fine work Pales 
tine was doing in reclaiming the land, we might offend the 
Arabs and cause more trouble. 

But I knew how hard my husband had worked on the book and 
that it was a constructive solution to Middle East problems 
in land and water conservation and settlement. Sometimes in 
the past, my husband had come out with forward-looking plans 
that he had not pushed, and later, others claimed his Ideas 
and took the credit. I was determined that this must not hap 
pen this time. 

I confess it did seem an impossible situation. But being 
a minister's daughter whose mother had great faith and whose 
motto was, "Nothing limits God but our own limited faith," I 
decided that if I could not do the impossible myself, the Lord 
could. So I prayed. 


Mrs. L.: Each time I went down to my husband's office, someone would 
say to me, "They won't let you publish the book, they won't 
let you publish it." I demanded to know who "they" were. 
"Let me talk to them," I said. "Make an appointment for me 
here, at this office, this week. " 

Three days later, I arrived at the appointed hour. There 
came from the State Department a tall, distinguished man, of 
the Dean Acheson or Anthony Eden type, who was cordial, but with 
an attitude of: I can settle things with this woman in a hurry. 
He began with flattery. Then he told how he was a writer in 
the First World War in North Africa, but had published nothing 
so as not to offend the Arabs and cause trouble for our boys 
there; and he was sure I would not want to damage our war ef 
fort by disturbing the Arabs. 

Of course, I maintained that the book would do no such thing, 
because it was a constructive project that would have benefited 

We argued for an hour or more, and then in the conversation, 
I said, "But this book was not written for personal profit or 
the idea of making money, but of contributing something con 
structive for the Middle East." 

Then he clapped his hands in apparent joy and said, "Oh, 

Mrs. Lowdermilk, that is just splendid. If this book was not 

done for personal profit, then the thing for you to do is to 

give the manuscript to us (the State Department) and when the 

war is over, we will have it and know what to do about it." 

I replied, "Yes, and you would put it away in a pigeon hole 
and our hands would be tied. No, I will do nothing of the kind. 
This book was done under very great pressure before my husband 
left for China, because he hoped it would point a way to solve 
land and water and refugee problems for those fleeing Hitler. 1 ' 

Only after an hour and a half did he give up, but on leav 
ing, he earnestly requested one promise of me that I would 
tell no one of our meeting. I was flushed and about in tears, 
which was for me unusual. He assured me I might as well give 
up the idea of publication, for I could not receive the wartime 
O.K. of so many departments. It seemed a hopeless situation. 
But I had seen my mother work miracles by her faith, so I prayed. 

My wartime effort, with my husband in China ;jnd our son in 
the army, was to use my big house to make a home for several 
fine girls who came to Washington from all over the country to 
do clerical work. Housing conditions were terrible. 

By the way, the magazine, House beaut i f ul , sent down one 


Mrs. L.: of their editors and a photographer to make a special feature 
of my home and my girls, with the hope that others in Washing 
ton might follow my example. 

A few days after my State Department episode, a new and 
very beautiful Texas girl named Fay was sent to me. A few 
days later she was driven home in a red convertible. The next 
night also. I said, "Fay, who is your friend? 

She replied, "He is my boss, George Barnes. He is first 
assistant to Elmer Davis who is head of the Office of War In 

Immediately I knew that here was my answer. I told Fay to 
invite him to dinner. All was cordial. I gave considerable 
background of our travels and my husband's work in land and 
water conservation. He enjoyed a home-cooked meal, and I in 
vited him for Sunday dinner. 

This time, I told in detail of the book: of the plan for a 
Jordan Valley power and irrigation project a T.V.A. for the 
Jordan that would bring prosperity to both Arabs and Jews, in 
the combined Palestine under British Mandate, and enable the 
country to support several million more people. 

Very innocently I told him my husband had to leave for China, 
sent by our State Department, and this constructive plan was 
left for me to have published. I asked, "Is there any way 
whereby the Office of War Information could give me an O.K. 
to get this book published without going through all the red 
tape of getting O.K.'s from other departments?" 

He thought awhile, and then George Barnes said, "Yes, but 
first you must take out of the book any criticism of England." 
Even though England had cut off all Jewish immigration from the 
Jewish national home with the White Paper, I was to remove 
any criticism of one of our allies. 

Then he said, "Put on the frontispiece: The author wishes 
to make clear that this book was written from the point of 
view of the land conservationist, whose life work has been to 
study the relation of peoples to their lands. The opinions 
expressed here are personal and unofficial. They do net nec 
essarily represent the point of view of the U.S. Soil Ccnse-- 
vation Service of which the author is Assistant Chief, or of 
any other government department." 

The Office of War Information was the highest and final 
authority, and I had permission from them to publish the book. 
It was a mi racle! 


Mrs. L.: The Chief of the Soil Conservation Service phoned me in a 
rage and said, "I told you not to publish the book. You can 
not do it." 

I replied that I was given permission by the Office of War 
Information and told how to meet all the requirements of war 
time. He demanded my instructions and had his '.secretary take 
them down. But now it was too late to do anything. 

A few days later, a man from the State Department called 
me and said he thought I had understood that I was not to pub 
lish the book. I repeated my permission from the Office of 
War Information, and he too had nothing further to say. 

My troubles were not quite over, for I found Harper & Brothers 
required a financial guarantee of four thousand copies. I 
never dreamed there would ultimately be several editions, so 
I asked Dr. Emanuel Neumann of the Zionist Emergency Organiza 
tion to assume for me all publication responsibilities, in re 
turn for which they could take half the royalties, if there 
were any. This proved advantageous for all concerned . They 
used their royalties to send a free book to every leading per 
son in the United Nations, every leading minister in our big 
city churches, and every Congressman and Senator. 

We were told this had great influence, for when the British 
and Arabs claimed there was no further economic absorptive 
capacity in Palestine, there were always those who had read 
the book and could quote my husband's plan that would enable 
millions more to settle. 

Chall: Mrs. Lowdermilk's story is certainly fascinating and enlight 
ening, and shows tremendous perseverance against great odds. 
How was the book received in the United States? 

WCL: Its reception surpassed all our expectations. The New York 

Sunday papers and the Washington papers and others throughout 
the country gave big spreads and book reviews. They provided 
details of the plans for a Jordan Valley Authority, sometimes 
in one or two full pages. 

The first edition of the book was sold out at once. I do 
not remember how many editions there were, but ! believe there 
were twelve or more. The book was also printed in England and 
was translated into German, French, Spanish, Hebrew, Yiddish, 
and Portugese. But in overseas printings, there were no roy 
alties involved. By 1950, Harper's was completely sold out, 
and we ourselves bought the last few books they kept on file. 
We never have been able to find a secondhand book for sale, 
though we have tried. 

' 9 ' a 



I_f ypu are interested in the great Jewish 

caujo i.-i Palestine ... here is a book which 

in your hands may become an effective weapon for Justice 

Walter Clay Lowdermilk is a noted scientist and soil expert who happens to 
be a Gentile. Vice President Wallace sent him to the Near East to "discover, 
as completely as possible, the evidence of the way in which soil, and therefore 
civilizations, had been destroyed." 

Dr. Lowdermilk left for Palestine with a completely open mind concerning 
the Jewish cause in Palestine. After months of careful study and observation, 
he came back a convinced and enthusiastic Zionist, and wrote of his findings 
and convictions in the eloquent new book: 

Land of Promise 

Hero is a clear, readable, scientific presentation of the facts about 
Palestine. Never has a book been more timely. It deals with questions which 
right now are dynamite. In his conclusions Dr. Lowdermilk says: 

"If the forces of reclamation and progress Jewish settlers have introduced 
are permitted to continue, Palestine may well be the leaven that will transform 
the other lands of the Near East. Once the great undeveloped resources of these 
countries are properly exploited, twenty to thirty million people may live 
decent and prosperous lives where a few million now struggle for a bare exis 
tence. Palestine can serve as the example ... that will lift the entire Near 
East from its present desolate condition to a dignified place in a free world." 

PALESTINE, LAND OF PROMISE, has been greeted by Jews and Gentiles alike 
as the authentic, long-awaited answer to questions of paramount importance to 
every man and woman of good will. For further information, and for endorsements 
by well-known authorities in many fields, see the enclosed circular. 

If YOU ... in the words of S. Ralph Harlow of Smith College ... would like 
to see "justice and not oil determine the future of Palestine" ... send NOW for 
a copy of PALESTINE, LAND OF PROMISE. Read it from cover to cover, know your 
facts, talk about it to your friends and associates ... help make Palestine a 
haven of peace and security for millions in the postwar world. 

To secure your copy of the book, simply fill out the coupon on the back 
page of the circular, and mail today in the enclosed business reply envelope. 

No postage is required. 

Cordially yours, 




WCL: All the reviews were good. Jewish people of England re 
ported that the book had given them a great lift and encourage 
ment at a time of darkest gloom over the White Paper and the 
situation in Europe under Hitler. 

I was told that when President Roosevelt died, the book, 
Palestine, Land of Promise, was found open on his desk and 
that he was about half through reading it. 

We were grateful that we had made the supreme effort to get 
the book practically completed before I left for China, and that 
my wife was able to get it published by the time of my return. 

Commendation Dinner 

Chall: I understand that you were given a Commendation dinner in Wash 
ington, D.C. because of the book. 

WCL: Yes, this was one of the highlights and honors of my long and, 
I hope, useful life. As I remember, it was May 24, 1944, and 
there were about three hundred guests at the dinner. These In 
cluded many Congressmen, Senators, and other political figures 
in Washington, prominent clergy, business people, and scientific 
colleagues, for I was still President of the American Geophysical 
Union, and friends from the Soil Conservation Service, Forest 
Service and Department of Agriculture. 

The program was carried on a nation-wide hookup by the 
National Broadcasting Company, and included speeches by Senator 
Robert Wagner, who was Chairman of the evening, by Senator Owen 
Brewster, and by Abel Wolman of Johns Hopkins University who 
was moderator. So many nice things were said about me that in 
my reply, I said that I felt like a pancake after the syrup had 
been poured on. It was a beautifully planned and carried out 
dinner and a cherished memory always.* 

^Transcript of speeches deposited with Lowdermilk papers 
in the Bancroft Library. 


Various Activities, 1944-1947 

Chall: I see your last period in the Soil Conservation Service, from 

your China return in 1944 to retirement in 1947, covered a wide 
variety of activities. What were some of these? 

WCL: Yes, there were many field trips over the United States, in res 
ponse to invitations to come and speak to various Soil Conserva 
tion regions and districts, and also invitations to speak in 
Canada. Then in Washington there was the big report on the 
1938-1939 trip which I had always hoped to complete. 

For a time, I was kept busy drawing up plans for the pilot 
projects in China, which my recent trip had convinced me were 
necessary. I was also called into consultations in watershed 
phases of the Soil Conservation Service Research. 

Also at this time, my three-year term as President of the 
American Geophysical Union was ending. The membership had grown 
rapidly in response to the letters of invitation that we hac sent 
out to sc entists and that I had personally signed before leaving 
for China. Now I had my Presidential Address to write and give. 
I entitled it "Down to Earth," and dealt with the various earth 
sciences, especially those with bearing on my previous studies. 
This was a splendid affair. My Presidential Address, illustrated, 
was published and distributed widely over the country. 

Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry on Palestine 

WCL: Also during the period before I retired from the Department of 
Agriculture, I was asked to present to the Anglo-American Com 
mission the possibilities of my Jordan Valley power and irriga 
tion scheme. Daily the tragic plight of Jews under Hitler grew 
worse and worse and the one place al lotted to the Jews as a 
national homeland by the League of Nations was shut and pad 
locked by the British Mandate's White Paper. 

Pressure was brought to bear, and this Anglo-American Com 
mission was established in December, 1945. Six Americans, ap 
pointed by President Truman, met with six Englishmen, appointed 
by their government. Hearings were held in Palestine, in England, 
and in Washington, D.C. There was a demand for the British to 
admit 100,000 Jewish refugees from Europe, but the British stead 
fastly refused. This was against their policy whorein some 
frankly declared that they felt "their interests lay with the 
Arabs and oil." To allow more Jews to come in to modernize the 


WCL: country would, they believed, disturb British-Arab relations. 

The British attempt to have members biased in their favor 
was not altogether successful . One of our American representa 
tives, Bartley Crum, a San Francisco lawyer and one of the foun 
ders of the United Nations when it was organized in San Francisco, 
wrote a book entitled Behind the Si I ker^ Curtain, which revealed 
much of the inside political man ipu I at ions'! 

Judge Joseph Hutcheson, an American, was appointed one of 
the chairmen to alternate with the British-appointed Sir John 

When my turn came, Sir John was in the chair. I had maps, 
and portrayed vividly and earnestly the advantages that would 
come to Arabs and Jews alike if this project could be put in. 
I had gone over the entire project with John L. Savage, who was 
the designer and builder of both Grand Coulee and Hoover dams. 
The project had been engineered by a donation from the Esco 
Foundation. It was estimated to cost at that time 250 million 
dollars which could be paid off in fifty years at three percent 

C. S. Chapman, then Under-Secretary of the Department of 
Interior, said the United States would be delighted to have the 
chance to advance the money, for he said that generally we got 
little or no returns from such overseas advancements, but this 
would be a sure thing. But England refused this offer and ridi 
culed my proposals. 

When John L. Savage was asked by a member of the Commission 
where he would invest 250 million dollars if he had it, he im 
mediately replied, "I would invest it right here in this Jordan 
Valley Power and Irrigation Project in Palestine. It is entirely 
feasible and if we in the United States had such a unique geo 
graphical situation, we would have put in the project long ago." 

But as I gave my talk before the Commission, Sir John never 
glanced my way, looked at the maps or listened. He acted bored 
and looked at the ceiling or played with papers on the table, 
showing no interest in this constructive proposal. 

When I had finished, he made no comment whatever, but called 
on an unknown, nondescript American missionary from Jerusalem, 
who was not even a representative of any regular denomination. 
Now Sir John was all alertness. He leaned across the table to 
drink in every word of the low-voiced minister whom we could 
scarcely hear at all. 

When he had finished, Sir John in a loud voice accentuated 
all important statements by repeating, "Did I understand you to 


WCL: say that you felt the Jews were responsible for all the trouble 
with the Arabs in Palestine?" to which the minister replied, 
"Yes"; and so they went on with a number of questions and answers 
that were against the Jews. It was all very maddening. The Com 
mission's proceedings were all published and somewhere I have a 
copy among my things. 

The Commission did not succeed in getting the 100,000 refu 
gees from Europe admitted into Palestine, but it had educational 
value; and the final result was that the United Nations finally 
investigated and declared that the British had failed in carry 
ing out the Mandate and would have to leave Palesline. The result 
was that the State of Israel was proclaimed in 1948, although the 
Israelis had to fight five well-armed Arab nations before it could 
achieve its national status. 

Chall: Apparently, your 1939 year in Palestine and the Middle East gave 
you a background for considerable activity in this political 

WCL: Yes, and my interest has never ceased in this remarkable Jewish 
reclamation of lands and waters in the Holy Land, which corrupt 
Turkish rule and Arab nomads and their herd;> had, through the 
centuries, turned into a man-made desert. This initial interest 
led me, after retirement from the Department of Agriculture, to 
work for about seven years in Israel, six oi which were under ap 
pointment by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. 
These years I consider the most interesting in a long life full 
of interesting experiences. 

Dec i s i on to Ret i re 

Chall: Why did you retire from the Soil Conservation Service on your 

sixtieth birthday? You were, I understand, in good health, and 
in spite of many trips out of the country, you were still Assist 
ant Chief. 

WCL: There were a number of reasons. It happened that my sixtieth 

birthday fell on July 1, which is the beginning of a fiscal year, 
and if one is to retire, that is the time to do H. Then too, I 
was spending considerable time in consultations and speaking on 
my Jordan Valley Power and Irrigation Project. I could see that 
my many overseas assignments had led people to speak of me as an 
international authority on land and water conservation, and that 
if I retired, there might be interesting international consulting 


WCL: offers that would be more enjoyable than continuing in Washington. 

Working for the government in Washington has many compensa 
tions. But life can be hectic and heartbreaking. There were 
often jealousies and a tendency for ambitious people to knife 
any fellow-competitor who stood in his way. This had been back 
of my heart attack in 1941, along with exhaustive overwork. 

For a long time, Bennett had had an obsession to be called 
"The Father of Soil Conservation." I was his only competitor, 
though I had no desires along this line. I never wanted or sought 
top place, but only to have a challenging job to do and do it 
thoroughly and wholeheartedly. The budget had been cut, and ways 
had to be found to retrench. Bennett made an appointment to see 
me Monday morning, June 30. I never knew what he had in mind. 

On Friday evening, June 27, my wife asked me if I thought 
I could go through another three years in Washington In order to 
retire at a better pension, without having another heart attack. 
I thought a moment and then said, "I don't think I could." 
Whereupon my wife said, in no-uncertain terms, "AM right. Mon 
day morning, June 30, at nine o'clock, you walk into Bennett's 
office and inform him that you have retired as of June 30, 1947." 

So this is what I did. His expression was of startled re 
lief. For the moment he was speechless. But the Soil Conserva 
tion Service was stunned. Bennett gave me an appreciative let 
ter on retirement, and Clinton Anderson, Secretary of the 
Department of Agriculture gave me a written lifetime appointment 
as Collaborator, with the Department. 

ChaM : Did you ever have any regrets about your early retirement? 

WCL: No, never once. It was one of the best things that ever hap 
pened to me. The next ten years were the richest and most 
satisfying of my entire life. The overseas assignments far 
exceeded all expectations. Sometimes the work was more strenu 
ous than in Washington; but I had no heartaches, only tremendous 
satisfaction doing things that needed to be done in other coun 
tries to help people safeguard their lands from erosion and con 
serve their waters, so that they could grow more food and give 
a better life to their increasing populations. 

Chall: Did you leave Washington immediately? 

WCL: Yes. We returned to our lovely home In Berkeley, with its mag 
nificent views of cities and water and Golden Gate, only five 
blocks from the University campus. We had been renting it for 
all the past fifteen years and we were happy to bo home. We gave 
the entire place a ''face-l i fting" both inside and out: fresh 
paint and a modernized kitchen made the entire pl.jce seem like 


WCL: new. The garden had overgrown, and while we were putting it 
into shape we had the feeling that we were cutting out a 
forest. We left only a giant redwood at the side and a large 
Cedrus deodar at the front. Just as all was in readiness for 
gracious living, the first appointment came for overseas work. 

[Taped questions and answers] 

Part I The Soil Erosion Service and the Soil Conservation 
Service, 1933-1938 

Knowledge of Erosion in 1933 

Cha I 1 : When you began to work in Washington, the knowledge about soil 
erosion was still quite limited, was it not? 

WCL: Very few people had any comprehension of what erosion was do 
ing. In fact, it wasn't until some of us, and I was one of the 
few, began to measure erosion, that we had any conception of the 
quantity of eroded material that had come off of America's land. 

And there were misconceptions, probably more misinformation 
than there was information. For instance, you had people in the 
early days in erosion work who would say, "What? Are you going 
to stop the erosion of the Grand Canyon?" 

Chall: Oh. 

WCL: They entirely misunderstood. This is what I call a geologic 
norm of erosion; and it goes on, varying of course with the 
conditions, the amount of rain and so on, but it goes on slowly. 
The valleys are excavated by the rivers but it takes a long 
time. There is time for the soil to accumulate on the slopes 
and differentiate into what we call an A-rise, or a B-rise, and 
what we call topsoi I . And yet the river is excavating, but the 
formation of soil is a slow process. So the rate of excavation 
of the valley isn't very great. 

But when you remove your vegetation and bare the land to 
the blasts of rain and the blasts of wind, then you Induce 
another type, what I call an accelerated phase of erosion. And 
that's the erosion that we want to bring back to -he geologic 


Chall: I see man-made erosion, in a sense. 



WCL: It was my analysis of just this thing that got me my job with 
Tugwell when he was out here looking us over. We had sessions 
with him, and I wanted to show him how we had to clear this 
concept of what we were trying to do, to have it really clear- 
cut in our minds. He was a man who was very intelligent; you 
didn't have to tell him twice. Then he insisted that I be As 
sociate Chief of the Soil Erosion Service. Well, here we were, 
a new science, a new movement, and it spread over the country 
qu ickly . 

Controversies Among Special i sts 

Bennett vs. Kellogg: The Extent of Erosion 

Cha I I : I want to ask you about the differences between the figures of 
Hugh Bennett and those of Charles Kellogg, with respect to the 
amount of real damage there had been to the soil because of 
erosion.* Mr. Kellogg, it seems, estimated that 160 million 
acres were relatively undamaged and presumably could be farmed 
safely by present practices. Bennett, in the Soil Conservation 
Service, estimated that only 114 million acres were undamaged 
and presumably could be farmed safely with present practices. 
Was this a long-standing controversy, did it have much meaning 

WCL: Back of Kellogg was the fact that he was chief of the Soil Sur 
vey, following Marbut. [Curtis F.D Marbut was a magnificent 
scientist. Kellogg was a brilliant young man who was Marbut's 
choice for the Soil Survey. This was before the depression, 
and before this program for developing soil conservation work 
on a big scale. 

Bennett disregarded Kellogg and set up a Land Use Capa 
bility classification of land which involved a soil survey and 
also indicated what kind of measures were needed to control 
erosion if the land was cleared and cultivated. Bennett wanted 
to differentiate what we were doing from what Kellogg was doing. 
Kellogg had appropriations for soil surveys which did not allow 
for a very big staff. 

But we must recognize that this was a depression, and the 

*Charles M. Hardin, The Politics of Agriculture (Glencoe, 
Illinois: The Free Press, 1952), p. 16. 


Mrs. W. C. Lowdermilk 

Wife of the Vice-Director, Soil Erosion Service 
U. S. Department of the Interior 

National Broadcasting Co., Farm and Home Hour 
Station Y/MAL. 712 - llth St., N. W. t Washington 

March 22, 1935 
Time: 12.35 P. M. 

Doubtless many of my radio audience think of China in terms of 
famines, floods and low standards of living. The 1933 Census gives China 
a population of 492,000,000 people. Almost a half billion, sprawled half 
way across Asia, where they have lived since the dawn of history. Almost 
350 million are rural peoples. In this long period of land use, the de 
structive forces of land wastage, which have helped reduce China to her 
present economic condition despite some measure of soil protection, are 
working much more rapidly on our farms in America. 

China's first settlers found, as did our pioneers, a land compara 
ble in size to the United States and equally well endowed with forested 
mountains, rich valleys and other natural resources. China dates the 
periods of her "Golden Age" from 200 B. C. to 1200 A. D. when there was 
abundance for all and every one was honest. Then why this poverty and 
decline. One evidence greets the traveler on the ocean, a hundred miles 
"before land is sighted, in the form of a great yellow pathway coming out 
of the mouth of the Yangtse River as it pours forth the rich silt laden 
waters from the farm and mountain lands of central China. The Yellow Sea 
is so named "because for centuries the Yellow River has dumped "billions of 
tons of soil from the loess lands and denuded watersheds of north China, 

Mrs. Lowdermilk wrote and read two scripts which were designed to arouse 
an interes't in and an. understand! ng about soil erosion in the United 


WCL: big job was to put men to work. Some of us, and I happened to 

be in that early group, were measuring, and recognizing that soil 
erosion was not only a national, but a world-wide problem. The 
difference in attitude on the part of the Soil Survey and Bennett's 
direction of the soil conservation work caused a sort of running 
battle for some time. I remember we had many conferences and both 
were arguing all the time I was in the Service. Kellogg, for ex 
ample, insisted on the scientific accuracy of his approach to the 

I once said to Milton Eisenhower, "Kellogg should be over 
in our Service, because the Soil Survey is basic to our program 
in evaluating the problem of soil erosion and what needs to be 
done." I told him 1 could handle Kellogg, that we got on very 
well. But some of the other bureaus were afraid this would give 
the Soil Conservation Service too much power in the Department 
of Agriculture. 

Chal I : More than it already had? 

WCL: Kellogg and his staff were good soil surveyors. 

Chal I: Was it a difference then in the basic assumptions of how you 

classified soil that made Kellogg's figures different from yours? 

WCL: Of course, there was a tendency there on the part of Kellogg's 
people to discount the statements that Bennett made about the 
seriousness of the problem. But I approached this issue, inde 
pendent of these two points of view, and 1 found, especially 
in those areas where the land was gullying, it was as bad or 
worse than we estimated. 

Kellogg would accuse us of exaggerating the seriousness of 
erosion. But I was intent on taking the longer range view. In 
my presidential address at the American Geophysical Union, Down 
to Earth,* I specify that this damage by erosion had gone on for 
so" long throughout the world, that in many places the soil had 
been washed off to bedrock. 

Chall: You have pictures of it. 

WCL: Yes, pictures and measurements of it. In a way, my approach 

more or less checked with Bennett's, rather than with Kellogg's. 

*Lowdermilk, Walter Clay, Down to Earth, Presidential Ad 
dress, American Geophysical Union, "Transactions, 1 ' 1944, 
pp. 195-213. 


Silt Problems in Reservoirs 

WCL: In some cases the long-range problems hadn't been accounted for. 
For instance, it was our Service and a dear old mtm by the name 
of Henry Eakin, to whom I gave the job of running sediment sur 
veys in the reservoirs of the United States. During the period 
of the Soil Erosion Service, he came to me to apply for a job, 
and when I found he was interested in sediments o1 rivers, I 
said to I ekes, "Here's a man we want. We h.ave accused this ero 
sion of damaging our land, but now, in the legal sense, we have 
to account for the body, the corpus del icti ." [laughter] If 
so much has been eroded, where is it? 

When I presented Eakin's appointment to lcke<> for approval, 
I said that we had been complaining about all thi c .> erosion and 
now with Eakin's appointment, we would have a good chance to 
check its severity. We made Eakin responsible for the survey 
of the condition of reservoirs and the degree to which they were 
filled with sediments. We got the history of the reservoir, 
when the dam was built and its original capacity. Before we 
appointed Eakin, there were very few cases where any resurveys 
had been made. 

We published Eakin's bulletin. It was most authoritative 
and revealed startling results. This resurvey of the reservoirs 
of the United States enabled us to measure fhe amount of sedi 
ments captured behind important dams of the country. This was 
the first time we had an accurate measure of quantities of sedi 

In many, many parts of the country, especially where res 
ervoirs impounded by dams had been in operation fifty years or 
more, many of these reservoirs were silted up to the crest of 
the spillway and were out of commission. Some of these had 
been used for the production of hydropower in the southern states 
where soil erosion had been accelerated due to unwise cultiva 
tion, without conservation measures, during the past century. 

Chall: I see. This suggested what will happen to more recently con 
structed reservoirs. 

WCL: Exactly. Now we had a factual story to present to Congress. We 
were able to say that this damage was really serious and very 


Reasons for Sedimentation Studies 

[Written by Dr. Lowdermilk for insertion here] 

While sediments collected in reservoirs behind dams gave us impor 
tant and significant information on work of rivers in eroding banks, 
transport and deposition of materials that had been eroded from a catch 
ment area, yet these sediments did not account for all the eroded material 
in a river basin. We must recognize that work of streams and rivers sort 
these materials into suspended loads and bed loads. 

Suspended loads are made up of fine soil particles that are evident 
in muddiness of storm runoff and streamflow. Such fine materials are 
carried downstream in one trip. They may be deposited in eddies of streams 
in high stages and be eroded in bank cuts again and again, and be trans 
ported for shorter or longer reaches of a stream. 

It is comparatively simple to estimate the amounts o1 the fine soils 
transported by streams by sampling of streamflow for determining relative 
amounts of fine sediments. In hydrologic studies it is common practice 
to do just this to forecast the I i f e of a reservoir. 

Measuring of bed load is another matter. Bed load of river sedi 
ments is made up of gravels and coarse to fine sands that are transported 
only comparatively short distances downstream. The coarser the gravels 
and pebbles, the shorter are the trips made by bed load materials. Meas 
urements of bed load materials are difficult to make in open streams. 

But our branch of sedimentation under the direction of Henry Eakin 
and with the consultation of Hans Albert Einstein (son of Einstein the 
Great) designed and set up installations on an important river of the 
Piedmont in South Carolina. 

Eakin found that much could be learned from the sizes and shoaling 
action of river sediments captured in reservoirs that impounded the 
f low of streams. 

We had planned to make surveys of such shoaling action of streams, 
of deposits of sediments in stream channels and in reservoirs, and of 
amounts of soils eroded from sloping fields under different types of 
land uses. These studies were designed to establish indicators of the 
amounts of soils eroded, degree of sorting, and amounts deposited in 
stream channels and reservoirs. 

Such fundamental studies would have given us essential data on the 
extent and degree of land wastage under more and more intensive agri 
culture. Such information was needed for long-range planj, of develop 
ments. These investigations were dropped prematurely or cibandoned, as 
appropriations were being decreased after rigors of the great Depression 
d imi n i shed. 



Soils Men Interpreting Erosion 

Chall: Well, let's discuss your attitude as a forester and geologist 
going into the Soil Erosion Service. I think that the Service 
was dominated by soils men. How did you fit In? 

WCL: think generally we were in agreement with what we found. 

There had, in the past, been differences of opinion even among 
soils men themselves as to the meaning of erosion. Bennett had 
his ideas of erosion, based on erosion of the soil profile. 
Marbut, Chief of the Soils Survey who retired in 1935, had a 
principal interest in classification of soils in ciccordance with 
the principles and discoveries of Russian soil scientists, while 
I came in as a geologist, looking at processes of planation of 

1 created the term "geologic norm of erosion," as would 
occur in the state of nature. I also created the term "ac 
celerated erosion," where man and his agencies exposed the land 
to the dash of rain and blasts of wind, and this bared soil 
eroded faster than geologic erosion which goes on no faster 
than new soil is formed; and so accelerated erosion rapidly 
destroys the top soil and with it the productivity of the land. 

Whitney and Marbut 

WCL: Marbut and Kellogg were surveying soils that had been eroded 
off the land to subsoil. Whitney CMiltonJ laid down the rule 
that if you find a soil profile that is eroded down to subsoil, 
you survey it as that. 

But Bennett said, "No. If this is a remnant of a profile, 
you must give recognition of what has happened to the land. 

But Whitney never did agree to that. In his surveys of 
soils, he recorded facts that he had observed and made no at 
tempt to interpret what had happened to the soil. So he would 
not map the interpretation of what had happened to the soil. 

Chall: How long did Whitney stay in the Department? 

WCL: Whitney stayed on until he retired and was succeeded by Marbut. 
Later, Marbut chose Kellogg to succeed him when he retired. 

Marbut was a great man. When we were in Oxford prior to 
the International Soils Science Congress, I urged Marbut not to 
go on to take the trip across Russia to Manchuria as was planned, 


WCL: But he was adamant that he must go. Unfortunately while on the 
long train trip across Siberia, he took pneumonia and died. 
This was a great loss and we were all saddened. 

Mar-but and I both took part In the International Soil 
Science Congress in Oxford, England, where I gave my paper on 
soil erosion that surveyed our situation here in America, a new 
country. It was translated into several different languages. 

Chall: Yes, 1 think I have read that. 

WCL: This was also the time when the Russians had their opportunity 
to explain their new theories on the formation of soils. Mar- 
but had been so interested in what the Russians were doing that 
he got up very early every morning to study Russian so he could 
read their books on soils. This was an epoch-making Interna 
tional Soils Science Congress. However, it was Marbut who domi 
nated the sessions at the Congress. 

Demonstration of Erosion 

WCL: Bennett recognized that a soil profile can be so damaged that 

it isn't like the original soil. I also believed this and often 
had occasion to demonstrate this fact. For instance, we had 
some agricultural people from China. I had been to China and 
could speak some Chinese. I took this delegation into South 
Carolina to see our work. I took them up on a rounded ridge 
which had never been plowed. It had oak trees and tulip pop 
lars. It was a native, natural primeval forest. 

I had a spade along and 1 dug down through the litter to 
the decomposed leaves below the fresh leaves. Then we dug fur 
ther and came to the zone where the earthworms and I ittle or 
ganisms and insects bore through. It's a very porous medium. 
I call this the decomposition zone. When heavy rains fall on 
this decompositional zone between the top of the litter and the 
mineral soil below, water flows out clear. The surface soil was 
a gray-brown color. We dug down fourteen inches and came to 
bright red soi I . 

I said, "Compare this with the field out there. The fields 
that have been cultivated and eroded are red, like this red 
sub-soi I here." 

And here where we sat under the trees was fourteen inches 
of topsoil, but you see, the fourteen inches of topsoil out 
there in the field had eroded off. This was a realistic demon 
stration of what had happened to these formerly good farm lands. 

Problems of Recording Erosion 

Chall: I suppose the examples of erosion might not always be so clear 

WCL: When a survey is made after soil is lost, they record what they 
find at that time. But this does not include what was there 
before, nor show what has been lost. I found this true, espe 
cially. in our aerial photographs which we enlarged for maps for 

Carroll, of Carrollton, was a lawyer in New York who had a 
farm on lands that had been granted to Lord Baltimore in Mary 
land. He wanted to start a Soil Conservation district in his 
region and asked me to talk with the farmers, in the hope they 
would organize a district. 

He had a map of the farm that had been made from a survey 
about a hundred years before. It showed some portions of a field 
where there were no streams, bushes or trees, just smooth fields. 
We compared this with two aerial photographs, one made some time 
before, and one more recently when the fields were being planned 
for conservation. 

In the middle of the former, there were apparently gullies 
that had cut across this once-smooth field, and here an occasional 
bush had grown in the gulley, which one could see in the aerial 
photograph. And then in the last photograph, this whole big 
field that was formerly smooth, was cut up by several gullies, 
and trees had grown tall in these. 

Chall: I see. You would have thought that's the way the land had 
always been? 

WCL: Yes. This kind of evidence can be passed over without recogniz 
ing the soil loss that has taken place in a field. One may have 
a certain number of acres at one time; but as time goes on, gradu 
ally those acres were lost for cultivation, so that the final 
field is less than the original area. But this tragic fact isn't 
shown in the records. So the cultivatable lands of the earth are 
being diminished in the face of the urgent demands of an increas 
ing population. 

Foresters: Changing Concepts 

Chall: Now I'd like to find out from you about this activity in 1934, 
when you and eleyen other prominent foresters, including Zon, 


Chall: Sllcox, Pinchot, and Clapp, petitioned the American Society of 
Foresters, complaining that the Journal did not represent the 
broad social ideals of the founders of the Society. 

WCL: Where did you find this reference? 

Chall: It's in the Journal of Forestry of October, 1934. 

WCL; Raphael Zon was the ferment back of this, for he had a high 
degree of social responsibility. He resented that lumbermen 
exploited the forests with no thought of renewal of a forest 
stand. The petition was published along with answers written 
by Edward Reed and Emanuel Fritz. 

Chall: You twelve were dubbed the "Unholy Apostles." 

WCL: Of course, I went along with foresters who were concerned with 
the development of our resources for multiple use:; and restora 
tion of the forest stand. Here is where philosophies encoun 
tered one another with violent reactions. It was a stage in 
the normal course of the exploitation of a pristine, newly- 
occupied country. 

What it really comes down to is whether to treat forests 
only for timber and ignore other values that may bring benefits. 
And this applies also in our control of waters and reservoirs. 
We now do not think of building a dam to store water unless we 
evaluate the multiple uses that may be made of the stored water 
and also include the social objective. If we turned over all 
our forests and waters to private initiative entirely, they 
would not include these multiple benefits and would say, "Private 
Property. Keep out." 

Chall: And this was one of your attitudes during this period? 

WCL: Yes. To develop the resources for multiple use, for maximum 
realization and maximum values for our people, has been what 
I have pounded away on for half a century. A forester, to be 
true to his profession, must be a kind of socialist to safe 
guard these multiple uses for the people. 

Lumbermen now are becoming much more intelligent in this 
matter. They recognize that they can't take the attitude, even 
on their land, of saying, "Everybody keep off. We're going to 
block this off from any access." Now even lumbermen say they 
will open up their forests to camping, so you see, we are making 


Plant Men vs. Engineers 

WCL: For instance, there was a time in our conservation movement when 
the plant branch and engineering branch were at loggerheads, be 
cause the plant people said that engineers do not stop erosion, 
only plants stop erosion. The engineers measured erosion at the 
end of water outlets. Of course erosion that had gone on plus 
and minus up in the drainage did not all come down to the outlet, 
So a portion of it was not measured. These two branches got 
awfully heated up over this, primarily because they had separate 
budgets and had a fight between their budgets. 

Integration and Coordination of Special ists 

Chall: Even though there were controversies among and between special 
ists, the desire in both Erosion and Conservation Services was 
to integrate specialties, was it not? 

WCL: Yes. Our biggest trouble was with this coordinated attack. We 
recognized that we must integrate the specialties of a number of 
fields of interest in order to get the solutions that we needed. 

For instance, a very able plant breeder would want to 
develop a strain of wheat resistant to rust, that would be a 
very high yielder, so he might turn the seed over to a farmer 
whose wheat field was eroding. He did not discuss, with the 
farmer about erosion because that wasn't his specialty. He 
served the farmer only in his narrow interest. 

We said this Isn't good enough. We must integrate, and 
then adjustment must be developed on the basis of the charac 
teristics of the land and what it needs to make it fully pro 
ductive. We had to have soils men and agronomists and pasture 
men. And then for the west, with these open range lands, we had 
to have a range management man, which is a separate specialty 
from that of farm pastures. We also needed foresters for wood lots. 

Wood lots 

Chall: Can you give me some examples of how you coordinated these 

September 25. 1934. 

(Essence of discussion; this ia not a verbatln transcription) 




You have, I think, thia nonorondun, -rfiich is on atterpt to cot up 
sono of tho objectives of the Soil Erosion Sorvico cud getting the 
- nachinory to vrork. Y/s ought to keep in nind tint our organization 
was established for a definite purposo. Tho principle thine ia to 
keep in nind what our purpose ia so that re con do the job. Ono of 
the essential features Bennett's motor stroke *- io bringing 
together of specialists to do all that is necessary to do on that 
tract of land, sone-lMng that is novr in I was talking 
to a man fron India/ today, a scientist on coil and grazing problems. 
Suoh difficulties! are; not confined to thia country olono. But thin 
is entirely unique in our Government and tha lack of thia objective 
has brou,->it about inoff ectivcnoa-: in this field of work. There haa 
been a lack of coordinationthat ia obvious in tho agricult ural eccper- 
inent ctationo. Our job is to obviate those difficulties. That mat 
bo the uidins star of our organization BO that we can Et a corposite 
solution of our problens. Thoro is another feature about dealing TTith 
cciontifio non, A nan has authority of two kindai (1) authority of 
hicposition, which is an orcpnization affair, and (2) as a specialist. 
lie speaks vrith authority on that field* Tloat is one of the aspocta 
rhich separate us fron an ordinary business organization. It is alee 
one wo do not v.-ajit to stiflo* There rre got constructive ideas toward 
tho solution of problens confronting us In all our. regional projects 
tho Regional Director has a staff of cpccialiots and ho coordinates 
those specialists. That is his particular job, to see that all of 
then focus their at.' Dirt ion on the vrork at hand* and that no one cpoo- 
ialty is oxnhasizod over tlao others. That ia one of tho nost diffi 
cult things tre IIT.VO to do. In inany projects it is working vary Mcely* 
TThcn we cone up to our \faGhington office wo have not quite that scne 
hero. Sono of tho Chiefs of Brrxchoa have not been functioning* 

Tliat is one of tho things wo have called this neoting for. 7.'e \?ant to 
got ideas fron evoiyono. There is possibly different ways of doing Iti 
Vl) To rsJ:a responsible to i2ao Director essentially tno persons, tho 
Chief of Operations anl Chief of Technical Division, each one to coord 
inate work in his fiold; (2) Have a znribor of bronchos responsible dir 
ectly to the Director, with on Administrative Assistant who transmits 
the material and keeps the mterial going to the Chiefs of Branches 
and see that tho natorial gets to then* see that ratters of business 
should be aoted on, and if tcro or noro should know about it, see that 
they do know about it. One of the principal t hings is that the Chiefs 
of Branches have not been functioning, and another thizg is to get 
then to* 

CARRIER In what way have they not been funofcioningT TThy are they falling domt 

LCWDERlULKi A great deal ia because tho natters for their attention have not been 
going to them. They have boon going to Bennett and swanping hin- The 
thing is to get the ratters to then without burdening Bennett. 

CARRIBRt He has been letting it ooso there without passing 'tt rt and has been 
trying to handle it hinnolf. 


Yes. For example, we were the ones that showed the farmers of 
the south especially, that they had in their woodlots a very 
valuable resource. Because ordinarily the gyppo, or small-scale 
logger, would come around and say, "Don't you want to cut your 
woodlot?" And the farmer knew nothing about forestry, or about 
his species or their characteristics, and he would say, "Yes," 
and they would agree to a price. And then this gyppo would come 
in and cut down everything. 

hired John Preston, a very good man and an excellent 
forester; he was my Chief of Silviculture when I was in Missoula. 
We offered him this job and he accepted it. 

So the foresters, under Preston, went out to the farmers 
and said, "Look here, you are wasting this resource. If you 
will mark the trees that are to be cut, and not turn the entire 
woodlot over to the gyppo but save this job until wintertime 
when you have nothing else to do, then you can cut the trees 
that are marked. You will leave a young stand to continue to 
grow and protect those small trees, so that they're not des 
troyed. You can haul your timber crop (in the south, it was 
for pulp wood, about eight feet long) so all that money that 
you would ordinarily pay out, you actually earn as an Income." 

Of course, we had our professional foresters to teach the 
farmers the principles of marking and cutting, and how to main 
tain the stand in a satisfactory condition for reproduction. 
Then in probably ten years, farmers would have another cutting 
from the younger and smaller trees. This went over big with 
the farmers. 

Then we'd plant up the gullies with black locust trees for 
rapid erosion control and fence posts, and pine trees for pulp 
wood. It wasn't more than about fifteen years until the pines 
were big enough to harvest for pulp wood, so the farmers began 
to get earnings and make money out of these gullied areas that 
formerly were absolutely wasting away. The farmers liked this 

On this has been built up a big pulp industry in the 
southern states that depends on trees and logs from these re 
claimed areas that were formerly cut up with deep gullies and 

Chall: Well, that was a very good outcome. Was this integration of 
forestry with soil conservation a new concept? 

WCL: Soil conservation was usually thought of in terms of agronomy 
and field crops. There was quite a group of agronomists who 
didn't consider forestry as a part of the cropping of land and 
paid little attention to it. But I came to this soil conservation 


WCL: field as a geologist and a forester; my Interest was in the for 
est and also in soil conservation. They must be integrated into 
the landscape as we develop the resources as a whole. 


WCL: But now, another need for Integration for instance, in these 
planted-up gullies we had wildlife. Why would the Erosion 
Service be interested in wildlife? In these gullies, after we 
had planted Lespodisa and other plants that produce seeds which 
game, especially quail, live on, game came in and rapidly in 
creased in numbers, providing game for hunters. 

Later our farm ponds became part of the farm enterprise. 
The farmer had a pond with a tank as a safeguard against fire, 
but he also had a place where the family could go boating and, 
when he stocked it with fish, enjoy fishing. This farm pond 
added to the variety of food, the income and pleasures of the 

Farm Ponds 

Chal I : It would take a rather large farm, wouldn't It, to be able to 
plant up gullies and also have a pond big enough for recrea 
tion? Were these large farms you were working on? 

WCL: No, these farms in the southern and southeastern states were 

sixty, eighty or a hundred acres. Even the Ben James farm was 
a hundred and one acres. 

Chal I: You weren't able to put ponds on all of these were you? 

WCL: Oh yes, a pond won't take but a quarter or half an acre. 

Probably an acre would be a good-sized farm pond that would 
be 209 feet on each of four sides. 

Chall: These ponds were for water in case of fire, and they were also 
for boating and fish, and for supplemental irrigation in dry 
spells. I've seen some of the recent literature on farm ponds, 
and I didn't realize that so many had been made. 

WCL: I personally get satisfaction from having helped develop certain 
things. When I made my land-use survey in '38, I heard of the 
region of Les Domes In France, where the farmers used a rotation 
of crops and fish. The country was gently rolling with depressions 


WCL: and little hills that served as boundaries. French farmers diked 
them off, down a streamway, into fields that were like ponds. 
Part of the year they were used as fish ponds, where carp was 
grown on a three-year rotation. 

The farmers flooded this area and stocked It with fish, and 
kept them for a two-year period. They started with fingerlings. 
And in the meantime, an organism grew on straws of the flooded 
stubble, and the fish lived on those organisms to a great extent. 
Then the farmers emptied the pond, and harvested and marketed 
their crop of fish. I have some fine pictures of this being 

After the farmers had harvested the fish crop, they sowed 
grain. The soil had been partially fertilized by the fish, but 
they added more fertilizer to have a good crop. It might be 
wheat, rye or barley. Then after the grain crop was harvested, 
the stubble was left; then the field was again flooded and the 
process was repeated. French farmers found they could grow more 
value and poundage from fish than during the rotation period of 
grains, to feed livestock on the same area. 

I reported this and wrote it up in detail as one of the 
findings I made on my trip to Europe, because I realized how 
this could apply very well in the eastern and central parts of 
the United States, where there was rainfall enough. Generally, 
we have about forty to fifty inches of rain, which Is more than 
that in central Europe. As a result of my study and report, we 
developed in our Soil Conservation Service the designing of farm 
ponds, and the farmers liked it. 

I remember an interesting example about a farm pond and 
the problems of soil erosion. A farm planner had worked out a 
pond for a farmer and had brought in the drainage from fields 
above it into the pond. After this pond had been going some time, 
the farmer complained and asked for one of our biologist fish 
specialists, who were on call at state headquarters. 

The farmer said his fish were dying. Our specialist looked 
the situation over and saw fish floating dead in the water. 
Then he said, "Do you know why your fish are dead?" "No." 
"Well," he said, "they've starved to death." "How could that 
be?" the farmer asked. 

The specialist replied, "Did you look at the water in the 
pond? It's muddy. The sunlight can't get through." 

Now these fish were a type that live on organic growth. 
The muddy water prevented sunlight from activating growth of 
food plants for these fish, and so they had starved to death. 


WCL: Then he asked this farmer, "Do you realize why your water 

; muddy? Look up there. This water comes from a plowed field, 
and the runoff is bringing mud down Into your pond. As long as 
you have that, you can't produce any fish." 

Our specialist said, "You've got to stop the erosion on 
your upper field." The farmer said, "I'll do that immediately 
so I won't lose another fish." [laughter] Now this Is one of 
the cases where this indirect means was more effective than tell 
ing him directly what to do. 

Gett i ng Cooperation of the Farmer 

Philosophy Regarding Cooperation With the Farmer 

Chall: I have wanted to ask you about the effectiveness of this in 
direct approach. Did it always work, or were there times when 
farmers did not respond? 

WCL: Ordinarily, they responded well. Our work was rewarding. If we 
were successful in solving a problem for a farmer to save his 
fish, one had great satisfaction. When a farmer saw something 
was to his self-interest, ninety-nine times out of a hundred he 
would act in a logical way. 

For instance, in this question of erosion into the pond, 
when the farmer saw what killed his fish, he was keen to do what 
was necessary. 

Our biggest problem was to get this type of high-quality 
service to farmers who wanted it. There was always a demand for 
more than our limited staff could deliver. We were refused a 
bigger staff because already we had become the largest bureau 
in the Department of Agriculture. They were afraid of us daugh 
ter], afraid we would incorporate them. 

Chall: What if you came across farmers who were illiterate, or very 

poorly schooled, would they cooperate with you? Or would they 
answer, as one you mentioned did, "Me and my two sons have al 
ready wore out three farms, and this one Is about wore out. We 
don't need anyone from Washington to tell us how to farm." 

WCL: If you find this hostile attitude, it's generally somebody who 
has suffered some loss, or indignity, or failed, or broken down. 


WCL: He has lost his sense of values, if he had them. 
Chall: Then you did find some who would not cooperate? 

WCL: Rarely, but we were so busy responding to those who were asking 
us for help that we let these few go by. 

You see, when one begins to deal with God's good earth in 
this way, one is dealing with holy processes that have deter 
mined the earth; and our survival depends on how well we under 
stand and interpret and apply them. 

I always tried to get our men to think of this interpreta 
tion. I said, "You have two responsibilities: you have a res 
ponsibility to the farmer to be practical so that what he does 
is beneficial and profitable to him; but you also have another 
obligation, and that's to your country, to safeguard the soil 
and water resources so succeeding generations may have produc 
tive lands, instead of sterile fields, gullied by soil erosion." 

A few farmers seemed not interested in this long-range view 
point but only interested in what is profitable now. I said to 
my men, "You have to feel this two-fold responsibility down deep." 
I think in this approach I had considerable influence throughout 
the Service. But I also identify myself with the farmer all over 
the world. 

Chall: And you tried to get your soil conservation experts who went 

into the field to work with the farmers to feel this same need 
to develop rapport with the farmer? 

WCL: Absolutely. And to make the farmer realize that his is the 

foundation occupation that makes possible our division of labor 
in a modern society. It isn't until the farmer produces more 
than he needs for himself and family that others ure released 
to do something else besides grow food. 

It was in Egypt where 1 first realized this. Long, long 
ago, there was a genius of a farmer who hitched an ox to a hoe 
and invented the plow and for the first time applied power in 
agriculture. This enabled the farmer to produce more food than 
he needed for himself, and thereby released others to do some 
thing else. That's the foundation of our modern civilization. 

Many economists may not accept this simplification, but 
farmers will. 

I say to farmers, "It is you people we depend on for food, 
not only for today, but food for tomorrow and all future 


Soil Conservation Districts Designed to Achieve Cooperation 

WCL: I used to say many times that our program was three-fold: it 
was to give play to individual initiative, within a framework 
of social objectives, arrived at by the democratic process. 

Chall: That's a very important philosophy. You felt that you were 

achieving this in your creation of the Soil Conservation districts? 

WCL: Oh yes. Our Soil Conservation districts kept on growing until 
practically all the land in farms in the United States was in 
Soil Conservation districts. 

Chall: Had you any way of checking to know how well they were carrying 
out their conservation districts? 

WCL: Well, you see, we put the responsibility and the authority into 
the hands of farmers, and we only worked for them as they called 
on us. The majority of farmers asked for admission into Soil 
Conservation districts, and had a part in locating the bounda 
ries of where these districts would be, and of determining the 
program. There were some farmers, it's true, who did not seem 
to have pride in being a good farmer. This is where we give 
play to individual initiative. A program can be no better than 
the farmers are. 

One thing about which I feel very badly is that being a 
farmer is losing its attraction as we build up big commercial 
farms in large acreages with powered implements, and family 
farms are crowded out. So the hope for farm families in the 
future is not good. But now we have these Soil Conservation 
districts where it's the farmers' own show, and out of which 
they get tremendous satisfaction. They also have a fine family 
life and produce sturdy young people that won't be drop-outs 
at least, we hope not. 

1 fear we are industrializing farms to such a point that 
we're losing that type of influence and education for our youth, 
which I think is important. When we apply to the University for 
help in the yard, we always ask for a farmer boy, for they are 
accustomed to do chores and are not afraid of manual labor. 

Hiring the Social Psychologist 

Chall: I understand you, or the Department of Agriculture, hired a 

psychologist to try to understand the social pressures in the 
South, to help you in your dealings with some recalcitrant farmers. 


WCL: Th's was done by the Department of Agriculture, but the services 
of this specialist were made available to the bureaus who asked 
for It. ! think it was the Forest Service that primarily started 
this, because the woods of the southern states presented a very 
serious problem in fire control. 

Every spring it was customary for the farmers to set the 
woods on fire. I've flown over these areas and found the country 
just covered with trees that had been killed by fires and then 
rotted off or blown down. Of course, this occurred over a number 
of years, but timber stands were thin and production low. We got 
the southern states to pass laws that made it a criminal offense 
to set woods on fire, but that did not stop the fires. 

Farmers had the attitude that they must burn the woods each 
spring so that grass would grow and they would have pasture. 
Studies were made of pastures where fires had been kept out 
which proved that there was more grass when there were no fires. 
It was hidden behind the dry grass, but the cows could find it. 

We sent a psychologist to the region to find what leader 
ship it was that induced farmers to set the woods on fire every 
spri ng. 

Chall: Where was he from, one of the colleges? 

WCL: Yes, I think he was from Pennsylvania University. This psycholo 
gist went down south and studied the situation quite some time 
and came back and reported. One of his findings was that in 
these southern communities, there is usually a grandpappy, an 
old man to whom the younger people looked for pronouncements. 
So it was the psychologist's theory that the grandpappy gave 
the word that the woods should be burned. This more or less 
diagnosed the situation, but it did not stop the fires. We 
called this the Cult of the Grandpappy. 

The Soil Conservation Service was more effective in stop 
ping the burning because we showed the farmer how he could get 
an income from trees in his wood lot, as I already explained to 
you. Then of course, as grandpappies began to die off, these 
new ideas came in and more or less replaced him. 

The Soil Conservation Service and the Extension Service 

Chall: There was continual controversy between the Soil Conservation 


Chal I : Service and the Extension Service regarding methods of working 
with farmers. Can you explain reasons for this? 

Background of the Controversy 

WCL: The original plan for dealing with farmers had been worked out 
by the Farm Bureau Federation that became the Extension Service. 
The Farm Bureau was powerful and represented the movement for 
county agents, who were agents of the Extension Service in each 
county. These county agents were supported by the Farm Bureau 
Federation so the Federation looked upon the county agent also 
as their representative in dealing with farmers. This put them 
in a strong position. 

When we came in with our soil conservation program, in 
which our technical assistance to the farmer was in the form of 
engineering measures and works, the Extension Service looked 
upon our technicians from the Soil Conservation Service as in 
vading their domain and competing with their county agents, in 
a service to the farmer. 

Many of us in the Soil Conservation Service looked upon our 
service as highly technical and therefore as something that was 
beyond what the county agent was doing for the farmer, which 
was primarily advisory. He gave farmers information, prices 
and trends and types of fertilizers and strains of crops that 
had been developed by the plant breeders to try out in different 
places, but they did not give farmers technical assistance and 
there was much opposition to us. 

Examples of Difficulties 

WCL: This opposition came to the fore in the Tennessee Valley Authority. 
The T.V.A. agricultural specialist had lived with this idea of 
the county agent being their representative to work with the far 
mer. He favored that idea and was hostile to any program such as 
the Soil Conservation Service would propose, whether in demonstra 
tion projects or in the use of the farm planner in the fields. 
This kind of situation developed in many parts of the country. 

However, there were other instances where the county agent 
and our farm planner got on very well. When the farm planner 
asked the county agent to call for meetings with farmers and then 
to represent the farmers, they found ways to cooperate. The fact 
was, there was so much work to be done on farm lands anyway, it 


WCL: helped when they could work together on some projects. Our 
technical men, our engineers, could not just tell farmers to 
put in contour terraces because these had to be staked out with 
transits or engineering levels, to make sure that work was ac 
curately done. 

Chall: Could the county agents do that? 

WCL: Most of these county agents were not trained engineers. They 

were actually an informational, educational institution, but not 
technical men. There was the situation where states took a stand 
against the soil conservation work unit leaders or farm planners. 
And one of those was California. 

Chall: Do you know why they took this stand? 

WCL: It was primarily due to Crocheron, who was a very able man and 

who had developed one of the finest agriculture extension staffs 
in the whole United States. He had what he called "specialists." 
For instance, he had a specialist who was an engineer. They 
used agricultural engineers more or less like we did. If there 
was an engineering job, they sent an engineer out to do it. 

They had specialists in different crops, who would go out and 
consult with farmers in the field and work out programs with 

Chall: Were they also concerned in California with erosion at the time? 

WCL: Oh yes, all were aware of erosion, but they didn't do much be 
yond so-called standard practices for controlling soil erosion. 

Now this controversy would settle down and everything would 
go along nicely for a while and then it would flare up here and 
there. Instead of finding a way to work together, some young 
fellow would magnify the differences and take a stand on some 
thing controversial and the problem would flare up again. Then 
always in the background was O'Neal CEdwardU, a big-wig of the 
Farm Bureau Federation, who was trying to engineer the situa 
tion so as to bring the county agent and his Extension Service 
to take the place of the Soil Conservation Service. 

Chall: It was a power struggle. 

WCL: Well, let us say there was a certain element of that in it. 

There was also this other element of the type of service that 
the farmer was entitled to. Here, I think, we differed in our 

Lowdermi Ik's Three Lines of Defense Against Erosion 

WCL: I worked out what I called "three lines of defense" against 
soil erosion and soil depletion. The first line of defense 
was soil management, which would consist In the cultivation of 
soil, the fertilization of soil, the rotation of crops and such. 
This soil management would seek to keep the soil in a state of 
crumb structure, and go as far as one wanted in soil management. 
This was the first line of defense. 

This was a type of information that agronomists and other 
people would want, and it would be sufficient in those regions 
where rainfall was gentle, misty, and where the slope of land 
was gentle or was nearly flat. If soil was managed to get the 
most out of it, the land would take care of gentle rains and 
require no other measures. But remember, this is something 
that should be done for any soil. 

Now the second line of defense is required when this soil 
management of the first line of defense is not sufficient to 
cause the soil to absorb all the rain that falls. Intensive 
showers or prolonged rains were beyond the water-holding ca 
pacity of this managed soil, and so you'd have unabsorbed rain 
waters on the land and the water would flow. The steeper the 
slope, the faster the water would run off and the more cutting 
power it would have to cause excessive erosion. 

This kind of situation required the measure of contour 
plowing. Now this second line of defense included strip crop 
ping, which, as you know, is done partially or on exact level 
contours because this measure must absorb most of the runoff 
of gentle rains. 

Chall: The strip holds the water? 

WCL: Yes. We alternate what we call close-growing vegetation, grains 
or pasture or forage plants, as contrasted to cultivated crops 
like corn and cotton. 

Now the third line of defense is called in where rainfall 
from time to time comes in very heavy downpours. These are 
rains that may occur once in ten years in probability, so the 
land must be prepared to take care of considerable amounts of 
unabsorbed water. So we have a measure called broad base ter 
racing. These terraces have to be very carefully, very accu 
rately laid out, for, as I tell my boys, "Running water never 
forgives a mistake. The good Lord may forgive us our sins, but 
this running water in a field won't forgive a mistake or an 


WCL: And therefore, in this field work, dueling with water, we 

must be accurate. A lot of the excellence, or lack of excellence, 
in conservation work is just at this point and depends on whether 
work is done accurately. Technicians must recognize that they 
are doing professional work and that whenever they make a mis 
take, or leave something undone because of an oversight, they 
are contributing to damage to the land, and therefore are not 
really entitled to professional rating. 

Chall: I believe you called these men soil doctors? 

WCL: Yes, they must be doctors for the land. I call them land doc 
tors. They have more things to know than does a doctor, be 
cause what the land doctor has to know involves many more 
variables than the doctor dealing with a sick person. 

In this third line of defense that includes terracing, the 
earth is thrown up with graders to make a low ridge with a shal 
low channel above so that the channel will capture unabsorbed 
waters and take them around the slope. The slope of the ter 
race depends on a number of things. We must consider the catch 
ment area from which unabsorbed water will flow. 

That's why we have to know about rainfall and its intensity 
and what is the infiltration capacity of soils under various 
treatment, so we can design measures for different rainstorms 
and as much storm water as must be taken care of. This calls 
for the broad base terrace or ridge. 

In a sense, these are not terraces. In South Africa they 
call them contour ridges. But if we accept these as terms then 
we know what we're talking about. Our language has either to 
apply new meanings to existing words, or to coin terms that 
will say what we're talking about. 

Now the shallow channel, which is part of the terrace, 
leads the water around to a natural drainage way. This water 
has to be disposed of; otherwise, it runs across the field out 
of control. Water always takes the straightest down course 
and begins to cut and tear the field to pieces. So we have 
designed terrace outlets to dispose of this water, that take 
this surface water to a natural drainage way so that the water 
is carried away at low velocity, doing the minimum of damage 
and carrying away the minimum of soil. 

Controversy Between Engineers and Agronomists 
WCL: Here is an area where there was a lot of controversy between 


WCL: the engineers and the agronomists. The agronomists thought 
that we could control this erosion problem primarily with 
vegetative means. If one could grow close-growing crops that 
cover the ground, and build up a litter or mulch over the soil, 
this would take care of excess storm runoff that the soil had 
been unable to absorb during rains. But it is a different situa 
tion with cultivated crops, for the land is bare and storm waters 
drop straight into the soil and churn it up. 

When you ladies wash sand off vegetables, it is due to rain 
splash. We have some fascinating studies on rain splash. It 
breaks the soil crumbs apart, and splashes soil to and fro. 
When raindrops strike these crumbs, they break into fine parti 
cles and that causes water to be muddy. 

I might say it another way: the particles in suspension 
in this muddy water are filtered out from the soil surface just 
like they are filtered out on filter paper in a chemical lab. 
It's the same phenomenon. And those particles filtered out at 
the surface of the soil tend to seal up the soil and reduce the 
rate of intake. The infiltration rate is determined by whether 
land is bared and cultivated, or protected by a cover of vege 

Chall: Were you an engineer or an agronomist in this controversy? 

WCL: Of course, I'm an engineer first in basic layout, but our treat 
ment of the land must include integration of both engineering 
and vegetative cover. 

I analyzed the situation differently from Bennett, who was 
on the agronomist side. I said the engineering layout must be 
done first with accuracy and with instruments adequate for this 
sort of thing, and it must be done before all else on the field. 
Only after the basic contour layout is made, then all these 
other measures can be considered and applied. 

When one is called on to go out to a farm and do erosion 
control work, the engineering basic contour layout must be done 
first before the vegetative control measures are put in. Then 
only are the agronomists called into the picture. 

I think the agronomist people did not pay much attention 
to my analysis, but I am sure that this method is more accurate 
and more realistic in applying conservation measures and permits 
more effective results in conserving soils. 

Research in Soil Conservation Service 

Chall: When you were in charge of research in the Soil Conservation 
Service, did you test out the relative effectiveness of these 
measures in soil and water conservation? 

WCL: Yes, we had at least twenty or more experiment stations. I in 
stalled what we called runoff and erosion studies on plots. I 
put these also in forest lands as well as agricultural lands. 
I worked out an agreement with our foresters so that we would 
adapt this type of watershed study to farm areas. One of the 
best finished projects of this kind was out at Cos.hocton, Ohio. 

Experiment Station: Coshocton, Ohio 

Chall: Were you responsible for the one at Coshocton? 

WCL: Oh yes. I had Dr. Krimgold locate an area that would be repre 
sentative of the northern Appalachian Mountain region. He was 
a good hydro legist and did a very thorough job on this location 
and layout. He outlined watersheds that could be identified 
readily over what we call the Allegheny plateau that included 
Ohio. We were interested in the Ohio River because it floods 
frequently. And then there was also an army flood control pro 
ject on the Muskingum River. 

Chall: What experimental work did you carry out at Coshocton? 

WCL: In this Coshocton area, we set up ways and means of measuring 
runoff and erosion, the storage of water, and amounts of rain 
fall, the amounts that percolated into the soil; ;md we col 
lected the amount that went through the soil to recharge ground 
water. And here is one of my pet ideas. We set up weighing 
I ysi meters. 

They were seven feet wide by fourteen feet long and eight 
feet deep. We cut back Into the mountain a block of that size 
and put it on a concrete platform which had two leading tubes 
to divert the drainage water that ran through it, so as to meas 
ure it. Here is a report done by one of my men, Mr. Lloyd 
Harrold, director of Coshocton watershed project. 

Chall: What's this report called? 

WCL: "Evaluation of Agricultural Hydrology, by Monolith Lysimeters, 


Chall: I guess you had already retired at this time? 

WCL: Yes, I know, but I started it. 

Chal I : I see. So this was to run a long time? 

WCL: Yes, these were to run fifty years or more. I used the figure 
of fifty years because we wanted to cover as long a time as 
possible and measure a variety of natural conditions. Of course 
a hundred years would be better. In many cases where installa 
tions like this are mechanically well done so they don't break 
down, there's no reason why tests shouldn't run a hundred years, 
to test rain that comes in various combinations. 

And we have developed what we call the design storm, which 
repeats very distinctive or important storms that have occurred 
in the past. Then we have the records of each, when it started, 
how long it lasted, and the amount of rain, and the different 
pulsations of showers, the varying intensities and so on. 

We wanted to be dealing with the realistic phenomena that 
actually take place on the land, so we developed 1his design 
storm on the basis of what has already happened. In this way 
we can be more certain of extremes in the amounts of water which 
we must handle. 

We realize that we are farming this land on the assumption 
that rainfall will be within certain limits, but we want also to 
include and understand these unusual storms that cause damaging 
and destructive floods. 

For instance, in '64 we had a big flood in the redwoods. 
When analyzed, the amount of rain that fell wasn't so unusual, 
although flood stages rose high in places. 

But there's no good reason why the damage should have been 
what it was, except for the fact that homo sapiens come in and 
want to occupy the flood plain because it's flatter and there 
fore easier to build highways and construct buildings. People 
do not stop to realize that this is a flood plain that is built 
up of sediments from former floods. 

Sooner or later the flood plain will be flooded again, 
causing destruction of life and property. A river demands its 
right to its own flood plain. 

Well, these good people occupied the flood plain and built 
houses, barns, and at the sawmill, piled their lumber, because 
as far as they knew, it hadn't flooded before. 

Then this unusual storm comes along. Much of the flood 


WCL: stage height was due not to excessive amounts of rain, but to 
the bulking of flood waters with all sorts of debris: trees, 
brush, and logs. This debris was lifted and floaled all around 
in the flood waters. And then at the railway and highway bridges, 
this debris piled up. These bridges were designed to hold up 
weights and were not designed against side thrusts. So bridges 
were pushed over and transportation and communlcal ion were Inter 
rupted. People had to rely 'on little Piper Cubs and some heli 
copters . 

Chall: So you were trying to find ways to prevent this kind of thing 
from happening. At least one of your experiments in the Ohio 
area was designed to prevent damage from floods? 

WCL: We wanted to get a measure of the phenomena that we had good 

reason to expect would happen from time to time. I f we know 

what we are to expect, then we are in a better position to pre 
pare for it. 

Guthrie, Oklahoma 

Chall: What were some of your other studies designed to show? 

WCL: In Guthrie, Oklahoma, we tested the differences in runoff and 

erosion under varying kinds of farming conditions. We laid the 
land of the experiment station out in plots of one-hundredths 
of an acre each, which is about ten feet by one hundred feet. 
Around each installation were rain gauges to measure the amount 
and intensities of rain. These plots were treated in different 
ways: one plot was left in fallow, one was kept in continuous 
cultivation of cotton, while another was kept in grass for pas 

On some plots we practiced crop rotation wheat, sweet 
clover and cotton. We kept the virgin, uncut woods intact and 
kept open woods with Bermuda grass on the sod which was the con 
dition of large areas of the region, so as to study rainfall and 
runoff. We had some plots of fine sandy loam and other plots on 
seven and a half percent slope that was too steep for cultivation 
except with certain measures for water and erosion control. 

The average rainfall was about thirty-three inches a year. 
At the bottom of our plots there were pits to catch the runoff 
and eroded material. We let these settle and then drained off 
the water which was then practically clear. Then the mud was 
sampled to determine the relative amount of soil that had been 
washed off the land. 


WCL: For instance, results of one period showed that when land 

was fallow that is, cultivated and bare 27.5% of rain that fell 
on that plot ran off immediately. This means thai twenty-seven 
percent was ineffective rain. The amount of water for crops on 
this soil is reduced by over a quarter. 

From this rather small area of fallow land, this rain that 
ran off carried with it what would amount to 20.3 tons per year 
of soil. This makes the long-range meaning of these experiments 
realistic: our computations showed that at this rate of soil 
erosion, the seven inches of topsoil would be eroded away in 
sixty years. 

Then where cotton was planted continuously, the experiments 
showed a loss of 14.3$ of rainfall, with the runoff carrying away 
24.3 tons of soil. At this rate the topsoil would be eroded 
within fifty years. In the life of a nation, this is a very 
short time. 

When wheat, sweet clover and cotton were planted in rota 
tion, the rain loss was 11.6$, and only 5.5 tons of soil are 
eroded away. To erode seven inches of topsoil with this rota 
tion would take 222 years. 

Chall: That loss does not seem so disastrous. 

WCL: Yes, but soil conservationists don't accept 222 years. Consider 
our results in grass pastures, where the amount of runoff was 
1.2/6, and the amount of soil loss only .032 of a ton. At this 
rate, it would take 38,900 years to erode seven Inches of soil. 
In the primeval forests with undisturbed litter, the runoff was 
practically nil. It would require 87,100 years to erode seven 
inches of topsoi I . 

Chall: These are interesting comparisons. 

WCL: Yes, and in open woods with Bermuda sod a type of grass we hate 
to find in our city lawns, but which is a mainstay in Oklahoma 
for sodded waterways the runoff Is barely .00001. It would take 
643,000 years to remove the topsoil. 

We must ask the question: what is a permanent agriculture? 
How long can we use the land to grow food crops for our country? 
We know by accurate measurements that under certain planting 
conditions we are actually eroding soil faster than it is being 
formed. Our soil conservation people should impress this upon 
our farmers. Our national resources are not to be used up by a 
few generations, but must be maintained as a rightful inheritance 
by all succeeding generations. 


Aerial Surveys and Land Classification 





I wanted to ask you about your initiation of air surveys. This, 

I understand, you first undertook during the days of the Soil 

Erosion Service. Did you classify the lands into one, two, three, 
four, etc., as did the A. A. A.? 

Our classification was more exact and detailed than that. We had 
our aerial photographs enlarged to twelve inches to the mile. 
With this enlargement of well-done photography, we could locate 
ourselves within ten feet on the ground. This saved us no end 
of expense and time, because we had to work fast as the number 
of demonstration projects increased. 

Maps were needed in 
accurate map of his farm 
could locate himself and say, "I'm 
the gulley area." He could locate 

a hurry, 
and show 

We could give the fanner an 
where his corner was, so he 
on this field," or "This. is 
hi s enti re farm. 

We developed what we called the land-use capability survey. 
We had some battles over this before Kellogg was brought over 
into our Service, for he had a soil survey independent of us. 

Did he join you finally? 

Yes. This was something I wanted done 
Kellogg was an able man. Long after I 
some kind of an international job. 

from the 
left, he 

ret i red 

and took 

Did you use this land-use capability survey in the Soil Conserva 
tion districts to help the farmers? 

This was a basic part of our service to farmers and all users of 
land; our technicians and farm planners had to have these accu 
rate maps. We classified land, for example, on the basis of 
slope: we had A, B, C, D slopes. A-slope would be relatively 
flat, and B-slope a little steeper; then C-slopes and D-slopes 
were designated according to steepness of slope for orchards or 

Then on the new surveys, we made recommendations for in 
stance, that a meadow be formed, or that a fish pond be placed 
in another location. We suggested best uses for each type of 
land on the farm. 


Administration of Research 

Chall: After your appointment as Chief of Research, were you able to 
plan what you felt was necessary and get it done? Who did you 
have to consult before you could get funds and general approval 
for research projects like the ones in Ohio and Oklahoma and 
those in North Carolina and Texas you wrote about? 

Fi nancing 

WCL: The Soil Conservation work started at the time when President 
Roosevelt and Congress were trying to give employment to large 
numbers of unemployed. We were then in the Department of Interior 
as an emergency basis. Our money was not appropriated by Congress, 
but was allotted by the President out of the emergency funds as a 
relief measure. We made requests to Ickes, and then he requested 
Roosevelt to supply our needs from the emergency funds that Con 
gress appropriated and made available for relief of unemployment. 

Chall: At first, then, you had to convince only Ickes himself. 

WCL: Yes. These emergency funds were made use of to finance many 
types of works. Some were large-scale public works that had 
been long in planning and had to meet exacting requirements. 
These often had not reached the stage of construction. In such 
cases, other relief projects were brought forward for considera 
tion that could be initiated with less preparation and men were 
put to work with less red tape. 

Our Soil Conservation projects could be got underway in 
short order because of preparatory work done by the ten (1930) 
Soil Erosion stations; for directors of these stations had been 
instructed to survey conditions of surrounding country as prob 
lem areas and to propose setting up large demonstration projects. 

Chall: When you went into the Department of Agriculture on a more per 
manent basis, how did you get money and approval for projects? 

WCL: When the Soil Conservation Act was passed by the Congress with 
out an adverse vote in the House or in the Senate, our old Soil 
Erosion Service, as an emergency organization in the Department 
of the Interior, was transferred to the Department of Agricul 
ture and was set up as a permanent bureau of the Department. 

Our work was then reported to the Department of Agriculture 
and included in the President's budget. We had to appear before 


WCL: the Appropriations Committees of the House and of the Senate, to 
give an accounting of emergency funds that we had spent, and also 
to report our plans for the coming fiscal year and to set forth 
the funds that we had estimated as necessary to do the projected 
works. This budget included the branch of Research. 


Chall: As Chief of Research, how did you administer the program? 

WCL: When the Erosion Service was transferred as a permanent bureau 
into the Department of Agriculture, we already had going a con 
siderable program of research. 

This research program came out of what had been done before 
in the ten Soil Erosion stations that had been established from 
the first appropriations by Congress. Then there were my hydro- 
logic studies at San Dimas, the Tan Bark Flat experimental area, 
North Fork, and the installations in Strawberry Canyon. Also at 
Cal Tech in Pasadena, we were collaborating with Dr. Robert Knapp 
and Dr. Vito Vannoni, in hydraulic studies, especially in the 
erosional phenomena of sediments into reservoirs. During our 
time in the Department of Interior, we had strengthened our re 
search and were collaborating with a number of agencies. 

Now we had to formulate our larger program. We incorporated 
our research done under the emergency program into research on a 
long-range basis. We planned to call in outstanding scientists 
with national and international standing to make use of the best 
that science had to offer. 

Bennett looked upon research as a small activity under his 
friends with whom he had long been associated. But I realized 
we now had the opportunity to plan and develop a comprehensive 
and far-reaching program of research and develop an able and com 
petent staff to carry it out. 

It was not until I could act with authority as the Chairman 
of the Basic Data Committee on President Truman's Water Policy 
Commission that we were able to formulate a comprehensive pro 
gram and policy in establishing facts that were necessary for 
such an achievement. 

We did both original basic research, and also our researchers 
were responding to a need for information in the field to meet tho 
needs of our farmers. 

Of course, I wanted to be sure that all basic research 


WCL: should be given an opportunity. For instance, if a researcher 
had a line of work that might bring new discoveries, I gave him 
opportunity to follow it until he established some new fact or 
new principles. But if this research involved too much, we would 
then turn it over to some organization that was doing basic re 
search, for our primary objective was applied research. 

When farmers have problems they can't analyze, we had our 
operations man and our research specialist to sit down and draft 
a program. And then I, as Director of Research, had the power 
to approve the program. I did not delay our programs. 

Techniques of Administration 

WCL: I frequently went out to see my field men. I'd call a general 
session and have them report to me on what they were doing. I 
would say, "Now what is the line of work we need to have done? 
What certain factors are unknowns in this situation that we want 
to evaluate?" We might discuss how we could get results or find 
solutions in this or that direction. But always I would suggest 
that when you study the problem, you may find a better way. If 
they could find a better way, they were given credit for it. 

Project directors around the country always said they were 
glad to have me come because I stimulated the staff by this type 
of administrative management. We had marvelous teams of young 
fellows, and what's more, young fellows with ability wanted to 
get into this kind of work, where their originality would be 

Chall: Do you have any ideas or theories about why you were able to 
work in this way? Some administrators in your position might 
have gone out and told people what to do, without allowing them 
to provide some of their own ideas. 

WCL: Then you get a lot of dullards. 

Chall: Perhaps. But why did you have this particular technique? 

WCL: Well, because I too was always interested in the problems they 
were working on. One needs to have the thrill of being on the 
frontier of knowledge. Then one can make use of the individual 
initiative of these eager and talented young men, and you may 
have some exciting, unexpected results. 


Omnibus Flood Control Act of 1936 

Chal I : You have written so completely of the many activities leading 
up to the writing and passage of the 1936 Omnibus Flood Control 
Act, that we needn't tape that story. But I would like to know 
more about how the many new concepts of the Act were brought in 
to being on the streams and rivers. 

WCL: The Forest Service was brought in because they had responsibility 
on headwaters; and the Soil Conservation Service and the army 
engineers were brought in, and they worked out in committees or 
commissions for each river basin what each agency would be res 
ponsible for. In that way, they were supposed to insure there 
would be no untreated areas. 

And then, of course, our attention was drawn off to war mat 
ters. The government bureaus and the Bureau of the Budget didn't 
encourage us to dp_ anything on this. It wasn't until the end of 
the war that we really turned our attention again to the authority 
that had been lying idle, so to speak, for a time. So there was 
a delay in carrying out the provisions of the Act. 

Arthur C. Ringland Analyzes the Administration of the Act 

Chal I : We have done an oral history of Arthur C. Ringland. He has talked 
about the time when he served as Chairman of the Flood Control 
Coordinating Committee (1937-1940). I'd like to tell you some 
of what he said about the early administration of the 1936 Act, 
and ask you to comment on his ideas. 

He thought that the Act was "one of the most far-reaching 
legislative enactments in conservation history," but he deplored 
the fact that the Department of Agriculture, having command of 
the resources, had not command of their use. He felt that the 
character of the organization set up to administer the provisions 
of the Act made it impossible to bring about action. 

The Commission, he claimed, brought together a number of 
experts from various bureaus who were to formulate policies and 
establish procedures for collaboration, but there was no provi 
sion for decisions. As Chairman, he said, he could not act in 
an executive capacity. 

In his report to Milton Eisenhower, in 1940, he recommended 
that some way be found to fix responsibility and delegate au 
thority to carry out policy. 


WCL: Senator Hayden and I worked hard to make this Act the most far- 
reaching in conservation history. But Ringland was right; they 
should have given him the executive authority to carry out pro 
jects. I think that coordinating committees should be advisory, 
to serve as consultants only, leaving a director as an executive 
officer who can use his board as consultants in making decisions 
and pronouncements, but be free to make executive decisions. 
This is a sound principle in the modern democratic process. Res 
ponsibility must be assigned. 

Conf I ict With the Corps ojf_ Engi neers 

Chall: I understand that early in the history of soil conservation 

activity, Mr. Bennett, Mr. Wilson, and Secretary Wallace didn't 
want to have anything to do with watershed development as such. 
They felt the Corps of Engineers might just as well do It. Could 
you give me some of your ideas about what was behind the continu 
ing controversy between the Soil Conservation Service and the 
Corps of Engineers on these problems of floods? 

WCL: The Corps of Engineers had been set up in the early days of our 
country as responsible for flood control. In those days, they 
were concerned about the protection of developments in alluvial 
valleys of rivers with large streams. The usual practice was 
to build dikes or levees, like on the Mississippi, where works 
started out with flood control first, to protect New Orleans. 
Then the engineers began to do upstream works. The Corps of 
Engineers were most influential because they had j stand-in 
with Congress. 

Chall: Almost as powerful, or more so, than the Soil Conservation 
Service? Daughter] 

WCL: At first they were more powerful. They were very skillful; but 
later on, the Soil Conservation Service, backed by farmers or 
ganized into Soil Conservation districts, came along. That's 
where our power came from. 

The Corps of Engineers assumed they were the primary agency 
responsible for flood control, and they didn't want to give up 
that position. And their principle methods of flood control in 
early days were to build levees or dikes. 

But upstream, river valleys were narrower and it was not 
possible to contain so much water in these small river valleys. 


WCL: The flood stages would rise faster. So they Included with the 
levees or dikes flood storage reservoirs. 

Now the Miami, Ohio Flood Control Project in itself was a 
detention type of flood control where the dams were made but 
were never closed. The opening of the dam was restricted to a 
certain size that would permit only a given amount of water to 
flow through. If storm water came down beyond that amount, the 
opening would be too small and water would back up as temporary 
storage until rains stopped. Then the water that was backed up 
would eventually flow away through drainages into the main river, 
So you have automatic control . 

Chall: This Miami project has proven effective, has it not? 

WCL: Yes, it has been very effective, but it was a sinqle-purpose 
project in flood control. 

Multi-purpose Projects 

WCL: We wanted multi-purpose structures and urged this on the Army 
Engineer Corps. One of the first big multi-purpose projects 
was on the Muskingum River Conservancy District, in Ohio. 

Chall: I see. That's been a forerunner, a leader .... 

WCL: Yes. There were, I think, twelve dams built, and twelve flood 
control reservoirs. The principle object was to detain the 
water. This was something that the engineers hadn't planned. 
They soon found that with twelve reservoirs feeding into the 
mainstream, the water had to be guided through, because if all 
reservoirs emptied at the same time, a flood stage would develop 
on the main channel of the river. So this emptying of the re 
servoirs had to be scheduled so they wouldn't conflict with each 
other. First one would empty and others would follow, so that 
flood stage height would not be excessive. 

A man by the name of Bryce Browning with whom I got on 
beautifully was a conservationist from Ohio. He had been a 
prime mover in getting this flood control project for the Corps 
of Engineers on the Muskingum River. 

Chall: Was he a private individual or a government employee? 

WCL: He was a member of the Chamber of Commerce of a small town in 
Ohio, but most important, he was president of the conservation 
district on which all this was done. He and I were working on 
the idea to get communal or vi 1 1 age .forests established in this 


WCL: area, such as I was acquainted with in France and Germany es 
pecial !y. 

Chall: Who would be responsible, or own, the communal forest? 

WCL: This was a time when people were out of work, and we wanted 
these to be set up for towns and villages. 

Chall: This was in the late MO's after the war? 

WCL: Yes, this was after the war when there was still this problem 
of unemployment. This would put people to work and create re 

Then Bryce Browning said, "Now, we don't want all these 
reservoirs to be entirely emptied. We want a conservation pool 
Cthat was their term], which would back up some water against a 
low dam and never be emptied." This small amount of water would 
scarcely effect flood control, but there would always be some 
water in the reservoir for recreation purposes. He got the Corps 
of Engineers to set up conservation pools in about ten of the 
fourteen reservoirs. 

Chall: Were the pools just for recreation? 

WCL: Yes, for recreation fishing, boating and picnicking. Many big 
manufacturing people in Ohio bought up land beside these pools 
and formed recreational places for their employees. Bryce Brown 
ing was responsible for getting them to do this. He managed 
these pools successfully and derived considerable revenue from 
recreation facilities. 

This is one of the outstanding successes in the country. 
These recreation pools provided all expenses for the Conserva 
tion District, except for flood control dams and big construction 
work that the army carried out. Bryce Browning was the genius 
behind this. Now this principle of multiple-use is so well es 
tablished that even the Corps of Engineers accept it. 

Communal Forests 

Chall: Your idea about communal forests sounds intriguing. Could you 
explain what you envisioned here? 

WCL: It was in the Muskingam drainage that former rich lands had been 
damaged by erosion of top soils. Much of this land had been 
abandoned for cultivating crops. A thin brushy cover was growing 
up, producing little of value to land owners of the district. It 


WCL: was then that I proposed to Bryce Browning that his Conservation 
District should buy up these badly eroded areas and should es 
tablish community forests to be protected and managed for grow 
ing timber that would also furnish revenue for the Conservation 
District, besides recreational uses. Here multiple uses of such 
areas would create many sources of use, revenue and jobs. 

Memorable Re I ationshi ps 

Chall: I'd like to talk with you about some of the major figures you 


Chall: knew while you lived and worked in Washington. First, what did 
you think of Henry Wallace? 

Henry Wa! lace 

WCL: I considered Wallace an excellent scientist. He was knowledge 
able and had a wide grasp of subjects on which he was working, 
especially on hybrid corn and poultry. He was also working on 
certain flowers and had me locate for him in South Central Africa, 
the native wild gladiola on which he wanted to develop hybrid 
species. I located some the bulb was very deep in the ground; 
I remember we dug and dug and shipped them to him. 

He was very successful and famous for his developments of 
many kinds of hybrids. Henry Wallace was an industrious man and 
a very good farmer. I always had very pleasant relations with 
him which continued up until the time of his death. 

In dealing with personnel one of my friends, Knowles Ryer- 
son, felt Wallace was unfair to him. At that time, Wallace 
seemed to be influenced by the philosophy of a mystic in Man 

Chall: Was he mystical about his feeling toward the land? 

WCL: I'm not so sure about that. We were interested in the intro 
duction of various kinds of plants and legumes to help control 
erosion. We especially wanted crested wheat grass, which is 
related to our wheat plant, and produces a very heavy crop of 
seed, and is very hardy. It grows beautifully in our north 
western United States. 

Our grass nurseries wanted to grow seed in quantity. Many 
farmers in the early days planted crested wheat grass on badly 
eroded land and got enough income from the crop of seeds to en 
able them to fertilize their land and improve it. 

Chall: What did you do with the crested wheat grass? Was it used as 
wheat, as a food? 

WCL: It was feed for livestock. Birds especially liked the seed. It 
was a very hardy plant that could grow on poor soils and did not 
require much moisture. Our soil conservation work gave much at 
tention to building up pastures with crested wheat and legumes, 
for pasturing livestock. At the same time, this cover reduced, 
or stopped, soil erosion. 

Wallace and our Service developed a program in Central Asia 


WCL: to gather seeds of crested wheat and legumes from that region, 
and introduce them in our plant introduction gardens. 

Chall: I see. And when was this being done? 

WCL: Well, the new plant industries had been doing thai for many 
years. David Fairchild, the great plant explorer who wrote 
The World is my Garden, introduced many forage plants alfalfa, 
and also rhododendrons from the Himalayas. But no one had done 
it for the purpose of securing plants and seeds to control ero 
sion. It was through my interest in plants to control erosion 
that I got acquainted with Tugwell. 

Knowles Ryerson had got his crew and his field staff pre 
pared and ready to make this trip into Russia, in Asia, for crested 
wheat seeds. Wallace interfered and wanted to turn this project 
over to this mystic friend who was in Manchuria. So Knowles 
Ryerson finally lost his job. He couldn't go along, trying to 
mix scientific enterprise with men who had little or no scientific 
knowledge, as this so-called mystic. 

I heard much of Ryerson's problems in this unhappy affair. 
But this is the only case that I know about Wallace having dif 
ficulty with personnel. He was always very good 1o me, and was 
interested in the broad field of conservation of resources in 
which his ideas were very sound. He seemed I i ke a deeply reli 
gious man. 

Chall: Did you become involved in politics of the Department when there 
was hope that Mr. Wallace would be nominated by the Democratic 
party to be President of the United States? 

WCL: No, I wasn't mixing up with politics. 

Chall: You were out of the Department when Mr. Wallace was nominated for 
President by the Progressive party. Did you remain a friend of 
Mr. Wallace during this period? 

WCL: Yes, though we had few contacts with him. I went to hear one of 
his speeches. Newspapers made him out as a dangerous character. 
He gave a talk from a barge on the Potomac near the Memorial 
Bridge where concerts are held. The speech he made was a very 
good one. There were none of these wild statements he was ac 
cused of. I felt he had been very unfairly treated by the press. 

Chall: So you felt that Wallace was sincere in that period, concerned 
about his country and international relations? 

WCL: Yes. But once a man gets into the hands of the news media, they 
can break him if they are against him. 

Harold I ekes 

Chall: Let's talk about Mr. I ekes. You were in Mr. I ekes 1 Department 
for a whi le? 

WCL: Oh yes. He was a very important man in Washington at the period 
during the Depression. He was responsible for the Public Works 
Agency. He was a good administrator. But he was also ambitious 
pol itical ly. 

Chall: Now he had a plan to bring all activities of conservation which 
included the Erosion and Forest Services, and others into the 
Department of Interior, and to call it the Department of Conser 
vation. How did you feel about this? 

Reaction to Department of Conservation 

WCL: We did not favor this. 

At that time, I worked a great deal with J. C. Merriam, 
President of the Carnegie Institute in Washington. He was very 
interested in our development and our scientific work in land-use 
studies and in measuring erosion. He said to me that mine was a 
rare circumstance for a man to make a scientific study as I had 
done, and then live long enough to see the results of his experi 
mentations carried out in practice. 

I got interested in erosion in China and began measuring it. 
My doctorate on that is one of the contributions 1o science in 
this field. Then the Roosevelt era in conservation of our lands 
and waters had enabled me to have money to go ahead in a big way 
and do something about it. So I had in one life-span these two 
phases of scientific work that usually are separated by different 
personnel and by different time intervals. We had very many dis 
cussions together. 

J. C. Merriam was the highest paid scientific, administrator 
in the United States. He raised with me the question about a 
Department of Conservation. I said to Merriam, "Why don't you 
call it a Department of Good Intentions? 1 [laughter] 

This apparently impressed him and in a later discussion he 
made use of that expression. But he dropped the idea of a special 
Department of Conservation. 

At first, the Department of Interior had little else to do 
except the control of the Public Domain, and there it began to 


WCL: measure waters as the Geologic Survey. The proposal for the 

transfer of the Forest Service into the Department of Interior 
was not a new thing but rather, a periodic thing. Some favored 
the transfer, but always resistance arose each time this was men 

^At first the Geologic Survey was a small organization, but 
as time went on, they became much more important. Through them, 
the Department of Interior began to do some very fundamental things 
in measurement, especially of our water resources. Out of this 
came the Bureau of Reclamation, which relied so much on scientific 
data for water measurements, the amount of the flow of streams, 
and the possibilities for storage of intermittent flows of water 
in reservoirs for irrigation, power, navigation and recreation. 

So agencies concerned with forests and water were already 
in the Department of the Interior. And forests and floods had 
been associated for quite a number of years, even before the ag 
ricultural people. The foresters had been ahead of the agrono 
mists for a long time on this question of the conservation of 
natural resources especially. They were the first to recognize 
the menace of erosion before even our soils men. 

Chall: Why were you so strongly opposed to the Soil Erosion Service 
remaining in the Department of the Interior? 

WCL: We were in the Department of the Interior at the time, and people 
in the Department of Agriculture said, "They're setting up a new 
department of agriculture over in Interior!!" 

Chall: Yes, but from your written material (pages 148-149), I have the 
feeling that you thought your long-range approach might not be 
acceptable to Ickes. Was it this, or the fact of duplication 
with the Department of Agriculture? 

WCL: I felt we would have more effective coordination of our works in 
agriculture if our soil conservation were carried out in the De 
partment of Agriculture. 

When we were transferred to Agriculture, do you think our 
colleagues received us with open arms? What a rude shock we got! 
They thought our soil conservation group was getting too strong. 
True, we were developing rapidly and spreading out our projects 
through tho nation. They had a g-ouch against us. 

M. L. Wi Ison 

Chall: Can you tell me about M. L. Wilson? The two of you must have 


Chall: known each other during these working days in Washington. 

WCL: Yes, we knew each other intimately. M. L. Wilson was director 
of the Agricultural Extension Service. Many of his men in the 
field were hostile to our men and works of the Soil Conservation 
Service; so officially, we were cool but off the record we were 
friendly. We were frequently invited to their home and they, to 
ours. Bennett and Wilson were less friendly and cool to each 
other. Wilson was quite intellectual. Some thought that at 
times he was impractical, but that was not my opinion. 

Isaiah Bowman 

Chall: I want you to tell me something about Isaiah Bowman because 
you've mentioned him from time to time in your material. 

WCL: Isaiah Bowman was a very alert and fine-looking man, vigorous, 
with a good sense of humor, but at the same time he had a great 
mind. He was one of our foremost geographers of the world, who 
did much to develop the field, or science, of geographic know 

He was director of the Society of Geographers, the technical 
branch of geography, not the National Geographic. He was a seri 
ous student of geography, like Carl Sauer. He had a great in 
fluence in the development of thinking on the relationship of man 
to the earth, and the Interacting factors involved. Also, he was 
president of the National Research Council for a number of years. 

I frequently met him for lunch at the Cosmos Club and had 
many conferences on our program of research when he was president 
of the National Research Council. We were then developing a re 
search program for the Soil Conservation Service. Dr. Bowman 
was an inspiration. I always found him tremendously helpful. 

He had a very nice office in the National Academy of Science 
building on Constitution Avenue. Whenever I wanted to discuss a 
problem with him, he would arrange a time for us to leisurely 
discuss various aspects of the use of land by mankind and long- 
range thinking on many matters. I consider Isaiah Bowman had a 
big part in helping us formulate scientific objectives. He was 
a very valuable counsellor. It was a great experience to be as 
sociated with a man like this. 

Isaiah Bowman told me a story that I've used many times. He 
said that the situation sometimes is very much like a man who was 
on his way to Cincinnati and not lost in the hills of eastern 
Ohio. He came upon a hill farmer and asked about the road to 


WCL: Cincinnati. The hill farmer said, "Well, stranger, you take this 
road and follow it for a few miles and then you come to a fork in 
the road. You take the left-hand fork and follow that for a few 
miles and you come to another fork in the road and then you take 
the right-hand fork until you come to another fork In the road 
and you take the. . . . Look here, stranger, if I was you and if 
I was going to Cincinnati I would not start from here." [.laughter] 

I used this story in my talks to farmers on conservation. We 
can't go back and start over again. We have to go on from here, 
take the condition of the land as it is and make the most of what 
I ies ahead. 

The Library of Congress: Dr. Herbert Putnam 

WCL: Dr. Herbert Putnam, librarian of the Library of Congress, is 

another important association of my Washington days. He had a 
private dining room and kitchen in the Library of Congress. Each 
Friday noon he invited guests scholars from the United States 
and foreign countries to gather around a large round table, 
where double-thick lamb chops were beautifully prepared and 
served. Conversations were generally very stimulating. 

Dr. Putnam liked to tell about the collaboration of the 
Library with the Soil Conservation Service. He was very inter-' 
ested in my experiences in China. He had gathered together hun 
dreds of thousands of books on China, so that this is the largest 
library of Chinese books in the world, I understand. Our mutual 
interest in China and collecting Chinese books made us fast friends. 
He gave me a permanent invitation to any and all P'riday luncheons 
I could attend. 

Use of Gazetteers 

WCL: Putnam turned over to me a study room in the Library of Congress. 
I had an American man by the name of Dean Wickes, who had been a 
missionary. He could read Chinese fluently and did research for 
me here on China. He and I wrote a history of the development 
of the irrigation project of King Ho, which was published in The 
Scientific Monthly [September, 1942], 

Our own agricultural people, Swingell and a number of others, 
Fairchild, brought over citrus plants from China. They consulted 
these Chinese works. Then some of our missionary people to China 
were scholars in Chinese and knew the classics. There was much 


WCL: interest, and still is, in this enormous collection of books on 

China. For instance, I bought a two hundred volume set of Gazet 
teers of county records for the Library of Congress from Sianfu. 

Chall: How did you get them over to the Library of Congress? 

WCL: I mailed them direct before all our things were lost at the time 
of the Nanking Incident. These Gazetteers were paperback and 
could be ma i led in parcels. 

Chall: Did you collect them from different counties? 

WCL: My policy wherever I went on these expeditions was to buy up 

local Gazetteers. I sometimes got duplicates for our library at 
Nanking. They mailed the two hundred Gazetteers for me to the 
Library of Congress. 

Chall: That was farsighted of you. 

WCL: Harry Clemens was the librarian at the University of Nanking. He 
too was very keen on building up these old Chinese records. 

Chall: So when you got to Washington you were able to begin work on some 
of your Gazetteers. 

WCL: Yes, with Dean Wickes. 

China, as Background for Conservation 

WCL: When we were developing our soil conservation work, you remember 
that Franklin Roosevelt showed a picture which Theodore Roosevelt 
had used to stimulate the creation of national forests out of the 
Public Domain. This picture showed a Chinese painting of an an 
cient town (the date was shown on the painting). Years later, 
Bailey Willis, the great geologist, at Leland Stanford University 
another good friend of mine made a survey of the province of 
Shansi. He saw the same area as was in the painting. It was 
eroded, forests were gone, and the hills were cut with big gullies. 
With productivity gone, the people had largely died off from mal 
nutrition or migrated. 

Bailey Willis took a picture of this. Stones were washed 
down and piled up on the alluvial farmland. Its productivity as 
a place for mankind was practically destroyed. Franklin Roosevelt 
used this picture to influence and to educate conqressmen for our 
work on soil conservation. 


Chall: He used "before" and "after" pictures? 

WCL : Yes, that's right. A part of our impetus to control erosion is 
founded, much as my own is founded, in China and what had hap 
pened to its lands there. We have F. H. King's book, Farmers 
of Forty Centuries, one of the earlier books on China in which 
he was deal i ng with the alluvial flat lands, not with the slopes, 
so that the problem of erosion hardly entered into it except bank 
cutting. In other words, our interest to control soil erosion 
in America has been influenced to a great extent t>y what some 
students including myself found In China, and the misuse of land 

Chall: So the salary of Mr. Wickes working on the Gazetteers was paid 
by the Soi I Conservation Service? 

WCL: Yes. Putnam encouraged me, and he was delighted to have the 
library used and this Chinese Oriental collection made use of. 
Dean Wickes and 1 did much writing from these research studies 
in the library and several of them were published. We got into 
the war and that upset about everything. But Wickes worked with 
me several years before he died. 

Mi Iton Eisenhower 

ChaM: You mentioned Milton Eisenhower many times. I thought we could 
get a little sketch of him because he must have been a good 
friend of yours, certainly a colleague. 

WCL: We were very friendly for a while, then somehow we lost touch. 
They came to dinner at our home and had us to dinner with them. 
He turned against Bennett, and that seemed to make him rather 
hostile to me. He was not a trained scientist in agriculture, 
but had come up through the ranks of information. He had a 
very clever way of informing himself on subjects he knew little 
about. He would find two men who were of different opinions 
and manage to get them together in his office in a conference. 

He would start with some provocative statement or question. 
Then these two men with divergent views would argue and reveal 
a lot of information that many times was more up-to-date or new, 
and gave Eisenhower new ideas, new developments. He used this 
clever device to keep himself up-to-date. I soon saw through 
this trick. He wasn't interested in what I was saying except 
as it gave him a better understanding of what was going on in 
the department. 

Milton Eisenhower was never undersecretary. He was 


WCL: involved in information and became the chief of information in 
the Department of Agriculture, and later was made coordinator 
of land-use policies. He saw the Department was deficient. or 
lacking in a positive land program. He got himself appointed 
as land-use coordinator in the Department of Agriculture be 
cause he was very interested and there was really no one to con 
test him. Wallace was willing for him to go ahead. Even Bennett 
didn't contest him very much. I think I contested him more than 
anybody else. 

Chall: Was he a capable, intelligent person? 

WCL: Yes indeed, very intelligent. His principal fault as far as I 

was concerned was that he was playing out on the margin with In 
sufficient knowledge of standing questions. He was able to do a 
lot of things simply because we lacked leaders who were well 
trained or would contest his points of view. 

It's a thankless job to get out onto the battle lines, so 
to speak, where controversies are developing, people have dif 
ferences of opinion and challenge each other. Which is all to 
the good, in a sense, but it isn't always a happy situation. One 
has to have a personality that will stand up to it and Milton 
Eisenhower had it. 

As his brother, Dwight Eisenhower, came on the political 
scene, Milton became more political-minded. But the country 
didn't take to him as to his brother. He did not play a big 

part pol itical ly . 

At first he was the president of the Manhattan University 
of Agriculture. He went to Kansas as president of the Univer 
sity, then to Pennsylvania, and later to Johns Hopkins Univer 
sity. How he got to be president there I never understood. He's 
nothing like the stature of Isaiah Bowman. 

Chall: Maybe there aren't too many of that stature. 
WCL: No. Isaiah Bowman was a truly great man. 

Chall: Perhaps by the time Milton Eisenhower was there, he had become 
a very good adnr i nistrator. 

WCL: Yes, he always was a very good one. 

Louis Bromfield 
Chall: What about Louis Bromfield? He, along with Morris Cooke and 


Chall: Russell Lord and others, were devoled to the concept of proper 
use of land. Did you know him? 

WCL: I knew Bromfield very well. He was a novelist who wrote some 
best-sellers on conservation of land in the early days. His 
interests were primarily rural, and he sponsored the cause of 
farmers during the depression. He wrote articles and books. 
Pleasant Val ley and The Farm were best sel lers. I even found 
them on bookshelves in Africa. 

Bromfield was one of the organizers of Friends of the Land 
Magazi ne, to which most of us were subscribers. This monthly 
magazine was edited by Russell Lord and illustraled beautifully 
and graphically by Kate Lord. During this period of recovery 
from the depression, it emphasized rural values. Writers from 
England and America contributed to this progressive magazine. 
Louis and Kate Lord made his magazine a great success. During 
my year of travels in Africa, sponsored by Carnegie Corporation 
and the British Colonial governments, I wrote a regular column 
monthly, entitled "Foreign Correspondence." 

Bromfield, at the same time, was reaching great numbers of 
people not only through his best-selling books but personally 
he was tremendously popular. People thronged to his Pleasant 
Valley to see his farm, even though they had read the book. On 
his farm, he used a huge hayrack drawn by a tractor, in which 
he took the crowds around the farm on a tour, personally con 
ducted by himself. He explained the various measures of soil 
and water conservation by progressive farmers, and was a big ad 
vertiser for the Soil Conservation Service. This was a personal 
gesture of public service to popularize conservation work. 

When I was on my field trips in the area, he frequently in 
vited me to stay at his farm, which was always a stimulating ex 
perience and a treat. After dinner, we would sit before a big 
fire in the living room fireplace. There is one unforgettable 
memory of these evenings. Bromfield had a number of large boxer 
dogs. When he sat down for the evening, immediately all these 
huge dogs rushed in and stretched out on the floor around him 
in front of the fire. I never saw so much dog meat at one time, 
and I was quite intrigued. 

Part II The Soil Conservation Service, 1939-1947 

Changes _i_n_ Research Program 

Chall: I want to talk to you about your final years in the Department 
after you returned from your land-use survey abroad, because as 
far as the Soil Conservation Service was concerned, these were 
years fraught with problems. 

WCL: There was a reorganization of research in the Department of Agri 
culture. Our research was part of the Soil Conservation Service, 
but later research was taken away from us, primarily because 
Bennett had not supported it with the appropriations committee. 
The Department of Agriculture placed our research in the research 
agency of the Department, with headquarters thirty miles out at 
Beltsville, in Maryland. Their problems did not come out of the 
application of work, which, as I have told you, has always been 
my theory of applied research. 

This change in sending the research agency to Beltsville 
made it no longer within the Soil Conservation Service. . It was 
supposed to be a master division of the Department of Agriculture. 
This upset all our programs of integrated research that arose out 
of questions in the field. 

Chall: This took place, I presume, when Nichols was in charge of re 
search. Was Nichols as interested in research as you were? 

WCL: No, Nichols was not really a research man. The literature car 
ried very little that he had done. When he was in Alabama, he 
developed research in tillage, that is, types of plows, and draft 
necessary to plow different kinds of soils; but aside from that, 
he seems to have done very little. 

Chall: If this was Nichols' background, it would indicate, I suppose, 
that Bennett was not interested in your kind of research. 


Relations With Bennett 

WCL: No, and one of the reasons perhaps was that I called In for con 
sultation some of our leading scientists, because I said that we 
were dealing with geologic processes. We recognize and study 
them from that point of view: that erosion is a part of the 
planation of the earth's surface. 

This appealed to Robert A. Millikan, president of Cal Tech. 
He came and made a statement before our appropriations committee 
hearings; and Isaiah Bowman, the great geographer and president 
of Johns Hopkins, was keenly interested in all I was doing while 
developing the research program. I always felt free to go to the 
National Academy and talk things over with him. 

This is the kind of atmosphere in which we were developing 
our research. These outstanding scientists saw how our research 
fitted in with theirs, and theirs with ours, thus strengthening 
the whole attack upon these problems. 

Chall: This may have been too much for Bennett, who really wasn't 

trained as a scientist as you had been, and perhaps resented 
your contacts with these scientists. 

WCL: Yes, I presume so. He felt an assistant chief in charge of 
research should not have the prestige of these associations. 

Chall: I have here two quotations I wish you would comment on. I con 
sider it rather interesting, in light of what we've been discuss- 
i ng . 

The first one is, "Bennett's success was spectacular, but 
his methods were abrasive."* 

The second one is, "Like most forceful leaders, he was am 
bitious; numerous persons then felt, and have since, that many 
of Bennett's maneuvers were dictated largely by a desire to en 
hance his personal position. However, there has never been any 
serious denial of his devotion to the cause of soil conserva 

*Robert Morgan, Governing Soil Conservation, Resources for 
the Future (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1966), p. 4. 

**R. Burnell Held and Marion Clawson, Loil Conservation in 
Perspective, Resources for the Future (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins 
Press, 1965), p. 43. 

Chall: How do you feel about those two opinions? 

WCL: Bennett wasn't very diplomatic. He'd ride roughshod. He liked 
to be in a position where he could put on the screws and force 
people into position. That was one thing I wouldn't stand for. 

He couldn't bear competition in this matter of erosion. He 
wanted to be the man who spoke with authority on It, and anyone 
who had other ideas was not tolerated. His soil conservation 
office developed into a place for informational publicity. Ben 
nett was a master publicist. 

For instance, in 1934 we were going over to the Cosmos Club 
for lunch. We walked out together from the Department of Agri 
culture and the sky was overcast. I was suspicious and began to 
rub my teeth together. I recognized dust, such as. I'd experienced 
in northwest China, when the loess soil is blown up into the upper 
ai r. 

I said, "Hugh, do you know what this is?" He didn't know. 
I said, "You can't see the Washington Monument. Ct> you know what 
causes it?" "No," he said. 

"It's dust," I said. "It's blowing up dust 1 rom some area 
in the southwest United States, because the wind is blowing 

Immediately he got this story off to the press. He tele 
phoned out to our men in Texas. They reported dust blowing so 
thick they had to turn auto lights on in the daytime, because 
dust blotted out the sun. This was the type of thing Hugh was 
very quick at doing. He got results too. 

Chall: Yes, he certainly did. He got a major appropriation out of 
that dust storm. 

WCL: He was very jealous of the idea of being called the father of 

soil conservation. That's where I think our trouble arose. One 
of the reasons was that in applying my research, ! had worked out 
the Jordan Valley Power and Irrigation scheme in Palestine. This 
aroused interest in many circles and gave me both national and 
international recognition. My name was often in the New York Times, 
and in letters and editorials in most papers around the country. 
This was hard for Bennett to take. 

Later, I went to China on a second trip in 1942, and I came 
back with a movie film which the National Geographic edited for 
me. I gave an illustrated lecture for them at the regular Fri 
day night National Geographic lecture series, to about four thou 
sand people in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. I also wrote 
an article for them which was the leading article in the July, 


WCL: 1945, National Geographic Magazine, entitled, "China Fights 
Erosion With U.S. Aid." 

It was rather amusing that Bennett asked to have It arranged 
for him too to give a lecture at the National Geographic Friday 
night program, but it was refused after they tried him out. 

After my retirement, various countries in Africa asked for 
me to come as a consultant to them. This added to my Interna 
tional reputation, so Bennett decided he wanted some overseas 
trips too. But he was not too enthusiastic afterward, for he 
was fearful of plane travel, high altitudes and strange peoples. 

I was amused when Bennett said to one of our Soil Conserva 
tion Service men, "I can't have Lowdermilk, an Assistant Chief 
of the Service, called Doctor Lowdermilk and I, as Chief, being 
cal led Mister." 

He then directed this colleague, I was told, to go to his 
Alma Mater and have them give him an Honorary Degree, which was 
done. Henceforth, he was always Dr. Bennett. I was glad that 
he could get without effort what was a long hard pull for most 

of us. 

Chall: His feelings about you vacillated, from the very beginning when 
he didn't want to shake your hand on the day you first came Into 
the Department. 

WCL: That wasn't a very pleasant situation, but I didn't pay any at 
tention to it. I began to work very hard in our rapidly enlarg 
ing Erosion Service and numerous times in those strenuous first 
years, he more than once said, "I lean on Walter a:; a sapling on 
an oak tree." This was a period of harmony. Only after the Ser 
vice was developed and running well did he feel I was a competitor 
that must be eliminated so he would stand out as the father of 
soi I conservation. 

But the thing that pretty much capped the climax was the 
big testimonial dinner for me, with a nation-wide radio hook-up 
and speeches by several senators. There was an audience of some 
three hundred. Senator Wagner of New York was chairman, and some 
of the foremost leaders of Congress, and many leading Wash ing- 
ton ians that included Bennett, were invited. My wife said that 
she looked over his way a few times and he was white with rage. 
He got up and left before it was over, and never mentioned the 
honors to me or the dinner. 

Chall: It must be hard to feel so jealous of a colleague. 

WCL: It's unfortunate that some people are of such a nature that they 
cannot see their fellows receive rewards. 



Washington 25, D. C. 
Jun 27. 19/7 

Dr. Walter C. Lowdermilk 
1520 "H" Street, Northwest 
Cosmos Club 
Washington, D. C. 

Dear Dr. Lowdermilk: 

It gives me a great deal of pleasure to transmit to you the certificate 
of the Secretary of Agriculture designating you a Collaborator in the 
Department in order that you may remain a part of the official family 
after your retirement on July 1, 1947. I congratulate you for this 
recognition of your outstanding service and accomplishment in the 

It is well known that you hare established an international reputation 
as an authority on major phases of soil erosion, soi] and water con 
servation, ano flood control. We are all aware of your valuable con 
tributions to federal and other agencies endeavoring to use this 
information properly, and we are especially proud of your contributions 
to the soil conservation program. 

The Soil Conservation Service is grateful that you have consented to 
remain in the official Departmental family after your retirement from 
active duty, and it is my aoet sincere personal hope that you will 
never permit retirement to dim your active interest and participation 
in the national soil conservation program. The entire staff of the 
^ervice jcit.s with me in wishing you good health au.u l.ui-pLness in the 
years to cone. 

I want to &>: a brief reference to your classic research an the function 
of forest litter, particularly its relation to infiltration cf atonr. 
waters: In my opinion, this work of yours rnbult-n in one n'' '-he most 
fundamental discoveries in the field of soil conservation science, as 
well as ii, the field of forestry. 


-5 Hi 

fin \\ \i< 

/ .A ""^i 





June 2 7, 1947. 

Dr. Yialter C. Lowdermilk 
1520 H" Street, N. Yf. 
Cosmos Club 
Vfashington, D. C. 

Dear Dr. Lowdermilkt 

Upon your retirement from active duty June 30, I wish to 
express on behalf of the Department our sincere appreciation 
of your contributions to the Soil and Water Conservation, 
and Land Use activities of the Department and for the advice 
and counsel you have rendered to the many other organizations 
and individuals seeking help in preserving the soil. The 
Department is proud of the international reputation you have 
won in this important field of work and I know you take just 
pleasure in both the immediate value of your outstanding 
achievements and in the long range importance of your 
accomplishments . 

I am happy to have you remain a member of the official 
family of the Department of Agriculture. Your services in 
the years to come as a Collaborator will be of inestimable 
value to the Department. 

Sincerely yours, 



WCL: When, on my sixtieth birthday, July I, 1947, I suddenly an 
nounced to Bennett that I was retiring as of now, he was startled 
but greatly relieved to thus be rid of me, I am sure; for then he 
became very cordial and wrote me a letter of commendation [hands 
letter across desk^. Notice that he expressed appreciation of my 
scientific work, mentioning forestry too. 

Also, here is a letter from Clinton Anderson, Secretary of 
Agriculture. Apparently, my sudden action in retiring startled 
the Department, and Secretary Anderson went a long way there to 
show that the Department was back of me and appreciated my work, 
in spite of Bennett's efforts to minimize my scientific standing 
among top scientists. 

Chall: Can you remember that about this time, Secretary Anderson was 

attempting once again a reorganization of the Department of Agri 
culture? He was trying to develop more controls over the Soil 
Conservation Service and to integrate it better into the Depart 
ment. In this case, as in others, the Soil Conservation Service 
had a bill representing its position, and had, of course, its own 
sponsors in the Congress. 

WCL: Well, you see, this was where the Soil Conservation districts 

came in. Bennett used them. He called on them to support him, 
using them as a political power. 

Chall: This has been understood by people who are now writing about 

soil conservation. Whether Bennett had ever realized the power 
of the Soil Conservation districts as a political force at the 
time they were set up, he certainly was able to use them. 

WCL: Do you know the details at the end, how the Department had to 

fire Bennett? He'd gotten these Soil Conservation districts to 
send delegations to the Department of Agriculture and to the Con 
gress. You see, they'd had him set to retire at the age limit, 
and he wanted to extend a year beyond this time; <ind then when 
the year was up, he wouldn't step down. So instead of separating 
him totally from the Service, he was made a consultant in the of 
fice of the Secretary of Agriculture, in a little room, I was 
told, where he couldn't do anything. 

I have never discussed my relationship with Hugh Bennett 
before, even with my colleagues. I preferred to put it out of 
my mind during the active and very happy years following my re 
tirement from the Soil Conservation Service. But because it was 
a part of the early years of the Service, and because you seemed 
to feel I should include it, I have talked about it with you, for 
the record. 

Gi I bert Grosvenor 

Chall: You have mentioned frequently that you gave a lecture and wrote 
a leading article for the National Geographic. Did you deal di 
rectly with Gilbert H. Grosvenor? What kind of person was he? 

WCL: He was a tall, fine-looking, hard-working dedicated man. He set 
very high standards for any work done for or by the National 
Geographic. He was very conscientious. We had numerous consul 
tation?. Their movie editor, Mr. Joe Rideout, edited my China 
film and it was truly a beautiful job and made tho lecture a great 
success, from what people said. 

I must tell a true story about dignified Dr. Grosvenor. Be 
fore leaving for the Friday lecture, a maiden aunl- phoned for him 
to come over quickly and find out why her prize goldfish had died 
(Grosvenor was a specialist on fish). He had to hurry so wrapped 
the gold fish in his folded handkerchief and carefully tucked it 
in the pocket of his tuxedo. 

When he went out after the lecture, several inches of fluffy 
snow had fallen. He was about the last one to leave and stood 
outside on the corner waiting for a taxi. It had been warm in 
side and Dr. Grosvenor unthinkingly grabbed his handkerchief to 
wipe his forehead. The goldfish was tossed out into the snow 
there was no trace where it had fallen. Dr. Grosvenor squatted 
down and sifted the light snow between his fingers. 

A pol iceman across the street watched him for some time, then 
came over and said, "Buddy, you better let me take you home." Dr. 
Grosvenor continued to sift snow as he said, "No, I won't go home 
until I f ind this goldf ish; I have to make a report on it." 

The policeman urged, but Grosvenor resisted, saying, "No, I 
won't go home until I find this goldfish." 

The policeman said, "If I help you, will you go with me?" 
And he began to sift the snow through his hands. Almost imme 
diately, he grasped a goldfish. Stunned, the policeman said to 
Grosvenor, "Say Buddy, you better take me home." 

Soil Conservation D i str i cts Accomp I i sh i ng the Tasks 

Chat I: I want to ask you about Soil Conservation districts. At the time 


Chall: that you came back and made your extensive speaking engagements, 
the Soil Conservation districts were quite new. The figures show 
that in 1943, the Soil Conservation Service estimated that 
96 million acres needed strip cropping, but In 1950, less than 
six million acres had been so treated.* 

There's a feeling among people analyzing the early days of 
the Soil Conservation Service that the Service never was capable 
of accomplishing all that it set out to accomplish. As you went 
around in the field, did you think the districts were doing all 
that was needed? 

WCL : We had quite a number of arguments over this. I know that there 
were a few who got into the Service who were more or less this 
political type and who were always crowding the government to 
carry out certain measures in certain districts. That was a de 
velopment that came largely after I retired. 

I became rather suspicious of this group because the far- 
sighted thinking, it seemed to me, was giving way to localized, 
temporary advantages that these people wanted, ralher than the 
development of the program as a whole for the entire country. 

Speaking Tour Through the United States 

Chall: You were out making illustrated talks for about a year and a 

half after your return from the tour abroad, mainly to give the 
new Soil Conservation district people an opportunity to see what 
soil erosion had done to lands of the Old World, jmd perhaps be 
cause Bennett had already replaced you in research by Nichols. 
Did you find that people were Interested and excited by your talk? 

WCL: Oh yes. And the illustrated lecture 1 had good pictures not 

only must they tell the story, but the pictures must have a pic 
torial value as well. I had many compliments on the quality of 
my slides. To me it was really an inspiration to get out with 
the farmers, in their grange meetings and into those Soil Con 
servation districts. 

Chall: Many of them were quite newly formed, were they not? 

WCL: Yes, and I opened up new ideas to them. For instance, I pointed 

*Hardin, O_. cit. , p. 274. 


WCL: out my method of land survey in Europe and the Middle East. I 

had to work rapidly and cover a lot of ground in <) comparatively 
short time. I used the measure of a thousand years of agricul 

I asked my guides to take me to fields that, by their own 
knowledge or by clerical records, had been farmed for a thousand 
years or more. Then we tried to figure out why this field should 
be destroyed and those nearby not destroyed. We found that where 
land was generally on the level, there was very little loss of 
soil. My public conclusion was that one of the most difficult 
problems in the long experience of agriculture has been to estab 
lish a permanent agriculture on sloping land. 

Farmers Are Important 

WCL: Then when I gave lectures to these American farmers, I'd say, 

"Let's use this measure of a thousand years of cultivation as a 
measure of success in conserving your soil." After my lectures, 
I'd go out into the field and talk to farmers and ask, "Do you 
consider that this field that you're fanning will last a thou 
sand years?" 

It's only a short time in the history of a country or a 
civilization. You must see how important it is that this basic 
physical integrity of the soil be preserved. We have the liberty 
of choice in farming it with this crop or with that crop, of add 
ing more fertilizer or less fertilizer, according to demands. If' 
we could safeguard the physical body of the soil, then we had this 
liberty of action, and the future of our country would be safe 
guarded in the production of foods. 

Chall: This was a dramatic way of showing them. 

WCL: I would say, "You farmers are most important, you are the founda 
tion of our entire social structure in the division of labor. It 
isn't until you have produced enough for yourself and more, that 
others are released to do something else besides grow food. You're 
the basic occupation of all civilization." 

Then they began to realize they were more important than 
some of the politicians treated them. [laughter] I really had 
a lot of fun. Canada repeatedly asked to have me come up to talk 
to their farmers, who were also keenly interested. 

Chi Idren Understand 

WCL: remember an amusing incident in the state of Washington where 
I was making one of these speeches. There was a 'ichoo I teacher 
who wanted the Soil Conservation Service to help her work out a 
program for her class on how to plan a farm to control erosion 
and grow crops at the same time. She wanted her class to sit up 
front in this lecture hall so the children would hear well. The 
man in charge refused; he said the children would be noisy and 
disturb the meeting. But this determined teacher went to the 
Soil Conservation man and begged him to let her class come to the 
lecture and take part. 

I came in backstage and didn't see the audience before I 
went out in front of them. When I saw these sixtv or seventy 
youngsters down in the front rows, I said to myself, "I'm going 
to talk to these youngsters tonight, and not to the oldsters." 

I decided to direct a question to these boys and girls. I 
told them of the water wheels of Hama, Syria. Those big water 
wheels are seventy feet in diameter and are run by the current, 
and they lift water in pipe-like buckets to an elovated trough 
to conduct the water to where it is needed. There; used to be 
hundreds of these water wheels on the rivers in ancient times, 
but now there are only a few left up at Hama in Syria. 

I said to the youngsters, "I'm going to give you a puzzle 
I want you to answer me after the lecture." I said, "Here this 
great wheel is over two thousand years old, but no part of the 
wheel is that old. How can that be?" daughter] 

When I finished and came down off the platform, these young 
sters just swarmed around me, as they were excited. They worked 
it out that the constant repairs kept the wheels running for two 
thousand years, as new parts replaced old ones. Instead of being 
a nuisance the children were an Inspiration. 

One of these boys took this matter of gullies, to heart. HJs 
neighbor was an old man of about ninety years, whose farm was 
badly cut with gullies. This little fellow said 1o the old far 
mer, "Do you know that gullies are washing your soil away?" The 
farmer said, "What do you mean?" And the boy said, "Your gullies 
are washing your soil away." 

The little boy was told, "Oh, that's none of your business. 
Go on and leave me alone. Don't bother me." This child went 
back to his teacher and said, "You know, teacher, I think this 
man is too old to learn." [laughter] 

Chal I : When you began public work, you once said you hated to make 


Chall: speeches. In the intervening years, have you improved? 

WCL: Well, I should hope so. At first I read my manuscript and that 
was deadening, so I employed Mrs. Butler who taught congressmen 
how to become speakers. She demanded that I throw away my manu 
scripts and insisted I speak without any support ut al I . I soon 
caught the idea. I worked over my material carefully, and then 
she had me practice my speech aloud beforehand until I could say 
what I wanted without hesitation. 

"Conquest of the Land" 

WCL: People generally liked this illustrated talk which was my basic 
lecture. My "Conquest of the Land" is still one of the most 
asked-for public documents of the Department of Agriculture. 

I had more demands for this lecture than I wis able to 
handle. I had duplicates made of my slides and mimeographed 
the text of the talk. When people wanted a lecture on "Land 
Use in the Old World," we sent them the slides and mimeographed 
manuscript, so they could work out their own lecture to apply 
local ly . 

Our field men, when making talks on erosion problems, made 
much use of this lecture. There were so many demands for this 
that the Department decided to print the lecture which I entitled, 
"Conquest of the Land Through Seven Thousand Years,." 

Breasted had used "Conquest of Civilization." 1 wanted to 
use the title, "Conquest of the Land Through Seven Thousand 
Years," as a future elaboration of my work. 

Chall: It occurred to me that the average farmer must have found it 
immensely interesting. 

WCL: I got a lot of inspiration out of it because the farmers, those 
at least who were really thoughtful people, recognized that they 
were dealing with a resource of inestimable value. 

Conservation and the Churches 

WCL: Out of this came an annual Sunday meeting called ''Conservation 
of the Good Earth." Many churches held such services. This 
idea spread all over the United States. Richard Howard Bafley, 
the great botanist and agriculturalist, wrote "The Holy Earth." 


WCL: He emphasized an ethical and moral relationship between man and 
the earth. Many of us made Sunday talks, and ministers of all 
denominations preached an annual sermon on conservation. 

Writing a General Report of the Survey Trij 

Chall: Is this a copy of your entire general report of your trip?* 

WCL: No, not my entire report. I started out on details of a I I coun 
tries studied, and to summarize the entire land use survey, and 
articles I had written and to add further impressions as a gen 
eral report. But as you see, it was becoming quite voluminous 
when only partially completed. No part of it was ever published, 

The war came and all else was put aside. This was a docu 
ment I had hoped would arouse considerable interest. I had a 
staff working on maps and two secretaries working on my dicta 
tion. I also had an assistant over at the Library of Congress 
who worked up my documentation and references, so we were going 
fine until our entry into the war. 

Chall: What did you plan ultimately to do with this long report, file 
it in the Archives, or use it for research? 

WCL: It would be a document that would be available for research. I 
had hoped the Department of Agriculture would publish it, even 
though it would be as large as the Agriculture Yearbook. 

Theories on Regulati ng the Use of Land 

Chall: Now I want to discuss with you your theories of lund-use regula 
tion. When you went around to newly-formed districts, most were 
operating voluntarily. As a matter of fact, in 1951, according 
to some figures, only eight of 2,300 districts enforced 

*0p_. cit. 

Chall: regulations.* 

In your later material, written after the 1938 trip, you 
felt there was need for regulations. I think the result of your 
trip dramatized in your mind the need to regulate what people did 
with the land. 

You wrote in "The Eleventh Commandment" article:** 

"The present and future well-being of a people call 
for long-range policies for the maintenance of pro 
ductive land and resources. These policies must be 
founded on what is right for the greatest number of 
people in the long run .... Practices of land use 
which work against the good of the whole musl be 
regulated, whether by law or by public opinion, to 
achieve a dual purpose: to maintain individual ini 
tiative, and to safeguard the integrity of resources." 

Then, elsewhere, you wrote: 

"The conservation of the physical resource, the soil 
material in place, the heritage of a people, becomes 
a high duty of the individual and of the nation. Where 
economics of individual interest fail, social economics 
must take up the burden, with cooperation, technical 
assistance and regulations."*** 

Then you discussed with Mr. Brandeis something that you 
called "the beneficial use of land." Now, can you explain two 
things: does the beneficial use of land idea entail regula 
tions? And what about your feelings toward regulating land use? 

WCL: Let's go back to this beneficial use of land. Actually this 

idea came to me in Haifa [Israeli], when we were making the land 
survey in I939. Amihud Goor was leading me around to see the 
country and give some talks. The Israelis are very thoughtful 
people, and Israel was a place where the integrity of the land 
resource was a very real problem because there was. no land to 
spare or to waste. 

*Hardin, op_. c |t . , p. 75. 

**W. C. Lowdermilk, "The Eleventh Commandment," Proceedings 
of the South Pan Pacific Science Congress, Vol. IV, 1 939, p. 895. 

***W. C. Lowdermilk, Tracing Land Use Across Ancient Bounda- 
ries, Letters on the Use of Land in the Old World, to H. H. Ben 
nett, Chief, Soil Conservation Service, Washington, D.C., 
I940, p. I33. 

Development of Theories of Water Rights 

WCL: It brought to mind the gradual development of rights in the United 
States. In England, the common law of riparian rights was the 
principle that settled disputes over water, because of the ri 
parian juxtaposition of water and the land. When colonists from 
Great Britain came to the United States, they settled in the humid 
eastern part of the country, so that the principle; of the riparian 
right still was adequate to solve disputes over wciter. 

But out west where the land and climate were different, and 
where waters were diverted out of stream basins to where water 
was needed, this principle of riparian right wasn't adequate to 
the solution of disputes over land and water. So we had to have 
a new principle that we called the right of appropriation, or the 
right of prior use. 

As a farmer, if you were the first to develop and use water, 
you had the first right to use of water. That was the general 
practice of the law. But where water was a limiting factor in 
the development of land, then the right of prior use was not 

So we developed, primarily here in California, the right of 
beneficial use. In other words, you cannot file on water and 
maintain a right to it unless you use it beneficially. You can 
not use it wasteful ly, which would mean that you were depriving 
someone else of water that he might otherwise have. The right 
to water is based upon whether or not water is being used bene 
ficially for the community, not the individual alone. 

I said in Israel, after I had been over so much land that 
had been misused and destroyed, "Why shouldn't we have another 
principle that the right to land is based upon beneficial use?" 
Actually, the only real argument we had to take the land away 
from the Indian was that he was not using the land beneficially, 
to its maximum use. 

When I returned, I spoke to Justice Brandeis about this. 
I outlined these steps and principles involved, and he said, 
"You are right. That's true, but you are fifty years ahead of 
your time." Daughter] 

Chal I : Now the beneficial use of land would require rather strict 
regulations, wouldn't it? 

WCL: Absolutely. 


Individual Enterprise and Regulation 

Chall: While you believe in allowing individual enterprise and educa 
tion to determine, as far as possible, how a person will use his 
land, you feel that land use ultimately requires .ome regulation, 
not only an individual approach? 

WCL: Well, yes. Regarding this question of harnessing the energy 

motivation of people to problems of making the best use of land 
in production of useful crops, I have always said that our ob 
jective is to give play to individual initiative, within a frame 
work of social objectives, arrived at by the democratic process. 

Chall: Now that seems very good, but at what point does the democratic 
process set forth the regulations which the farmer has to live 
by? Is that done by Congress? By whom? 

WCL: Well, we have not yet reached the point where we would accept 
this type of regulation. My position has always been that so 
long as we have farmers in considerable numbers who want to make 
use of our methods of conserving land under use, we can cooperate 
with them. Our time generally was so occupied in cooperating 
with interested farmers, we left until a later time, attempts to 
regulate by law the proper use of land by reluctant farmers. 

But as we have seen and Israel is an excellent example of 
it where land resources are limited, and population is explod 
ing, and pressure on the land resource is increasing, then we 
have to develop public sentiment for land conservation. By es 
tablishing scientific truth of what happens when you do or when 
you do not, we can get compliance from a good portion of our 
population in this way, perhaps without strict regulations. 

But there still would be those who will resist and who will 
not of their own accord take care of their land. We have a lot 
of trouble at the present time in getting these Soil Conservation 
district farmers to comply with these minimum measures we have 
worked out that are needed to conserve the soi I under use. 

In Israel, where land is limited, if land is damaged or de 
stroyed by wrong use, then you not only harm yourself but you are 
harming all future citizens who must depend on this or that field. 
I many times have said that we must be born again out of an economy 
of exploitation into an economy of conservation, as a basic, long- 
range point of view. 

Chall: But what if you had a farmer living on class four land, and on 
which he had paid off the mortgage what could be done to pre 
vent this farmer from going on exploiting the land? Could the 
government take him off his own land and put him some place else? 


Chall: What could be done in a case like 1his? 

WCL: Are you acquainted with the lengths the British went to in the 
second World War? They passed a law and established farm or 
agricultural boards, made up primarily of farmers. They set up 
standards of production for maximum results. Then they went an 
other step and required that farmers follow these practices that 
had proven successful for their particular localities. That's 
why these boards of authority covered lands that were more or less 
similar in character. 

If the farmers didn't comply, these boards went still fur 
ther and would take possession or control of the larm. Either 
the farmer would be hired to farm his own land under direction, 
or he would be given another job. This land would then be turned 
over to a recognized successful farmer who would use the land 
wi se ly . 

This is a case where necessity has brought such regulations 
into use. Many here might resist because we have not faced this 
necessity. You see, we are still an underpopulated country where 
we have land resources more than we need for the present, but not 
more than we need for the future. 

Chall: It should not be wasted in the present. 

WCL: That's right. Our objective is to harness the energy of man and 
his mind to carry out measures that will safeguard resources, not 
only for the present, but for the future. So I say, let's give 
play to individual initiative we want to keep that alive but 
individual initiative that will operate within the framework of 
social objectives. That's where neighbors will have an oppor 
tunity to influence the kind of measures necessary, that are ar 
rived at by the democratic process. 

Chall: Well, that's a good statement. It allows for the development 
of regulations 

WCL: I'm very strong on making use of individual initiative, because 

that's where originality and motivation are genereited, especially 
where it comes to the production of useful things, crops, and 
so on. 

Flood Control Act of 1944 

Cha!!: In your written material you mentioned working on watershed pt 


Chall: of Soil Conservation Service research. Were you consulted to 

help draft the Flood Control Act of 1944 which provided for re 
search on eleven watersheds, or to help with administration after 

WCL: The bill that really started this was our bill that was passed 
in 1936, the Omnibus Flood Control Act, which, as you remember, 
signalled a breakthrough in flood control, but didn't result in 
immediate action. 

Chall: That's right. Apparently nothing much came of it, and then you 
attempted again in 1944 to get some specific work done on water 

WCL: One of the reasons for the delay was that the war came on. 

There was a slowdown. If any additional money was involved, it 
was frowned on, because the country was being taxed heavily for 
military developments. 

The Act of 1944 provided for eleven experimental pilot water 
sheds. One of my boys, Carl Brown, was a keen, able young geolo 
gist. I put him in charge of this phase of the watershed bill. 
He worked at that so ably, and these eleven drainage basins were 
so well received, that Congress authorized continuation of this 
type of watershed development. 

These projects were continued even in Eisenhower's adminis 
tration, when he almost ruined our Soil Conservation Service, by 
by-passing the civil service and putting political appointees 
in technical jobs. But this pilot watershed idea was so suc 
cessful that even Eisenhower favored this Act of 1944, which was 
rather a new thing for him, to do anything about national or gov 
ernmental responsibility. In this bill was included the lands 
of towns and villages as well as lands of farms within the pilot 
basi n. 

In the Soil Conservation districts, we had district super 
visors who were farmers and independent of any other organiza 
tion. If they favored something and let Congress know It, they 
usually got results. 

Anyway, this was the basis for the development of this 
pi lot project idea. 


Watershed Development: Urban and Agricultural 

WCL: But now the laws have changed so that work on watersheds Is now 

concerned as much with urban as with agricultural problems. This 
was an amplification or an extension of authority. For Instance, 
there is a district in Walnut Creek, California, and up at Santa 
Rosa, there Is quite an elaborate one. 

Chall: Do you have any feelings about this amplification? There are 

some writers who feel that the idea of protecting watersheds from 
the point of view of agriculture alone has now been scuttled in 
favor of all kinds of watershed projects, regardless of their use 
for agriculture. As a matter of fact, I understand that the Soil 
Conservation districts changed their name to Soil and Water Con 
servation districts, so they could take in all this development 
and have some responsibility for it. 

WCL: In recent years, I haven't kept up with all that is going on. 
But I've been very much interested in It, for I was very keen 
on this from the very beginning. 

When we get into agricultural and urban problems, we have 
to become hydrologists because rain runoff is now very much In 
creased by urban sprawl, impervious roofs of houses, street and 
highway pavements, parking places, extensive freeway cloverleaves, 
and airports. 

This produces more runoff than under natural conditions so 
you can have destructive flash floods that can overwhelm towns 
and villages that are especially affected by these floods. So 
our treatment must Include finding out how much runoff we ex 
pect from each type of area. This has become very popular among 
rural areas. 

If you are going to treat this problem at all, which In 
volves both agricultural land and flood control In villages, one 
must realize we are dealing with the same water, so we have to 
become hydrologists. At first the agriculturalists didn't under 
stand that flood water in a village was their problem as well as 
for the hydrologists. 

I usually say that our trouble Is that we haven't prepared 
the earth to make the best use of the blessings of heaven that 
come in the rains. We have to prepare this earth if we want the 
blessi ngs. 


Technical Committee on_ Forestry and Forest Products 

WCL: I wrote a long memorandum on principles of sustained land use 
and gave it to the Interim Commission on Food and Agriculture 
of the United Nations. I felt the foresters were not giving 
enough attention to soils of the forests, actually none at all. 

Chall: So yours was supplemental to the published report.* You felt 
that they were dealing only with trees. 

WCL: Yes. At the White House conference on conservation of natural 

resources, which was a landmark in the progress of this develop 
ment, Teddy Roosevelt, who was a very far-sighted man, had dif 
ferent people give lectures to governors. Little attention was 
given to soil losses in our country. It was the destruction of 
forests that caught the public attention. People forgot that 
forests need soils. Practically no program on soils was dis 

Pinchot, who was a picturesque individual, a very wealthy 
man and politically very powerful, had taken an early interest 
in forestry and became acquainted with the foresters, especially 
in Germany, and also with Henry Solon Graves, and others here. 
As I put it, it took another generation and another Roosevelt 
to bring in the problem of conservation of soils. 

Chall: At this time, Graves must have been the dean of foresters. As 
an older man, he was the chairman of this FAO committee, wasn't 

WCL: Yes, and everybody loved Solon Graves. He was a marvelous person. 
Chall: Did you get him to accept your idea about consideration of soils? 

WCL: Yes. He seemed to be in entire agreement with my long memoran 
dum of November, 1944, which laid special emphasis on the role of 
soils in the production of forest crops as well as agronomic crops, 
This long memorandum was published as Confidential 462. 

* Third Report to the Governments of the Un i ted Nations, 
by the Interim Commission on Food and Agriculture, Washington, 
D.C., April 25, 1945. 

Measuring Needs of Wood 

WCL: I wrote an article entitled, "World-Wide Need of Wood." Also, 

I gave a lecture in Philadelphia before the Philosophical Society 
that Benjamin Franklin founded. I mentioned wood pulp as one of 
the products that had become very important. I expressed the 
idea that the advancement, culturally, of a nation can be meas 
ured by the amount of pulp per capita in use for newsprint. The 
Londoji Times objected to this. C laughter] 

How can one find out how much wood the world needs? I used 
England as an example of an advanced country which would be eco 
nomical in its use of wood, for it couldn't grow enough to meet 
the full needs of the country and much had to be imported. 

I used that as an indication that the importation of timber 
would be a measure of their relative need for timber. We would 
have some measure of what an advanced country would need per 
capita, if we added to what they grew in timber, what it was 
necessary to import. 

Chall: So you felt that this FAO commission was not concerned enough 
with statistical facts on forests? 

WCL: Well, many countries had not yet built up statistical records 

of their forests and use of forest products. In some countries 
where they had an excess of timber, they could be wasteful. Ofher 
countries did not have enough for their needs. 

People were concerned not only with commerce in timber, but 
were concerned primarily with the product after trees had been 
harvested; whereas we foresters, in managing forests, would take 
into account the relationship of forests to soil and water, and 
how to manage and protect growing timber stands from fire. We 
want to get the most out of the forest. 

FAO and Forestry 

Chall: What has been the result, in terms of FAO and forestry? 
WCL: FAO established a branch of forestry. Foresters have been 


WCL: energetic and cooperative with other foresters here and abroad. 
This gives the forester pride in his profession and in the sig 
nificance of it. It requires him to think in longer terms, of 
a century or more, because he is dealing with a long-range crop 
and its indirect benefits. 

Foresters were the first to be interested in the wastage of 
land by soil erosion, before the agronomist became concerned. 
Maintenance of the scenic and inspirational beauties of forests 
in the state of nature was a part of the foresters' life and 

Chal I : Do you think foresters working in other parts of the world have 
these same high motives? 

WCL: Yes. There's pride among international and our American forest 
ers. You have a camaraderie with anyone trained as a forester. 
I have represented the Society of American Foresters at inter 
national congresses and felt it quite an honor. 

Justice Louis Brandeis 

Chall: Can you give me a sketch of Mr. Brandeis, since you knew him 
wel I during this time? 

WCL: Perhaps it is not necessary to say much more here, for in my 

written replies to your questions on my return from Palestine in 
1939, I went into more detail. Justice Brandeis was extremely 
intelligent, deeply spiritual and conscientious in administering 
justice. My contacts with him were an inspiration. We had a 
beautiful friendship up until the time of his death. 

Chall: So he was a very careful scholar and legal man and a humani- 
tari an? 

WCL: One of the great spirits of our time. 


Mrs. Lowdermi Ik Tel Is About Washington, D.C. 

White House Receptions 

Chall: Do you remember anything in particular about President and 
Mrs. Roosevelt? 

Mrs. L.: I remember vividly my first reception in the White House. We 

gathered in the famous East Room. Then we went in line through 
the adjoining Blue Room, where President Roosevelt sat on a high 
stool, so one had the feeling that he was standing. An aide 
stood beside him to whom we gave our names and Roosevelt was 
most cordial to Walter. 

When I stepped up, he put out his hand warmly and took 
mine; and as he looked in my eyes, he said, "Oh Mrs. Lowder 
mi Ik, I'm so glad you could come this evening." Well, I knew 
he didn't care a hoot about me, whether I was there or not; but 
I appreciated this extreme friendliness and gentleman! i ness 
that made him so very popular. The close association we had in 
government contacts was very wonderful in those early days. And 
what stamina Mrs. Roosevelt had! I've seen her stand out in the 
garden and literally shake hands with two thousand people. 

And just in contrast but not to belittle another Presi 
dent's wife I went with the Federated Women's Clubs of America, 
when at an annual Washington convention, to Mrs. Truman's for 
a reception. The White House was being repaired so they were 
I iving in Blai r House. 

These Club women were very excited about this supposedly 
great social event. I was quite amused as I listened to them. 
Many had bought new hats and dresses for the occasion. They 
were all dolled up to the utmost of which they were capable. 

Blair House was sort of a double house we were ushered 
in one door so guests could make a sort of circle and out an 
other door. There were not too many of us, but Mrs. Truman 
did not shake hands with anyone. It would be too much of an 
effort, I suppose. As each passed by, she smiled and nodded 
as they were introduced to her. 

Then we went from that room into a sort of family sitting 
room adjoining a big banquet room. I went into this dining 
room. There was no sign of tea or cakes and no servants were 
around. I said to one of the Washington women (a few of us had- 
been asked to go along as hostesses), "Heavens, aren't we even 
going to get a cup of tea and a cookie?" She said, "If we do 


Mrs. L.: not, I think it would be utterly disgraceful." 

Anyone who went to the Roosevelts 1 was served graciously 
in recognition that you had come as an honor to them. We all 
stood around, waiting for somebody to do something. Finally 
the man who led us in the door maneuvered us out the other door. 

These leading women from many states were simply furious. 
They stormed all the way down the street. To think that ar 
rangements had been made and they had been invited to the tem 
porary White House by Mrs. Truman, and she not only had not 
shaken hands with them, she had not even offered them a cup 
of tea or a cookie. 

They said, "We know that it isn't because they don't have 
the means, because we pay taxes to give them an enormous bud 
get for entertaining." 

They were hurt that they were not considered important 
enough for Mrs. Truman to bother about them. The Federated 
Women's Clubs of America were decidedly unhappy and disappointed 
with what they thought would be the high point for them in their 
annual congress in Washington. 

Mrs. Roosevelt and the Girls' Reformatory 

Mrs. L.: But we were speaking about Mrs. Roosevelt. She had to endure 
a great deal of criticism. Some people wanted a President's 
wife to be just a feminine doll, but Mrs. Roosevelt was a per 
sonality and a woman of vision and she could not do that. 

She was making a public talk in Washington, and expressed 
her interest in people generally and their welfare, and said 
she would do what she could to help them. Afterward, a Quaker, 
a close friend of ours, went up to her and said, "Do you really 
mean what you said about interest in people who are down and 
out and making life better for them?" Mrs. Roosevelt said, 
"Why, indeed I am in earnest." 

The Quaker said, "Then I would like to have you come down 
and see the Washington Reformatory for Girls." Mrs. Roosevelt 
said, "I'll be glad to." She took her name and said, "But I 
will have to see my secretary and make a time." 

"Well," the Quaker friend thought, "this is the end. This 
is just her way out of doing anything." But sure enough, within 
a few days, the secretary called and said, "Mrs. Roosevelt would 
I ike to make a date to come and see your work at the girls' 


Mrs. L.: reformatory." 

The Quaker showed Mrs. Roosevelt how some of these girls 
were in window I ess rooms, or else with windows so high up they 
could not see out. Ventilation was very bad, so that In heat 
of summer, it would be simply unbearable, and in the cold of 
winter, there was no central heating to give the girls the 
warmth they needed. 

She showed Mrs. Roosevelt some places where girls in des 
peration had used their fists to beat on the wall in a frantic 
effort to give expression to their frustration in such confine 
ment. Actually it was almost a medieval prison. 

Mrs. Roosevelt was visibly shocked that this condition 
existed in the Capital. Believe me, she did not delay to do 
something about it. She raised a public stew. She went to 
Congress and got passed whatever was necessary so that these 
reformatory girls should have proper heat for winter and proper 
venti lation for summer; and not continue in a medieval prison, 
but should have certain things that are now a part of modern 

Of course, that was thirty years ago. I presume we have 
done a lot for such people since then. But before Mrs. Roose 
velt, no one had bothered to take an interest in the welfare 
of such people. 

Herbert Hoover 

Mrs. L.: Walter worked with Hoover, and he adored him in many ways; but 
yet Hoover didn't have an understanding of the people. He 
fought the poor veterans who had nothing and were out of work 
when they swarmed into Washington. The depression was on and 
these veterans were miserable. Their families were hungry, they 
had insufficient winter clothes, and in desperation, they marched 
on Washington for help. And Hoover had the soldiers pitch on 
them as though they were an enemy coming in, yet they were all 

Hoover lacked an understanding of poverty. He had money 
and gracious living in his own life, and he just didn't under 
stand people who were suffering and down and out. He ordered 
our army out and drove the veterans away as though they were 
enemy encampments. 

WCL: When Hoover was my chief in the Belgian Relief, all that reeded 
to be said was, "The Chief wants this done," and it was done. 


WCL: And we looked upon him as a very great leader, but I know of 
another case when Hoover took the evening train to Chicago 
from Washington. 

He came into the dining car and sat down for dinner, and 
some friend was with him. The steward was very much excited 
that the President was dining with him that evening and was 
anxious to have everything just right. 

After he'd done quite a bit of serving, he came up to 
Hoover and said he was honored to have him, and asked If there 
was anything he wished and was everything all right. 

Hoover bruskly replied, "If anything wasn't all right, I 
would tell you," and turned away. 

Mrs. L.: He wasn't very gracious. You see, he just lacked that sym 
pathetic touch. If he had given that man a smile and said, 
"Everything is just fine," that man would have been lifted up 
for weeks to come. As it was, he was squelched completely 
and hurt. 

Soil Conservation Service: Missionary Zeal 

Mrs. L.: In the early days of the Soil Conservation, men had a true 

missionary zeal. Some of the men really preached sermons and 
warned people about the dangers of soil erosion and the doom 
that awaited our country if we did not fight this great enemy. 

I remember how Mr. Winston would get as excited as a min 
ister preaching against sin and the sinner. With a tremulo 
voice and waving his arms, he would almost shout in his seri 
ousness of warning people against the dire things that were to 
come because of the neglect of our lands and wastage by soil 

There was a supreme dedication among these early conser 
vation men, and they worked hard. There were a number of men 
who had heart attacks from overwork. They were so interested, 
they wouldn't stop, and some attacks were fatal, which was a 
great loss to the work. 

In fact, Walter set a terrible pace himself for years and 
was able to take this physical pace, whereas some men who tried 
to keep his pace just couldn't take it. However, in time ex 
haustion overtook Walter and he lay in the hospital nine weeks 
to give his wounded heart and body a rest. 


Aaronsohn family, 322-323, 583 

Aaron, 581-585, 632 

Alexander, 583-584 

Rivka, 583-585, 632 

Sara, 583-584 

Africa, 634-635. See also Chapter XI 
Agricultural Missions, Inc., 452, 493-494 
Agriculture, Department of, 186, 187, 188, 213, 

228, 240, 242, 246, 252 

American Christian Palestine Committee, 560 
American Geophysical Union, 171, 193, 200 
Anderson, Clinton, 196 

Anglo-American Commission of Inquiry on Palestine, 193 
Arabs. See_ Chapters IX, X, XI, XV, XVI 
Ashurst, Henry, 143, 145 
Aswan Dam, 312-313, 541-542 

Bailey, Reed, 414, 422 

Balfour Declaration, 322-324 

Barnea, Joseph, 546 

Barnes, George, 190 

Barrett, , 124 

Beaton , Ruth , 1 6 

Ben-David, A., 630 

Ben-Gurion, David, 573, 603, 637 

Ben-Zvi, Yitzhak, 573, 623 

Bennett, Hugh: 

as administrator, 149, 155, 157, 165, 199-204 passim, 

219, 226, 229, 236, 239, 240 
relations with Lowdermilk, 134, 136-137, 181, 182, 

188, 191, 196, 243-246, 356 
Bessy, , 377 
Black, Albert G. , 180 
Boaz, , 617 
Bowles Hal I , 130 

Bowman, Isaiah, 179, 236, 240, 243, 437 
Bow i e , W i I I i am , 1 69 

Brandeis, Louis D., 179, 182, 187, 253-254, 261 
Bressman, Earl , 149 
Brewster, Owen, 192 
Broderick, Walter, 132 
Brody, Samuel , 578 
Bromfield, Louis, 240, 589 

Brown, Carl, 257, 506 

Browning, Bryce, 230-23 1 a 

Bryan, Hugh, 48 

Buck, Pearl, 77, 99 

Bule, T. S., 155 

Buras, Nathan, 627-628, 654 

Bush, Vannevar, 179, 186 

C.C.C. Camps, 143, 152, 174-177 

California Institute of Technology, 135, 169-170, 243 

Calkins, Hugh, 142-143 

Cannon, Clarence, 354-355 

Carmon, --, 594 

Carpenter, Farrington, 147-148 

Chaney, Ralph, 675, 679 

Chapl ine, Ridgley, 49 

Chapmen, Burgoyne, 561 

Churchill, Winston, 319, 324, 430 

Clapp, Earle, 42, 49, 206 

Clements, Frederick, 374 

demons, Harry, 76, 238 

Cohen, Mark, 445-446 

Coleman, Earnest, 128 

Col lier, Charles W., 140 

Col I ier, John, 142 

Colons, French, 428-430, 442, 447-451. See also 

Independence, North Africa 

philosophy of, 90, 223, 229-231, 251-252, 265, 
336, 344, 354, 521, 541, 662-667, 683-684 

See also Land use 

Cooke",~Morris L., 179, 494, 505, 516-519 
Cosmos Club, 136, 147, 180, 505 
Cotton, John S., 128 
Coyle, David Cushman, 589 
Crocheron, B. H., 216 
Cyprus, 23. See also Table of Contents 

Daladier, Eduard, 276 

Dana, Samuel , 49 

Danel, Pierre, 372, 423-424 

Dawson, , 404 

de Breuvery, E. S., 546, 557, 579 

de Vidja, , 647, 657 

Doran, , 639 

Dori, Yacov, 615, 640 

Drury, Newton, 675, 679 

Dust bowl , 167, 175 

Eakin, Henry, 139, 201-202 

Eban, Abba, 633-634 

Economic aid, 491-492, 634-636, 656-657. See 

also Chapter XVI I 
Einstein, Albert, 179 
Einstein, Hans Albert, 202 
Eisenhower, Dwight, 240, 257 

Eisenhower, Milton, 179, 200, 228, 239-240, 352 
Eleventh Commandment, 253, 326-328, 378 
England, 192-194, 269-270, 367, 498, 550 

archaeological proofs of, 295-303, 311, 316-318, 
331-333, 341-344, 345-346, 349, 366-374 

civilization affected by, 63-64, 93-94, 108, 
116, 261, 331-333, 335-336, 343-344 

climate as a factor, 63-64, 370-375 

tracing through records, 89, 90-91, 140, 

144-145, 205, 238, 336, 349-350 
Eshkol, Levi, 563, 567, 602 
Evenari , Michael, 636 
Extension Service, Agricultural, 150-15!, 214-216 

Fairchild Aerial Survey Company, 139-140, 169 
Famine, 60, 66, 68-71, 88-90, 328, 660-661 
Farm Bureau Federation, 150, 215-216 

gaining cooperation of, 152-154, 155, 410, 
494-495, 568-569, 597-598 

practices honored, 142, 162-164, 249, 405-407, 
408-409, 410, 576, 654 

attitudes in U.S., 148, 152, 161, 162-164, 172, 
21 1-214, 250, 255-256 

See a I so Tab le of Contents for farmers of other 


Fechner, Robert, 174, 175, 177 
Finkel, Herman, 614, 625, 640 
Fisher, Clarence S., 316 

Flood Control Act (1936), 146-147, 228-229, 257 
Flood Control Act (1944), 256-257 
Flood Control Coordinating Committee, 228 
Flood plain zoning, 511, 515, 519-520, 682 
Food and Agriculture Organization, 259-260, 566, 

568, 595, 609, 626, 630, 647-648, 653, 658, 661 
Forest fires, 51-55, 213-214 
Forest Service: 

Forest Experiment Station, 110, 121-130, 135 
Forsling, Clarence, 49 
French, Percy, 678 
Fritz, Emanuel, 206 
Ful ler, Richard E., 414, 422 

Gautier, --, 302, 372-373, 440 

Gerard, Jim, 45, 52, 54 

Gil, Nathan, 563, 567, 592-596, 598 

Gilman, Herb, 123-124, 126-127 

Glick, Philip, 155 

Glueck, Nelson, 316-318, 319, 325, 368-370, 564 

Godet, , 302, 371-372 

Goldschmidt, Martin J., 320, 581 

Goldstein, Sidney, 378, 609, 624 

Goor, Amihud, 253, 316, 320, 362, 363 

Goor, Assaf, 316, 362 

Gordon, A. D. , 586-589, 642 

Goss, Ambassador, 404 

Granger, Christopher, 175 

Graves, Henry Solon, 22, 48, 57, 259 

Grazing, Bureau of, 147 

Greece, 290, 550-551 

Greeley, William B. , 32, 39, 42 

Greenway, Isabella, 143, 145 

Grosvenor, Gilbert, 179, 247 

Gsell, Stephane, 302, 372 

Gung' I , Esther, 16 

Guy, P. L. 0., 362, 366, 369, 564, 581 

Gvati, Chaim, 575 

Hadassah, 183 

Ha I pern, Halm, 592 

Hamburg, Sam, 588-589, 646 

Hami I ton, , 128 

Harper, --, 370 

Harrold, Lloyd L., 166 

Hatfield, Ira, 171 

Hayden, Carl, 143, 145-146, 147, 149-150, 540 

Head ley, Roy, 49 

Heinze, Herb, 683 

Hobart, Alice Teasdale, 78 

Hoover, Herbert, 9, 10, 264-265 

Hoover Dam, 168 

Homer, H., 171 

Horton, R. E., 171 

Hu Shih, Ambassador, 379, 404 

Huntingdon, Ellsworth, 63-64 

Hursh, Charles R. , 167 

Hurst, H. E., 312 

Hutcheson, Joseph, 194 

Ickes, Harold, 139-140, 147-149, 168-169, 201, 225, 


North Africa, 433, 442-443, 447-451 

South and West Africa, 475, 490-492 
Indians, American, 141-143, 161-162 
Interior, Department of, 234-235, 543 
Israel, agricultural settlements, 320, 373-374. 

See also Kibbutz, Chapters IX, XV 

Jardine, Jim, 166 

Jarvis, C. S., Major, 370 

Johnson, Jed, 150 

Jordan River, 190-191, 195, 244, 325, 543, 570 

Kaplan, , 560 

Kapnek, J. K., 500 

Kellogg, Charles, 199-200, 203, 224 

Kibbutz, 562, 604-607, 636-637, 642-644 

Kilimanjaro, Mount, 504 

Klaus, Don, 568 

Knapp, Robert, 135, 226 

Kotok, E. I., 122, 128, 129-130, 134 

Krimgold, Dov, 128, 166-167, 220, 596 

Ladejinsky, Wolf, 535-536, 539 
Lahav, , 320, 581 
Lake Mead, Nevada, 140, 169 
Land use: 

social objectives, 206, 223, 252-256, 258, 260, 

394, 507-508, 587-588, 590-59! 
Lattimore, Owen, 549-550 
Lawson, Andrew C., 168 
Leopold, Aldo, 49, 50 
Leopold, Luna, 50 
Leopold, Starker, 50 
Lesci, --, 302, 371-372 
Library of Congress, 237-238 
Lilienthal, David, 171-172 

Litter, forest, 45, 55, 63, 113-115, 120, 162-164, 204 
Loeb, Max, 612, 626 
Lord, Kate, 241 
Lord, Russel I, 241, 589 
Louderback, George D. , 119 
Lowdermilk, W. C., administrative techniques: 

in China, 408-410 

in Israel, 568, 595-599 

In Morongo, 668-674 

in redwoods, 682-683 

in SCS, 140, 154, 212, 218, 226-227, 243 

in Yugoslavia, 654, 657 

Lowdermilk Terraces, 167-168 

Lowdermi Ik, William F., 359-360, 578, 676 
Lowdermilk, Winifred Esther, 359-360, 414, 416, 676 
Loyalty probe, 547-553 

McCarthy, Joseph, Senator, 547, 550 

McKnight, Cleveland, 267, 316, 351, 359, 360-361 

Magnes, Judah L., 320, 365 

Mandel , Samuel , 628 

Manson, Philip, 609, 624 

Marbut, Curtis F., 199, 203-204 

Marquis, Clyde, 179 

Marsh, George, 46, 370 

Marshal I Plan, 437 

Martin, M., 439-440 

Mason, F. R., 320 

Meir, Golda, 560 

Mekong River, 544, 553-554 

Merriam, C. Hart, 179 

Merriam, J. C., 179, 234 

Midrasha Agricultural School, experiment station, 

563, 567, 600, 613 
Mil ler, F. G. , 52, 56 
Mi I I ikan, Robert, 243 
Mirov, N. T., 83 
Missionaries, 460, 464, 466-468, 474, 475, 476, 483, 

484-485, 487-490, 493 
Mulford, Walter, 49 
Myer, Di I Ion, 154-155 
Myles, Wayne, 568 

Nanking, Union University, 60-61, 65-66, 74 

National Geographic Society, 244-245, 247 

Neumann, Emanuel, 187, 191 

Nichols, Mark L., 182, 242 

Nigeria, Kano, 462 

Office of War Information, 188, 190 

O'Neal, Edward, 216 

Oppenheimer, , 591 

Orchard, John E., 437-438 

Oxford, 3, 5-7, 10-12, 23-24. See also Rhodes scholar 

Palestine, 186-195. See also Chapter IX 

Palestine, Joint Survey Commission, 590-592 

Paricutin, Mexico, 120, 532. See also Table of Contents 

Parker Dam, 170 

Peek, George, 159 


Peretz, Joe, 619 

Petrie, Sir Flinders and Lady, 316, 366, 369-370, 564 
Picard, Leo, 320, 581 
PInchot, Gifford, 47-49, 206, 259 
Population control, 70-71, 449-451, 456, 460, 634. 

See also Chapter XVI I 
Preston, John, 208 
Puerto Rico, 167-168 
Putnam, Herbert, 179, 237 

Rabicovich, , 581 

Radi, M., 334, 365 

Reed, Edward, 206 

Reifenberg, Adolph, 320, 362, 581, 586, 589-590 

Reisner, George, 311, 368 

Reisner, John, 61, 66, 106, 452, 493-494 

Renner, Fred, 550 

Rhodes scholar, 3, 4, 7, 8, II, 17-18 

Richthofen, Von Ferdinand, 63-64 

Rideout, Joe, 247 

Ringland, Arthur, 228-229 

Rivers, Flora, 16 

Roosevelt, Mrs. Eleanor, 179, 262-264 

Roosevelt, Franklin D.: 

administrator, 134, 140, 146, 149, 155, 238 

host, 179, 262-263 

international leader, 428, 430, 448-449 
Roosevelt, Theodore, 238, 259 
Rowe, Percy, 128 
Ruppin, --, 320, 644 
Rutledge, R. H., 50 
Ryerson, Knowles, 133, 232-233, 590-591 

Sale, G. N., 320, 581 

Sampson, Arthur, I 10 

Samsonov, Malka, 584, 585, 632 

Savage, John L., 194 

Schaaf, C. Hart, 554 

Schenck, Carl, 48-49, 57 

Schlich, Sir William, 18, 20, 22, 45, 48-49 

Shaw, Charles, 136 

Shazar, S. J., 640 

Sherman, L. K. , 171 

Sicawey Observatory (Shanghai), 72, 557 

Si Icox, F. A., 125, 173, 206 

Sinclair, D. , 129, 135 

Singleton, Sir John, 194 

Smith, J. Russel I, 83 

Soil Conservation Service: 

California, 216 

U.S., 278, 534, 550-55 1 , 593-594 

See also Chapter V I I I 
Souter, Wi I I iam E. , 66 
State Department, 188-189, 191, 358, 384, 403-405, 

448-449, 618-619, 620-621 
Strahorn, Arthur T., 591 
Sundling, --, 128 

Technion Society, American, 578 

Tennessee Valley Authority, 171-172, 215, 518, 521 

Thornthwaite, Charles Warren, 552 

Todd, 0. J., 91-94, 412 

To I I ey , Howa rd , 1 79 

Tourney, James, 48 

Truman, Harry, 193, 507, 509, 518-519 

Truman, Mrs. Harry, 262-263 

Tugwell, Rexford, 133-134, 149, 173 

United Nations: 

Technical Assistance Board, 545, 658-659 
See a I so Food and Agriculture Organization 

Vannoni, Vito, 135, 226 
Volcani, , 320, 364, 644 

Wagner, Robert, 192 

Wallace, Henry, 125, 158, 179, 181, 183, 229, 

232-233, 356 
Watt, Bil I, 23, 381 
Weisgal , , 633 
Weitz, Ronan, 598 
Weizmann, Chaim, 179, 320, 322, 559-560, 590, 

592, 602 

White Paper, 1939, 323-325 
Whitney, Mi I ton, 203 
Wickes, Dean, 237-239 
Wiener, Aron, 639 
W! I I is, Bai ley, 238 

Wilson, M. L., 125, 151, 179, 229, 235-236 
Wilson, Woodrow, 37 
Wo I man, Abel, 192 

Yadin, Yigael, 368 
Yarden, Hanan, 573 

Yarden, Rachel, 99, 573 

Zionist Emergency Organization, 187, 191 
Zon, Raphael, 48-49, 57, 118, 172, 205-206 

14 ' 1 7