Dam Brothers Papers, 1910-1936  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Dam Brothers
Dam Brothers Papers
1910-1936 (inclusive)
6 boxes, (2.5 cubic feet)
72 glass plate negatives
Collection Number
1971.5143 (first accession), 1992.9 (second accession)
Reports, record books, scrapbooks, photographs and correspondence related to the Dam Brothers' involvement in the Priest Rapids Dam and irrigation project; also unrelated photographs depicting Native Americans, mostly Plateau Indians.
Museum of History & Industry, Sophie Frye Bass Library
Sophie Frye Bass Library
Museum of History & Industry
P.O. Box 80816
Seattle, WA
Telephone: 206-324-1126
Fax: 206-780-1533
Access Restrictions

The collection is open to the public by appointment.

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Everett Steven (b. 1885) and Milton Emery (1886-1969) Dam were two of three sons of Alton S. Dam, one of the early proponents of irrigation development in Washington State. Milton and Everett Dam received business training in Seattle and established the Dam Brothers brokerage firm there. In addition to their brokerage business, the two brothers spent more than two decades promoting the construction of a large hydroelectric dam at Priest Rapids. Their older brother Oscar (b. 1883) graduated from the University of Washington and worked for the U.S. Customs service in Seattle.

All three Dam brothers were born in South Dakota, where Alton Dam and his wife Anna moved shortly after their marriage in 1863. In 1893, the elder Dam moved his family to Washington's Yakima Valley, where he took an active role in the development and settlement of the Valley, with a particular interest in large-scale irrigation enterprises. In 1903, while he was advising the federal government regarding Reclamation projects, Alton Dam realized the potential of one of the locations under consideration, Priest Rapids in Grant County, on the Columbia River. Around 1905, Everett and Milton Dam began to work actively with their father towards the development of the Priest Rapids project. When Alton Dam died suddenly in 1911, Milton and Everett took up the reins on the project, which proposed to build the largest hydroelectric plant in the world. The related Priest Rapids Highlands Project would use the power thus generated to irrigate the fertile land adjacent to Priest Rapids.

The Dam brothers formed a corporation, the Washington Development and Irrigation Company, to finance construction of the dam at Priest Rapids. Headed by General Electric's Henry J. Pierce, the corporation held the license for the Priest Rapids projects but received little in the way of financial support from General Electric and other companies that were sponsoring the project. The Dam Brothers firm undertook to arrange financing but was met with opposition from both potential investors and regulatory authorities, who wanted to see proof of a market for electric power as part of the overall development. Consequently, the Dam Brothers began to promote a variety of projects at Priest Rapids in addition to the dam, including nitrate and fertilizer plants and the electrification of Northern Pacific Railroad tracks across the Columbia.

In addition to these industrial projects, the Dam brothers proposed that the surplus of this cheap electrical power be used to irrigate 100,000 acres of land adjacent to Priest Rapids, half of which was owned by the Dam brothers and their associates and Henry Pierce. The Dam brothers used their land holdings to demonstrate the adaptability of the soil and climate to raise both agricultural crops and livestock. They raised alfalfa at their Diamond "D" ranch, and livestock at their Saddle Basin ranch, where they developed a water pumping system to water thousands of head of sheep, cattle and horses.

Still unable to arrange financing, however, the two Dam brothers left Seattle in 1928 and spent the next few years traveling across the U.S. and Canada in search of backers for the Priest Rapids project, ultimately without success. In 1930, the Federal Power Commission would not renew the license for Priest Rapids Dam. Milton Dam returned to Seattle, where he became involved in real estate development in central Washington. Milton Dam died in Placer County, California in 1969. Everett worked as a securities trader in New York, where he remained until at least 1964.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The collection deals largely with the Dam Brothers involvement with the Priest Rapids irrigation and power development projects. It includes the Record Books of the various Dam Brothers corporations, and Dam Brothers scrapbooks. The latter are promotional in nature, comprised of photographs, maps, newspaper clippings and original text describing the Dam Brothers Priest Rapids properties with emphasis on the success of their various farming ventures and describing the potential for new markets on irrigated lands. Correspondence between the brothers and the engineering consulting firm of Quinton and Code (later Quinton, Code and Hill) discusses the engineering requirements and costs of the Priest Rapids project; one letter to Henry Pierce outlines the Dams' idea to establish a colony of Mormon sugar beet farmers on the Priest Rapids land. Eleven colorized photos, similar to the scrapbook photos, depict Yakima valley farming and date circa 1910-1936. The collection includes government reports from 1918-1920, all concerned with the development of water power; 50 telegrams; and ephemera.

The collection also includes a set of 72 glass plate negatives depicting Native Americans, mostly studio portraits of Plateau Indians believed to have been taken by British photographer Thomas Rutter.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Alternative Forms Available

Photographic prints made from the glass plate negative originals are available for viewing.

A selection of the photographs is available in digital form as part of the American Indians of the Pacific Northwest Collection from the University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections, and by clicking the camera icons in the inventory below.

Restrictions on Use

The Museum of History & Industry is the owner of the materials in the Sophie Frye Bass Library and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from MOHAI before any reproduction use. The museum does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners.

Preferred Citation

Dam Brothers Papers, Museum of History & Industry, Seattle

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

Papers Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Hearings Before the Committee on Water Power of the House of Representatives, 65th Congress, Second Session, Parts 1-4 (4 volumes)
House of Representatives Conference Report: Dams Across Navigable Waters, 65th Congress
1919 February 26
Federal Water Power Act, H.R. 3184, 66th Congress
Ninth Annual Report of the Federal Power Commission
2 1
2 2
Dam Brothers Properties and Interests
Promotional scrapbook describing Dam brothers Priest Rapids area ranch properties and businesses
circa 1911-1920
2 2a
Papers removed from above
circa 1911-1920
2 3
History of Priest Rapids and Columbia River
Bound volume of articles, includes related correspondence between Dam Brothers and various parties
circa 1916
2 4a
Facts About Priest Rapids, paper by Washington Irrigation and Development Company
2 4b
Castle Rock Coal Mine, two-volume report on the Castle Rock Coal Mine property by Dam Bros.
circa 1909
2 5
Letterheads of Dam Brothers companies
circa 1910-1920
2 6
Letterheads torn from correspondence from various businesses, mostly in Washington State
2 7
Newspaper article on proposed Priest Rapids Dam project
2 8
Professional Records of Louis C. Hill, J.H. Quinton, and W.H. Code of Quinton, Code and Hill engineering firm
circa 1910-1920
2 9
Partnership agreement of the Priest Rapids Fruit Land Company
2 10
Record Book of the Priest Rapids Land Owners Association, Incorporated.
2 11
Record Book of Diamond "D" Ranch Company, Incorporated.
2 12
Record Book of Priest Rapids Land Corporation.
2 13
Resignation of Trustees and Officers of Priest Rapids Land Corporation
2 14
Scrapbook pages about the Diamond "D" ranch and the potential for hog farming
circa 1911-1920
2 15
1910-1927, undated
2 16
Miscellaneous official papers
2 17
1919, 1924, undated
Album, including approximately 75 photographs
Leather bound album titled "Priest Rapids Water Company, State of Washington , USA." Album is divided into 6 sections: "Report of the Dam Bros. I" comprising a "Confidential Report on the Priest Rapid Highlands Irrigation District" by Everett and Milton Dam; hand-colored maps; "Legal Report on the Priest Rapids Highland Irrigation Project" by Leander T. Turner; a report on the project by Professor C.C. Thom, Soil Physicist and Irrigation Expert from the Washington State Agricultural College; photographs, mostly hand-colored photographs of the area; and meeting minutes and ephemera.
circa 1912

Photographs Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box Folder
4 1
Yakima valley, mostly farming scenes.
Webster and Stevens (photographer)
Asahel Curtis (photographer)
Curtis and Miller (photographer)
Gravenslun (photographer)
11 photographs : handcolored
circa 1910-1936
Car on dirt road in mountains
Webster & Stevens (photographer)
circa 1920s
Box Folder
4 2
Two studio portraits of Henry Pierce
Harris & Ewing (photographer)
Bachrach (photographer)
1992.9.1-72: Photographs
Box 5 contains 72 modern viewing prints of original glass plate negatives depicting Native Americans. With the exception of one photograph of Duwamish Indian Dr. Jack by the Puyallup photography firm of Mitchell and Smith, the photographs are believed to be those of British photographer Thomas Rutter, who had a studio in Yakima in the 1890's. Identification is based on comparison with known Rutter photographs, including comparison of handwriting and studio props. The photographs consist largely of studio portraits of Plateau Indians. One outdoor shot depicts Yakama Indian Captain Billy and his wife. Other Native American individuals have been identified as Cadina Chenewith, daughter of Young Chief Chenewith of the Mid-Columbian Cascade tribe, and Klikitat sisters Mattie and Ollie Spencer. The Indians wear traditional dress, including beaded belts, feather decorated hats, shell necklaces and earrings. Some of the women carry woven cornhusk or beaded bags, and several individuals hold highly valued woolen Pendleton trade blankets. Photos include the nine images below, which are part of the American Indians of the Pacific Northwest Digital Collection at the University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections.
circa 1900
circa 1900
circa 1900
circa 1900
circa 1900
circa 1900
circa 1900
circa 1900
circa 1900
circa 1900

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Indians of North America--Washington (State)--Yakima Region--Clothing & dress
  • Irrigation -- Washington (State)--Grant County--History
  • Yakama Indians--Clothing & dress
  • Family Names :
  • Dam family
  • Geographical Names :
  • Yakima River Valley (Wash.)
  • Priest Rapids (Wash.)
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Glass negatives
  • Portrait photographs
  • Scrapbooks
  • Other Creators :
    • Personal Names :
    • Dam, Everett Stephen, 1885- (creator)
    • Dam, Milton Emory, 1886-1969 (creator)