For nearly a century, the Indians on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming have been battling their white farmer neighbors over the rights to the Wind River. What You See in Clear Water tells the story of this epic struggle, shedding light on the ongoing conflict over water rights in the American West, one of the most divisive and essential issues in America today.
While lawyers argued this landmark case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Geoffrey O’Gara walked the banks of the river with the farmers, ranchers, biologists, and tribal elders who knew it intimately. Reading his account, we come to know the impoverished Shoshone and Arapaho tribes living on the Wind River Reservation, who believe that by treaty they control the water within the reservation. We also meet the farmers who have struggled for decades to scratch a living from the arid soil, and who want to divert the river water to irrigate their lands. O’Gara’s empathetic portrayal of life in the West today, the historical texture he brings to the land and its inhabitants, and the common humanity he finds between hostile neighbors on opposite sides of the river make What You See in Clear Water an unusually rich and rewarding book.
About What You See in Clear Water
The Wind River runs from the alpine lakes of the Continental Divide through the nestled valleys of the northern Rocky Mountains and out onto high, windblown plains. More than a century ago, in what would become Wyoming, the federal government set aside 44 million acres on which to confine the unrelated Shoshone and Arapaho tribes. By now the Wind River Reservation has been reduced to 2.3 million acres, but the battle over control of this land–and especially the river that runs through it–is far from over. In this magnificent watershed, Geoffrey O’Gara–"a touching, wise, and penetrating writer," according to Edward Hoagland–sets a remarkable story that illuminates the larger, unfinished struggle for the heart of the West. He ranges from the Indian wars to the present day, and from the nineteenth-century Shoshone chief Washakie to his great-grandson, now head of the tribal council; and he also traces the complex legal struggle over water rights–for generations monopolized by white farmers for irrigation–that after two decades is still unresolved. At the heart of O’Gara’s account are the citizens of Wind River itself, the people on the various sides of the many complex conflicts: the tragedy and resilience of the nine thousand Shoshone and Arapaho contending with the depredations of reservation life and the indifference of those who first took their land and have gradually assumed control of their water. In all, this is a powerful, moving story of great relevance and guarded promise, of nations with different languages, cultures, and birthrights, still searching for a way to live together.