COTTONWOOD ISLAND (NEVADA)


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the Wanderling

"Through the great canyon a large river flows from the north to the south and falls into the northern end of the Gulf of California. Now, in the useful translations of the Spanish authors of 1540 AD we find that the scribe of the Conquistadors placed near the Colorado River, in a small island, a sanctuary of Lamaisra, or of Buddhism. He mentions a divine personage living in a small house near a lake upon this island, and called, as he says, Quatu-zaca, who was reputed never to eat."

VOYAGES: l'Histoire de la D'couverte de l'Amerique, Vol IX, Henri Ternaux-Compans (1836)


Cottonwood Island (Nevada) is one of those obscure search items that just doesn't find it's way very high up in the scheme of things, at least when it comes to falling into the top ten search category. The thing is, for those who DO search seriously for information on Cottonwood Island, like most information searched, they expect, want, and hope to get something definitive about it. That just doesn't happen. Most of what comes up is cloned, regurgitated, self-replicated drivel, restated over-and-over on pages just created to support ads. Except possibly for the contents presented on this page, in a search you have to go a long way to come across anything worthwhile regarding Cottonwood Island.

Cottonwood Island is most often stated as a large island in the Colorado River, within Cottonwood Valley, in Clark County, Nevada. Cottonwood Island was said to be a low-lying island about 10 miles long and up to 3 miles wide. It was forested by cottonwoods and also after the spring flood, cluttered with driftwood from the riparian woodlands along the upper watershed of the Colorado River, washed down and caught in the first wide valley where the river slowed and spread out. Cottonwood Island was important as a source wood and of fuel for steamboats on that river and for the early mills and mines in El Dorado Canyon.

None of the 1540s Spanish explorers, over land or by river, ever got much closer to Cottonwood Island than 40 miles if that. Anything they had to say was hearsay. It wasn't until the the white explorers, exploiters, miners, and settlers started showing up in the area that Cottonwood Island began showing up on the radar. Even then the good stuff was questionable, and still is. Again and again, as found in the above previously, you read Cottonwood Island was an island about 10 miles long and up to 3 miles wide. John Ross Browne described it in his 1869 report on the Colorado River:


"Cottonwood island, about 10 miles long by an average of about three miles wide, is a fine, level island, fertile and covered with grass, and having considerable timber. Claims are said to have been located upon the land, but it is yet unoccupied. On the main land on both sides of the river opposite Cottonwood island are fine bottom lands, with good grass.

"A large quantity of driftwood of superior kind for fuel, composed mainly of pitch-pine and cedar, every year lodges at the head and along the sides of the island, sufficient, perhaps, alone, if taken care of, to furnish the fuel for years to steamboats passing on the Callville route. An immense quantity of this wood was upon the island, estimated at several thousand cords. The entire head of the island seemed to be formed of trunks of trees and sand washed in between them. The driftwood consists of trees, much broken up, of various sizes, not usually exceeding 14 inches in diameter."


Circa 1540 AD Spanish expeditions under the command of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado began searching for the Seven Cities of Cibola and in the process began coming across such desert southwest geographical sites such as the Grand Canyon and Colorado River.

A captain under the command of Coronado by the name of Melchior Diaz was sent from Cibola, where Coronado and his expedition were holing up, with a scouting party toward the Gulf of California in search of three ships under Hernando de Alarcon that were to meet up with Coronado --- with nobody knowing it would never happen because the distance between the inland City of Cibola and the gulf continued to widen as Coronado's army marched north eastward. Diaz, traveling basically west-south-west from Cibola and thinking he would eventually come to the gulf, and, although some reports have him arriving south of the delta he actually reached the Colorado River well over a 100 miles north the delta. He was told by Indians of the area that some days before, what they described as ships, had been seen on the river basically staying in the same location for two or three days. When Diaz reached the spot where the ships had been seen, he found a stash of supplies left by Alarcon who had sailed up the Colorado thinking he could meet up with Coronado. Alarcon, also known for gaining trust and humane treatment of the Indians he came in contact with, after waiting several days and with no sign of Coronado's army, offloaded the supplies, but what he did next is not clear.

How far up river Alarcon traveled and where the location of the supplies were stashed is not known with any amount of certainty. The two however, are not necessarily tied together. Lewis R. Freeman, in his book The Colorado River (1923), not talking about where the supplies were left, but how far Alarcon traveled up river, cites the work of Frederick S. Dellenbaugh who determined he got as far as the Blythe Canal. He also cites Dr. Elliott Coues who felt that Alarcon was even farther north, reaching clear to present day Needles, California. Freeman himself suggests that Alarcon offloaded his supplies somewhere along a 15 mile gap between the present day ghost town of Picacho located some 35 miles north of the Gila River and Lighthouse Rock, which is 50 miles north of the Gila River, with Freeman really never getting into how far up river Alarcon may have really gone. If Alacron made it as far north as present day Needles as Dr. Elliott Coues suggests he still would have been at least 40 miles south of Cottonwood Island.

Unlike the scribes that camp-followed the conquistadors and their later Spanish counterparts, be they explorers or otherwise and known for their travels northbound up the Colorado River from the Sea of Cortez, all or most of them often marching or sailing into sometimes unknown and uncharted territory, there was a person who had traveled south on the river some years distant in time of the Spanish but before the rise of the steamboats. The person in question, not an explorer, but only using the river as the most expedient method southbound to get out of the desert and the desert's stifling heat, had traveled downriver on the Colorado with a few companions using a raft after having started from an unknown region at least as far upstream as the Virgin River, and by all accounts even a great deal further --- the Virgin River itself being at least 590 river miles above the delta. After passing through the canyon where Hoover Dam would one day be built, again done long before the advent of steamboats, rather than passing Cottonwood Island he and his companions actually stopped and visited the place, apparently even staying several days. Unlike Browne however, the traveler didn't write a book, so his works and description of the island go unheralded. Of his visit the following has been written:


"The Colorado River, after spending most of it's long journey flowing miles and miles in a primarily southwest direction suddenly turns due south for the rest of it's trip to the Gulf of California. It does so in a spot where the last of the high canyon walls of the Grand Canyon suddenly come to an end with the river opening into plateau where it is bordered on either side by basically flat desert land. Exiting the last of those high canyon walls onto the plateau the river begins to slow, it's southbound pace spreading out into a relative large lake. Ten miles into that lake we came across an island that the eastern side hugged closer to the eastern riverbank, the immediate north end of the island covered with upstream debris such as logs and broken trees.

"Half the length of the island, starting at the north end, which was roughly five miles long and at the most one mile wide at any given point along it's north-south axis, was covered with a thick grove of fairly healthy cottonwood trees. As you moved south along the island the cottonwoods gave way to a gradual thinning out of other varieties and toward the south end, because of lack of water, the north end being flooded regularly, barely surviving low height tangled trees replaced by scrub brush and mainland desert species.

"Coming around to the southern end of the island we pulled the raft well up out of the water and in doing so, surprisingly enough, I discovered there was a fairly wide well cleaned dirt path that went from the boat landing area to a very well built permanent stone fire pit about three foot across and maybe a foot and a half high. Beyond the fire pit the path was paved with flat stones that led to a stone structure that appeared to be a onetime small house or a long time unfinished one. No Chichen Itza, but well done none the less, using readily available native stone quarried from across the river and built in the shape of a rectangle, it was completely open at the front with no facing forward wall. The right and left walls were stepped starting with an about one foot high block, reaching toward the back, eventually ending the same height as the back wall at about five feet. The structure had no roof but did have an added lean-to type covering with the poles holding it up stuck in the ground beyond the walls. The covering offered not much more than shade and surely no protection from any sort of inclement weather. Inside was a bench made of the same stone as the structure that stretched almost clear across wall to wall. Although the back of the bench was stone the seating portion was composed of lashed together small bark free round logs and easily as uncomfortable to sit on as it sounds. Attached to the other side of the back wall was a full length stone shelf built as a cooking mess area as well as a couple of rough hewn wooden tables and a second albeit more functional cooking-like fire pit."

MYSTIC AZTEC SUN GOD


There appears to be a very strong relationship between what the above traveler has to say about what he saw and experienced and what John Fryer (1834-1924) has to say in the quote below. Fryer was an eminent Professor of Oriental Languages and Literature at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1901 an article he wrote titled The Buddhist Discovery of America a Thousand Years Before Columbus, was published in the July 1901 issue of Harper's Monthly Magazine page 256. Fryer's quote is heavily related to and influenced by the opening quote at the top of the page as attributed to Henri Ternaux-Compans (1836) wherein Compans writes about the scribe of the Conquistadors placed near the Colorado River, in a small island, a sanctuary of Lamaisra, or of Buddhism. He mentions a divine personage living in a small house near a lake upon this island, and called, as he says, Quatu-zaca:


"A deified priest or lama, who is said to have lived on a small island near the Colorado River, had the name of Quatu Sacca which seems to combine the two names Gautama and Sakhya."


Cottonwood Island appears in the 1875 Topographical Sketch showing the Outward and Inward Route of a Party, while examining as to the practicability of a Diversion of the Colorado River for Purposes of Irrigation, from an annual report by 1st Lt. G. M. Wheeler, Corps Of Engineers. Cottonwood Island shows up later on the U. S. Geological Survey, Reconnaissance Map, Arizona, Nevada, California, Camp Mohave Sheet, Edition of March 1892, both linked below and where the two Cottonwood Island graphics at the top of the page come from.

The maps were done 17 years apart by separate cartographers with no known collaboration. Both maps clearly show the location and shape of Cottonwood Island in the 1800's and, even though done separately and 17 years apart, both show incredible consistencies in shape and length relative to width. Another place where the maps are consistent is the actual measurements in dimensions. Each map has it's own scale measurement and using the scales each against it's own Cottonwood Island comes up no longer than 5 miles and no wider perpendicular along it's length axis than one mile. Where the size of the island being 10 miles long and an average of about three miles wide came from is not clear, but most likely attributed to the John Ross Browne 1869 report on the Colorado River, and even though the topo maps clearly show otherwise, his comments and written measurements just won't die. If you compare the traveler's description of the island in the quote a few paragraphs back you see had a completely different take on the island than Browne.


HISTORY

Cottonwood Island was a site favored by the Mohave people for their agriculture, dependent as it was on the spring flood for its irrigation, and for the products they made from the cottonwood trees. It was an object of dispute with the Chemehuevi Paiute to the north and west, in the later 19th Century.

All the driftwood deposited on the island became an item of trade following the establishment of mines in El Dorado Canyon in 1861. Wood was cut up by the Mohave and provided as fuel to steamboats traveling the river past Cottonwood Island or as timber for the mines. But such traffic only could occur during the high water months, the only time the steamboats would navigate the rapids and shallows of this upper reach of the Colorado. In late 1863 when the first stamp mill was established at the mines, ore was no longer carried down river in sufficient volume and the steamboats did not come as often. Additionally the need for more regular supplies of goods from down river at Hardyville, where the steamboats stopped at low water, and the need for more regular and large supplies for wood and wood fuel for the mills brought Captain L. C. Wilburn and a fleet of 3 barges, the Colorado, El Dorado and Veagas. These barges were sailed and poled up and down river by Paiute and Mohave crews during the slack months. They carried hay, timber, wood and charcoal made on the island up river to the mills in three or four days. They also ascended the Colorado River as far as the Virgin River to bring back salt to the mills, for refining the ore, mined in the Virgin Valley by Mormon colonists there.


COTTONWOOD ISLAND AND NATIVE AMERICANS



LOOKING NORTH FROM THE PEAK OF SPIRIT MOUNTAIN TOWARD COLORADO RIVER, LAKE MOHAVE.
THE NOW LONG SUBMERGED COTTONWOOD ISLAND IS ABOUT WHERE THE PEAK BLOCKS THE VIEW

(please click image)


"When I was eight years old, I was traveling with a neighbor of the people I was living with at the time called a Curandero. I had gone to the top of Spirit Mountain at 5,643 feet overlooking the the exact same area which was about seven miles away. The curandero told me there was an island submerged beneath the lake called Cottonwood Island that was, like Spirit Mountain, of deep spiritual significance to the Native Americans who inhabit the area."


As has come down through oral history and territorial legends of the land, quite a number of Native American tribal units known to traditionally frequent and/or regularly inhabit much of the Mojave Desert's Central-Lower Colorado River Basin articulate stories that circulate around two very high profile sacred places, Spirit Mountain and Cottonwood Island, of which geographically speaking are less than 12 miles apart. Cottonwood Island has long since been submerged by the waters of Lake Mojave, but the peak of Spirit Mountain still stands basically unmolested at 5,643 feet overlooking the river basin, ever watching her sleeping underwater sister.

Spirit Mountain is considered sacred among the Native American cultures of the area carrying a significant position to the Yuman speaking tribes which include Mohave, Hualapai, Yavapai, Havasupai, Pai pai and Maricopa, several of which if not all believe the mountain, known as Avikwame by the Mohave people and Wikame by the Hualapai, as the spiritual birthplace of the tribes and where all life began. Spirit Mountain is also the center of creation for several other Native American tribes including the Ft. Mojave, Havasu, and Quechen as well as a sacred site to the Hopi and Chemehuevi.

Cottonwood Island is where Mohave oral tradition states their cremation rituals started at the instruction of the Creator, and the area is linked in various ways to Spirit Mountain.


THE ISLAND TODAY

Cottonwood Island is submerged under Lake Mohave.


REFERENCES:


For additional information on Cottonwood Island that both wrings out some of the truth from the above as well as how Cottonwood Island, as much as not anything that it is, found it's way to becoming something enough that I am compelled to write about it, please see the following links. There's a lot of Native American spirituality and Buddhism in America long before Columbus involved, especially as to how it relates to the opening quote at the top of the page about a sanctuary of Lamaisra or Buddhism and a divine personage living in a small house near a lake upon an island called Quatu-zaca. See:


BUDDHISM IN AMERICA BEFORE COLUMBUS


GERMAN SUBMARINE ATTACK ON HOOVER DAM


EL REY CLUB: RESORT, CASINO, BROTHEL


LAGUNA DAM COLORADO RIVER


INCIDENT AT SUPAI
A SHAMANIC JOURNEY OUTSIDE THE TRADITION


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The top graphic is Spirit Mountain in all of it's sunset glory. Clicking the graphic will take you to a larger than full screen view.

The graphic in the second row above left, is a view looking northeast from the top of 5,643 foot elevation Spirit Mountain, Nevada toward present day Lake Mohave created from the Colorado River after the construction of Davis Dam. The full length of the left shore of the lake is the state of Nevada while the full length of the right shore is Arizona. Cottonwood Island has long been submerged by the lake waters. Clicking the graphic will take you to a larger than full screen view.

The graphic on the right is a view from the top of the same mountain that by simply taking a few steps and turning toward the southeast clearly shows the present day gambling casino resort town of Laughlin, Nevada located just south of Davis Dam. As with the above two, clicking the graphic will take you to a larger than full screen view.

Below is a photo of Davis Dam looking due north up Lake Mohave, so created since the construction of the dam. Initial stages of construction began 1942-1950. Completed in 1951 after construction was impacted by WWII. As the lake water flows from the dam it reconstitutes itself into the Colorado River headed southbound toward Parker Dam, the Laguna Diversion Dam and the Gulf of California.