The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 88, July 1984 - April, 1985

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

Despite too lengthy a chapter on preimmigration conditions, the
nonutilization of La Opinion as an important primary source for the
1920s, and the lack of photographs, Romo's study is a carefully struc-
tured piece of scholarship that fills a major gap in Chicano and western
historiography. It contributes to the history of the largest Mexican
community in the United States and attests to the often-neglected
ethnic dimension of Los Angeles.
University of California, Santa Barbara MARIo T. GARCIA
Forging New Rights in Western Waters. By Robert G. Dunbar. (Lin-
coln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983. Pp. xiii+ 2'78. Preface,
notes, index. $19.95.)
More than a half-century after his book on the Great Plains and
more than two decades after his death, Walter Prescott Webb still
throws a big shadow over western history writing. This book by a
noted water expert is a good example of that influence, but it also
illustrates how living in someone else's shadow can limit a historian's
imagination. Dunbar takes his theme from the argument Webb made
about the doctrine of prior appropriation in water rights. The doc-
trine holds that whoever first takes from a stream has priority of use,
whether he lives on the stream's banks or not. For a long time now it
has been essential law in the West, especially in the more arid parts,
and Webb seized on that fact as proof of his thesis that the physical
environment plays a decisive role in shaping institutions and culture,
that, more specifically, aridity had made the West very different from
the East. In Webb's hands the thesis was a bold, fertile, provocative
idea. In disciple Dunbar's hands, however, the thesis has become con-
ventional and dull.
There are, to be sure, some admirable aspects to this book. The first
five chapters review the early history of irrigation from the ancient
Hohokam to the 19o2 National Reclamation Act. In subsequent chap-
ters virtually all the important court cases on water in the various
states get treated, as do the conflicts among states and between state
and federal jurisdictions. Near the end Dunbar touches briefly on such
recent matters as rising Indian demands for a fair share of the water
and efforts by environmentalists to preserve river ecology. He is at his
best on the control of groundwater pumping, beginning with New
Mexico's pioneer legislation. All these features make the book a con-
cise, handy compendium. But what is missing are fresh insights into

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 88, July 1984 - April, 1985. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101210/. Accessed December 18, 2014.