Golden Checkerboard

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Golden Checkerboard
Author Ed Ainsworth
Country United States
Language English
Subject Cahuilla Indians—government relations; McCabe, Hilton H.
Publisher Desert-Southwest
Publication date
Media type Hardback and paperback
Pages 195
OCLC 4391736
LC Class E99.C155 A6

Golden Checkerboard (1965) is a book by Ed Ainsworth.[nb 1] Its subject matter concerns the mid-20th century economic conditions of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians of Palm Springs, California, and the history of the 99-year lease law which enabled them to commercially develop tribal owned lands. It focuses on Indio Superior Court Judge Hilton McCabe, who is described as "The Little White Father of the Indians of Palm Springs",[1]:2 Intro by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark and recalls the steps taken by McCabe to set up conservatorships and leases that would give the tribe investment opportunities and economic self-sufficiency. The title of the book refers to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians' reservation checkerboard pattern, originating from land grants to the Southern Pacific Railroad as an incentive to build rail lines through the region,[1]:29 when President Ulysses S. Grant signed an Executive Order granting "San Bernardino Base and Meridian, Township 4 South, Range 4 East, Section 14" to the Agua Caliente Indians.[1]:49

Historical context[edit]

Section 14, which included the warm springs at the center of Palm Springs, and other sections surrounding Palm Springs, were "owned" by the Indians, but held "in trust" by the federal government; the Indians charged fees for bathing in the springs and picnicking in the canyon.[1]:63[2] In 1917, Congress passed the Allotment Act (39 Stat. 969, 976)[nb 2] which directed the Secretary of the Interior to divide and distribute the Indian land; Harry E. Wadsworth was appointed as the allotting agent.[1]:65 In 1927, the Secretary instructed Wadsworth to make a new schedule of allotments, which he did for the 24 members of the Band who made written applications.[1]:67 (In fact the allotments were not carried out; Band member Lee Arenas sued the federal government to have the allotments made legal and won his case in the United States Supreme Court.[3][4][nb 3]) In December 1944, Secretary of the Interior Oscar Chapman, acting on the advice of Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier, disapproved the allotting schedule set up by Wadsworth 17 years earlier.[1]:86

Conservatorship program[edit]

Odlum Report[edit]

In January 1953, Douglas McKay became Secretary of the Interior. Thereafter McKay asked industrialist Floyd B. Odlum (former president of Atlas Corp. and husband of Jacqueline Cochran) to investigate the affairs of the Agua Caliente Indians.[1]:124 The report by Odlum's committee was completed in April 1955 and put into final form in April 1956. Among other things, Odlum's report determined: that the Band consisted of 83 persons, the majority of whom were minors; the value of the Indian land, allotted and unallotted, totaled as much as $12,000,000; and the value of the land could increase with proper development. Odlum also discussed the legal problems related to unequal allotments, taxes on non-productive real estate, the inability to lease land because of a 5-year limit, and conflicting claims of the allottees.[1]:127–8 The report recommended that the Indian land be placed in a private corporation or trusteeship rather than existing wardship.[1]:129–30 Odlum's recommendations were not implemented because newly elected Congressman Dalip Singh Saund, who ran against Cochran in a bitter election campaign, blocked proposed legislation.[1]:132 In the meantime, Congress passed Public Law No. 255 in August 1955, which allowed for leases of 50 years.[1]:138

1959 legislation[edit]

In 1959, a landmark decision by the Secretary of the Interior equalized allotted Indian lands, thereby setting the stage for development of Indian lands within the city of Palm Springs. This same legislation, however, recognizing the potential value of Indian lands within the boundaries of a world-famous resort, also called for the appointment of conservators and guardians to "protect" Indians and their estates from "artful and designing persons"[5][6] who might otherwise cheat them out of their properties, which could now be legally sold by the individual tribal members who owned them. By declaring Indians as "incompetent" (both as children and adults) court-appointed conservators and guardians took control of a majority of Indian estates. A major oversight of the program was the appointment of judges, lawyers, and business people as Indian conservators and guardians—the very people the program sought to protect Indians and their estates from. The program was administered by the Indio Superior Court's Judge Hilton McCabe, subject of Golden Checkerboard. McCabe concurrently acted as a conservator to a number of tribal members and an executor, in addition to his administrative and legal roles.[7][nb 4]



The book received favorable reviews from Desert Magazine and the American Bar Association Journal. [8]

Withdrawal from publication[edit]

Following a lawsuit by the Indians against the "distorted, glorifying biography", the publisher withdrew the book from the market.[9] :53, footnote 55, January 29, 1974 interview

Disclosure of misconduct[edit]

With the ability to control Indian estates, the conservatorship program fostered corruption among the conservators and administrators—a series of Pulitzer Prize (1968) winning Riverside Press-Enterprise articles[10] authored by journalist George Ringwald exposed such instances of excessive fees, fee-splitting, and other types of questionable conduct.[11] The conservatorship program was officially ended in 1968 after the Secretary of the Interior's Palm Springs Task Force similarly exposed it as fraudulent and corrupt.[7][11][verification needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Edward Maddin Ainsworth worked for 35 years as a columnist, feature writer and editor for the Los Angeles Times. Other books by him include Pot Luck (1940), Eagles Fly West (1946), California Jubilee (1948), Bill Magee's Western Barbecue Cookbook (1949), Death Cues the Pageant (1954) New York, Arcadia House OCLC 3117808, Painters of the Desert (1961), Beckoning Desert (1962) Prentice-Hall OCLC 64311285, The Cowboy in Art (1968) New York, World Publishing OCLC 443225.
  2. ^ In fact the original General Allotment Act was the Dawes Act, passed in 1887. "Q&A with Agua Caliente Tribal Chairman Richard Milanovich". Desert Sun. March 19, 2012
  3. ^ In 1937 the federal government ceased to recognize the traditional tribal leaders and placed a federal agent in their place. Chief Francisco Patencio was active in opposing the allotments and loss of tribal authority, traveling to Washington, D.C., to meet with Office of Indian Affairs Commissioner John Collier. Aqua Caliente Cultural Museum: Francisco Patencio
  4. ^ As a result of the conservatorship program the Band was able to lease land to businesses. The Spa Hotel opened in November 1962, with Eileen Miguel, head of the Band, U.S. Grant IV, great-grandson of President Grant, and McCabe at the opening ceremony. In 1961, 41 members of the Band signed a petition to McCabe thanking him for his efforts. Niemann, Greg (2005). Palm Springs Legends: Creation of a desert oasis. San Diego, CA: Sunbelt Publications. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-932653-74-1. LCCN 2005021837. OCLC 61211290. 


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Ainsworth, Ed (1965). Golden Checkerboard. Palm Desert, CA: Desert-Southwest. p. 195. ASIN B001TC8PMI. LCCN 66000811. OCLC 4391736. 
  2. ^ Clarke, Chris (February 12, 2012). "African-Americans Shaping the California Desert: Coachella Valley". SOCAL Focus. KCET (Community Television of Southern California). Retrieved March 19, 2012. 
  3. ^ Aqua Caliente Cultural Museum: Lee Arenas
  4. ^ Arenas v. United States, 322 U.S. 419 (1944), on remand, 60 F. Supp. 411 (1945), affirmed in part, 158 F. 2d 730 (9th Cir. 1946), certiotari denied, 331 U.S. 842 (1947)
  5. ^ USC Libraries; Archival Collections: Judge Hilton McCabe Collection on the Agua Caliente Indians containing unpublished manuscript of Land Problems and Solutions of the Agua Caliente Band of Mission Indians (1961), Hilton McCabe, Indio Superior Court.
  6. ^ USC Doheny Memorial Library: Rare Books and Manuscripts
  7. ^ a b Palm Springs Task Force (Cox Report) (March 1968). Report on the Administration of Guardianships and Conservatorships Established for Members of the Agua Caliente Band of Mission Indians, California. Washington, DC: Department of the Interior. p. 56. OCLC 8536472. 
  8. ^ For reviews, see:
    • Silverstein, Lee (October 1965). "Books for Lawyers: Review of Golden Checkerboard". ABA Journal. American Bar Association. 51: 951–2. Retrieved March 16, 2012. [It] should be read as a journalistic account...rather than as a scholarly piece.... The writing is at different times repetitious, elliptical or overly sentimental and the chronology is confusing. But the story is inherently so dramatic that it nearly tells itself. 
    • "Review of Golden Checkerboard". Desert Magazine. 28 (6): 5. June 1965. This fast-moving, up-to-date book...tells how a happy solution was finally achieved in the use and disposition of Indian lands after a half-century of selfishness and despair. The author tells his dramatic story authoritatively, but with a light hand which makes for entertaining reading. Prominent desert dwellers played important roles in solving the Indian land dilemma—Judge Hilton McCabe, Floyd Odium, David Sallee among them. Indians of the Agua Caliente band, both of the present and of the past, are described with sensitivity and understanding. 
  9. ^ Berman, Burt (1974). From Squatter to Conservator: Effects of Federal Policy on the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and Their Land, 1850–1974. Berkeley, CA: Social Sciences Division, Department of Interdisciplinary and General Studies, University of California, Berkeley (senior thesis). p. 83. OCLC 14691345. McCabe paid $10,000 to have a book written about him ... and [Professor of Anthropology Lowell John Bean, California State University, Hayward] feels that it is a 'significant document and empirical indicator that he was running scared of his own self-image because he wanted to be the "great white father" of Palm Springs.' 
  10. ^ The Pulitzer Prizes: 1968 Awards
  11. ^ a b Ringwald, George (1968). The Agua Caliente Indians and Their Guardians. Riverside, CA: Press-Enterprise. p. 36. OCLC 14015139. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Akee, Randall Kekoa Quinones (May 2006). Three essays in economic development: lessons from three small indigenous nations. Harvard University (Ph.D. Thesis). p. 152. OCLC 165066294. 
  • Agua Caliente Band of Mission Indians (1957). Constitution and by-laws of the Aqua Caliente band of Mission Indians of California : adopted June 28, 1955, amended February 26, 1957. p. 6. OCLC 14411315. 
  • Agua Caliente Band of Mission Indians (1962). 1962 Progress Report. Long Beach, CA: Imperial Press. p. 64. OCLC 14933990. 
  • Bowes, Ronald Wayne. The Press-Enterprise investigation of the Palm Springs Indian land affair in 1967-68: one newspaper's protection of minority rights. Fullerton, CA: California State University (Masters Thesis). p. 108. OCLC 14156105. 
  • Bowers, Robert E. (1965). Palm Springs and the Indians. Palm Springs, CA: City of Palm Springs. p. 65. OCLC 58884446.  – a report for the City Manager prepared by Bowers serving as an intern with the Coro Foundation
  • Culver, Lawrence (2010). "Ch. 5: The Oasis of Leisure – Palm Springs before 1941; and Ch. 6: Making of Desert Modern – Palm Springs after World War II". The Frontier of Leisure: Southern California and the Shaping of Modern America. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 317. ISBN 978-0-19-538263-1. LCCN 2009053932. OCLC 464581464. 
  • Kray, Ryan. M. (February 2004). "The Path to Paradise: Expropriation, Exodus and Exclusion in the Making of Palm Springs". Pacific Historical Review. 73 (1): 85–126. doi:10.1525/phr.2004.73.1.85. JSTOR 10.1525/phr.2004.73.1.85. 
  • Price, Monroe E. (1969). "Lawyers on the Reservation: Some Implications for the Legal Profession". Law & Social Order. 161.  (subscription required)
  • Przeklasa Jr, Terence Robert (2011). The band, the bureau, and the business interests: the Mission Indian Federation and the fight for the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. Fullerton, CA: California State University (Masters thesis). p. 141. OCLC 767861063. 
  • Schlesinger, Robert A. (1967). The California Indian Lease (California Continuing Education of the Bar: Practice Book No. 35). Berkeley, CA: Regents of the University of California. p. 152. LCCN 67064477. OCLC 885954. 
  • U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs (October 2, 1957). Land allotments on Agua Caliente Reservation, CA: hearing before a special subcommittee of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, House of Representatives, 85th Congress, 1st session, on equalization of land allotments (book and microfilm). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 116. OCLC 31124883.  Check date values in: |year= / |date= mismatch (help)
  • Wiefels, Howard H. (June 3, 1976). The Indian Land Zoning Controversy in Palm Springs. p. 99.  (Wiefels was Mayor of Palm Springs from April 1967 to March 1974.)

External links[edit]