By Nancy Burgess

In the early 1900s, much of the railroad grant land in the Chino Valley area was sold to the Arizona Land and Irrigation Company.

The company applied for and received water rights along Granite and Willow creeks.

In 1914, the company sold the land, some 4,000 acres, along with the water rights, to the Hassayampa Alfalfa Farms, also known as the Little Chino Valley Irrigation Project.

This project was a brainchild of Eastern investors, who had financed the construction of a dam at Watson Lake on Granite Creek and the construction of canals and laterals to bring the water to Chino Valley.

They hoped to then sell the land to farmers at a substantial profit. The land was sold on the installment plan, for about $100 per acre.

With the land came shares of stock in the “Chino Mutual Water Users’ Association.” Promotional material, published for the purpose of drawing new customers, declared Chino Valley to be “The Land for Milk and Money.”

Touting the benefits of the new irrigation project in Chino Valley, the pamphlet praised the valley and its water for all types of farming, claiming that Little Chino Valley “is the only adequately irrigated body of rich, productive land in the great producing mining district of Arizona.”

Hoping to draw farmers from other, less productive areas, the literature proclaimed Chino Valley to have “perfect soil for potatoes” and “perfect conditions for dairying.”

A combination of dry and irrigated land was promoted, claiming that a farmer could net $4,000 a year from keeping cows, irrigating 20 acres of potatoes and 20 acres of beans and dry farming 80 acres of kefir (feed) corn, 40 acres of fall wheat and rye and 40 acres of Sudan grass or “dry farm” beans.

During the first two years, the project struggled along, attracting few buyers.

In order to get the ball rolling, the company decided to bring a group of immigrant Russian farmers to Chino Valley to dry farm.

A February 1916 article in Yavapai magazine was headlined “Russian Colony Arrives.” The article states in part: “In the bitter part of January there came a train load of 150 Russian Colonists. They brought with them cattle, horses, chickens and household furniture. It required 14 cars to transport them and their belongings.” They arrived by train at Jerome Junction (now called Copper Siding).

The Russian Colony was to own a tract of 3,000 acres, and each family was to be given 20 to 120 acres. Twenty-five houses, a church and a school were to be built. The farms were to be worked under the direction of A.M. McOmie.

McOmie had been the Superintendent of the University of Arizona Service and the “Agriculturalist in charge of the dry farm work of the State.”

He had supervised the establishment of three experimental, dry farms, including one near Prescott. Until their homesteads were paid for, each family was to give half their crops to the Hassayampa Alfalfa Farms.

The Russian families settled on land on the west side of Highway 89 and north of what is now the Outer Loop Road. This property was outside the irrigation district, and the Russian settlers could not afford irrigation shares.

They experienced modest success the first year with crops such as beans, but the lack of a reliable water supply would eventually doom the project.

In an oral interview, Chino Valley native A.H. “Hank” Bisjak remembered that there wasn’t a lot of English spoken in Chino Valley in the early years. Many families were European immigrants who spoke German, Italian or Russian.

His mother would interpret for the Russian people and they would come frequently to visit the Bisjaks’ farm across the road.

They were thrifty and hard workers. They constructed a huge pit silo, where they stored their silage. The silo is still in existence, although it has caved in, on the Outer Loop Road.

Bisjak recalled that although many of the Russian men worked on the construction of the irrigation canals for the Hassayampa Alfalfa Farms company, they never got their money out of the work and several years of drought and hardship eventually caused them to pack up and leave when Hank was about 4 years old (1921).

They all boarded the train at Granite Siding, south of Chino Valley, taking with them their livestock and all their belongings. Many of these families then settled and farmed in Glendale, where they remain today.

(Nancy Burgess is the historic preservation specialist for the City of Prescott).