Dale E. Doty Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Dale E. Doty

Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1950-52.

Washington, D.C.
August 24, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess

See also Dale E. Doty Papers finding aid

Dale E. Doty

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened February, 1985
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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Oral History Interview with
Dale E. Doty


Washington, D.C.
August 24, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess


HESS: All right, Mr. Doty, for the record would you relate a little of your personal background? Where were you born? Where were you educated? And what positions have you held both before and since your service in the Truman Administration?

DOTY: I was born in California, raised in California, and received the Bachelor of Arts degree from Pomona College in Claremont, California, received a Master of Public Administration in the University of Cincinnati Graduate School, received a law degree from George Washington University. Secured the law degree at night school and joined


the -- it was while I was in the Department of Interior, working largely for -- I guess all the time, for Assistant Secretary [Oscar L.] Chapman.

HESS: When did you join the Department of Interior?

DOTY: I joined the Department of Interior in 1939.

HESS: Was that your first Government job?


HESS: Was that the first job you had after law school?

DOTY: Probably technically, though law school came later, the...

HESS: You went to a...

DOTY: In Pomona I was a political science major, and then went on. My object in life was career Government employment. So I went to this school in Cincinnati, which was a graduate school of public administration on the engineering side. It's still in existence, being a co-op school where you have


classes half time and work in your line of activity the other half.

HESS: How did you find that the training that you received in Cincinnati helped you when you went to work for the Government?

DOTY: In the short run it was very helpful. Because you had a lot of ideas and ways of doing things -- might not say they are fresh, at least to those that you're working with, but it would be fresh if they were going through a training program of that type themselves, which many of them do these days.

So I went out to Los Angeles as part of my co-op work and worked for the Los Angeles County Bureau of Budget and Efficiency for six months. And then I went back and got my masters degree in July of '58 and then while looking for a job I worked with Los Angeles County again. And then I was offered this position in what we call the Southwest Field Training Program of the Indian Service, which was sponsored by a Spellman grant. it's one of the


Rockefeller grants; with the purpose to try to train young people for administrative and executive positions in Government.

It was while I was working in New Mexico with the Indian Service that I was offered a permanent appointment with the old General Land Office. The first assignment was to go to Alaska and make an economic survey for Alaska and I was hired as a research assistant at $2,000 a year, very good pay in those days, 1939. And then I stayed in another position in the General Land Office. It was as assistant land economist, in the land classifications division of the General Land Office and then as a land economist.

And the way that I came to know Secretary Chapman, was that many of these people I was working with as co-trainees in the Albuquerque area would come to Washington and work for the Indian Service or work in the Secretary's office as part of their training program. One in particular was on loan from the Indian Service to Mr. Chapman's office. Mr. Chapman was then


Assistant Secretary and the pay was of course, on the Indian Service payroll in that case and he was getting about $2,000 a year there to do anything that the Assistant Secretary wanted him to, review the correspondence that came in and do special assignments. He was going off on a leave of absence of some kind, and he thought that I would enjoy this type of work. He took me out there and introduced me to Mr. Chapman, That was probably in about 1942. Then when he was drafted, I went out to work there on assignment basis from the General Land Office permanently. In time it evolved into a full time position but when I went up there the Secretary's office didn't have any money for an administrative assistant to the Assistant Secretary, so I was on the payroll of the General Land Office. That was in 1943 that I went up on a permanent basis and in time Senator [Joseph C.] O'Mahoney put $2,600 up against the Interior Department budget. The job became vacant; it became a job on the Secretary's payroll instead of on loan from the Bureau.


HESS: What were your principal duties during those years

DOTY: Well Oscar had nearly all the same duties that I had later when I became Assistant Secretary eight years later or so -- whenever the Indian Service and the General Land Office became the Bureau of Land Management through the consolidation of the General Land Office with the Grazing Service; the National Park Service; the Fish and Wildlife Service; the Office of Territories; the Board on Geographical Names. I believe I listed all of them. Oh, he had, of course, a lot to do at the time with the Geological Survey. The Conservation Branch of the Geological Survey had a close working relationship with the Bureau of Land Management on oil and gas leasing and that particular branch and was under a different Assistant Secretary.

HESS: So your first contacts were with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Is that right?


DOTY: That's where I first worked when I joined the Federal Government. It was with the program in the Pacific Southwest. My experience was largely in Santa Fe as subagent to the assistant superintendent of the Indian reservations, from Santa Fe north to Taos. Probably the most exciting and interesting time I've ever had.

HESS: What were your duties? What did you do that was so exciting?

DOTY: Well, I attended the council meetings and tried to work out their problems in dealing with the Spanish Americans as they lived very, very close to each other and used the same irrigation ditches. Oh, some police problems.

HESS: Was water one of the main problems back then?

DOTY: Water -- water and land -- land probably more. I spent more time on land than on water, but there were water problems. One of the main things I did was to establish a way of dividing land among the Santa Clara Indians which later became a prototype


for other land. Well, the problem didn't seem simple at the time, but it seems simple now.

The problem was that they'd been given 3,000 acres of land, as the result of a congressional act to try to consolidate the pueblo's holdings in one area, so the Government commission had bought out some of the white and Spanish American land within the pueblo boundaries. The problem was how to divide this land equably among the members of the Pueblo and not only to divide it equably but to have the land in units. There's no sense in a man having a quarter of acre one place and two miles way off, having another acre, an acre and a half. This was all irrigated land and so it wasn't range land. So that was a lot of fun; of course I was only out there four months.

This land division at Santa Clara took a great deal of my time. The work we had at the other reservations was largely liaison between the Indian office and the tribal councils. You know, all sorts of problems, trying to see if we couldn't work out cooperative purchase of corn seed, things


of that kind at the proper time of the year. I still think a great deal could be done in that regard, cooperative buying and purchasing.

HESS: Was John Collier the Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs at that time?

DOTY: Yes, he was the Commissioner of Indian Affairs when I was in this program and later when I was in Assistant Secretary Chapman's office. Dr. Sophie Aberle was the superintendent down at the United Pueblo agency. And Bill [William A.] Brophy, who later became Commissioner of Indian Affairs, was the special attorney for the Indians. Bill was on a retainer from the Solicitor's office. He represented the legal questions that would come up. It was a very exciting time for the Indian Service.

HESS: What would be your evaluation of appraisal of Mr. Collier's handling of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as compared with other commissioners that you have known? How would you rate him as a Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs?


DOTY: Well I would place him probably the highest, and probably the lowest when it comes to administration.

HESS: Why?

DOTY: Well he's too much of an idea man. He is a developer of programs, and he had very little interest in the day-to-day nitty gritty of getting things done. He was a beautiful dreamer in lots of ways -- figurative, an outstanding man, came on at a time when he was very badly needed. Some of these things he was doing may have been dreamlike. A few of them were not very realistic.

HESS: Would you give me a few illustrations?

DOTY: The one real illustration that comes to mind is he developed the undying enmity of the Navahos over a range reduction program on the Navaho Indian Reservation. His moving attitude was to drastically try to cut the number of cows and sheep and horses that were grazing on that land.


HESS: He thought they were overgrazing the land?

DOTY: He thought they were greatly overgrazing the land. They were then. I assume they still are, from looking at it a year ago when I was out there.

HESS: Is that a difficult point to get across to the Indians?

DOTY: Almost impossible to get across to the Navahos.

HESS: Why?

DOTY: It's part of their status in life and their tradition. Their wealth is counted in large part on the number of sheep they have, their status in the community. It's a very, very difficult problem.

HESS: Can you think of any other illustrations, any other program he tried to put across and had some difficulty with?

DOTY: No, I can't think of any in particular.

One of the programs he worked on was the


Wheeler-Howard Act, which would give the Indians a greater say in their own affairs and set up an organization by which they could manage their own affairs. I think that was one of the outstanding successes of his administration. That took a great deal of time.

I would easily put him at the top of the list of Indian Commissioners since that time. Bill Brophy was a very good commissioner. He knew the Indian picture very well, because he has been in the Southwest for so long. Dillon Myer was a very fine administrator, but he didn't understand the Indian.

HESS: His skills were just the opposite of Mr. Collier?

DOTY: Just the opposite of Mr. Collier. He was basically inclined to administration.

HESS: If you had to pick one of the two opposites, which would you have? A man who knew more about the Indians but less about administration or a good administrator who knew less about Indians?


DOTY: You know, I would always hope that they'd have somebody around that would do some administration, but basically I'd go for Mr. Collier.

I had one big ruckus with Dillon Myer.

HESS: What was that?

DOTY: It was over the rights of the Indians to represent themselves. I was an Assistant Secretary at that time for Indians, and had the Indians as one of my bureaus. Dillon had come over from Agriculture, where the Japanese Relocation Administration was at that time. He was an administrator of that. A very excellent administrator and he was a very fine man.

I think it's part of this; if the law gives you authority, to the administrative mind, sometimes, you're supposed to exercise it. And the law is fairly precise that the Secretary or the Indian Commissioner should approve Indian contracts for attorneys. The actual fact is that it had been used very, very rarely.


I suppose I was probably a full-blown lawyer by that time. I think I was probably out of law school. I just didn't think it was right for the Secretary of the Department of the Interior to stand in between the Indian and the lawyer that that Indian tribe had decided to have. He wasn't a swindler -- a shyster sometimes -- but he was in good standing, and that was their selection. I fought Dillon Myer on that for a long tine.

HESS: How did that come out?

DOTY: Oh, of course, I lost and won. Mr. Chapman backed Dillon on it. They issued regulations to implement the law and give strict control. And then the Indian groups and their lawyers hit the ceiling, so we had a. hearing later on. And then they either just didn't enforce it at all or maybe canceled it. I forgot what the thing is, but the heat became so great that either Oscar Chapman, as Secretary at that time, or the Commissioner had to give in on it.


It made me sort of a baddy among the Indian groups. As Assistant Secretary in charge of the Indians I got part of the flashback of the thing. It gave Mr. [Harold h.] Ickes a lot of -- I ca