Dillon S. Myer Oral History Interview, Chap XIV-XVII

Oral History Interview with
Dillon S. Myer

Director, War Relocation Authority, 1942-46; Commissioner, Federal Public Housing Administration, 1946-47; president, Institute of Inter-American Affairs, 1947-50; Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1950-53.

Berkeley, California
July 7, 1970
by the University of California Bancroft Library/Berkeley Regional Oral History Office (Helen S. Pryor interviewer)

Chapters XIV through XVII

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Dillon S. Myer Chapters]

This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview donated to the Harry S. Truman Library. The reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word, although some editing was done.

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

All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement between the Regents of the University of California and Dillon S. Myer and Jenness Wirt Myer, dated July 7, 1970. The manuscript is thereby made available for research purposes. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to Dillon S. Myer and Jenness Wirt Myer until January 1, 1980. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of the Bancroft Library of the University of California.

Requests for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 486 Library, and should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user. The legal agreement with Dillon S. Myer and Jenness Wirt Myer requires that they be notified of the request and allowed thirty days in which to respond.

Opened July, 1970
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Dillon S. Myer Chapters]


Oral History Interview with
Dillon S. Myer


Berkeley, California
July 7, 1970
by the University of California Bancroft Library/Berkeley Regional Oral History Office (Helen S. Pryor interviewer)

Chapters XIV through XVII




DSM: In 1952 General Eisenhower was elected to the Presidency. It is the tradition that on the first of January after an election when there is a change in political parties, every one who has been a Presidential Appointee, submits his resignation to his department or to his superior officer. Among others, of course, I submitted my resignation.

I heard nothing from it until the thirteenth of March, some weeks after the President had been inaugurated. On that date I got a letter signed by the President saying that my services would be discontinued upon March 20, one week hence. I got a call from Orme Lewis who was Assistant Secretary, who had been appointed in the meantime, telling me that it was coming and he apologized and said "I’m sorry that I had to give you this message." Incidentally I found out later that former Governor McKay who had become Secretary had recommended that I be continued, but the Republican National Committee who were riding high in the saddle didn’t want anybody of the old regime. So out I went.

I might add that I doubt very much whether President Eisenhower even read the letter that he signed because he is the only man that I had known before he became President and I knew him and his brother Milton quite well and I am sure that he signed dozens of letters that came across his desk without looking at them at that time in order to go along with the Republican National Committee.

I regretted having to leave in the midst of a program that I thought was worthwhile; on the other hand I knew it was coming, and I had no ill feelings then and I have no ill feelings today, because of the fact that I was fired. I might say that part of the pressure for the change came from the Association of


American Indian Affairs and the Congress of American Indians. In view of what I have said here about my relationship with these associations it wasn’t surprising that they didn’t want me to continue as Commissioner; but it was an interesting experience. I wouldn’t have missed it for a great deal. I learned a great deal not only about Indians but about human nature in general and one of the things that I learned was that there are more experts in the field of Indian affairs then in any other field that I know of in the United States of America.

I Become A Civil Service Retiree

DSM: The job as Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs was my last full time job with the government. During the fall of 1953 I became a civil service retiree at age sixty-two. Before reviewing my activities from that time to the present, (1969) I would like to reminisce about some people and experiences that contributed to my development and education and to philosophize a bit about things I have learned throughout my years of public service.

Congressional Friends And Political Contacts During My Career In Government

DSM: During the seventeen years or more that I was appearing before Congressional Committees and making almost daily contact with members of the Senate and the House, I learned to know some wonderful people who were occasionally demanding but usually were most helpful.


Senator Carl Hayden

DSM: Among those was Carl Hayden who in 1968 was the Dean of the U.S. Senate. He was nearly ninety years old but he still had his faculties and was still the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Carl Hayden was one of the best politicians that I have ever worked with. I remember quite distinctly after having a visit with him in company with Leland Barrows back during the days when I was Director of the W.R.A. Leland said "He is the kind of a person that a politician ought to be. He takes people from over on the right, people from over here on the left and brings them together here in the middle." In other words he is always looking for a compromise.

I shall always remember one of those problems that he faced. He didn’t quite know what to do to resolve it but he finally figured out the answer. During the days of the War Relocation Authority the people in the Salt River Valley of Arizona were quite concerned for fear that a lot of the Japanese Americans were going to settle there and they didn’t like the prospective competition. There were a few Japanese Americans already there and they knew that the competition was something that they didn’t want to face. So they hired a so-called public relations man who was not very ethical. They put on quite a campaign against the Japanese Americans and stirred things up to the point where it began to worry Senator Hayden and of course it worried me. We already had two relocation centers in Arizona, one near Parker, on the western side of the state, and one that we called Gila in the Gila Indian Reservation a few miles out of Phoenix. Carl Hayden talked to me about it a number of times and finally when General McNarney who represented the Army before the Appropriations Committee at that time, appeared before them he took up the question with him. General McNarney just brushed it off. It wasn’t something that he had anything to do with so he didn’t do anything,

So Carl Hayden waited until the Congress adjourned for that session. Then he went down to the White


House and saw President Roosevelt and he asked the President to send the Inspector General of the Army down to Phoenix. He told him what he wanted him to do was to establish himself in the Westward Ho Hotel and to call in the leaders of this group down there one by one and to get real tough with them and to let them know that the U.S. Government felt that they were interfering with the war effort.

The Inspector General came over to see me to get the lay of the land. I gave it to him and I said "Of course, you have talked to Senator Hayden," He smiled and said "Yes, I have talked with Senator Hayden." So they went to Phoenix and established themselves in the hotel and they called these men in from out of the Salt River Valley, and they really scared them. We had no more trouble in the Salt River Valley. They just piped down and everything went beautifully. Of course, they never knew that Carl Hayden had any part in this business and we never told anybody while he was still in the senate.

He was always the. kind of person who was representing his people and he pressed for things that he thought they wanted. He seldom made a request in which he said "It must be done." He simply proposed it , and if we had very good reason against it he’d say "Well give me a letter that I can send out to my constituents about it, giving your explanation." I have a tremendous regard for Carl Hayden the man in the Senate who seldom made a speech on the floor but did his work in committees and behind the scenes. He is greatly respected and loved by the people who have worked with him.

Senator Clinton Anderson

DSM: Another chap from that part of the world that I have learned to know quite well is Clinton Anderson who came first to the House of Representatives from


New Mexico. At that time I was connected with the Soil Conservation Service and it was suggested by our Regional Director, Hugh Calkins, that we get in touch with the new Congressman from New Mexico and fill him in on the conservation program. I was elected to do this. I called him up, made a date and went up to see him. He wasn’t too busy so he put his feet up on a bench and leaned back and said "Tell me about it." We must have spent two hours together. He was interested both in New Mexico and South Dakota, which was his home state. He had moved to New Mexico because as a younger man he had developed tuberculosis and he thought that was a better place for him to live.

After I had filled him in on a lot of information he wanted about soil erosion, water control, and related matters, he asked me to send him all the literature that we had that had a bearing on his part of the world and on South Dakota. This was my first introduction but I saw a great deal of Clinton Anderson in later years. I got quite well acquainted with him during the period in the House and later I got much better acquainted with him as a Senator. During the days when I was Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs we had trouble with some of the so-called Indian lawyers who were always a thorn in the flesh. We talked to Clint Anderson about it so he’d set up a series of hearings, he practically chased one of them out of business with our help which we were very happy about. This lawyer’s name was Jim Curry. He had gathered up a great many contracts on Indian claims for presentation before the Claims Commission, by having the help of an Indian organization for which he was the lawyer go out and get him these jobs. He had them all the way from Alaska to the southwest and across the country and I’m sure that ultimately he probably made a million dollars out of it because he sold his interest in these to somebody else for twenty-five percent interest and as these claims began to become due he got a large return out of it without doing much about it.

I remember one other incident to show how the mind of a good politician works. One of the Pueblo groups in New Mexico had an excellent deposit of gravel and there were several people who were interested in


getting in on this gravel for construction work. There was one chap who was already using gravel from this place, by the name of Loudermilk. There was another group who moved in and who got Senator Chavez’s brother to serve as their attorney. They put the pressure on us to let them take over an exclusive contract. We weren’t willing to do this; but the pressure got very heavy. So I went up one day and talked to Senator Anderson. I said "Senator, we have no interest in pushing Mr. Loudermilk out, but we have an interest in dividing up this gravel down there so that we can not only take the pressure off but to give these Pueblo people an opportunity to make the most they can out of it." He looked at me and said "I don’t care what you do as long as you let Loudermilk continue to have gravel." So we let about five people in with a contract that provided for a somewhat higher price. We put the money in the tribal fund for the Indians. But this again is typical of a man who is willing to compromise. We had great support from him and I shall always remember the good relationships I have had with Clinton Anderson.

Senator Richard Russell

DSM: Another Senator whom I worked with for a number of years and for whom I have a very high regard is Richard Russell of Georgia. While Richard Russell and I do not hold the same philosophy in many respects including the race problem we did get along very well in the days when I was a member of the staff of the Soil Conservation Service. He supported our program at that time and he was a very strong supporter of the Farm Security program and most of the other New Deal programs. During those days I could go to his office at any time that I wished for a conference with him, to get his advice which I very often did. At that time he was Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee. He always handled our appropriation hearing. After the first year with S.C.S., I presented the


detailed information about our budget and consequently we saw a good deal of each other. Dick Russell is one of the top politicos in my opinion. With his friends, he is a man of honor. He never pressed us to do something that was impossible.

At one stage we had a chap on the rolls from Georgia in the fairly early days of the Soil Conservation Service who wasn’t producing and we told our regional director, that he could get rid of him. This word came back to Richard Russell and he called me up and said "Dillon, I have got to have that man on the payroll." I said "All right, Dick. We have got to have him off within a reasonable time. How long do you have to have him?" He said "Th