Historical interpretations focusing on the development of irrigated agricultural communities in the early twentiethcentury American West have consistently repeated the neat division between "family" and "industrial" modes of production. However, these distinctions collapse when one recognizes that the seasonal demand for harvest labor could not be met from within the smallholders' households. Transient labor, as well as year-round wage work by property-less workers, appears to have been the rule even on the irrigated West's family farms.
In the case of the Newlands Reclamation Project, dispossessed Native Americans provided essential labor, ensuring the nominal success of this initial Reclamation Service project during the first three decades of the twentieth century. In Nevada, Paiute and Shoshone laborers provided a local and low-cost work force. This irrigation culture could not avoid the pitfalls of capitalist agriculture that relied upon the dispossession of Indian lands and resources and the coerced labor of an underclass of Indian workers. While Paiute and Shoshone labor was certainly coerced, there were limits. This article demonstrates the degree to which these people maintained an autonomous community and culture. Drawing on precolonial roots, Native North American communities shared in the challenges and creative adaptations exhibited by indigenous communities globally in response to settler capitalism.