• U.S.

GOVERNMENT: The $40,000 Bounce

2 minute read

Happy was the Interior Department last month when Stanford W. Barton offered to undertake the biggest Indian land development of all time. The friendly Missourian, a dabbler in uranium and alfalfa, was a godsend to the Indian Affairs Bureau officials. They signed him up just one day before expiration of an act enabling Interior to lease 67,000 parched Arizona acres with the expectation of turning them into a desert garden for some 1,500 Mojave and Chemehuevi tribesmen, who would get the land back in 25 years. As first installment on the $28 million deal, which promised handsome profits to Developer Barton from subleases to cotton growers after he irrigated the land, Barton plunked down a $40,000 personal check with a $5,000,000 performance bond to come in 30 days.

Sad was Interior last week when the waste of its haste came to light. Barton’s check had bounced; his $40,000 on deposit in a Blytheville (Ark.) bank had been withdrawn. Barton blandly explained this oddity: his brother, who disapproved of the deal when he turned over the check, had done the withdrawing from their joint account. But he could not explain away the fact that Seaboard Surety Co., which Barton had claimed would put up the bond, had no plans to do so at all. Unlike Interior, Seaboard had requested proof of Barton’s financial responsibility, which he had not supplied.

Interior turned over Barton’s rubber check to the Justice Department, pondered the fact that now it has no authority to release the land. Meanwhile, Barton’s Colorado River Enterprises, Inc. produced a second (cashier’s) check—payable only on condition that he get more time to arrange the bond—which Acting Interior Secretary Hatfield Chilson frigidly ignored. At such intransigence, Barton lamented: “If the Indians don’t get that land developed, it sure won’t be my fault. I’ve done all I could for ’em. I’ve done my best.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com