History of Wyoming - Chapter XXII
Farm Life in Wyoming—Agricultural Production—Farming Conditions—Our Advantages—Swift Progress Under the New Methods—Dry Farming as a Science—Antiquity of Dry Farming—Irrigation Farming—Precipitation—Early Irrigation—Expense of Big Projects—Economic Use of Water—U. S. Reclamation Projects—Pathfinder Projects—Carey Act Projects—Best Irrigation Laws—Future Irrigationn Developement—Success in Co-Operation ... 352
    On the beautiful railroad station in Washington, D. C, carved on its marble facades, are several inscriptions chosen by ex-President Eliot of Harvard University. One of them refers to agriculture and reads as follows:
    "The Farm—Best Home of the Family–Main Source of National Wealth Foundation of Civilized Society–The Natural Providence."
    In impressive contrast to this picture, is Markham's characterization of city life, when he says:
"Out of the whirlwind of cities,
Rise lean hunger and the worm of misery.
The heart break and the cry of mortal tears."
    The future character of American citizenship as well as the future material development, prosperity and general welfare, are so dependent on the farmer and his crops, that we are pleased to state, Wyoming is becoming a great farming state.
    For the year 1917, agricultural products made the largest item of the state's production, amounting to $54,230,820 and yet the state is in the infancy of its farming capacity and has an unsettled area of nearly 30,000,000 acres adapted to farming, with unrivaled advantages in climate, soil and environment and an opportunity is given the settler of obtaining large homesteads of three hundred and twenty, and six hundred and forty acres. Practically every acre of Wyoming's area, except high mountain and timber land, can be successfully farmed by dry farming methods.
    Wyoming offers unrivaled advantages for the twentieth century farmer. All history shows that in the natural order of progress the first step is to settle up the vacant public lands. When that is done and it is found in half a century or more that the population has multiplied faster than crop production has increased, then comes intensive farming, which will add from fifty to even one hundred per cent to the farm crops. For the present Wyoming farms are conducted on a large scale, as far as possible with labor saving machinery, and no part of the country offers such splendid inducements to the young home farmer or the incoming settler.
    The conditions of farming in this state are very much diversified owing to variations of altitude, climate and soils. As a whole the state is located in the heart of the mountain and plateau portion of the arid region. The average altitude of agricultural areas is from five thousand to six thousand feet above sea level, the largest areas being less than five thousand feet. The growing season, free from frost, varies from ninety to more than one hundred and fifty days. The mean, annual temperature varies from forty degrees to forty-five degrees Fahrenheit. The average annual precipitation is about twelve inches in the farming sections.
    The soils of the state as a whole are wonderfully fertile as they have not been subject to leaching by heavy rainfalls and contain all the plant food which was in the original rocks from which they are formed. The soil is especially rich in mineral nutriment making it especially adapted to hardy grains and to grasses. The more it is cultivated the more humus is gained when that element is needed.
    The productions adapted to the soil and climate may be mentioned as alfalfa, at any altitude; wheat, oats, rye and barley are good crops over the state, potatoes and root crops are very successful, in fact everything that does not require a tropical or semi-tropical climate flourishes in Wyoming. On account of the rich, natural grasses of the state, mixed farming and stock raising is remarkably successful.
    Other conditions make agriculture highly remunerative in this state. Owing to the rapid development of mineral resources and the industries arising from them the farmer has a splendid home market for everything he can raise at very good prices. Even under the most primitive conditions the early farmers and ranchmen have been universally prosperous. Now the frontier has disappeared and the fanners have all the luxuries and facilities of the most highly civilized life, including of course the automobile, churches, schools, lecture courses, picture shows, etc.
    Accurately stated there is no such thing as "Dry Farming." It is a term of convenience. Its real meaning is, simply farming on slight rainfall. During the past fifteen years so-called dry farming has been re-discovered, scientifically studied and practically demonstrated. The fact that it can be applied successfully to 30.000,000 acres of land in Wyoming and to 400,000,000 acres of land in the arid and semi-arid belt of the United States makes it the most tremendous factor of national development.
    This fact is all the more starthng because it was undreamed of a few years ago. People are just beginning to learn the wonderful productiveness of this land of mountain and plain–a region showing every variety of climate and vegetation, of high and low altitudes, snow clad peaks, table lands and valleys, but everywhere a soil rich in plant food. In what was once called the desert, there were abundant natural growths of yucca, cactus, greasewood, sagebrush, mesquite, gramma grass and wild flowers. Why should not the same soil produce wheat, corn, oats, etc.? The question has already answered itself. In every part of Wyoming dry farming has proved a success and the thousands of incoming settlers from the old farming states of the east are getting bigger crops per acre on Wyoming lands than are produced in Kansas, Iowa and the old states tariher east.
    Dry farming was begun in Wyoming at Salem forty miles northeast of Cheyenne, over forty years ago by a settlement of Swedes and they have prospered ever since. At Manville, Niobrara County, dry farming has been practised over thirty years and in Crook County it has been a success ever since the county was settled, but it is only within the last twelve years that the rush of high class, well-to-do farmers has swept into Wyoming from the old states and nearly swamped the six United States Land Offices of the state with their homestead applications for dry lands. Within ten years the section east of Cheyenne now known as the "Golden Prairie" which was but a sheep and cattle range up to that time, has been settled by eight or ten thousand dry farmers, and where once even the sheep-herder was lonesome, there are thriving villages with schools, churches, elevators and banks. The dry farmers ride around in automobiles, hold institutes and fairs and send to market over a million bushels of grain annually, besides live stock, dairy of Wyoming. In two years time the Chugwater flats, formerly without habitation, was colonized by four thousand people who built seven hundred houses. It was so quietly done that it was hardly noticed by the general public. A little later these thriving communities dotted the whole state.
    It has been found that profitable farming can be carried on where the annual precipitation equals ten inches annually. In Wyoming the average precipitation equals ten and one-half inches and there are only two sections in the state where it averages less, while the highest precipitation exceeds twenty-five inches. It is fair to estimate that three-fourths of the unappropriated public lands of the state, or over 20,000,000 acres is good dry farming land, while the remainder is good grazing land. Former Governor Brooks, in an address before the Industrial Club of Cheyenne said: "We will eventually be able to reclaim practically every acre of land in this western country, and make it produce profitable crops, where it was formerly thought nothing but weeds and range grass would grow."
    Byron Hunter of the United States Department of Agriculture says: '"Considerable wheat is now being produced on each side of the Columbia River with as little rainfall as eight or nine inches. Under such dry conditions the land is summer fallowed every other year in order to conserve the rainfall for the use of the growing crop next season."
    Scientific dry farming is now practiced in a system based upon the following agricultural methods: 1. Conservation of moisture, or gathering all the year's snow and rainfall in the soil and retaining it for the season's crop: 2. Thorough tillage, deep plowing and the pulverization of the soil for the creation of a fine soil mulch, which prevents the evaporation of moisture; 3. Selection of drouth-resistant crops and the use of seed adapted to the various soils of the localities farmed : 4. Summer fallowing where the annual rainfall is less than ten inches, or making one crop in two years, planting one-half of the farm's acreage each year; 5. Economy in farming by a community system in the use of large power steam or gasoline tractors and the best machines for plowing, reaping, threshing, etc.
    Old fashioned farming has practically disappeared. Universities, colleges, agricultural schools, experiment stations, farmer's clubs are now having courses of study in agriculture, just as we have always had in engineering, medicine and law. New states like Wyoming always adopt the most modern methods and achieve results. The arid and elevated regions of the earth are being searched by the consuls and agricultural agents of the Government for hardy drouth-resistant plants and seeds suitable for the great plains and uplands of this country, and it is a common thing for the American dry farmer to sow durum wheat from the Mediterranean, kaffir corn from Africa, spelts from the steppes of Russia and hardy grains from Turkey and Egypt.
    Recently discovered Egyptian carvings and inscriptions prove that long before the Christian Era farmers made the rainless lands of the desert yield abundantly. They used the soil mulch, the systematic tillage, and packed the earth by using the hoof beats of their herds in place of the sub-soil packing machine of the present day. Dry farming was practiced in Syria in ages long past. It was practiced in India and China, is now practiced in those countries and in portions of Africa, Australia, Italy, Manchuria, Hungary and other countries.
    Now there is a new invasion of the desert, which cannot fail to bring about a tremendous increase to the productive capacity of Wyoming and the country at large. The transformation seems the more impressive when one looks back to the time when Wyoming was marked on the map as a part of "The Great American Desert," which Daniel Webster in 1844 said, "was not worth a cent," being as he declared "a region of savages, wild beasts, shifting sands, whirlwinds of dust, cactus and prairie dogs." Senator Duflfy at about the same time described it as, "an uninhabitable region where rain seldom falls, a barren, sandy soil, unpassable mountains of no earthly use for agricultural purposes," and he added sententiously, "I would not give a pinch of snuff for the whole of it!"
In contrast to these opinions we will quote the statements made by Hon. John W. Springer at the National Dry Farming Congress at Denver in 1907. He said in part:
    "Ten years ago I came to this state. I went out here fifteen miles from Denver and began to buy land, and those old fellows who had lived there for twenty-five years got together in a place down there, and they said: 'There is some darn fool here buying land; let us appoint a committee to give him the whole country.' They gave me a good end of it and I have got it yet, and now they all want it back, but they can't have it. 'Why,' they said, 'that blamed Springer is from Illinois, and while he isn't looking let's put ten thousand acres in his pocket so that he will have enough of what he thinks is a good thing.' There had never been a man able to make a living out there. They didn't have a well. They didn't even have a fence that would turn a coyote or anything else. They didn't have any trees, they didn't have any houses. Well, what in ten short years? Houses, stables, orchards are to be seen on every hand. Why, go up and down those canyons and you will find wild cherries and plums. I sent to Kansas and told them to send me the best young cherry trees they had, and now I cannot gather my cherry crop, and haven't for three years, there are so many of them. They have grown and they never had a drop of irrigation. This good school up here at Fort Collins that is doing such wonderful work sent me a sack of broome grass seed, and I have a broome grass meadow out there that never was irrigated a drop and that is as good as any in Illinois worth $200 an acre today."
    That was written ten years ago, almost at the beginning of dry farming experiments, but it expresses with much terseness and humor the practical and notable change that has taken place in mountain and plain farming.
    The fact that Wyoming has a rich, mineral soil that has been accumulating for ages, its unused nutrition is one important factor, an incomparable climate, a land of sunshine and pure air, excellent schools, a high class citizenship are considerations that should weigh heavily in selecting a homestead on the public lands and Wyoming offers all these advantages to its homebuilders in addition to a fortune for the settler, his children and his children's children a vision of future happiness and prosperity.
    On account of its numerous rivers and the great accumulations of snow in the mountain ranges, Wyoming is the most favorably situated of all the arid states for the development of large areas by irrigation. Every student of history knows that the most splendid civilizations of remote antiquity have been established in desert regions. The remains of ancient cities in the valleys of the Nile and Euphrates are impressive object lessons of their former greatness, wealth and material prosperity, all attained by the development of irrigation enterprises. Wyoming has all the advantages possessed by the ancient kingdoms and many more, in its great mineral wealth and better climatic conditions. The topography of the state, which has been fully described in the first chapter of this history is peculiarly adapted to the selection of sites for irrigation enterprises.
    In the plains area the annual precipitation ranges from ten to twenty inches and averages fourteen and fi\e-tenths inches: in the mountain area it ranges from twenty to more than forty inches and in the plateau region from eight to fourteen inches, averaging about eleven inches. The annual precipitation falls as low as six inches in portions of the Big Horn basin and eight inches in the Red Desert and Green River basin. In the mountain area the annual precipitation is very great and furnishes a very large unit area run-off as the fountain head of many Wyoming streams which, having their source on the crest of the continent, find their way to both the Atlantic and Pacific. The Atlantic receives, by way of the Mississippi-Missouri, the waters of the Yellowstone, Big Horn, Tongue, Powder, Little Missouri, Cheyenne and North Platte rivers; the Pacific receives the waters of Green River through the Colorado, and Snake River by way of the Columbia. The streams of a small area in Southwestern Wyoming are tributary to Great Salt Lake through Bear River.
    The topographic and climatic conditions prevailing in Wyoming have inevitably led to irrigation and thus by artificial diversions the prolific flow of the mountain streams has been utilized to supplement the inadequate precipitation of the valley lands and has transformed vast arid regions into fertile productive farms.
    Irrigation in Wyoming began in the early '60s and its growth and expansion have been gradual, keeping pace with the settlement and development of the state. The early methods were of necessity very primitive, intended to increase the growth of native hay and grasses lying in the narrow valley and bottom lands immediately adjacent to the streams and thus to secure winter feed for flocks and herds that lived most of the year on the free public range. The rapid expansion of the live stock industrv naturally stinuilated the use of water in this manner on tributaries rather than on the main streams. These tributaries have usually well sustained summer discharges, with favorable gradients and low banks, so that it has been possible to build large numbers of ditches, at small cost, to water the extensive bottom lands bordering the streams.
    This development specially suited pioneer conditions better than would a higher grade of culture, for, although it yields very low crop returns and is highly uneconomic in use of both land and water, it meets the peculiar requirements of the stockman principally because operating costs are almost nominal with little demand on their time and attention. However, the limits of this kind of development have nearly been reached, owing to the fact that opportunities for such cheap construction are practically absorbed.
    Gradually, as the opportunity to extend irrigation in these bottoms became exhausted, the irrigation of the higher lands was attempted. It was, however, generally found impossible for individuals to construct the necessary works. The cost of both construction and operation so far exceeded that of the more primitive irrigation of bottom lands, that a higher type of cultivation, better equipment and a larger acreage return from crops were necessary to make such development a financial success. These attempts have been going on sporadically for the past thirty years, at first as corporate enterprises and later as Carey Act projects.
    Results from these attempts to bring water to the higher bench lands have ranged all the way from absolute failure to unqualified success. The failures have been largely due to the difficulties experienced in colonization and efiforts to bring successful settlement to these potentially fertile lands. Today, in Wyoming, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of unoccupied lands which are commanded by completed irrigation systems. The unaided settler of small means cannot hope to succeed on these lands under the present systems and policies. The cost of equipping a farm alone has largely increased in the past twelve years, to say nothing of the time and money required for improvement. There is an abundant supply of land and water but, in the service-union of these two the great human problem involved has been so far overlooked. The time swiftly approaches when the state must take an active part in the colonization of its irrigable lands and furnish material, financial aid, oversight and direction, in tiding the new settler of small means over the trying pioneer period of development and thus make it possible for him to bring his land quickly under cultivation and obtain from the land itself an independent living income.
    The normal low flow of many small streams has become fully appropriated and late appropriators find themselves facing a serious shortage of water during the critical period of the irrigation season. This has been remedied to a great extent by the building of storage reservoirs, and any large new development must necessarily include plans for storing the winter and flood flow of the streams. This condition, together with the increasing value of both land and water, has gradually brought about a more economic use of water and more intensive cultivation of the soil. In the elevated plains and plateau regions a large area is still devoted to the raising of native hay, although portions of this land are gradually coming into cultivation, with alfalfa, field peas and the hardier grains successfully grown at elevations of 7,500 feet above sea level. In regions favored with a lower elevation and a correspondingly longer growing season, notably the valleys of the Big Horn, Tongue and Platte rivers, intensive diversified farming is rapidly on the increase and the value of the produce compares favorably with that of any similar area in the entire arid region of the West.
    The United States Reclamation Service has constructed three large reservoirs in Wyoming. The Jackson Lake reservoir on Snake River in the western part of the state has a storage capacity of 789,000 acre-feet of water. The water stored in this reservoir is used entirely for the reclamation of lands in Idaho. The dam. consisting of the outlet and spillway section and the dike connecting it to the shores is about five thousand feet long with a maximum height of sixty-seven feet and cost approximately $800,000.
    The Shoshone reservoir is located on the Shoshone River in the northwestern part of the Big Horn Basin. This reservoir has a storage capacity of 456,000 acre-feet and the water so stored is used to supplement the normal flow of the river for the irrigation of about one hundred and fifty thousand acres of land lower down the stream. The dam is a monolithic rubble concrete structure of the arch type with a maximum height of 328 feet. The width of the canyon across which the dam is placed is 200 feet at the top of the dam and seventy feet at the river bed. The outlets consist of two tunnels driven at dififerent elevations through the granite cliff on the south side of the canyon, and the water discharging through them is controlled by two 58-inch balanced valves. The dam and its appurtenances were constructed at a total cost of $1,155,000. About fifty thousand acres of land under this project are now under cultivation and the annual crop yield approximates a value of half a million dollars. Alfalfa is at present the principal crop, and three cuttings averaging about three tons to the acre are secured. Grain crops are giving excellent results but highest net returns are secured from potatoes and sugar beets. Extensions of canal systems are constantly bringing new lands under cultivation. This project promises to result in establishing one of the most fertile farming districts in the state. A serious menace to some of these lands from seepage was promptly and successfully remedied by an effective drainage system which is considered the most model system of the United States.
    The Pathfinder reservoir is formed by an arch dam located about fifty miles southwest of Casper in the bed of the North Platte River. The dam is built of uncoursed cyclopean granite masonry, except the faces, which are laid in two and three foot courses. The height is 214 feet above the river bed. It is 432 feet long, 10 feet wide on top and 90 feet wide on the bottom. A spillway about six hundred and sixty feet long is cut in the granite north of the dam. Its control is effected by six cylindrical valves each fifty-eight inches in diameter operated by balancing water pressures and four cast-iron sliding gates discharging into outlet tunnels through the south and north canyon walls, respectively. The cost of the construction of this dam and controlling works was $1,409,000, and it impounds 1,025,000 acre-feet. The water thus stored, together with the natural flow of the North Platte River is used to irrigate lands on both sides of the river in Wyoming and Nebraska. The several canals and distributing systems will eventually reclaim about two hundred and thirty thousand acres of land, seventy-eight thousand acres of which are located in Wyoming and one hundred and fifty-two thousand in Nebraska. At present about seventy-five thousand acres of land are irrigated under this project the principal products being alfalfa, cereals, corn, sugar beets and potatoes.
    Of the numerous Carey Act projects, that of the Wyoming Development Company is the oldest and most successful. Although this project is entitled by priority of appropriation to a large volume of the direct flow of the Laramie River, this supply has been augmented by the construction of a channel reservoir in the Laramie River which has a storage capacity of 120,000 acre-feet. The water stored in this reservoir is conveyed through a tunnel 3,000 feet long into Blue Grass Creek, thence down Blue Grass Creek into Sybille Creek, whence it is diverted and applied to the irrigation of lands lying south and west of Wheatland. At present 35,000 acres of land are irrigated under this system and ultimately a total of about one hundred and forty thousand acres is proposed to be reclaimed. Alfalfa, grains, sugar beets and diversified farm crops are grown very successfully on this project.
    Wyoming is justly proud of her irrigation laws. In no other state are water rights perfected and held with less resort to the courts for aid and protection. They have been used as a model for similar laws in the states of the semi-arid region and in Canada. For the establishment of this system the state is indebted to Prof. Elwood Mead, who is known as the father of the Wyoming irrigation laws. Professor Mead served as territorial and state engineer during the pioneer period from 1888 to 1898. He was succeeded by Fred Bond who served from 1898 until his untimely death in 1903. Clarence Johnston served as state engineer from 1903 to 1911. A. J. Parshall from 1911 to 1915 and James B. True succeeded Mr. Parshall in 1915. Mr. True is the present state engineer.
    Nearly two million acres of land are now irrigated in Wyoming. Irrigated agriculture and the live stock industry are interdependent and together constitute fifty per cent of the industrial wealth of the state. The irrigation of an acre of land greatly enhances the value of at least ten acres of the contiguous grazing land. Future development and expansion of irrigation will carry with it a corresponding increase in the live stock industry. There is sufficient water, if properly conserxed and economically used, to irrigate many million acres of land.
    Real progress will march hand in hand with this development. Communities of contented, prosperous -citizens will bring increased agricultural products and taxable wealth. Successful rural settlement will bring new social standards and industrial enterprises, governed by developed and natural resources, will find foothold.
    This, however, is but one of the beneficial uses to which water is applied. No one can truly prophesy the enormous benefits to be derived through the transversion of water energy into electrical power. The study of hydro-electrical power, its application to every phase of the mechanism of modern civilization and inventions to convert this power into new fields of endeavor and enterprises, are in their infancy. Miracles of today will become the common realities of tomorrow through the development of hydro-electrical power. There is a vast amount of undeveloped water power in Wyoming. The fitness of things is demonstrated by the fact that this power can be developed without interfering with the use of water for irrigation. As a matter of fact, it will eventually aid very materially in the reclamation of lands by lifting water to part of those that are too high to be reached by a gravity system.
    Knowing that the state has the fertile soil, proper climate and an abundant water supply to produce remunerative crops, the citizens feel that the success of Wyoming as an agricultural state is assured. Since irrigation is essentially an art requiring co-operation in the highest degree, and since the spirit of co-operation is the leaven by which mankind has been united and inspired to overcome all obstacles in the path of progress, they also feel that future development must of necessity depend on financial aid and competent supervision by some centralized public authority, which will not only place the landless man on the manless land, but will make it possible for him to obtain a living income from the service-union of the water and the land.