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More Of Irrigation

I have thus far considered Irrigation with special reference to those
limited, yet very considerable districts, which are traversed or
bordered by living streams, and, having a level or slightly rolling
surface, present obvious facilities for and incitements to the
operation. Such are the valleys of the Platte, and of nearly or quite
all its affluents after they leave the Rocky Mountains; such is the
valley of the upper Arkansas; such the valleys of the Smoky Hill and the
Republican, so far down as Irrigation may be considered necessary.
Irrigation on all these seems to me inevitable, and certain to be
speedily, though capriciously, effected.

I believe a dam across either fork of the Platte, at any favorable
point above their junction, raising the surface of the stream six feet,
at a cost not exceeding $10,000, would suffice to irrigate completely
not less than fifty square miles of the valley below it, while serving
at the same time to furnish power for mills and factories to a very
considerable extent; for the need of Irrigation is not incessant, but
generally confined to two or three months per annum, and all of the
volume of the stream not needed for Irrigation could be utilized as
power. Thus the valleys of the few constant water-courses of the Plains
may come at an early day to employ and subsist a dense and energetic
population, engaged in the successful prosecution alike of agriculture
and manufactures, while belts, groves, and forests, of choice, luxuriant
timber, will diversify and embellish regions now bare of trees, and but
thinly covered with dead herbage from June until the following April.

But, when we rise above the bluffs, and look off across the blank, bleak
areas where no living water exists, the problem becomes more difficult,
and its solution will doubtless be much longer postponed. To a stranger,
these bleak uplands seem sterile; and, though such is not generally the
fact, the presumption will repel experiments which involve a large
initial outlay. The railroad companies, which now own large tracts of
these lands, will be obliged either to demonstrate their value, or to
incite individuals and colonists to do it by liberal concessions. As the
case stands to-day, most of these lands, which would have been dear at
five cents per acre before the roads were built, could not be sold at
any price to actual settlers, even with the railroad in plain sight,
because of the dearth of fuel and timber, and because also the means of
rendering them fruitful and their cultivation profitable are out of
reach of the ordinary pioneer. Hence, so long as the valleys of the
living streams proffer such obvious invitations to settlement and
tillage, by the aid of Irrigation, I judge that the higher and dryer
plains will mainly be left to the half-savage herdsmen who rear cattle
and sheep without feeding and sheltering them, by giving them the range
of a quarter-section to each bullock, and submitting to the loss of a
hundred head or so after each great and cold snow-storm, as an
unavoidable dispensation of Providence.

But in process of time even the wild herdsmen will be softened into or
replaced by regular farmers, plowing and seeding for vegetables and
small grains, sheltering their habitations with trees, and sending their
children to school. This change involves Irrigation; and the following
are among the ways in which it will be effected:

The Plains are nowhere absolutely flat (as I presume the "desert" of
Sahara is not), but diversified by slopes, and swells, and gentle ridges
or divides, affording abundant facilities for the distribution of water.
A well, sunk on the crest of one of these divides, will be filled with
living water at a depth ranging from 50 to 100 feet. A windmill of
modest dimensions placed over this well will be rarely stopped for want
of impelling power: Wind being, next to space, the thing most abundant
on the Plains. A reservoir or pond covering three or four acres may be
made adjacent to the well at a small cost of labor, by excavating
slightly and using the earth to form an embankment on the lower side.
The windmill, left alone, will fill the reservoir during the windy
Winter and Spring months with water soon warmed in the sun, and ready to
be drawn off as wanted throughout the thirsty season of vegetable growth
and maturity. Carefully saved, the product of one well will serve to
moisten and vivify a good many acres of grass or tillage.

Such is the retail plan applicable to the wants of solitary farmers; but
I hope to see it supplemented and invigorated by the extensive
introduction of Artesian wells, whereof two, by way of experiment, are
now in progress at Denver and Kit Carson respectively.

I need not here describe the Artesian well, farther than to say that it
is made by boring to a depth ranging from 700 to more than a 1000 feet,
tubing regularly from the top downward until a stream is reached which
will rise to and above the surface, flowing over the top of the tube in
a stream often as large as an average stove-pipe. Such a well, after
supplying a settlement or modest village with water, may be made to fill
a reservoir that will sufficiently irrigate a thousand cultivated acres.
Its water will usually be warmer than though obtained from near the
surface, and hence better adapted to Irrigation.

Of course, the Artesian well is costly, and will not soon be constructed
for uses purely agricultural; but the railroads traversing the Plains
and the Great Basin will sometimes be compelled to resort to one without
having use for a twentieth part of the water they thus entice from the
bowels of the earth; and that which they cannot use they will be glad to
sell for a moderate price, thus creating oases of verdure and bounteous
production. The palpable interest of railroads in dotting their long
lines of desolation with such cheering contrasts of field and meadow and
waving trees, render nowise doubtful their hearty cooperation with any
enterprising pioneer who shall bring the requisite capital, energy,
knowledge, and faith, to the prosecution of the work.

These are but hasty suggestions of methods which will doubtless be
multiplied, varied, and improved upon, in the light of future experience
and study. And when the very best and most effective methods of subduing
the Plains to the uses of civilized man shall have been discovered and
adopted, there will still remain vast areas as free commons for the
herdsmen and sporting-grounds for the hunter of the Elk and the
Antelope, after the Buffalo shall have utterly disappeared.

I do not doubt the assertion of the plainsmen that rain increases as
settlements are multiplied. Crossing the Plains in 1859, I noted
indications that timber had formerly abounded where none now grows; and
I presume that, as young trees are multiplied in the wake of
civilization, finally thickening into clumps of timber and beginning a
forest, more rain will fall, and the extension of woodlands become
comparatively easy. But, relatively to the country eastward of the
Missouri, the Plains will always be arid and thirsty, with a pure,
bracing atmosphere that will form a chief attraction to thousands
suffering from or threatened with pulmonary afflictions. A million of
square miles, whereon is found no single swamp or bog, and not one lake
that withstands the drouth of Summer, can never have a moist climate,
and never fail to realize the need of Irrigation.

The Plains will in time give lessons, which even the well-watered and
verdurous East may read with profit. Such level and thirsty clays as
largely border Lake Champlain, for example, traversed by streams from
mountain ranges on either hand, will not always be owned and cultivated
by men insensible to the profit of Irrigation. Nor will such rich
valleys as those of the Connecticut, the Kennebec, the Susquehanna, be
left to suffer year after year from drouth, while the water which should
refresh them runs idly and uselessly by. Agriculture repels innovation,
and loves the beaten track; but such lessons as New-England has received
in the great drouth of 1870 will not always be given and endured in

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