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"When it rains we are happy. When it does not, we need not he wholly miserable, for we have hundreds of acres susceptible of irrigation at the minimum of expense and labor," —Irrigator, 1885.

The semi-arid character of the Great Plains, long known to stockman and Indians, but denied by land agents, and discredited by eager and hopeful settlers, asserted itself shortly after the first settlements were made, and with unmistakable emphasis. Not an acre of crops was harvested in 1879. The prairie schooners set sail and steered for other parts, and Garden City threatened to dwindle away. A few settlers remained to rake amid the ashes of their ruined hopes. Among them were some men who had learned the methods of irrigation while living in California and Colorado. They wanted to try it here.

The following letter, which was written by G. W. Hollinger, was received by George Finnup in 1922:

"Your letter came duly to hand asking for data concerning the building of the first irrigation ditch.

"Landis and Hollinger had a store of general merchandise at Garden City, with Levi Wilkinson as manager, in 1879. We also put a stock of lumber there with W. H. Armentrout at the head of that enterprise. He conducted the lumber business on the shares. I want to say that both men were all right in every way.

"Our first experience was with a severe drouth, and all early settlers know what that means. I remember very vividly that toward the end of the season we received a doleful letter from Mr. Armentrout stating all facts concerning the situation caused by the drouth; that settlers are very much discouraged and about ready to abandon the country unless we did as suggested by two settlers, one from Colorado, the other from California, who are familiar with irrigating lands and had farmed in that way. So the writer made a trip to Garden City to look the situation over. Went over the ground with Mr. Armentrout about three miles west along the Arkansas river. At that point there was an island in the river, not far from the north shore, where it would not cost much to make a dam and turn the water into a ditch and extend it to Garden City, and then farther east. We figured the expense to make the dam, cut the ditch to Garden City, and a few laterals would cost about seven or eight hundred dollars. We told Mr. Armentrout to go ahead, cut the main ditch and a few laterals. He went to work, put in the dam, cut out the main ditch and a great many more laterals than we first figured on. When we had everything paid for we had invested $2,000 to |2,200. Rufus Holmes, of Sterling, a real estate agent, sold it for us about six months after it was completed to a farmers' organizations. We got all the money out we put in but no more. We built the ditch to hold and encourage the settlers. Some years ago I had a letter from Mr. Hutchinson on this same subject. I told him that if you people intended to build a monument in memory of the first ditch built in Kansas, to build it in memory of Wm. H. Armentrout, as he did the hand work. And again I tell you the same thing."

Mr. D. R. Menke has written concerning the first irrigation ditch:

"The 'Garden City Ditch', which was the first to be constructed in Western Kansas, was built by Mr. W. H. Armentrout the latter part of 1879. The headgate was located on section 16, township 24, range 33, and ran down the valley through section 15, 14, and in section 13. It was then turned loose on the old Santa Fe trail. The first ditch ended at the northeast corner of the Finnup homestead. Later on it was extended to the Dan Larmor land on section 20-24-32. The next year seventeen farmers who Hved along the ditch bought it from Landis and Hollinger, and extended it across the railroad and down toward the Doty farm, and then later to our farm (Menke) northeast of Garden City. It remained in the farmers' hands until the Sugar Company came in, or about 1905. While the farmers owned the ditch they all had equal interest, and paid but a small amount for their original shares. After that no assessments were made except for a superintendent, and all other assessments were for work only. History should show that Armentrout really was the father of irrigation in Western Kansas."

The soil which had produced nothing in the previous summer responded in 1880 to the new method of cultivation with enormous crops of all varieties of products. In quality they surpassed anything previously grown in this region. As these facts became known it was a revelation to the thoroughly disheartened settlers. The Garden City "experiment" became the mecca of students of irrigation throughout the wide territory which had hitherto depended upon uncertain rainfall. The extension of irrigation was urged as the price of prosperity, and at once began a revolution of the industrial methods of the Arkansas Valley region in Western Kansas. Under the irrigation system. Squire Worrell had the model farm of the county in 1882. The editor of the Irrigator, O. H. Knight, published an account of his visit to the farm that summer:

"As we approached Mr. Worrell's house, we were invited to jump out of the buggy for a stroll. We did so, and passed through one of the most beautiful fields of alfalfa (Chilean clover) that we have ever seen. Mr. Worrell informed us that during 1881 he gathered Rvt crops. He estimated the average of his crops last season as follows: Irish potatoes, 400 bushels to the acre; sweet potatoes, 600 bushels to the acre; onions, 600 bushels to the acre; cabbages, 4,000 heads to the acre; melons, 8,000 to the acre; turnips, 1,000 bushels to the acre; and wheat, 20 to 25 bushels to the acre. Mr. Worrell has farmed here two years, having come here from Colorado."

The following history of canal work and irrigation was written by James Craig, who had more to do with the first irrigation canals than any other one man:

"On the strength of what Squire Worrell had done, the Kansas Ditch Company was organized. C. J. Jones, always on the lookout for something to do, took out a charter to construct a ditch from a point on the Arkansas river in section 7, township 24, range 34. We were all poor financially, Jones included. However, a meeting was called to see about constructing a ditch to cover the valley around Sherlock, and east to Garden City. Also the country north of Garden City. It was agreed at the meeting that a survey should be made, and if it was found that water could be brought to the land west of Garden City and north, the farmers would build the ditch for half interest. Jones was to furnish money for the head gates, machinery, etc., for the other half interest. It was also agreed, since money was scarce and tools limited, that we would take turns so that such tools as we had could be kept busy.

"The survey was made for fifteen miles, where the ditch is now located. A branch ditch was surveyed down through Sherlock. It left the main line in section 2, township 24, range 34. When everything was ready, the farmers were reluctant to start work. My neighbor, Isaac Hurst, the best-fixed man financially of any of us, agreed with my brother Bob and myself that we would take the first turn. Having had some experience moving dirt while working on the railroad in Illinois I was somewhat of a boss to the outfit. My team plowed the first furrow where the head gates were to go. Jones held the plow, I drove the team. When we had worked a month others who had promised to take turns refused to do anything.

"We had a meeting with Jones, and it was agreed that Hurst and his boy and brother Bob and I would continue the work for a half interest in the Kansas ditch. The work was started in June, 1880, and was pushed until cold weather stopped us. We began again early in the spring of 1881 and by July of that year we had water to our farms. We continued to operate the Kansas ditch until the summer of 1882, when Jones sold out his interests in the Kansas ditch to Latham Hudson and McCord.

"The ditch was enlarged and the head gates moved west to their present location in Kearny county. I took charge of the construction work, late in the fall of 1882. Brother Bob and I were stockholders until Latham Hudson and Company sold their interests, including ours, to the Pelham, Denney Dewey outfit in 1889. It was operated by them until it went into the hands of the receiver. T. E. Dewey was appointed receiver. It was operated by him until it was bought by the farmers, and it is now known as the Farmers Ditch.

"Prior to the taking over of the ditch it had been leased by Dewey to C. E. Sexon, and had filled up to such extent that when the farmers bought the ditch from the receiver it was necessary to clean out the entire ditch. I was appointed to cross section the ditch and let contract to the water-right holders. During the fall and winter of 1901-02 we took out 100,000 yards of dirt and put in new head-gates. The work was all done under my supervision. "I was chairman of the Farmers Ditch organization when the government conceived the plan, under the reclamation service, of pumping water from the sand of the Arkansas valley. I helped, together with C. A. Schneider, to purchase right-of-ways for the ditch and right-of-ways for the pumping plant at Deerfield. "C. J. Jones, always scheming and ready to promote anything he thought there was money in, took out a charter for what was known as the Minnehaha Ditch. In fact, Jones had a dozen charters for irrigation ditches along the Arkansas river. He surveyed the ditch himself, and did some work for about two miles. He got a little money from the south side people for what he had done. The ditch was taken out on the south bank of the Arkansas in 1880, about two miles west of Lakin. It was abandoned without ever being used.

"The South Side Ditch was taken out on the south bank of the Arkansas river in section 16, township 25, range 37, in Kearny county, opposite Hartland. It was built and operated by C. H. Longstrath for a number of years, representing an Ohio company. Afterwards it was operated by Mr. Linn for the Ohio owners. It was later purchased by the sugar interests of Colorado Springs at the time they were promoting the Sugar Factory at Garden City. It covered all of the valley south of the river to Sherlock, and north of the sand hills.

"The Great Eastern Irrigation Company, another of Jones' charters on the Arkansas river, was conceived by Jones and promoted by him in 1881. He induced a number of business men at Lav^rence, Kansas, to go in v^ith him and construct a canal, starting at a point on the Arkansas river in section 16, township 25, range 37, opposite Hartland. During the summer of 1881, a surveying party from Lav^rence, with F. O. Marvin of the University of Kansas, a professor in the engineering department, in charge of the work. We made several surveys, and finally decided on the present location. Sometime later it was agreed that the Great Eastern Canal should be constructed. I was instructed to cross section the canal and get it ready for construction. In September and October, 1 88 1, we laid out the work about thirty miles. The canal was to cover the valley land west of Lakin, the land south of Deerfield, and from where it turned north just east of Deerfield, and to cover all the land north of Sherlock (Holcomb) for ten miles, and all the land north of the Kansas Ditch.

"In November, 1881, I was instructed to proceed with the work of construction. Fourteen head of mules with harness and other equipment were shipped to me at Garden City from Lawrence, Kansas, November 5, 1881. We moved to Hartland, Kansas. The work was heavy, and we camped all winter on Sand Creek and did most of the heavy work from there. When spring opened up we bought a New Era grader. We pushed the work rapidly and by October, 1882, the work of construction was pretty well along. The summer of 1882 we constructed waste gates and head gates in the canal, also a flume over Sand Creek, west of Lakin. Water was brought through the canal that fall some distance east of Lakin.

"The Canal company had some agreement with the AT&SF. railroad company that they were to receive certain sections of land north of Deerfield, and east of there, when the canal was in a certain state of completion. They did not think the canal was complete enough to warrant their turning the land promised over to the Canal company. In the spring of 1883 I was instructed to turn the canal over to the farmers to operate through the summer. No charges were to be made for the use of the water.

"I was told to take my outfit to the Crooked Creek cattle ranch in Meade county, and to remain there all summer. In September I was ordered to take the outfit back to Lakin and proceed with the work there. I found the farmers had neglected caring for the head-gates and the canal. The head-gates had sunk into the river. New ones had to be constructed and the banks repaired. In 1884 the first water was sold to the farmers. New laterals were built. The Boyd lateral, the Abbot lateral and the Craig lateral. Also the Deerfield lateral, which started just west of Lakin running east and north to the country north of Deerfield.

"I was in charge until the spring of 1886, when I quit and recommended Ed Blankenship for superintendent. He was followed by Percy Russell. It was operated by the Great Eastern Irrigation Company until it was purchased by the Denny Dewey people in 1889. They improved the system and constructed the underflow system at Hartland in 1890, which was a failure. The underflow system was started at the bottom of the main canal, some distance from the river bank. Then running up stream and parallel with the river with a fall of one foot to the mile. The river has an 8-foot fall per mile at this point, so at the end of a mile the underflow canal was seven feet below the river bed. The canal was 20 feet wide on the bottom. About 20 cubic feet per second of water was recovered. The river broke in and the underflow was abandoned.

"Like the Kansas Ditch, which belonged to the same company, it went into the hands of T. E. Dewey as receiver. It was sold to the Sugar Company who improved the ditches and added Lake McKinney to the system in 1906.

"The Amazon Ditch was another of Jones' charters on the Arkansas river. The headgates are located at the Slate Cut about five miles west of Hartland on the north side of the river, and parallel to the Great Eastern Canal for about twenty miles and irrigated the country north of Deerfield. Construction work was started in 1889. At the time the charter was taken out, Jones certainly saw big things. The ditch was intended to cover all the country out as far north as the old town of Terry and as far east as the head of the Pawnee. Some of his ditches are to be found on the high lands northeast of Garden City. Any person should have known that the ditches already constructed and in use added to the ditches in Colorado would take the full flow of the Arkansas river."


During the past fifty years, and especially during the first twenty-five of those years, long periods of drouth were experienced. The effects of dry years in the earlier history of the Southwest were more noticeable than in 

older sections of the country because in the Southwest crops had not been developed that were suitable to an arid climate. More adaptable crops and varieties of crops have been developed in recent years, and more efficient and timely farming practices have come into use; these offset in a measure the effects of periods of dry weather.

Irrigation was the first remedy applied in the Southwest to overcome the effects of lack of rainfall, and after years of experimental work on the part of the earlier farmers, efficient and economical means of pumping water from underground sources of water have been developed. Large areas of Southwestern Kansas are underlaid with streams and other underground bodies of water at comparatively shallow depths. This is particularly true in the Arkansas valley in this part of the state, where water is found at various depths from eight to sixty feet. In many localities there are several underground strata of water-bearing gravel, one below the other. Water is lifted from this supply of underground water which flows down from the mountains of Colorado, by centrifugal or turbine pumps. Most of these pumps are operated by electric motors, but in places where electricity is not available other kinds of power are used. In some places water is lifted more than loo feet for irrigation with these pumps, but the shallower the "lift" the less power required to obtain the same amount of water. There are many such pumping plants in the Arkansas valley between Dodge City and Syracuse which pump from 1,500 to 2,000 gallons of water a minute. Some pump as much as 4,000 to 5,000 gallons per minute, and these larger plants will furnish enough water to irrigate from 320 to 640 acres of land a year, depending on the type of soil and the kind of crop raised.

While the cost of irrigation from pumping plants is generally greater than it is under a ditch taking water by gravity flow from a river or reservoir filled from a river, the certainly of being able to get water whenever it is needed by the owner of the pumping plant is valuable and enables him to grow more abundant crops as a rule, than if he depended on river water which is not always available.

Dams have been built in a number of the smaller streams in Southwestern Kansas to store water for irrigation. Pawnee creek has several of these dams. Pumping plants are sometimes used to lift the water from the creeks to the higher land in the valleys. Gardens are irrigated on many Western Kansas farms from small reservoirs which are filled from windmills or engines.

In 1905 the government undertook to put in a pump irrigation system near Deerfield to supply water for the Farmers Ditch (the old Kansas Ditch). A series of twenty shallow wells, each with an individual motor and pump, was put across the Arkansas valley. They pumped the water into the Farmers Ditch. There was no lack of water, but the expense, under government operation proved too great, and the project was abandoned after a few years. Now the Farmers Ditch takes water directly from the Arkansas river. Some of the best improved and most productive farms in this part of the state are under this ditch.

Among the pioneers in the development of pumping plants for irrigation in Western Kansas were the Carter Brothers. In 1889 W. O. Carter and E. N. Cause put in a pumping plant in the southwest corner of Stevens park in Garden City. A windmill was used for power and a suction pump with a five-inch cylinder was used. Later a suction pump with a ten-inch cylinder was used. Gasoline engines were the next step in the development of power, and now most plants in the western part are run by electric motors. S. Schulman, an early day settler in

Western Kansas, was also closely identified with the development of practical irrigation systems in this part of the Arkansas Valley. Many plants now in use were installed by Mr. Schulman.

The largest pumping plant installed by Carter Brothers is on section 8-24-33. This plant has a capacity of 5,000 gallons a minute. I. L. Diesem bought the first commercial job installed by Carter Brothers. Other early users of pumping plants were T. J. Dyke, Ed Hall, Lee Doty, father of D. D. Doty, and Bob Grace.

It is estimated that more than 400,000 acres of shallow water land suitable for pump irrigation surrounds Garden City.