History of Green River Supply Canal
by Jonita Sommers
Manifest Destiny was the beginning of the settlement of the land
west of the Mississippi River. The Pre-emption Act of 1841 and later
amendments entitled citizens or those who had expressed their intention
to become citizens to squat on public land surveyed or unsurveyed, until
it was put up for sale when they had first chance to buy up to 160 acres
at $1.25 per acre. The patent was issued under the Land Purchase
Act of 1820 not the Pre-emption Act. The Homestead Act of 1862 had
a profound effect on the legal right to own the land in the West and Wyoming.
The Homestead Act stated any person who was the head of a family or had
arrived at the age of 21, was a citizen of the United States or had filed
his papers and who had never borne arms against the United States government
or given aid and comforted its enemies, was entitled entry up to 160 acres
of appropriated public lands. After six months and later fourteen
months, he could buy for $1.25 per acre and avoid further residence and
Another act that had an effect on the settlement of the Green River
Valley was the Desert Land Act of 1877. The Desert Land Act stated
one could buy up to 640 acres of desert land (land that could not be cultivated
without irrigation). For 25 cents an acre, the land could be occupied
for three years after which an additional one dollar per acre had to be
paid to gain title. Meanwhile, water must be delivered to the desert
land filing and part of it irrigated before a patent could be obtained.
The Carey Act of 1894, which was written by Senator Joseph M. Carey of
Wyoming, was designed to supply federal and state aid to irrigation projects.
It was an amendment to the Desert land Act of 1877. The Carey Act
provided for donation by the federal government of up to one million acres
of arid lands to each state having such lands on condition that the state
cause the lands to be reclaimed and settled by actual settlers on small
tracts. Wyoming was the first state to accept the federal governments’
offer under the act.
Because of the arid land in the west, the land had to be irrigated
to raise crops. Wyoming’s first territorial surface water law was
passed in 1875. In 1887, Mr. McCrea developed an irrigation project
downstream on the Little Powder River, and it was partly supplied by Moyer’s
spring. With Moyer’s development, McCrea’s ditch was now short of
water and the resulting argument climbed into the Wyoming State Supreme
Court. The court said the first to use the water had the first right
and it ruled against Moyer. This went along with what Territorial
Engineer Mead had been saying. Elwood Mead had become Territorial
Engineer of Wyoming in April 1888. Mead had been Professor of Irrigation
Engineering in Colorado Agricultural College until this. He remained
the Wyoming State Engineer until 1899. Mead knew there had to be
a fair and equitable way to administer the shortage of water, and his method
was to let the earlier developer have the better right to water, which
was called the priority system. The amount of any right must be affirmed
by a state agent and based on the amount put to “beneficial use.”
A “Board of Controls” rather than a water court system settled water disputes.
Wyoming water rights were considered property rights and attached to the
land. They could only be transferred in use or location after careful
review of the Board of Controls, which was made up of the four water division
superintendents and State Engineer. Mead’s setup to handle water
in Wyoming was used in most states of the American West as well as Australia,
New Zealand, South Africa and Canada. Mead opposed federal government
involvement in irrigation and felt the states were better qualified to
regulate other than building large reservoirs for stream regulation.
Mead did formulate the states participation under the Carey Act.
Wyoming water law was written into the Wyoming state constitution when
Wyoming became a state in 1890.
The Green River Supply Canal was a product of the Carey Act.
The Green River Development Company first became a reality on April 16,
1893 when T. Seddon Taliaferro, Jr., Thomas J. Wyche and John H. Gilligan
of Green River, Wyoming incorporated the company, which was worth $20,000
and would last fifty years. The next written record found on August
18, 1906 stated W.N. Gibb did the survey of the Main Canal of the Green
River Canal commenced, and the survey of the South Fork was finished on
November 20, 1907. G.B. Howard had a quit-claim deed to apply for
a permit to divert and appropriate water through the Green River Canal
for 122,380 acres in Uinta and Sweetwater counties. The Green River
Land and Irrigation Company, Ltd. was organized in Idaho on April 9, 1908.
The articles of incorporation were filed in Wyoming and the company planned
on reclaiming 75, 257.44 acres of land. The names of the directors
of the company were as follow:
President – James N. Hanrahan of Darlington, Idaho
Vice President – W.N. Gibb of Boise, Idaho
Secretary/Treasurer – Arthur P. Adair of Boise, Idaho
Director – William B. Davidson of Boise, Idaho
Director – P.B. Earle of Boise, Idaho
The amount for authorized capital stock was $2,500,000. The estimated
cost for the canal was $1,800,000 because they hoped to eventually irrigate
117,709 acres of land. The ditch would be 88 miles long. C.B.
Howard filed a permit on November 26, 1906 for an application for a permit
to divert and appropriate the water of the State of Wyoming from the Green
River Canal. W.H. Taylor of Cheyenne, Wyoming filed on water rights
for 1666 acres of land that would come out of the Green River Supply Canal
on December 28, 1910. The ditch was to be forty miles long with 12,627.17
acres to eventually be irrigated. The estimated cost was $80,000.00.
The time for completion was extended to December 31, 1915 from October
31, 1911. The Green River Canal would have a diversion dam and head
gate. There would be six flumes as follow:
1) Bench flume 2500 feet long
2) Slate Creek flume 130 feet long
3) 200 foot flume
4) 80 foot flume
5) 70 foot flume
6) 80 foot flume
There would be the following five syphons:
1) Fontenelle Creek syphon 60 feet long
2) Robinson Lateral 70 feet long
3) Fontenelle Ditch 70 feet long
4) Dead Man’s Draw 950 feet long
5) Station 1992-2229 1050 feet long
There would also be twelve highway bridges constructed over the canal.
Spencer Trask and Company of New York was asked to manage the
sale of the canal bonds. They did not think the grains and grasses
could be raised profitable at the altitude on the recommendation of J.G.
White and Company and Engineer Guy Sterling of Salt Lake. It was
stated Engineer Sterling did not think anything could be grown in the state
of Wyoming. The Green River Land and Irrigation Company then asked
Arnold and Company to take over the sale of bonds. Mr. Adair said
Arnold and Company refused and the Green River Land and Irrigation Company
should relinquish their rights and interest in the Wyoming water.
On November 25, 1910, the Green River Land and Irrigation Company’s bond
was cancelled, so on February 14, 1914 they relinquished all the rights
to the water. At the time of relinquishing the rights of the canal
J.R. Carpenter was president of Green River Land and Irrigation Company
with W.W. Busselle as secretary. A.R. Carpenter was also a director.
J. A. Whiting of Cheyenne filed on a water right out of Cottonwood
Creek for the Cottonwood Canal on December 30, 1908. This was under
the Uinta County Irrigation Company, which was formed on January 18, 1909
in Kansas City, Missouri. The seven directors were as follow:
W.H. Taylor – president and agent in charge
William Chalfant – secretary
Samuel S. Herman
The company was formed to acquire and own water rights within the State
of Wyoming for irrigation, stock, domestic and power purposes; the selling
of perpetual water rights; the buying and selling of real estate; the construction,
operation and maintenance of canals, ditches and sub-laterals, dams and
reservoirs. The capital stock of the company would be one million
dollars, and the company would be in existence for fifty years. The
Uinta County Irrigation Company put out a 42-page booklet telling how wonderful
it would be to buy land and grow crops in the Green River Basin of Wyoming.
Notice was received that 2.5 miles of the 5.7-mile canal had been constructed
on October 8, 1910. The estimated cost of the ditch was $30,000 for
irrigating 21,290.25 acres. J.E. Maxwell, president of the Uinta
County Irrigation Company and from Kansas City, Missouri, filed on water
rights out of Cottonwood Creek on December 31, 1910 for the Cottonwood
Canal. The ditch was to be 10 miles long. The construction
of the Cottonwood Canal took place in the winter and spring of 1911.
Water was carried through the canal in June of 1911 and crops were grown
with the water. On May 21, 1912, there was an application to the
State Engineer to divert water from Cottonwood Creek through the Cottonwood
Ditch. By December 4, 1913, 5.7 miles of the Cottonwood Canal were
completed and it was diverting water from North and South Cottonwood and
South Horse Creeks. Eventually the Cottonwood Canal was to irrigate
11,574.85 acres of land.
The application to divert water from North Piney Creek to the North
Piney Canal was filed on June 13, 1914. Extensions were approved
for completing the North Piney Canal and Muddy Canal until December 31,
1914 and December 31, 1915. An extension was approved for the Taylor
Reservoir and North Piney Lake Reservoir until December 31, 1915, but the
Uinta County Irrigation Company was denied an extension in 1916.
The North Piney Canal was completed so water could be diverted from North
Piney Creek on January 29, 1916. An application was filed on January
27, 1916 to amend the Meadow Canyon Ditch to transfer to North Piney Canal
without loss of priority rights. These water rights involved John
C. and Josephine Budd, Joseph W. McClintock and Delia Daniels.
By 1915, the directors of the Uinta County Irrigation Company had changed
J.E. Maxwell – president and resident agent
John D. Clark – resident agent as of September 24, 1915
William L. Maxwell - secretary
Helena Linn wrote the following information in The Sublette County
Journal, August 26, 1999: “A full-page ad about the Uinta County
Irrigation Company appeared in the Marbleton Republican on August 20, 1913.
It announced that 4,000 acres of land in Uinta County (now Sublette County)
would be opened for settlement in conjunction with the construction of
the canals. The ad cited lands "lying under and irrigatable from
the irrigation system known as the Big Piney Canal system and particularly
under the North Piney Canal in the County of Uinta." The company
claimed that it had "acquired its water rights under the North and South
Cottonwood Creeks, South Horse Creek, Muddy Creek, North Piney Creek, and
Green River, all flowing through and adjacent to the Green River Basin."
It further stated that the Cottonwood Canal (leading from the Green River
south of Daniel to the Piney cutoff) was already completed, and that the
North Piney Canal (east of Highway 189) was under construction. In
reality, the Cottonwood Canal had not yet been completed as the company
The company then sent its agent, Mr. Herman,
to the mid-western and southern states to promote the project. He
told prospective settlers they could buy an 80 or 160-acre farm by paying
from $25 to $35 an acre for a perpetual water right, which was equal to
title to the land. This sum also assured them a proportionate interest
in the irrigation system. To make an entry, they would be required
to pay $3 per acre cash for the $25 land and $5 per acre cash for the $35
land, with the balance divided into ten equal annual payments at 6% interest.
They also were to pay 25 cents per acre to the state when they make an
entry, and 25 cents per acre when they made final proof, which could be
done anytime within three years.
Farmers were assured that the Green River
Basin lands were of a dark sandy loam covered by big, sound, healthy sagebrush,
and were sure to be fertile, and that the lands would not have been opened
up if they weren't up to national and state government standards.
"In ten years time, under the Uinta County Irrigation Company's method,"
the company promised, "you would be a comparatively rich man."
Mr. Herman convinced several families in Burlingame,
Kansas, to seek a better life in Sublette County along one of the new canals.
Ira C. Hakes and his family, the Shipley brothers, the Fisher family, and
Carl Craft, were among the discouraged farmers who decided to risk that
Mr. Herman was right.
Among the first to arrive in Sublette County
were J.E. Roberts, E.O. Martin, and Dan R. Storemont from Oklahoma.
Dr. Perkins came from Missouri, "well equipped with implement and work
stock." Mr. and Mrs. George Wilson, from Dearborn, Missouri, brought
with them a "carload of effects, such as cows, pigs, chickens, and several
splendid teams, and are thoro farmers," according to the April 13, 1913
issue of the Big Piney Examiner.
Over the next year, the Examiner and the Republican
printed many news items, referring to people who took up land on the ditch
project. In one, "Johnnie Matthews and Chas. Rathbun brought a number
of land hungry home seekers up from the road (Opal and the railway) to
view the lands." In another item, the family of C.W. Carlson had
moved into their new home built under the Cottonwood Canal. Mr. Carlson
had one of the best crops of oats in the valley, convincing him he came
to the right country to settle.
It soon became apparent to the settlers, however,
that they had ventured into a project that was doomed to fail. Because
the Uinta County Irrigation Company was unable to complete the canal system,
within a couple of years the settlers found they were trying to live on
unproductive land with no irrigation water and a very short growing season.
Perhaps what proved to be the company's least conceivable claim was, "Within
the coming year, we expect a railroad to be built within thirty miles of
the Uinta County Irrigation Company's lands."
Further, the irrigation company had
been unable to acquire all the right-of-ways through private property.
Therefore the water, which meant to give life to the land, legally was
unavailable to the settlers. Work on the Cottonwood Canal was halted
as the ill-fated project began to fall apart.
By February, 1915, people were beginning to
leave a country they had hoped to love. The Big Piney Examiner reported
"Mr. and Mrs. Dan Storemont will leave for Oklahoma, having sold all of
their household goods and livestock the past week." Cottonwood Land
and Livestock, managed by settler Wm. E. Carlin, was selling its cattle
and hay to T.D. O’Neil. And though Mr. Carlin had made his own desert
land entry in 1911 and filed his notice of intention to make final proof
in 1914, he wrote in 1915 to ask that the Examiner be sent to Los Angeles,
which was now his permanent address.
An Examiner ad for roller skating at the Auditorium
in Marbleton showed that proprietor Frank Shipley had turned to other enterprises.
He already had started a brick kiln. Mr. Shipley's wife died a few
years after they applied for land on the project. He remarried and
spent the rest of his life contracting and ranching in the Big Piney area.
Some of the houses built by the farmers in
the settlement were abandoned; others were moved. The Gilhausen house
was moved into Big Piney and became the home of George and Elaine Moffat.
The Roberts house was moved into Marbleton where the family continued to
live for several years. Joe Murdock and Caryn Bing remember that
their family bought and moved one of the houses to use as a ranch bunkhouse.
Another went to the Wardell Ranch.
Among the settlers making a decision to stay
in the area were the families of Addison Moffat, George and Mabel Wilson,
and Dr. Perkins. They all had filed on land in Meadow Canyon where
they were able to irrigate the land. Bill (Mother) Williams worked
on ranches and rode for the cattlemen's associations, earning a reputation
as a good cook and pro card player. Charles Fultz settled on Cottonwood.
Roxie McClintock, who lived on the Gutherie Place, cooked for the roundups
- a fantastic dutch oven cook according to Gordon Mickelson.
The Hakes' daughter, Opal, married Bill Ray.
Mr. and Mrs. Hakes moved to Washington, but Opal and Bill remained and
raised their family. Effie Stout married Sylvester Griggs, who had
a garage and managed the electric company in Big Piney for many years.
George Moffat served as cashier and officer of the State Bank of Big Piney.
Grace Moffat met and married Joe Sage, who had ridden into the country
on horseback from Encampment. They raised their family on land that
they bought from Floyd Norris at the edge of Marbleton. Mabel Wilson
married Gus Erickson after George died and operated Erickson's Cafe for
a long time. Hank Beecher, the company's agent, took up his own land.
The other agent, Mr. Herman, stayed in the area for several years.
On November 22, 1915, the Big Piney Examiner
published the notice that the Uinta County Irrigation Company, with all
property, rights, titles, and interests, would be offered for sale to the
Whether or not the irrigation project was
a land scam, or built on a shaky foundation with the best of intentions,
will never be known.” The following families were some of the people
who came to the Green River Valley to homestead because of this irrigation
project: Shipleys and their friends the Milhousings, Hakes who were
Maicelle Carr’s grandparents, King’s, Mother Williams, Joe Sage, George
Linn who was Lois McNinch’s father, “Tan” Jones and their relatives the
Means, and Effie Brigg’s family, the Stouts.
John E. Lloyd of Cheyenne filed for the Cottonwood Development
Company an enlargement of the Green River Supply Canal out of the Green
River on March 22, 1910. The ditch was supposed to be thirty miles
long to irrigate 13, 627.17 acres. The estimated cost of the enlargement
was $2000, and it was estimated to take five years. The Cottonwood Development
Company was reorganized on April 24, 1916 at the First National Bank Building
in Cheyenne, Wyoming. John D. Clark was the president with Thomas
Hunter the secretary and Lloyd C. Sampson was the director. The purpose
of the company was to construct, enlarge, purchase and acquire irrigation
ditches and canals. The capital stock was $200,000. On March
17, the Green River Supply Canal was assigned to the Cottonwood Development
Company. The head gate and land description was amended on March
9, 1921. By 1921, E.E. McKee was the president of the Cottonwood
Development Company and W.G. Carpenter was the secretary. W.G. Carpenter
of St. Louis, Missouri filed for a second enlargement to the Green River
Supply Canal on January 19, 1921. The ditch is now to be 51 miles
long to irrigate 22,303.08 acres of land. The enlargement was to
cost $4000 and be done in five years. As of 1922, the owners of the
company were James W. Doyle, Edward E. McKee, ETAL. John E. Lloyd
was hired as engineer on July 11, 1922. On April 28, 1923, John D.
Clark resigned as resident agent of the Cottonwood Development Company.
The directors changed as follow on March 8, 1923:
J.W. Doyle – President
Daniel Burkey – Secretary
D. Huery Haggarck of Cheyenne – resident agent
Hank Beecher was the foreman of the crew building the canal, and Lil
Luster, May Sommers’ aunt, cooked for the crew. The Cottonwood Development
Company was the one who used the dredge boat to build the canal.
Elaine Moffat rode the dredge boat from the road to the river valley, so
she only had to walk a mile or two to reach Alex Price’s ranch where she
taught school for the first time. In 1923, J.W. Doyle was the secretary
and general manager of the company. He wrote a letter to A.P. Sommers
saying they would remove the material from the Soaphole Ditch that was
put in it when the Green River Supply Canal was constructed. On April
23, 1923, the Department of Interior withdrew 75,561.45 acres of land and
this expired April 23, 1924. The state had thirty days to show cause
why its withdrawal list should not be cancelled for expiration. A.P.
Sommers filed for $4608.32 damages and court costs in Third Judicial District
Court against the Cottonwood Development Company on July 31, 1924.
The canal ran water in it from 1923 through 1926. The Cottonwood
Development Company acquired the Cottonwood Canal on September 30, 1925,
which was J.E. Maxwell’s water right of the Uinta County Irrigation Company.
The Green River Development Company was revoked on July 19, 1927, and the
Cottonwood Development Company was revoked on May 15, 1929.
There was a proposal and plans for a Big Piney Supply Canal.
It was to be 16.4 miles long. The waters of South Horse Creek were
to be carried to north Cottonwood Creek and go down to the head gate of
the Cottonwood Canal. This canal was to take water form South Horse
Creek, North Cottonwood Creek, Killpecker Creek and South Cottonwood Creek.
The Green River Supply Canal took the place of the Big Piney Supply canal
from Horse Creek as of December 2, 1913.
John Hay began acquisition of the Green River Supply Canal on
August 7, 1928, and the acquisition of the Cottonwood Canal on September
30, 1931 by paying back taxes on the canal. John W. Hay payed $285.08
back taxes for 1923 on the Green River Supply Canal on October 5, 1928.
On July 24, 1924, the Sublette County Treasurer held a sale of the canal
at the County Court House. On August 1, 1927, the Cottonwood Development
Company, with William H. Allen as the trustee, filed for bankruptcy.
John Hay acquired complete ownership of the Green River Supply Canal in
1931. John and Mary Hay turned the canal over to the Green River
Development Company on September 2, 1936. The Green River Development
Company’s Certificate of Incorporation was notarized on November 28, 1932.
The object of the company was to construct, own, operate and purchase ditches,
canals and other irrigation works to reclaim and irrigate land under the
provisions of Article 7, 1931 Wyoming Revised Statures, known as the “Carey
Act.” The capital stock was $50,000. The directors the first
year were John W. Hay, John W. Hay, Jr. and George W. Hegewald. The
corporation was located in Rock Springs.
On December 11, 1948, Jim Mickelson of Big Piney acquired the Green
River Development Company and finished the construction of the canal.
He had water running in the canal again when reached the Big Piney Cutoff
by 1956. Some of the people who filed on land under this canal were
the Marincics, Jewetts, Kidds, Thompsons, Greenwoods, Smiths, Dapras, Mickelsons,
Gilchrists, Wrights, and McWilliams. There were improvements made
to the canal and land filed on under the Carey Act until 1980. The
Department of Interior pulled much of the land so it could not be filed
on and developed. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department did not want
the land to be developed. This made the project so it was not feasible
to make money. The federal government in 1996 terminated the Carey Act.
A petition was filed on December 27, 1977 and George L. Christopulos
in the matter of the Green River Development Company changing four permits
from irrigation to steam power plant purpose and for change of point of
diversion from Green River Supply Canal and Cottonwood Canal to Jim Bridger
Power Plant on August 28, 1978 in Pinedale. It was ruled only the
consumptive use water, water that it actually took to irrigate the cultivated
land, could be sold. This lawsuit went clear to the Supreme Court.
They ruled that unappropriated water permits could not be sold or approved
for change of use and diversion by the State Engineer. It appears
the state legislature passed laws later to make some of this possible.
This was not the amount of water the power plant wanted, so the sale did
not proceed. After the lawsuit, 6615.85 acres remained in the permit
and 4959 acres were eliminated because they were not adjudicated.
There has been other land eliminated through 1994.
In 1985, the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court ruled the Green River
Supply Canal would become a state entity and no longer privately owned.
It became the Green River Irrigation District. On June 18, 2002,
a study was started to examine enlarging the canal through a contract with
the Wyoming Water Development Commission. The 2002 Wyoming Legislature
allocated $200,000 for the study of a Rehabilitation Program at Level II
for 6487.6 acres, which are irrigated, from the Cottonwood Creek and Green
River with 92.67 cfs. The canal is suppose to carry 93 cfs, but cannot
do this for 42 property owners. The Nelson Engineering Company of
Jackson was doing the work on the two-year study to examine seepage, conveyance,
delivery and erosion problems in the 39.95-mile ditch. We will see
where this new study and work on the canal takes it. The canal did
not reach its initial length of 88 miles, but it is an extensive water
system with many problems. It will be interesting to see its history
in the next one hundred years. Can it improve or not?
Sublette County Artists’ Guild
August 7, 2003