Water history is the subject of the Explore History – Sheridan Media program


The Powder River near Arvada

The Sheridan Community Land Trust’s Explore History program, in conjunction with the Hub on Smith, held its February program at the WYO on February 8. Historic program manager Carrie Edinger said the move to the WYO was made because of the programs’ popularity, saying they outgrow the Hub Dining Hall.

Edinger presented this month’s program titled, The story of water in semi-arid southeastern Sheridan County. Edinger presented his program this way,

Edinger added that in the late 1800s, Native Americans began to feel the impact of westward expansion. During the California Gold Rush, many travelers passed through Wyoming and competed with Native Americans for natural resources. This caused a lot of tension between the two groups.

On September 8, 1851, the U.S. Indian Commissioner called a large rally at Fort Laramie to allocate territories to each tribe, help keep the peace, and give each tribe its own hunting ground. This treaty, called the Treaty of Horse Creek, was moved from Fort Laramie to the mouth of Horses Creek, 30 miles away, because there was not enough pasture for all the horses of the different tribes.

Indian land bordered by streams

The treaty used existing rivers as boundaries for the 38 million acres of land set aside for the tribes. The Power River became the boundary between the Lakota and the Crow. The Power River, Yellowstone, Twenty-Five Yard Creek, and Mussel Shell River formed some of the boundaries.

The Crow’s name referred to a time when a war party was caught in a snowstorm near Power River and some froze to death.

In the mid-1800s, white settlers in the Wyoming Territory claimed water on a first-come, first-served basis, and the Territorial government began writing down the people’s water claims. But that didn’t stop people from arguing over water, and disputes went to court.

In 1888, Elwood Mead was hired as Wyoming’s territorial engineer. He came from Indiana, where the problem was often too much water, unlike Wyoming where there was rarely enough. He worked for a time on the range front in Colorado, researching water rights issues there.

When he arrived in Wyoming, he had to figure out what claims were on the Wyoming books. He had the idea that no one could claim water without a permit. They created a council to listen to disputes rather than the courts. Water laws were enacted in the Wyoming constitution in 1890.

Edinger also spoke of the Pratt and Ferris Cattle Company, which was instrumental in creating some of the first irrigation ditches in southeastern Sheridan County in 1884. In the beginning, Pratt and Ferris was a business of freight, and in 1879 the company began raising cattle. in the Clearmont-Ucross area along Clear Creek. One of Pratt and Ferries’ companies supplied beef to Indian forts and agencies.

Desmet Lake

Some of the partners in the Pratt and Ferris Company were James H. Pratt, Cornelius Ferris, and Marshall Field, who later opened the Fields department store in Chicago. Levi Leiter, who was a well-known rancher in the Clearmont area, was Field’s senior partner in the dry goods store in 1865. Leiter then sold his share to Field, but it was through this connection that Leiter came to invest in the Pratt and Ferris cattle company. In 1898, Pratt and Leiter bought out the rest of the investors. These men were American entrepreneurs of the time, and Field was one of the wealthiest men in Chicago and the United States.

Edger talks about the irrigation project that Leiter started in the Clear Creek Valley.

In 1897 and 1898 Leiter attempted to corner the wheat market and was briefly the largest individual holder of wheat in the history of the grain trade, action taken against him by his competitors and they broke his corner in this market.

At one time, Leiter’s estate extended from the Johnson County line near Ucross, east of Leiter. The estate installed the concrete grain elevators along Highway 14-16. In 1904, when LZ Leiter died, the value of the estate was between 50 and 100 million dollars. Leiter’s children sued the estate, and the litigation ultimately lasted eight years and cost millions of dollars.

Joseph Leiter, LZ’s son, continued to be part of the Clear Creek Valley, working on irrigation and agriculture instead of ranching. One of the crops that was grown for years in the valley was sugar beets. Edinger explained,

Many Volga German families emigrated from Russia, where Catherine the Great had then invited the Volga to farm in the 1760s. In the late 1800s, many immigrated to America, where they retained their language and customs German. Many of these farmers settled along the Clear Creek Valley and began growing sugar beets. Edinger added that planting, thinning and harvesting beets requires a lot of manual labor. She also said that during the World Wars, many German farmers suffered prejudice from other residents of the region.

Edinger’s program demonstrated how water, from Native American river boundaries to water rights and irrigation projects, has affected the history and landscapes of Sheridan County.

Jessica C. Bell