"Results of Dry Farming Under The Direction of Dr. V. T. Cooke, Near Cheyenne, Wyo.," 1906
And at the same time as developers were promoting irrigation, other efforts at bringing prosperity to
the state were made by the promise of agricultural development using
"dry farming." In 1906, John L. Cowan published his Dry Farming -- The Hope of the West, A Method of Producing Bountiful Crops Without
Irrigation in Semi-Arid Regions. Thus, Gov. B. B. Brooks chaired a Dry Farming Congress in Cheyenne in 1909. Notwithstanding, that
a snow storm reduced expected attendance, some 500 delegates were present. The following
year, another congress was held in Spokane under the chairmanship of Wyoming Congressman Frank
W. Mondell. Congressman Mondell had, himself, successfully utilized dry farming methods near Newcastle for five years.
Indeed, Professor of Botony and later president of the University of
Wyoming Aven Nelson joined the band wagon. In 1911, Dr. Nelson told an assemblage in
Cheyenne that with farming as the "backbone of our prosperity," the state might attain a population as much as
"two millions of people." There were some naysayers such as Bill Nye, publisher of Laramie Daily Boomerang, who earlier wrote,
Unless the yield this fall of most agates and prickly pears should be unusually large,
the agricultural export will be far below preceeding years, and
there may be actual suffering. I do not wish to discourage those who might
wish to come to this place but the soil is quite course, and the agriculturist,
before he can even begin with any prospect of sucess, must run his farm
through a stamp-mill in order to make it sufficiently mellow.
Dry Farming Exhibit, Wyoming State Fair, Douglas, 1908
The historical premise for dry farming was explained by a Utah proponent Dr.
John A. Widstoe in his Dry-Farming, A System of Agriculture for Countries Under Low Rainfall, The
Macmillan Company, New York, 1920:
The great nations of antiquity lived and prospered in arid and semiarid
countries. In the more or less rainless regions of China, Mesopotamia,
Palestine, Egypt, Mexico, and Peru, the greatest cities and the mightiest
peoples flourished in ancient days. Of the great civilizations of history
only that of Europe has rooted in a humid climate. As Hilgard has suggested,
history teaches that a high civilization goes hand in hand with a soil that
thirsts for water. To-day, current events point to the arid and semiarid
regions as the chief dependence of our modern civilization.
In view of these facts it may be inferred that dry-farming is an ancient
practice. It is improbable that intelligent men and women could live in
Mesopotamia, for example, for thousands of years without discovering methods
whereby the fertile soils could be made to produce crops in a small degree
at least without irrigation. True, the low development of implements for
soil culture makes it fairly certain that dry-farming in those days was
practiced only with infinite labor and patience; and that the great ancient
nations found it much easier to construct great irrigation systems which
would make crops certain with a minimum of soil tillage, than so thoroughly
to till the soil with imperfect implements as to produce certain yields
without irrigation. Thus is explained the fact that the historians of
antiquity speak at length of the wonderful irrigation systems, but refer to
other forms of agriculture in a most casual manner. While the absence of
agricultural machinery makes it very doubtful whether dry-farming was
practiced extensively in olden days, yet there can be little doubt of the
high antiquity of the practice.
Kearney quotes Tunis as an example of the possible extent of dry-farming
in early historical days. Tunis is under an average rainfall of about nine
inches, and there are no evidences of irrigation having been practiced
there, yet at El Djem are the ruins of an amphitheater large enough to
accommodate sixty thousand persons, and in an area of one hundred square
miles there were fifteen towns and forty-five villages. The country,
therefore, must have been densely populated. In the seventh century,
according to the Roman records, there were two million five hundred
thousand acres of olive trees growing in Tunis and cultivated without
irrigation. That these stupendous groves yielded well is indicated by the
statement that, under the Caesar's Tunis was taxed three hundred thousand
gallons of olive oil annually. The production of oil was so great that from
one town it was piped to the nearest shipping port. This historical fact is
borne out by the present revival of olive culture in Tunis, mentioned in
Moreover, many of the primitive peoples of to-day, the Chinese, Hindus,
Mexicans, and the American Indians, are cultivating large areas of land by
dry-farm methods, often highly perfected, which have been developed
generations ago, and have been handed down to the present day. Martin
relates that the Tarahumari Indians of northern Chihuahua, who are among
the most thriving aboriginal tribes of northern Mexico, till the soil by
dry-farm methods and succeed in raising annually large quantities of corn
and other crops. A crop failure among them is very uncommon. The early
American explorers, especially the Catholic fathers, found occasional
tribes in various parts of America cultivating the soil successfully
without irrigation. All this points to the high antiquity of agriculture
without irrigation in arid and semiarid countries.
Dry Farming corn, near Laramie, 1906
The Agricultural Experiment Station confidently predicted that with dry farming one-fourth
the state could be profitably farmed on a regular basis and that half of the remainder of the state
could be profitably farmed without irrigation in a majority of seasons. Dry farming rested on the
premise that with deep plowing and harrowing of the soil after rain, that the
water would be stored for use of the crops. The problem, according to the "experts" such as
Dr. V. T. Cooke, was not lack of
rain, but with evaporation. Dr. Cooke was brought in from Oregon by Cheyenne businessmen to
promote the benefits of dry farming.
Dry Farming wheat Christensen Ranch, 1906.
The enthusiasm for dry farming was in partial reaction to a paper on the subject written by the
State Engineer Clarence J. Johnston. John L. Cowan explained:
[T]he members of the Young Men's Club of Cheyenne, Wyoming, listened to the
reading of a paper on the subject of dry farming by State Engineer Clarence J. Johnston. A project was at
once set on foot for the opening of a demonstration farm on waste lands near the city, supposed to be
entirely worthless without irrigation. The farm was put in charge of
Mr. F. C. Herman of the Irrigation and Drainage Bureau of the United States Department of
Agriculture. Last season record breaking crops of corn, otatoes, peas, oats, and garden
vegetables were grown on those "waste" lands. Winter wheat, rye, alfalfa, and barley were
also sown. Within ten days the grain was ten inches high, covering with a perfect carpet of green
the land that had been considered incapable of raising anything.
Dry Farming Potatoes, 1906.
With numerous books and magazine articles being written, publicity given by dry farming congresses,
reports from agrricultural experiment stations, and promotion by railroads, a wave of homesteading
spread across the northern plains, the Dakotas,
Montana, and Wyoming. The railroads, of course, needed a population to serve and were to a great
extent a real estate sales operation. Brochures were distributed across eastern Europe and the
immigrants came. In some areas, derision greated the new settlers. The 160 acres was, in many instances,
too small for effective dry farming. In some areas the new dryfarm settlers were called "honyockers,"
pronounced "hawnyawkers," drerived from the German huhn jäger, hen hunter, a chicken chaser.
In her 1912 novel, The Lady Doc, Cody writer Caroline Lockhart described the coming of the homesteaders to her
fictional town of "Crowheart":
They came in prairie schooners, travel-stained and
weary, their horses thin and jaded from the long,
heavy pull across the sandy trail of the sagebrush
desert. With funds barely sufficient for horse feed
and a few weeks' provisions, they came without definite
knowledge of conditions or plans. A rumor
had reached them back there in Minnesota or Iowa,
Nebraska or Missouri, of the opportunities in this new
country and, anyway, they wanted to move—where
was not a matter of great moment. Others came by
rail, all bearing the earmarks of straitened circumstances,
and few of them with any but the most
vague ideas as to what they had come for beyond the
universal expectation of getting rich, somehow, somewhere,
some time. They were poor alike, and the first
efforts of the head of each household were spent in
the construction of a place of shelter for himself and
family. The makeshifts of poverty were seldom if
ever the subject of ridicule or comment, for most
had a sympathetic understanding of the emergencies
which made them necessary. Kindness, helpfulness,
good-fellowship were in the air.
Dry Farm Cabin, 1912
As noted with regard to the Tallmadge and
Buntin Land Co. on the preceding page, a drought hit the state in 1910. A worse droght hit beginning about
1920 leading to the Dust Bowl. Dry Farming generally
needs a minimum of 15 inches of rain a year. Thus, the promotions of dry farming
turned to dust with the drought, and the state marked a substantial decline in
acreage devoted to dry farming. Additionally, many homesteaders, in what is now the Thunder Basin
National Grasslands, were relocated by the Federal
Government's Relocation Administration in the 1930's. In some instances they were relocated to
areas which were already developed. In others, they were paid $2.05 to $2.21 an acre for
their homesteads. The Relocation Administration was headed by
Rexford G. Tugwell, a former Columbia University professor. Dr. Tugwell was a believer in
centralized planning having, apparently, been inspired by the Soviet model. In the 1920's
Dr. Tugwell, with others, made the pilgramage to Moscow for a personal audience with
Joseph Stalin. Dr. Tugwell justified the actions of the Relocation Administration in government financed films such as
The Plow That Broke the Plains. The film, an artistic success, blamed the 1930's droughts on the
actions of the farmers. It should be noted, however, that dry farming successfully continues even today in some
areas of eastern Wyoming such as Niobrara County.
Dry Farming Orchard Near Lusk, approx. 1910.
Thus, for the most part, the State remains dependent on irrigation for its agriculture. Other privately developed
irrigation plans in addition to those of Tallmadge and Buntin, however, have proven not to be profitable for the promoters.
Wm. F. Cody's plans for irrigation in the Bighorn Basin made agriculture possible, but provided him with
nothing but financial losses. By the same token, the Wyoming Development Company provided
irrigation for some 50,000 acres near Wheatland. Wheatland has prospered, but the company was awash
in red ink, losing more than $1,500,000 in 50 years.
But while some talked of the weather, others tried to do something about it. The idea that
the weather in the American West could be changed started at a very early time.
Dr. Ferndinand Hayden in 1868 predicted that the entire climate could be
changed if only each settler would plant 10 to 15 acres of trees for each
160 acre parcel. Others predicted that the disturbance of air by trains would
produce rain or that plowing of the earth itself produced rain. Thus, Gen. G. M. Dodge in an
1888 speech in Toledo, Ohio, claimed that "The building of the Pacific roads
has changed the climate between the Missouri River and the Sierra Nevada." Gen. Dodge explained:
Since the building of these roads, it is calculated that the rain belt
moves westward at the rate of eight miles a year. It has now certainly
reached the plains of Colorado, and for two years that high and dry state
has raised crops without irrigation, right up to the foot of the mountains.
Salt Lake since 1852 has risen nineteen feet, submerging whole farms along its
border and threatening the level desert west of it. It has been a gradual
but permanent rise, and comes from the additional moisture falling during
the year rain and snow. Professor Agassiz, in 1867, after a visit to
Colorado, predicted that this increase of moisture would come by the
disturbance of the electric currents, caused by the building of the Pacific
railroads and settlement of the country.
[Writer's note: Professor Agassiz, 19th Century naturalist, Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz (1807-1873),
professor of zoolology at Harvard University and an opponent of Darwinism.]
Others, attempted to produce rain. Most rain making efforts were prompted by the 1890 publication of War and
the Weather by Edward Powers, which contended that rain was caused by the concussions of
loud noises, such as produced by cannons or thunder. The theory was that the
noise of the thunder produced the rain. The theoretical explanation for the concussions causing rain was
given by Sir William Moore, K.C.L.E., Q.H.P. in an 1891 paper, "Famine: Its Effects and Relief,"
Transactions of the Pidemiological Society of London New Series, Vol. XI:
Sir William conceded, however, that the amount of rain so produced would never suffice for the
cultivator's purpose and, instead, governments should rely upon irrigation.
Clouds are masses of minute vesicles. The liquefaction of vapours is their passage from the
aeriform to the liquid state. Liquefaction may be due to three causes -- cooling, chemical affinity,
compression. When an explosion occurs, compression results; minute vesicles of moisture coalese and
become larger drops, and then they fall.
Rainmaking by explosions from baloons, 1891.
In 1891, Frank Melbourne,
an Irishman known variously as the "Rain King," the "Rain Wizard," and later by skeptics as the
"Rain Fakir," undertook to produce rain in
Cheyenne on a contingent fee basis; that is, if he made it rain he would be paid $150.00. He claimed that
for ten years he had successfully produced rain in the Outback of Australia. Among those
contributing to the pot were F.E. Warren and Joseph Carey, who each contributed $10.00.
Setting up in a barn off of 23rd Street, Melbourne confidently predicted he would produce rain on
Sunday (so as not to interfere with work), September 1. As predicted the rains came and
Melbourne was paid (it also snowed in Casper). He then predicted that he could make it rain again by Sept. 6 for another
$100.00, far less than the $1,000, he received the following year in Fort Scott, Kansas. The second
effort was less sucessful and Melbourne departed for Utah. Later unsuccessful efforts were
also made in Holyoke, Colorado, before Melbourne committed suicide in a Denver hotel.
Elsewhere, others attempted to make rain. The Rock Island Railroad employed one of its dispatchers, Clayton B.
Jewell, on a special train to produce rain. The train was available to drought parched
communities for $500.00. In Texas in 1891, some $9,000 in federal funds were expended
by Robert G. Dyrenforth in an unsuccessful effort to produce rain using explosive
balloons and kites. The explosions were thought to create "air-quakes," the compressive nature of
which created the rain. Governor James Hogg took a personal interest in the effort and planned on attending
some of the tests. Dyrenforth left the state before the governor could arrive. Robert J. Kleberg of the King Ranch also employed a
rainmaker. In most of the west, the employment of rainmaking magicians with bottles of
mysterious chemicals or explosives had ended by 1894. Yet, even as late as 1915, public funds were
spent in some areas on an effort to produce precipitation.
In San Diego that year, the
City employed the self-styled "Moisture Accelerator" and sewing machine salesman, Charles M. Hatfield to shower the City's reservoir with rain for a fee
of $10,000, payable when the reservoir was filled. In 1905, Hatfield had been employed by the
government of the Yukon Territory to produce rain for placer miners. There he was
unsuccessful. For San Diego, Hatfield constructed a twenty-foot tower near
the reservoir from which smoke emitted upwards from his "evaporating tanks." Sure enough, the rains came, but with a vengence.
It rained for five days.
The reservoir filled, several dams collapsed, a train was derailed by the force of the
water, and houses were washed off their foundations. Efforts to reach Hatfield to get him to
stop the rains were unsuccessful, the telephone lines had washed away in the
deluge. Then ensued the flood of lawsuits. The City contended that the flood was caused by an
Act of God and, therefore, it was not liable for the damages caused by the floods; nor was it liable to
Hatfield for the $10,000. Hatfield argued that the City should have taken
precautions for his success. In reality, of course, the production of rain and the efforts of
rain fakirs such as Hatfield, Melbourne, and Jewell, was more a matter of
coincidence. In some cases the rains came before the
wizard could start his efforts; if only he started a day earlier he would have gotten credit.
In other instances such as Melbourne in Holyoke, the rains came after the wizard left town; if he had only stayed
around another day he would have been credited.
Next page: Farm Equipment.