A series where we take a #lookback at the stories and history of our community, brought to you by Mick Pryor, Financial Advisor with Edward Jones.

In the summer of 1906, stockholders for the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company were approached by Fenimore Chatterton, Secretary of State of Wyoming, about making a bid for construction of an irrigation system near Riverton. Wyoming Central Irrigation Company was a company headed by Joy Morton, a salt magnate, and other wealthy businessmen in Chicago. Chatterton explained that 2,500 quarter sections were available for the construction of the project. He had expected 200,000 applications for the land that would be opened for settlement around Riverton. Chatterton explained to the stockholders that surveys had already been made of the land and it was believed that the entire project would cost $1,000,000 to $1,200,000 to complete, including a dam at Bull Lake. The Secretary of State of Wyoming thought that once completed, the irrigation system would be able to provide water for 120,000 acres of land and water rights could be sold as soon as water was delivered.

Ten million dollars was estimated to be the total profit from the sale of water rights.

After being convinced to participate in the project by Fenimore Chatterton, the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company submitted a bid to build the irrigation system. Clarence T. Johnston, the State Engineer, selected the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company’s bid for construction as the best offer. Johnston issued permits for construction to the company following the selection of their bid.

When the Riverton area was opened for settlement later in 1906, the estimates given to the company by Fenimore Chatterton fell short. Chatterton had thought that 200,000 people would register for land, but only 10,583 people registered. In addition, he had expected 2,500 quarter sections to be available for irrigation. However, only a few sections surrounding the official townsite of Riverton were registered at the drawing. So, the Wyoming Central Irrigation adjusted their plans and decided to secure a new permit from the State Engineer Johnston. This permit allowed for a small irrigation canal to be built for only 15,000 acres around the town of Riverton.

Construction on the Wyoming Canal Number 2 began in October of 1906, and work on the main canal was quickly completed in the spring of 1907. Unfortunately, the expectations of the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company fell short for a second time. The canal was supposed to provide water for 15,000 acres around Riverton, but contracts for water rights were only completed for 1,000 acres. In addition, the company did not receive as much money down for the water rights as they had expected. Instead, the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company was forced to defer most of the initial payment until the next year to get any of the contracts signed. Not only were contracts for the water rights scarce, but the State of Wyoming did not provide the right of way for the company as they had promised. This caused the company to purchase and condemn property to obtain the right of way. During the process of obtaining the right of way, the settlers filed an injunction against the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company. As a result, the company was forced to pay $50.00 per acre for land that was originally purchased by the settlers for $1.50 per acre.

Before any further construction on the irrigation system could commence, another company called the Settlers Co-operative Irrigation Company applied to the State Engineer Johnston for a permit to build another canal parallel to the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company’s irrigation canal. This permit was rejected by the State Engineer, but the Settlers Co-operative Irrigation Company brought a suit against Johnston to compel him to approve the permit. While the suit was being argued in the District Court, the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company was advised to cease construction on the irrigation canals until a decision was made on the litigation. During the trial, the State Engineer threatened to cancel the permit provided to the company if work did not continue on the canal. However, these threats were not acted upon during the Settlers Co-operative Irrigation Company’s trial.

The trial continued for a year and ended in the spring of 1908. During this time, the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company conducted more surveys of the land, repaired existing parts of the Wyoming Canal Number 2, and tried to secure more contracts for water rights. However, even fewer contracts were secured during the second year of the project than were secured during the first year. After the decision on the litigation was decided, State Engineer Johnston asked the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company to immediately continue the construction of the irrigation system. The Wyoming Central Irrigation Company decided to pursue more favorable conditions for the continuation of the project. They requested that Wyoming State Officials support federal legislation that was like the Carey Act. The Carey Act, which was passed in 1894, allowed private companies in the United States to construct irrigation systems in the western states and profit from the sales of water rights. This act was not as successful as the legislature intended due to a lack of financial resources in the affected states. However, the state officials declined the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company’s request to support federal legislation. The state officials agreed to amend the original contract by increasing the rate for water to $5.00 per acre for every year’s delay in making a contract. This amendment was immediately accepted, and The Arnold Company was engaged for the construction of an extension to the Wyoming Canal Number 2. Surveys for the main canal extension began on September 29, 1908.

On December 1, 1908, the State Engineer violated the agreement to put the new rate for water into effect. After some back and forth between the State Engineer Johnston and the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company regarding the new rate for water, a conference was arranged at the state capital. On May 1, 1909, the issue concerning the new rate for water was settled. Additionally, an agreement to relieve the company from further construction until forty percent of the water right contracts was signed. After this agreement was made, M.C. McGiffin was appointed by the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company to serve as a special representative of the state to solicit contracts.

The efforts made by M.C. McGriffin to obtain contracts for water rights were disappointing. By December of 1909, the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company began a correspondence with the State Engineer to bring the lands under conditions like the Carey Act or to find a way to induce settlers to sign contracts for water rights. The poor results of securing contracts caused state officials of Wyoming to ask for Congressional legislation like the Carey Act. The Wyoming Central Irrigation Company hired E.H. Fourt to assist state officials in their efforts. Two months later, Congress passed an act that placed the irrigation lands under the provisions of the Carey Act.

While efforts were being made in Washington D.C., the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company tried to secure the approval of the Bull Lake Reservoir Site. Bull Lake was being considered as a possible power site and the possibility of the company receiving the right of way to the lake was doubtful. Additionally, the people of Riverton decided to lend money to settlers near the main Riverton Canal who had not signed a contract. This enabled the settlers to make their first payment in escrow. The Wyoming Central Irrigation Company declined to accept these contracts as a completion of the forty percent required to continue the construction of the canal. However, the State Engineer considered that the forty percent had been obtained and began to insist that the company continue construction of the canal. State Engineer Johnston explained that construction must begin in July of 1910, or he would refuse to approve the Carey Act contract that had been passed by Congress. Before the contracts for water rights could be sent to the company, the land had been withdrawn from entry under the provisions on the Carey Act passed on March 15, 1910.

Representatives from the company were sent to Cheyenne on May 17, 1910, to appear before the State Board of Land Commissioners to apply for the Carey Act contract. An agreement was worked out and Wyoming applied to the Secretary of the Interior for the segregation of land. Before the Secretary of the Interior could segregate the lands, the Commissioner of Public Lands and the State Land Board insisted that the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company continue construction by July 15, 1910.

Engineering work was started on the canal in June of 1910 after an effort to secure construction bids were unsuccessful because many companies were unwilling to make a bid without additional engineering information. Engineering work continued until August of 1910. While the information was being gathered by engineers, the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company contracted a colonizing agent to plan for the colonization of the land. The colonization agent discovered that the lands North of the divide between Five Mile Creek and Muddy Creek were not the same quality or quantity that the State Engineer’s statements had led the company to believe. The land was determined to be rough and sandy, which caused this land to be the hardest to colonize, despite its proximity to the railroad. Removal of this land brought the irrigatable land down from 100,000 acres to 70,000 acres of land.

As a result of this discovery, the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company asked State Land Commissioner and the State Engineer to renegotiate the terms of the Carey Act agreement that had been arranged in May of 1910. However, the State Land Commissioner and the State Engineer both refused to renegotiate and insisted that work on the canal continue. On August 2, 1910, the state canceled the permit of the Wyoming Central Irrigation Company.


Next up for the Fremont County Museums

March 12th at the Pioneer Museum 7 pm, “Lander in 1920”

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

March 12th at the Riverton Museum 6:30 pm, “History of Radio & Broadcasting In Fremont County” by Ernie Over

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

March 19th at the Dubois Museum 7 pm, “Glaciers in the Wind Rivers” by Jackie Klancher

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

March 21st at the Dubois Museum 7 pm, “Swift Fox Ecology, Distribution and Trends in Wyoming” by Nichole Bjornlie

Wyoming Community Bank Discovery Speakers Series

March 21st at the Riverton Museum 2-4 pm, “Build Your Own Telegraph” Bailey Tire/Pit Stop

Children’s Exploration Series

Consider supporting The Dubois Museum, the Pioneer Museum in Lander or the Riverton Museum with a monetary donation. The museums are more reliant than ever on donations from the private sector to continue to provide the quality programs, collections management, exhibits and services that have become their hallmark. Please make your tax-deductible contribution to be used specifically for the benefit of the museum of your choosing by sending a check to Fremont County Museums 450 N 2nd Rm 320 or taking it directly to the museum you choose to support.

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