Water, A Frontier Problem

The gradual decrease in average yearly rainfall from east to west in Nebraska was reflected in the difficulty of securing water for domestic use.  The first settlers naturally sought water very much as they had farther east. Since the early settlement was in river valleys where there was a supply of wood, water was usually readily accessible also. Fortunate indeed was the individual who could find a spring near which to make his log cabin or dugout.

But even a man this fortunate usually had to carry water to the house, since a suitable building site ordinarily was some distance away. The newcomer dug out the spring, lined it with stones if these were available and if not, fenced the outlet so stock could not enter the basin, but was compelled to drink from the overflow at a point below the water source. Neighbors who had no such good fortune came for miles around to dip water and haul it to their homes. In time the owner built a fair-sized box with a lid on it where milk and butter could be kept. With prosperity, a small structure known as the spring house might be built for this purpose over the precious basin. Unfortunately, most of these springs ran dry during the latter part of summer.

As the population of Nebraska moved away from the river valleys, the availability of water and the methods of obtaining a ready supply continued to evolve. This article discusses water witches, well digging by hand and by auger, drive wells, hydraulic wells as well as the use of pumps, windmills and irrigation in the Nebraska frontier.

Read the full story here. 

Windmills, like this Halladay Standard Windmill, were used to power water pumps.

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History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
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