Chas S. Peterson
June 24, 1993
Ms. Kathy McKoy
I was glad to learn from your letter of June that your Fruita Report is progressing.
In reference to the importance of the furrow irrigation system to the cultural landscape my impression is that it is of the first order of significance. If the Park Service is interested in capturing the spirit of an era (the turn of the century decades) nothing is more of the essence than the diversion, ditch, headgate, and furrow system. It was the outline upon which the entire cultural landscape rested.
I can well understand the appeal of a modern irrigation system from the standpoint of managment and of water use efficiency. But to introduce these at the field (orchard) level would seem to seriously distort the entire early system. To be consistent with what sprinkling/drip irrigation have become it would imply underground delivery, pumping stations, and a variety of other modifications that for Fruita would be introduced for the first time. With drips or sprinklers the verdure of that canyon setting would still be there and lessons about the evolution of irrigation systems might be garnered but short of a master plan that calls for an interpretation of technical development and advancing USDA programs it would seem to me that it would do little to foster the ambience and spirit of early Fruita.
I think of the Hubbell Trading Post's historic farm as I contemplate this. With the aid of the BIA's Division of Irrigation John Lorenzo Hubbell developed an irrigated homestead in the period after 1902. Because the headgates, drops, flumes, etc were masonry in construction much of his system survives in the abandoned fields adjacent to his trading post and farmstead. While the interpretive effort has not extended much into the fields or along a delivery system that runs through the Indian fields of Ganado, Hubbell's farm landscape still lies in its abandoned form with the Indian farms phasing away, wittness to assimilation's failure. How eloquently the whole of it speaks about a line of natural and cultural conquest that extended beyond our capacity to maintain. It seems to me the situation is similar at Fruita.
I am sure some furrow systems remain in small Utah orchards. Many orchards, however, have been converted to sprinkling for a quarter of a century. you would find almost no orchards where sprinkling etc. extended beyond the late 1950s or early 1960s. My general impression is that Utah horticulturists and farmers were conservative and that sprinkling adaptations advanced more slowly here than elsewhere. It is clear that southern Idaho farmers (mostly Mormons) moved into new technology earlier than Utah's Cache and Box Elder Valley's although those northern counties followed suit earlier than many Utah localities, perhaps, because of their proximity to Idaho.
I have been an interested observer of the Wayne County farms during the last 10 or 15 years. One is impressed that the county has adapted far more extensively to sprinkling systems than neighboring counties to the west, especially Sanpete County where the pioneer furrow system was deeply ingrained. I've talked with Extension Service people including a number of Central Utah county agents about this question and without having specific data at hand credit some of them and federal programs (loans and other finance packages) for the seeming emphasis on advanced technology in Wayne County. Perhaps a case could be made for Wayne County's having made this technological transition in water application at a relatively early timebut I do not believe it extends before the 60s. To show Fruita under sprinklers might tie into that kind of context but hardly to the context of your enclosure or to how I read your larger study.
I am not sure how useful it will be but enclosed is a Xerox copy of an article I did on early farm landscapes that were formed primarily by irrigation.
Finally, a plea! The past of decaying Mormon villages, defunct trading posts, dryland farms, remote ranches, and canyon sanctuaries that has given the last generation or two their strongest impressions of the Western heritage will be all but eradicated in another decade. The Park Service commitment to the historical landscape will become increasingly, important in forming our national values. Hang in there. It is a great cause you are involved in. I hope something here may be useful. If I can restate it to be more helpful let me know.
Last Updated: 01-Apr-2003