07 March 2013

Early History of Wetland Ditching in Cherry County

Ditching of wetlands has been a regular practice during the past in Cherry County, Nebraska sandhills, and these articles indicate some of its initial history.

"N.S. Rowley of Kennedy informs us that he, in company with Messrs. Bachelor and Ball, on Tuesday completed a drainage ditch two miles in length, ten feet wide and five feet deep, which will drain what is known as Boardman Swamp, and make about 1800 acres of good, dry land, which after awhile will produce an enormous amount of hay." — July 19, 1900. Additional local. Valentine Democrat 15(26): 5.
"Hon. David Hanna was up from Woodlake Tuesday to attend the republican convention, and went west to Alliance from here to attend the republican congressional convention. We acknowledge a pleasant visit with Mr. Hanna who says that he and David Hancock are going to get a ditcher to ditch and drain swamps this spring. By this means several of the swamps down around the lakes can be drained and made valuable hay land that are now practically useless." — March 17, 1904. Talk of the town. Valentine Democrat 19(9): 1.

A land survey map from 1874 shows the swampy conditions originally in this area.

A second map shows the swampy conditions along Goose Greek, in the adjacent township in 1914.
"A 'flying machine' was unloaded here last week, leastwise it was so labeled. Drayman Randall did the unloading, and it was some task, the machine weighing about 15 tons. After closer investigation of the machine it proved to be a 10 ft. ditcher, with which John Bachelor intends to drains the swamps on his home ranch." — April 25, 1912. Valentine locals. Valentine Democrat 27(16): 1.

This section of Boardman Creek was one of the first places in the the county to have a ranch established, with the Waite Ranch indicated on the 1882 land survey map. A map of the same section from 1900, shows the extensive number of land claims, and the Boardman Swamp in the southeast corner.

"J.C. Carson of Irwin was in the city Wednesday on business, and while at the county clerk's office was surprised to find that there was a warrant for him which had been issued in 1910 for services on the election board in his precinct. It had been overlooked by both Mr. Carson and the office, and its discovery was a surprise to both parties. Mr. Carson is president of the Horseshoe Lake Drainage district, formed this summer to drain lands in the vicinity of his large ranch near Irwin. Work has already been begun by the Fred M. Crane Construction Co. of Omaha in digging ditches. A big forty-ton ditching machine does the work, which will be of the greatest benefit to the community. As Mr. Carson owns the most land in the district his assessment will be the largest, but he informed the clerk that as soon as the levy was determined he would at once pay his assessment in full, so that the district would have funds on hand with which to pay bills." — October 20, 1916. Drainage district active. Valentine Republican 29(52): 1.

A land survey map from 1912 already indicates a ditch in this area.

"Thousands of valley hay land in Cherry county, which have hither-to been swampy wastes, will be rendered valuable this summer by the construction of a large drainage ditch in Boardman Valley, southeast of Valentine, one of the richest valleys in the state, according to Engineer A.B. Green, who is making a survey of the project. Several attempts have been made during recent years to construct a successful drain of this large waste, but owing to small ranges of hills, a ditch of proper depth has never been made. The plans now on foot are to deepen and straighten one of the old ditches and drain all the swamps into the Boardman river." — January 26, 1923. Reclaiming hay land in Cherry County. Wood Lake Stockman 12(30): 1.
"After a hearing talking nearly five days, the county commissioners this noon approved the formation of the Middle Loup Drainage District in southern Cherry county, and ordered the holding of an election of the interested freeholders to determine whether the district shall be formed, and if it is, who the officers shall be.

"The district was proposed by L.W. Lowe and others whose land forms a fairly compact block, and who propose to drain Felts lake, Big Alkali lake, the Cooley and other swamps, southeast through lands owned by Elsie E. Davis, W.L. Adam and others, and the lands of the latter were to be included in the district, forming a tail of land. The owners of the tail objected on the ground that the ditch would do them no good, and probably damage them. They finally made an offer to be included in the district, provided that the proponents agree to pay them any damages which the ditch might prove to cause to their land and they to pay their share of any benefits which the ditch may prove to their land, during a period of five years. After adding some land to the proposed district, the commissioners ordered the formation of the same, the freeholders to vote upon the proposition of the objectors. If they reject it, the district will not be organized." — June 19, 1931. Vote on Middle Loup drainage to decide argument. Proponents must accept agreement offered by objectors, or board will not approve formation. Result of five day hearing. Valentine Republican 44(37): 1.

These reports indicate initial efforts on draining wetlands within the county. These were initial reports. Other drainage occurred in subsequent decades, throughout the region.

The following graphic indicates prominent locations where ditching has occurred in Cherry County and Grant County, which was originally studied years ago.

View Wetland Ditching, Cherry and Grant Counties, Nebraska Sandhills in a larger map.