Friday, October 22, 2010
The Importance of Water in the Homestead Experience
This problem was alleviated for many homesteaders when they discovered the abundant ground water that existed under the majority of the Great Plains. The aquifer, named the Ogallala Aquifer, provided the much needed fresh water homesteaders were seeking. Initially the aquifer served two purposes.
First, and most importantly, homesteaders now had access to fresh water without having to waste the time and energy seeking out fresh water supplies. This provided for more time that could be spent trying to improve their claims. Increased time in the fields allowed for expanding farms; expanding farms provided for larger production; more production increased the chances of a homesteader being successful.
Secondly, homesteaders were able to provide fresh water to livestock. Increased amounts of livestock provided an abundant, renewable food supply. Byproducts from livestock were important to the success of homesteaders as well. Hides provided for clothing and blankets and waste made excellent fertilizer.
It would be difficult to overstate the important role water played in the success, or failure, of homesteaders. A homesteader’s ability to prove up their claim, and really, life and death, hinged on their ability to maintain a fresh water supply. I do not know if Bernard Frank’s quote is applicable to all of human history, but there certainly appears to be a bit of truth with respect to the history of homesteading in the United States.