Saturday, February 10, 2018

"140 Years of Spearfish Irrigation System" -- Billy Evans and Paul Higbee

Billy Evans (L) and Paul Higbee (R) Feb 6, 2018
On Feb 6, 2018, Billy Evans and Paul Higbee presented "140 Years of Spearfish Irrigation System" for over 110 people at the Spearfish Area Historical Society.   Billy Evans is the grandson of Robert Evans, one of the founding pioneers of Spearfish valley and the man who designed and organized the other pioneers to dig the irrigation system for the town.  Paul Higbee used an interview style with Billy Evans and special guest, Billy's brother Marvin Evans.

Early accounts of Spearfish before any settlers came along describe a barren site with a light amount of trees along Spearfish Creek.

Robert Evans (from the Evans family collection)
Robert Evans came to Spearfish in 1876 from with a group of 200 men from Montana headed for Crook City in the Black Hills looking for gold.  Robert's experience in Montana was with the the Bannick mines in Idaho Territory and the Last Chance Gulch mine near Helena, MT.  The work for the Last Chance mine involved digging a 300' tunnel and 27 mile ditch along the Spokane Bar on the Missouri River, all elevations determined with only a plumb bob and a triangle. 

Many of the Montana group decided to bring up a town in Spearfish valley.  Robert was a gentleman with a calm manner and soft-spoken voice who convinced the others to dig an irrigation system from Spearfish Creek water that would network across the Spearfish area to provide water for farming.  They had only horses. shovels, fresnos, a water level and a six foot tapered board that was tapered only 1/8" narrower.  With those tools, they dug a 2" drop per 100 ft on each of the many irrigation ditches to provide water for everyone with the early homesteads.  These same irrigation ditches still exist today with all but one providing non-potable water for many house and farm lots in the area.

The early crops that Robert Evans and the settlers grew were oats, potatos, turnips and apples.  Initially they did not have a plow and had to go to Crook City to rent a plow for $30.
Marvin Evans Feb 6, 2018

Downstream in the irrigation ditches, the system was recharged by a 25-45" layer underbed of gravel that offered up 2' per minute of irrigation water on its own.

Evans shared stories from the turn of the last century when Homestake Mine purchased land across the area on teh Ramsdale ditch and put in a 28" pipe to Lead and the Homestake Mine.  Those were challenging times for the many valley farmers who were struggling to make Spearfish valley an even more productive source of farm products for the region.   Lawsuits  that went to the SD Supreme Court resulting in a separation of water and land rights.
Another big challenge came in about 1970 when the interstate highway was constructed across the valley.  Original plans for the freeway would have routed it right through the heart of town and would have severed many ditches.
“At first, they were going to route it around Lookout Mountain, but then changed their minds and planned it right through town,” said Evans.
Through the efforts of Walter Dickey, Josef Meier, Ray Runnings and others, I-90 finally was routed up along a hillside to the east and ended up crossing only a couple of ditches.

Marvin Evans shared that Robert Evans selected the site for Spearfish's Rose Hill Cemetery and that the Evans family maintained the cemetery dirt roads before Memorial Day every year until 1939.