Artesian Wells.The flowing or artesian well takes it name from Artois, France, where wells of this character have long been known. Hilgard says: "Artesian wells are most readily obtained where the geological formations possess a moderate inclination or dip, and are composed of strata of materials impervious to water (rock or clay), alternating with such aslike sand or gravelallow it to pass more or less freely. The rain water falling where such strata approach to or reach the surface will in great part accumulate in the pervious strata, rendering them 'water bearing.' Thus are formed sheets of water between two inclined, impervious walls of rock or clay, above as well as below, and exerting great pressure at their lower portions. Where water so circumstanced finds or forces for itself natural outlets, we shall have springs; when tapped artifically by means of a bore-hole, we have an artesian well, from whose mouth the water may overflow if its surface level be below that of pressure."
Prior to the settlement of Kansas by white people, and in fact for a quarter of a century or more after the state was admitted into the Union, the western half was regarded as practically a desert. In 1891 E. S. Nettleton made an investigation of the artesian and underflow conditions in Nebraska, the Dakotas, Colorado and Kansas. In his report he gives special mention of the overflow at Hartland and Dodge City, and quoted the following letter from R. I. Smith, of Winona, Logan county: "I have a 6-inch bored well in my door yard, 135 feet deep, with 8 feet of water. Over a year ago I noticed that at times strong current of air came out of the openings around the pump stock, and by observation find it to be an excellent barometer, as it flows from 6 to 20 hours preceding a storm. I have placed a brass whistle in the space, which at times can be heard a quarter of a mile. The harder and longer it blows the more intense the coming storm will be. A peculiarity of it is the fact that, after the storm it takes back the wind."
Robert Hay, chief geologist in the office of irrigation inquiry of the United States department of agriculture, made a report the same year on the overflow conditions in the Smoky Hill and Republican valleys, but he developed nothing of importance.
In 1892 J. W. Gregory, special agent of the artesian and overflow investigation on the Great Plains, described in his report the underflow in Kearny, Trego, Pratt, Seward, Morton, Logan, Scott, Wichita, Grant, Thomas, Decatur, Meade, Gray, Rooks and Russell counties in Kansas. Describing a well in the northern part of Meade county, he says: "The first water was found in white quartz gravel at 75 feet and rose 4 feet. At 113 feet a flow of water was found in white quartz gravel, which came up freely through the pipe, carrying quantities of the gravel. The water rose to a height of over 81 feet, or within 32 feet of the top of the ground, where it remains."
Mr. Gregory reported a number of wells in which the water rose well toward the surface. One of these was sunk by J. J. Rosson on the top of a mound in the valley of the north fork of the Cimarron river in Grant county. After digging 60 feet without obtaining water, a hole was bored in the bottom of the well 20 feet deeper, when the water quickly rose in the well to within 20 feet of the surface.
The reports of these investigations, conducted by direction of the national government, have done much to strengthen the belief that under a large part of western Kansas there is a body of water that can be made to flow to the surface, and numerous experiments have been made in boring wells in the hope of striking this underflow. In some instances these experiments have been successful. In the Crooked creek valley, in Meade county, there are about 100 flowing wells, though the flow is not sufficiently strong to render them of much utility in irrigation. There is a similar artesian area about "Wagonbed Springs," Stevens county. The wells in these districts range from 40 to 140 feet deep. At the time Mr. Gregory made his report there were 2 flowing wells in Morton county and 5 in Hamilton, demonstrating that western Kansas, or at least that portion of it, is situated over a subterranean body of water possessing all the qualifications mentioned by Hilgard for producing artesian wells.
With the knowledge that flowing wells could be obtained in western Kansas came a request for state aid in developing the field, and on Jan. 30, 1908, Gov. Hoch approved an act passed by the special session of the legislature, authorizing the county commissioners of Stevens, Morton, Grant and Stanton counties to appropriate from the general revenue funds of said counties not exceeding $5,000 in each county for the purpose of prospecting for and developing artesian wells. However, no money was to be so appropriated and expended until 160 acres of land had been donated to the county, and upon this 160 acres one or more wells might be sunk, such wells to be under the control of the county commissioners. No reports of wells sunk under the provisions of this act are obtainable.
Recent developments tend to show that the early experiments in artesian wells in Kansas were only comparatively successful or altogether failures because the drillers did not go deep enough. Most of the wells have gone no further than the first pervious stratum. Somewhere there is a source of pressure sufficiently strong to furnish an abundant supply of water if the stratum connected with it can be reached. In 1910 Ernest C. Wilson, formerly editor of the Richfield Monitor, in Morton county, developed an 8-inch well, over 500 feet in depth, which flows 2,000 gallons per minute and supplies enough water to irrigate a half section of land. If the same conditions hold good throughout the western part of the state, it is only a question of a few years until that section will be well supplied with moisture, the treeless plains will be sheltered by timber, and the "Great American Desert" will be a thing of the past.Pages 104-106 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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