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Utah's Experience with the Desert Land Act

Utah Historical Quarterly

Vol. 48, 1980, No. 2

Utah's Experience with the Desert Land Act

BY STEPHEN W. STATHIS

ANXIOUSLY AWAITING PRESIDENT ULYSSES S. GRANT'S arrival in Utah on the first Sunday in October 1875, the Deseret Evening News lauded his decision to cross the Rocky Mountains and become the first American president to visit the Mormon capital. How could he better understand and appreciate the "peculiarities" of the territory, the newspaper asked, than by a personal visit. Considering the widespread national interest in Utah, the president's gesture was looked upon by the News as both commendable and wise. The Salt Lake Tribune viewed the significance of the chief executive's stay in an entirely different light, considering the unofficial visit an opportune time for the president to see firsthand the atrocities of the Mormon majority that controlled everything in the territory, including appointments and the courts.

By the time Grant left Utah late on the afternoon of Monday, October 4, 1875, he had met at least briefly with most of Utah's leading citizens, including Brigham Young. At the outset of the presidential party's visit, its train—gaily decked out with flags and streamers—was greeted at Echo in Weber Canyon by the newly appointed governor, George M. Emery, and a number of other federal officials. Grant was then saluted by an enthusiastic throng in Ogden, cheered by thousands in Salt Lake including the city's Sabbath School children, and feted as the guest of honor at a public reception at the Walker House, Salt Lake's finest hotel. He also found time to tour the recently completed tabernacle, inspect the foundations of the temple, and visit several other points of interest.

From all outward appearances, Grant and his party thoroughly enjoyed themselves and were pleased with their reception in the territory. There is even a story told of President Grant turning to Governor Emery after his carriage had passed the multitude of Sunday School children who welcomed him on his arrival in Salt Lake and asking, "Whose children are these?" When he was told they were "Mormon children," the president was silent for several moments and "then murmured in a meditative tone, I have been deceived.' "

Two months after completing his western tour, however, Grant sent to the Congress his seventh annual message which contained several uncomplimentary remarks regarding the Mormons. He reminded Congress, as he had in nearly every annual message, of the "anomalous, not to say scandalous, condition of affairs existing in the territory of Utah, and . . . asked for definite legislation to correct it." He considered it preposterous that "polygamy should exist in a free, enlightened, and Christian country, without the power to punish so flagrant a crime against decency and morality."

Despite this concern, Grant in later passages directed his attention toward specific legislative proposals that, if enacted, would possibly benefit many of those same Mormons. The president's visit to the territories of Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado had convinced him "that existing laws regulating the disposition of public lands, timber, etc., and probably the mining laws themselves are very defective and should be carefully amended, and at an early date." He was especially concerned about those areas "where cultivation of the soil can only be followed by irrigation, and where irrigation is not practicable, the lands can only be used as pasturage, and this only where stock can reach water (to quench its thirst)." It was obvious, he felt, that the same laws could not apply to these areas as applied to "lands every acre of which is an independent estate by itself." Also, "land must be held in larger quantities to justify the expense of conducting water upon it to make it fruitful, or to justify utilizing it as pasturage." Although Grant did not feel that his observations while traveling in the territories were sufficient to justify the recommendation of specific legislation, he did suggest the creation of a special congressional committee to visit the West and advise what to do.

Grant's specific proposals were never carried out, but they were among the contributing factors leading to the passage of the Desert Land Act of March 3, 1877. The president's observations were supplemented by the subsequent recommendations of Zachariah Chandler, his secretary of the interior, and those of Samuel S. Burdett and James A. Williamson, successive commissioners of the General Land Office, and by substantial popular support in the West.

The Desert Land Act enabled settlers in three western states and eight territories, including Utah, to take in a reasonably compact form 640 acres of desert land that would not, without irrigation, produce agricultural crops. Those who accepted the challenge of taming the sagebrush were required: (1) to be citizens or to have declared their intentions to become naturalized, (2) to make a payment of 25 cents per acre at the district land office at the time of filing, (3) to show proof of reclamation by irrigating the 640 acres within three years, and (4) to pay a balance of a dollar an acre when proof of reclamation had been shown.

An especially attractive feature of the legislation for Utahns was that they were for the first time able to acquire title to public lands without having them surveyed in accordance with federal law and General Land Office regulations. Before, the surveys had formed a crucial link in land acquisition. The survey requirement, coupled with the nature of land laws designed for a world other than the Mountain West, as Thomas G. Alexander has shown, "served as a basis for a conflict over land legislation which raged throughout the nineteenth century and which has continued to the present time." Between 1855 and 1857 more than two million acres of public land was surveyed in Utah, but "only the need to allow selections of land by the railroad overcame prejudice against Mormons and finally forced the opening" of a federal district land office in Salt Lake City in 1869. Even then, it was a slow process for Mormons to secure a valid title to the lands they had some twenty years earlier reclaimed from the desert.

The land monopoly many predicted would accompany passage of the Desert Land Act never materialized. "Though tenantry, for instance, increased in other areas during the late nineteenth century, in the Rocky Mountain territories it showed little growth." By making "it possible to secure land titles before survey," Congress in essence circumvented the "easterners and midwesterners who opposed appropriations for Western land surveys. Because actual settlement was no longer required, groups of settlers and companies could build irrigation works while they remained in other areas until the projects were completed and water was available."

Considerable initial excitement in Utah followed the law's enactment, but fulfillment of its provisions were, as the Deseret News suggested soon after its passage, considered by many to be virtually impossible. Even more important was the fact that smaller sections of the same lands were still subject to preemption and homestead laws and could be obtained under those acts without fulfilling any irrigation requirements. As early as the first week of May 1877 the News was questioning the need for the new law. It was "rather loosely put together" and appeared to be advantageous only to capitalists and speculators. Given these realities, the News suggested that the law be repealed during the next session of the Congress "or at least modified so as to be more definite in its provisions and more likely to benefit the hardy pioneer families seeking homes, than capitalists and speculators."

Such criticism was neither unique nor isolated. Almost before the ink of Grant's signature had dried, Commissioner Williamson recommended its early repeal and proposed as a substitute the "enactment of a law giving to persons or corporations all lands which are truly and unmistakably desert in character, which they may thoroughly and fully reclaim by means of irrigation." Why, Williamson asked, "if lands which required no irrigation are given away to any persons who will settle upon and improve them," cannot the government "give away the desert lands upon the same conditions, especially when it requires so much more to improve them?"

Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz also considered the law seriously flawed as did Grant's successor, Rutherford B. Hayes. In 1883 Thomas Donaldson in a monumental report on the public domain, which he prepared for the Public Land Commission created by Congress four years earlier, concluded that the act had "become an aid to landgrabbing. It should be repealed or a larger area given under it. It is useless for actual settlement, for poor men cannot irrigate it by means of expensive ditches and men of means could not afford to construct ditches for so small an area."

Testimony received by the Public Land Commission in Salt Lake likewise emphasized the urgent need for modification in the law. George Stringfellow, a Salt Laker interested in the canals south of the city, told the commission in September 1879 that the Desert Land Act was a very good law but that 640 acres was too large to be reclaimed within three years. He had "labored faithfully, with a great many others" in the Salt Lake Valley in various irrigation projects and was now convinced that they could not irrigate the land within three years. Their projects had taken considerably more time and money than they originally planned on, and if a time extension was not passed by Congress they stood to lose the $50,000 to $75,000 they had already invested. He concluded by deploring the possibility that he and his colleagues would "be deprived of both the land and money because we cannot get the ditches done in time."

Charles W. Stayner, a Salt Lake attorney, suggested to the commission that the act "should be modified so as to provide that when parties have expended a certain amount of means or labor in turning streams of water from their natural channels, in order to reclaim a tract" and have not within three years "thoroughly accomplished the reclamation of the land as required, they may, on proper showing and proof before the local officials, obtain an extension of time to complete their work." T. C. Bailey, chief clerk in the Surveyor General's Office, Salt Lake, provided sympathetic agreement on December 8, 1879, to Stayner's view that under certain conditions desert claimants should be granted time extensions. Yet, even the advice of the most competent authority of the day, Maj. John Wesley Powell, to the effect that desert holdings should at the minimum be 2,560 acres, received little attention in Congress. These suggestions and similar recommendations by the Public Land Commission and the commissioner of public lands were destined to be useful only as footnotes in later studies of the public domain.

Instead, the government began to focus on the numerous frauds that were undermining the entire American land system. In response to Commissioner Noah C. McFarland's request, Congress on March 3, 1883, approved legislation providing $100,000 for the investigation of illegal and fraudulent entries under the various land acts. Examinations by special agents, McFarland announced late in 1884, revealed numerous intstances where no attempt whatsoever had been made to irrigate lands entered under the Desert Land Act. Entries were being made on lands that were not desert in character; reclamation of otherwise uncultivable land was not being achieved to any large degree under the act; the quantity of land that could be lawfully acquired by one person was being habitually evaded; and land was being used for stock grazing. Individuals and corporations controlled quantities of land through collusive entries. Rather than reclamation, the owners' frequent intent in appropriating lands in valleys and along streams was to control the "ranges dependent upon the water-supply and to prevent the settlements [from] interfering with such control." Secretary of the Interior Lucius Q. C. Lamar reaffirmed these findings in 1885 when he asserted that the act had allowed the dishonest to appropriate nondesert public lands and to claim larger acreages than were legal. Fraud was the rule rather than the exception. Principally, the law was being used to "obtain possession and control of lands by mere formalities of entry, without reclamation, and largely of lands naturally well-watered or ordinarily cultivable without irrigation."

According to John T. Ganoe, author of the most comprehensive studies of the Desert Land Act, these changes "were directed against cattlemen. In attempting to formulate a reclamation policy for the arid lands, Congress had not considered their use for grazing purposes." The easterners who dominated the Congress expected the arid lands of the West "to be transformed into a rich agricultural region like that of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. Westerners were fully aware of what was taking place; and, moreover, if the cattlemen seized the lands, it was not entirely without invitation."

Most of the territorial governors viewed the sharp criticisms of Secretary Lamar and Commissioner McFarland as inappropriate. Despite the law's glaring flaws, the governors of Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah considered the measure a godsend, making lands availablefor grazing if not for irrigation farming. Although Gov. Eli H. Murray of Utah did not deny the existence of fraud, he perceived the entire national land system, except for the Homestead and Preemption acts, as "nothing more than an invitation for the people to commit frauds." The Desert Land Act, Murray explained, required reclamation through irrigation. Yet, in Utah the "mountain streams are so small that at times late in the season the majority are entirely dry, and it is almost impossible to get water sufficient to reclaim as required under the act." Even where adequate water was available, the lands taken under the act would have been "more valuable for the people if . . . held by the government for actual settlement under the homestead or pre-emption laws."

One of the major deficiencies of federal land policy in Utah had long been the inability of livestock interests to obtain sufficient grazing lands. Out of necessity, grazing in Utah was conducted on an entirely different basis from that of many other western states and territories. Utah's stockmen usually needed both a winter and a summer range, the former in protected valleys and the latter in the foothills. Under this system it was necessary for a stockman to have control of two grazing areas instead of one. Existing laws assured him of neither. As Samuel Gilson, who raised horses and cattle on a ranch near Castle Valley in central Utah, told the Federal Land Commission in 1879, the "pastoral interests in Utah labor under great difficulties from the fact that no one person [who] pastures cattle upon the range can be secure in his occupancy because of "no permanency of residence, and no identificationof any pastoral interests with the soil." This system produced frequent conflicts and rapid depletion of the grasses and led to demands for relief by Utah stockmen not unlike those of their western contemporaries.

Because of the stringent requirements imposed by the Department of the Interior under the Desert Land Act, Governor Murray felt, "stockmen, in their own interests, have entered lands about the springs and streams for the purpose of watering stock." In Utah water is so scarce "that a company of four or five men engaged in [the] stock business can enter the same number of springs and streams, paying the government for not more than a section or two of land and virtually get the use of thousands of acres that cannot be settled or entered under any of the present land laws." As a consequence, Murray recommended legislation in 1885 that would authorize the leasing of "all mountain and high bench lands to applicants for stock purposes, said leases always subject to actual settlement by persons seeking homes, or an act for the sale of such land to stockmen, without requirements, the acreage allowedto be purchased by them to be governed by the amount of stock actually owned." Governor Murray's suggestions went unheeded.

Two years later, in 1887, when there was a marked decrease in desert land entries, Secretary of the Interior Lamar concluded that new land office policies instituted to bring about compliance with the various provisions of the law were working. At last, "speculators and other evaders of the law have found out that... it is not safe for them to attempt to patent land without honest compliance with the necessary legal prerequisites." However, subsequent studies, made from a point of greater perspective, attribute this decline primarily to the fact that the cattle industry had undergone fundamental changes by the mid-1880s. By that time, the "range had ceased to be a frontier industry and had become a corporate enterprise, organized, capitalized, and directed in the East or in Britain." In addition, cattle ranchers faced new difficulties such as cattle diseases and local quarantine laws, conflict with settlers and sheepmen, and the fencing of once-open ranges. These factors, together with the federal government's determination to more strictly enforce its land laws all contributed to the decline of the cow kingdom. "Then came the two terrible winters of 1885-86 and 1886-87 which almost annihilated the herds on the open ranges."

Unfortunately, almost nothing has been written about how these various changes in the cattle industry affected Utahns. What is known is that fewer and fewer individuals in Utah sought to use the Desert Land Act during the next two decades (with the exception of one year) even though there was an extraordinary increase in the number of cattle and sheep in the territory. Obviously, cattlemen and sheepherders in Utah were using other means to satisfy their grazing needs, but what these were remains unclear.

Initially, the Desert Land Act was helpful because it allowed for the patenting of a larger area (640 acres), but its irrigation and financial requirements ultimately proved to be debilitating deterrents for most. Only a few men were able to adapt as well as Edmund Carlisle. Among the most important desert entries filed in the 1880s were the various claims entered by "Carlisle and his employees when the Carlisle Ranch was threatened by the Mormon village of Monticello." Although both cattlemen and sheepherders were often guilty of overgrazing in Utah and frequently unable to fulfill the various provisions of the act, a "careful scrutiny of the Land Office records for the years 1877 to 1910 fails to reveal widespread fraud under the Desert Land Act in Utah, as was the case in Wyoming and other Western territories."

Increasingly, desert land entries became associated with the interest investors showed in the rapidly developing irrigation companies. Governor Murray in his annual report of 1885 directly attributed the increase in the number of desert land entries in Utah to the building of canals for reclamation purposes. Encouraging as this trend was, irrigation on a smaller, less sophisticated scale was already an institution in Utah.

"The resourcefulness of the Mormons in wresting abundance from the most forbidding wastelands has taken its place among the legends of American folklore." Their initial experience with irrigation, the first within a U.S. territory, occurred in July 1847 when in desperation they were forced to irrigate before they could plow their lands. The canals the Mormon settlers subsequently built were those that could be constructed simply and quickly by a few with a minimum of capital investment. "Impelled by necessity and favored by an abundance of small streams, [they] built village irrigation systems with local resources and without developing engineering techniques needed to tap the waters of large rivers and distribute water from a single canal system over extensive land areas." Although the Mormon example was convincing, other settlers in the West found it difficult to emulate and had to devise their own irrigation systems. "The Mormon system worked well enough for the Mormons in Utah"; but it was "not especially instructive to others," for Mormon achievements derived to a very large degree from a unique cooperation that the hierarchical structure of the church was able to maintain. Yet, by 1891 when the delegates to the first National Irrigation Congress met in Salt Lake, Utah's irrigation system was looked upon as "archaic and ineffective." Nevertheless, the Mormons were praised by the editors of Irrigation Age, for perfecting the "different mode of life" necessary for the successful settlement of trans-Mississippi regions and in so doing creating a "society sufficiently apart from the American mainstream to retain a sense of distinctive identity."

Even Utah with its church-nurtured community spirit was occasionally confronted by those who sought (or were accused of seeking) to gain public lands by questionable means. One such attempt, aimed at taking advantage of the Desert Land Act to gain more land in Cache Valley was launched by the residents of Trenton and several outsiders in 1880 when they incorporated the Weston South Field Irrigation Company, even though they knew there was no water in the South Field ditch, or Trenton Canal as it came to be called, to irrigate the land it then served. As anticipated, even after the canal was lengthened four miles the following year, "the water supply was [still] insufficient for irrigation," but the "important goal had been accomplished. Water actually reached central Trenton from Weston Creek, and the conditions of the Desert Land Act were met."

Further west, Lorenzo D. Newman of Corinne on July 5, 1877, filed a desert claim for some 150 acres on an island in the Bear River. Three years later, on May 8, 1880, Newman submitted the required documents to the Salt Lake Land Office to complete his claim. The improvements on the island satisfied all the provisions of the Desert LandAct, but final payment was postponed until an official survey of the land could be completed. Newman continued to farm at least a portion of his claim until late October 1888 when he sold it to Albert Barnes, also of Corinne. During the next six years Barnes spent between $2,000 and $3,000 constructing fences, sheds, and corrals; repairing the home which came with the property; and hauling "upwards of 1,000 loads of manure" to improve the land. Then, in 1894, to his chagrin, Barnes learned that three years earlier Lorenzo Newman, despite no longer owning the land, had asked the General Land Office to cancel his never-completed 1877 desert land entry. Barnes immediately applied for and obtained a reinstatement of the entry. He then sought, by virtue of his purchase from Newman, to be allowed to pay for and claim the tract once it was surveyed. 30 However, Barnes died a few months later and his widow Emma was left to resolve the matter. Mrs. Barnes and her children decided to cancel the entry since they could not comply with the financial and improvement provisions of the act. As late as August 1905 Emma Barnes was still seeking to obtain a "repayment of the money paid to the General Land Office in Salt Lake on the Desert entry of Lorenzo Newman" who, she claimed, had assigned the entry to her husband.

A more celebrated claim adjustment case involving desert lands within the La Sal National Forest of southeastern Utah required thousands of hours of time and a major effort on the part of the Forest Service before it was finally settled. This contest involved two desert land claims filed on a site known as Mormon Pasture. In 1887 Mormon Pasture was chosen as the site of a prospective town, but for a variety of reasons it passed through several owners and renters during the next several years. Then in 1903 and 1904 David L. Goudelock, a former county commissioner and principal stockholder in the Indian Creek Cattle Company, and his sister filed desert claims on the land. Soon thereafter serious questions arose as to whether the land was actually desert in character and if the Goudelocks' claims were valid considering the almost continual use of the property during the preceding decade. Ultimately, despite a herculean effort on the part of the Forest Service in gathering documentation and testimony to support its position, Goudelock successfully appealed the validity of this land entry before the secretary of agriculture.

During the first quarter-century of the Desert Land Act's existence (1877— 1901), 4,929 individuals successfully filed entries for 928,541 acres, and 1,448 of those entries for 252,958 acres were patented under the Desert Land Act in Utah. Under the Homestead Act for the same period 6,595 individuals gained ownership to 922,770 acres. Charles Hillman Brough in his excellent nineteenth-century study, Irrigation in Utah, contended that more settlers did not gain title to desert lands in Utah during this period because the law's provisions were more compatible with the resources of speculators. Another prominent authority on western irrigation institutions, George Thomas, claimed the failure of the law to attract more Utahns was "primarily due to the fact that the legislation was based upon the theory of individual action; an impossible procedure in reclaiming any considerable area of arid lands." Six hundred and forty acres was too large an area "for the individual irrigator to reclaim and altogether too small for the capitalist to consider with the view of supplying water and selling it to actual settlers."

At the time the Bear River Canal was begun in Utah, Elwood Mead, chief of the irrigation investigations conducted by the Department of Agriculture near the turn of the century, asserted that the canal would irrigate "unoccupied sagebrush desert. Before its survey was completed and in less than thirty days after it was begun, every acre of the land had been filed upon. Three years later not one in fifty was being irrigated by the original entrymen." For Mead, the idea of giving "640 acres of such land to a single individual was not generosity; it was a profligate surrender of a great public resource."

Finally, after a tremendous outpouring of sentiment on the question of arid lands, Congress in 1890 approved a clause in the Miscellaneous Appropriation Act of August 30 that limited to 320 acres the total amount of land a person could acquire title to under any or all of the land laws. Seven months later, on March 3, 1891, Congress approved an act designed to provide a remedy for previous abuses. Under the new provisions an individual making desert land entry was required to file a map detailing his proposed irrigation and reclamation plan and to prove he had access to sufficient water to carry it out. Entrymen were also permitted to "associate together in the construction of canals and ditches for irrigating and reclaiming all of said tracts" and could "file a joint map or maps showing their plan for internal improvements." Those filing were required to spent $3.00 per acre for improvements and $1.00 per acre each year in securing water. They were also required to show proof of this expenditure each year. If during any year before the final entry was made an entryman failed to show such proof, the filing fee would be forfeited to the United States and the entry would be cancelled. Under these provisions the act was limited to individuals and extended to include the state of Colorado.

Enactment of these new features fulfilled only momentarily their purposes in Utah where there was a rapid decrease in both original and final entries within the next decade. From a purely practical standpoint neither 640 nor 320 acres were needed to satisfy the average Utahn who irrigated his farm during this period: the 1890 census reveals that 9,724 farmers (92.46 percent of all farm owners) irrigated in Utah. The average size of these irrigated holdings was just 27 acres, while fewer than 10 percent of the irrigated farms comprised more than 160 acres. These figures in a very real sense reflect the overwhelming importance of the Mormon experimentation in property rights: a system under which property was allocated and regulated by the church in accordance with the principal of stewardship. "When Utah became a territory this system of public ownership was confirmed by the legislature and placed under the legal supervision of the county courts."

The desire to populate the Great Basin with as many families as could make a living on the limited amount of arable land was central to the whole idea of Mormon cooperation. Apostle George Q. Cannon, who viewed the operation of this policy firsthand, believed his people had proved that "large tracts of land are not necessary for the public good," even in a semiarid region. There was no doubt in his mind that "small holdings are the best for the people." Legally, the application and enforcement of the Mormon land system was possible because Congress did not enact laws under which land in Utah could be privately held until 1869. As a result, the burden of allocating and regulating property rights rested primarily, almost out of necessity, with the church. "Until, say, the 1880's, a man could obtain the means of his livelihood (that is, land) simply by going to the bishop and asking where he could settle."

With the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the Mormon church was confronted with the problem of preventing the railroad companies and other newcomers from acquiring title to the land its members had already settled. The delay in confirming land titles in the Utah Territory until just before the driving of the Golden Spike, Leonard Arrington argues, was "undoubtedly purposeful, being based on the hope of forcing the Mormons to change their social institutions, but actually made it easier for the Mormons to establish and maintain their own somewhat unique property institutions." Once this system was threatened the church sent "individuals on missions to assist local settlers throughout the territory with their land title applications." As a result, "there appears to have been a minimum of injustice done to the people of Utah (viewing it from the Mormon position)."

The essential ingredient of Mormon colonization was the submergence of individualism. Although property rights were most often not communal, they were incidental to the common goal of working together. Church supervision continued until as late as 1904 as the Mormons "demonstrated the effectiveness of central planning and voluntary cooperation in developing a large semiarid region. As the waste involved in shortsighted, unplanned, and ruthless exploitation of other western frontiers became more apparent, the Mormon pattern became increasingly appreciated." Understandably, the Desert Land Act was not easily adaptable to a society where individualism and speculation were the exception rather than the rule, where small landholdings were predominant, and where those engaged in cattle ranching needed considerably more than 640 acres to be competitive.

During the first decade of the twentieth century a more prosperous economy, a revived interest in irrigation prompted by the vigorous efforts of the National Irrigation Association, and President Theodore Roosevelt's firsthand knowledge of the needs of the arid regions resulted in a rapid increase in desert land entries in all the states and territories under the act with the exception of Utah. Not until 1907 did Utahns join with their western neighbors in showing any special enthusiasm for acquiring public lands under provisions of the act when original entries jumped from 49 to 301 and from 7,581 acres to 52,870.82.

Still, the problems long associated with the act for the most part remained unresolved. President Roosevelt in his second annual message on December 2, 1902, made a stinging attack on the perverted acquisition of public lands under the Desert Land Act and two other laws that had permitted the "acquisition of large areas of the public domain for other than actual settlers and the consequent prevention of settlement." Meanwhile, the National Irrigation Association began an all-out campaign for the repeal of all land laws; and the Public Land Commission, which the president had appointed in 1903 to investigate the public land system, specifically recommended several significant changes be made in the act.

Ultimately, a "Congress, unwilling to antagonize the West by the repeal of the act, adopted the safer policy of trying to remedy the existing abuses." On March 28, 1908, Congress approved legislation that "provided that no assignment would be recognized unless the person to whom it was made was eligible for entry, and that entries could not be made on unsurveyed lands. It was believed that this would prevent the accumulation of large holdings, and to a considerable extent this view was justified."

With the outbreak of World War I fewer individuals found the act attractive, and in 1914 the collapse of the irrigation securities market signaled a diminishing use of its provisions for the next twenty-five years. Activity under the Desert Land Act reached an all-time low in the fiscal year ending June 30, 1937, when not a single original entry was allowed and only three final entries were approved. During the next ten years, 1938-47, only five original entries and twenty-four final entries were recorded.

Then, beginning in 1948, there was a renewal of activity under the act "as part of the general upsurge in farm-land development stimulated by higher farm real estate values and favorable ratios of farm commodity prices to farm production costs." Several important factors influenced this renewed interest, including recent developments that provided "greater technological efficiencies in well drilling, pumping, and irrigating; the extension of rural electrification; and the general improvement in desert living opportunities through such means as highways, refrigeration, and air conditioning."

Utah, however, has never had more than twenty-nine original entries or more than twelve final entries a year approved during the last three decades (1948-79). Any increased activity under the act in Utah has been primarily attributed to ground-water development. Few family farms have been developed under the program, and the administrative problems and financial burdens the Bureau of Land Management has inherited in processing and investigating the merits of the hundreds of unsuccessful applications have been considerable.

An extensive study of these applications, undertaken by Clyde E. Stewart of the U.S. Agriculture Research Service in 1960, identified the principal areas of application during the decade of the fifties as Skull Valley in Tooele County, San Juan County, Leota-Ouray in the Uinta Basin, River Bed in Juab County, Snake and Pavant valleys in Millard County, and Grouse Creek in Box Elder County. Few entrymen during this period were successful. "Nearly 65 percent of all applications [between 1948 and 1957] were rejected and closed because of poor soil and water resources or because applicants failed to meet requirements of the act. Final proof and patent were achieved by only 25 of 400 applications." Of these "only 82, or a fifth of all applications, were allowed, thus permitting the applicants to proceed with development." Nearly a third of the entrymen who drilled wells failed to find water; only one out of four acquired patents.

Even when applicants found acreage with adequate basic physical resources, the large capital investment needed for private ground-water development posed an almost insurmountable problem. These drawbacks, together with physical and climatic limitations, proved to be powerful deterrents to the development of desert land tracts in Utah. In addition, costs for clearing, leveling, and fencing a desert tract of 320 acres in the 1950s "ranged from $17,000 to $40,000, depending primarily on the depth and adequacy of the water supply and the kind of residence, if any. These estimates do not include farm buildings. An important waiting cost is also incurred during the first several years because all land may not be in production for some years." (If one presumes that the costs of developing desert land tracts in Utah have kept pace with the prevailing rate of inflation, Stewart's estimates would now range from about $54,000 to $128,000.) Stewart found that few Desert Land Act applicants in Utah actually "intended to farm the land." Some hoped to use the land to get a start in farming, but most did not. Only two of the applicants Stewart interviewed actually lived on their desert land tract. Approximately one-fourth of the applicants indicated an intention to live on the land after it was developed but often "knew only vaguely where the tract of land for which they had filed was situated." Stewart nevertheless felt the desert land program had proved useful in the areas he studied because ground-water resources had been investigated and applicants and federal agencies had gained experience and information necessary for future planning.

In the two decades since Stewart undertook his analysis (1958-79), 18,270 acres have been patented under the Desert Land Act in Utah, but only 1,982 acres of this total have been approved for final entry by the Bureau of Land Management since July 1, 1968. Since 1972 only one entry of 40 acres has been approved for final entry in Utah. The trend represented by these figures appears irreversible, inasmuch as since 1968 not a single original entry has been approved.

After a century the Desert Land Act has outlived its usefulness in both the eyes of potential entrymen and the BLM. Unheralded, almost unnoticed, Congress in 1976 repealed the Homestead Act. At the same time it refused to repeal the Desert Land Act and the Carey Act of 1894 under which the federal government could make up to one million acres of public desert lands available to specific states. "Today," in the words of Paul Herndon of the BLM, "these two laws stand as a beacon of hope for thousands of Americans who continue to look to the Federal Government for low-cost land. Unfortunately the hope is glimmering instead of glittering." Only in Idaho, where farmers have been successful in irrigating the Snake River plateau, does the act appear to have a future during the next decade. The perennial problems of too little water and a lack of adequate financing seem to have finally spelled its doom in Utah, as virtually everywhere else. With its passing still another chapter of America's frontier history has been irrevocably closed.

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