Title: Letter from C. M. Morrill to C. E. Perkins,

Date: November 4, 1899

Author: Cody, William Frederick, 1846-1917

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My dear Mr. Perkins,—

I returned this P. M. from the big horn basin. Mr. Calvert is of the opinion that an expert geologist should be sent to the basin to get more definite knowledge as to the coal proposition and as winter is near at hand, making immediate action necessary if anything is to be done this fall, I send my report of the trip. Before making this report I had expected to obtain further definite information from the irrigation commissioners and also from the state geologists of Wyoming. That, however, can come later if necessary.

From Billings we drove direct to Pryor Gap. About 8 miles North of the gap we struct [sic] Pryor Creek. It is a small stream inside the Indian Reservation, and if this land should be brought into the market, the water running in the creek is only sufficient to irrigate a small strip of land on each side of the same. I talked with several of the me who surveyed the line from Toluca and they informed me there is nothing but a few small srpings between Toluca and Pryor Creek. As all the country between Toluca and Pryor Gap is in the Indian Reservation, as long as the indians remain there, it will be nothing but a cattle country. It is about 8 miles from Pryor Gap into the basin. There is a small creek running South from the Gap called Sage Creek. It has only water enough to supply 6 or 7 farms and there is already litigation between the settlers living in Wyoming and those living in Montana. Between Pryor Gap and Frannie there are less than 10 houses. During the irrigating season there is no water running in Sage Creek South of Frannie; therefore, the litigation above referred to. From Frannie we drove South West across the Shoshone flats to Eagles Nest and thence to Cody. There is not a sign of habitation between Frannie and Cody, with the exception of a road house at Eagles' Nest and another at Corbit [sic] where the road crosses the Shoshone River. At Cody there are less than a dozen houses, and only one store. There is no water in Cody, even for the irrigation of gardens. The Cody ditch scheme has been a failure up to the present time. From Cody we went around Cedar Mountain and followed up Sulphur Creek as Cody claimed that was the garden of his scheme at the present time. West of Cedar Mountain there are a few settlers, I think less than 10. I asked several of those I met about the amount in cultivation and in figuring it up they all made it less than 600 acres. They said there had been more settlers there, but owing to the failure of the ditch to furnish water, they had become disgusted and left. Cody's ditch starts about 16 or 17 miles up the Shoshone River. There they have put in a head-gate. After coming down the valley four or five miles they have turned the water into Sulphur Creek. I think probably two or three thousand acres of land could be irrigated above Cody in the Shoshone Valley and along Sulphur Creek providing the ditch was kept in order. Before getting the water down to the town of Cody and out onto the flats, there are serious difficulties to surmount. In getting around Cedar Mountain there is about 1-1/2 miles of flume which is in bad condition at the present time, and I think always has been. Even if it was kept in good condition, the flume is only four feet wide by two feet high. As you will see by reference to your map, Cody has in his scheme many thousand acres East of his town. There is no question about the supply of water with a properly constructed ditch, but I should judge that it would cost at least $250,000 to construct a ditch of sufficient capacity to water the lands that have been segregated to the ditch scheme on the South side of the river.

From Cody we drove East to Dry Creek and then down Dry Creek toward Burlington. There is a vast area of land that could be watered from the Shoshone River by running the ditch across from Cedar Mountain to the head of Dry Creek, then down the creek towards Burlington. As Dry Creek is a shallow ravine with large flats both East and West, the scheme is feasible.

We followed down Dry Creek until within sight of Burlington and then turned South down the Greybull River. Here is Wiley's (of Omaha) scheme of irrigation. He has made considerable headway as it is easy to get the water out of the Greybull. Before he undertook to construct the ditch there were settlers scattered all along the Greybull River.

We stopped over night with a Mr. Beck about 20 miles North West of Meteesee. Mr. Beck is a man of good judgment. He lived in Burt county Nebraska over thirty years and was a State Senator. He has lived at his present location six years, has 400 acres in alfalfa and is delighted with his new home.

From this point, we run almost directly West to Cody in order to pass some coal prospects. From Cody we passed East of Heart Mountain across the Shoshone flats North to Bridger on Clark's Fork. From Bridger we went up the line of Rockfort Creek to Carbon and down where Daily (of the Aconda Copper mines) is taking out coal, making a total of about 300 miles that we drove.

In the entire distance from Pryor Gap back to Bridger, we saw less than 100 houses including and Burlington, and not including Bridger and carbon [sic].

The soil in the basin is excellent; I think as good as the best Nebraska soil. That is proven by what is being produced on the small streams and springs referred to. Nearly every settler who lives on the stream has some alfalfa and is raising vegetables; although, I do not think they are producing as much in the basin as they are consuming at the present time.

We found croppings of coal at various places, but it was all lignite and poor stuff that we saw or could hear of, except the coal at Bridger, Carbon and Red Lodge. At Bridger they have fifty men at work. The coal there is lignite, but of a very fair quality and is used for engine coal by the N. P. They go into the hill on a slant of about 22 degrees and the vein is about three feet thick. At Carbon, Dailey went down about 1000 feet before he shipped any coal. It took him a year to get ready and he has a vein about 3-1/2 feet thick. It is also lignite and poorer than the Bridger coal. We did not go up to Red Lodge, but they have 6 or 7 feet of coal there and work 500 men. It is also lignite, but the men on the road said it made fair engine coal.

They are taking out coal about 10 miles West of Bowler (at the South end of Pryor Gap) and selling it to the ranchers. They claim to have five or six feet of lignite. They also clam to have a vein from 7 to 9 feet thick about half way between Cody and Meteesee. Down by Basin City, there are coal mines. In fact, there is no doubt, but what there is plenty of lignite coal, but there is serious doubt at the present time as to where you would find good coal.

I should have said that just 4 miles West of Cody there is a very fine warm sulphur spring. It would undoubtedly become a resort if a railroad run nearby.

If you should go up the Shoshone toward Yellowstone you would pass right by this spring. The scenery here is very fine — something on the order of the Grande Canon of Yellowstone Park (on a smaller scale).

If you should build from Toluca South through Pryor Gap and stop at the nearest point where you could get coal, it would be on Bear Creek or Jack Creek about 10 miles West of Bowers. You would be obliged to make arrangements to get the water that comes down Sage Creek and pipe it down. The town would then be located in an arid country with no possibilities for irrigation, and simply be a coal mining town.

The trade of the basin nearly all goes to Billings where their stocks of goodswould [sic] compare favorable with stocks in Lincoln or Omaha. In my opinion the class of merchants that would settle at a coal town in such a place as above mentioned, could not divert much of the trade from Billings. If you run down towards Burlington, it would make about 125 miles in all. In that case, you could get into a good country where parties who wanted to go into business would recognize that it was permanent. From that point, you could, by following up the Greybull, go into the Wood River country.

As to the mines, we saw a man who was direct from the Sunlight country North of Cody, who said there was nothing substantial there at the present time. Parties in Cody said he was reliable. There were several veins opened where the ore was very rich, but in very small quantities.

Mr. Calvert informs me that Mr. Holdrege has an expert in the Wood River Country so that you will get definite information from him.

This is a wonderful country and will sometime be almost an empire of itself.

Inside of the basin rim there is about 6,500,000 acres of land. I should say that it is possible to irrigate from 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 acres from the Shoshone, Greybull, Clark's Fork and numerous small streams. Supposing we call it 1,000,000 acres. That would leave five and a half million for pasturage. The soil is excellent; the grass is fine; and the climate is better for stock than another section of the NorthWest because of the light snow fall.

There is a large number of cattle shipped in the basin. Nearly all the stock is driven to the B. & M. at the present time. Otto Franks, who owns Pitchford ranch, South and West of Meteesee drives to the B. & M. I met another ranchman about 40 miles West of Cody who had just driven 200 head to the B. & M.. He said he always shipped over that line because it was cheaper and shorter to market. In fact, every stockman I talked with on the entire trip said they shipped over the B. & M. Therefore, from that source, you can gain very little by going into the basin.

I should like to talk this matter over with you as I can give you a very much better idea about what has been done in the way of irrigation and prospects for future movement in that direction.

If you want to send a coal expert into that country, I think I can get Prof. Barbour of the State University, who is recognized as a true scientist and well up. Mr. Calvert thinks he would be a splendid man to send up there.

If you think I had better run down to see you, let me know so that I can start Tuesday and get down there Wednesday. I have made arrangements to start for Guernsey's the 13th inst.

I will say that it is my judgment that if you or Mr. Harris had been with us on the trip, you would decided that it is too early to go into that country. However, I am not a railroad man and there are many features of the situation that I know very little of. One thing is certain, that if you build the road there with the present conditions, it will be simply for coal. The stock trade you have at the present time. Undoubtedly your building in would stimulate various industries that are not there at the present time.

Yours truly,

C. H. Morrill.

Title: Letter from C. M. Morrill to C. E. Perkins,

Source: Newberry Library, CB&Q collection, 33, 1890, 6.8, Big Horn Basin

Date: November 4, 1899

Author: Cody, William Frederick, 1846-1917

Topic: Buffalo Bill's Wyoming

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