Water, Windmills and Wells

Of all the things the frontier settlers needed in order to survive, the single most crucial thing was water. Without water, they couldn’t subsist, grow crops or quench their livestock’s thirst not to mention their own.

It’s just as crucial today. We must have water.

In the 1800’s a good water source played an important role in deciding what land to buy and where to create towns. That’s why towns were settled close to a river, stream, or lake. Water had to be accessible. Without it, towns would die as people moved on, seeking that life-sustaining resource.

Wars were often fought as greedy men tried to control the water. Men died in the attempt to keep water flowing to their land.

Lots of novels have been written and movies made about fights over water rights.

But it was very difficult sometimes for a farmer or rancher to obtain a good supply of water. If they didn’t have a river, stream, or lake nearby (which that was hard to come by in the desert) they had to dig deep in the earth, trying to tap into an underground stream. If they were lucky enough to find water just beneath the surface, they quickly lined the hole to keep the sides from caving in. They had themselves a well. They built a top over it to protect it and lowered a bucket down an open hole in the middle and hauled up water that way.

The only thing was that they had to do that every time they needed water. It could be a pain, especially for the poor frontier woman who had to have water for cooking, washing dishes and clothes and taking baths. A bucket at a time could get very tedious.

Almost every house had rain barrels to catch the rain. Some settlers built cisterns (usually out of cement and most of time they were underground) to catch rain in from a run-off. Water was so vital and it was necessary to collect every precious drop.

Sometimes the settler had to drill for water if there was no other way. He drilled pipe into the ground and prayed to strike water. Men with peach tree limbs known as “water witches” were called on to find the most likely place to drill. Those men with their peach tree limbs became the first geologists. Heaven forbid that it was such a primitive method! It often failed.

Once the driller did locate water, it was only half the battle. They had to get the water to the top. It involved pumping it to the surface with a friction pump and lots of arm strength.

In 1854, Daniel Halliday invented the self-regulating farm wind pump and that changed the whole perspective of getting accessible water through windmill technology.

Incessant winds on the plains made it easy to get power to the mill blades. Wind power kept the blades turning which in turn pumped water to the top through a long pipe. Water emptied into a storage tank on the surface. Simple technology but really efficient. Many times the windmills dwarfed the sod houses. But once everything was completed there was much rejoicing, especially by the farmer’s wife I’m sure. All the settlers had to do was dip water from the tank. No more drawing it up by rope and bucket or pumping until your arm wore to a frazzle.

I don’t know about you, but I love windmills. I love the sound of the wind whistling through the blades and creak of the pipe as it goes up and down. Such a beautiful sound. Around the storage tank was a good place to dig for worms too when we were going fishing.

Windmills are vanishing.

I’m sad that they’ve gone by the wayside. And it breaks my heart to still see windmills sitting idle in the pastures where houses once stood, remnants of someone’s hopes and dreams. Water, nature’s life-giving force.

Today, we turn a faucet and get all the water we need. We have controversial windfarms with hundreds of wind turbines set up on someone’s property. But don’t confuse these with windmills. Wind turbines don’t coax water or anything else from the ground. We simply harness the wind to create electricity for our homes and businesses. There’s been growing debate over windfarms that are popping up everywhere. I say if it makes power more affordable why not. Wind is a natural, renewable energy. We should use it.

What are your feelings? Do you think wind turbines are eyesores and present a hazard to birds or do we need to look past that and embrace green energy?


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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

24 thoughts on “Water, Windmills and Wells”

  1. As Im reading western historicals, I think alot about how easy it is for us to just walk into the kitchen and get water, for whatever we need! Water was obviously one of the biggest deciding factors for where to being a new life…where to have a farm or ranch..etc!

    I certainly think we dont stop enough to be thankful for our vanities and comforts today!

    I also think the wind turbines are a good idea…we need all help we can get to lower the cost of energy!

  2. Thanks for the great research, Linda. Lots of food for thought and for stories here. One of my favorite movies “The Big Country” is all about water and fights over water. Those fights go on to this day as the population grows. There is only so much water in the world, something we need to remember every time we turn on the faucet.
    Have a great day, everyone. And remember to VOTE!

  3. Oh–and I think wind turbines are a great idea, even though I do worry about the birds. We’re getting quite a few of them here in Utah. We can pay a little more to buy wind energy from the power company.

  4. Hi Melissa,

    Wonderful to see you! Yes, we do take our comforts for granted, not realizing what challenges the pioneers faced on a day to day basis. Boy, I would’ve hated drawing water and lugging it to the house just so I could do the washing and cooking. No wonder they didn’t take baths often! lol

    For the life of me I don’t see why people are fighting the wind turbines. They just make sense. Everytime I open up my electric bill I shudder. I’d love to have cheaper power. Maybe one day it’ll happen.

    Have a great day and hug your girls!

  5. We still have a windmill on our ranch. We don’t use it but it’s sitting right out my door and I like it so I leave it alone.

    My mother in law had one, too until very recently. Someone came through offering money for them. They’re made of ‘angle iron’ which has some value so he’d tear down the windmill and pay quite a bit. It was a tidy way to clear them off the land. But of course, now they’re GONE.

    I was kind of glad to see my mil’s go, though, honestly. It squeaked like crazy when it turned. And I swear the sound it made was similar to that weird five-toned music that summoned the aliens in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

    I was always a little nervous when I was at her place and the wind was blowing. I was afaid Richard Dreyfus would show up.

  6. Hi Elizabeth,

    Water rights have been a source of contention from ancient times to the present. In some areas near the coast I’ve heard they de-salinate the sea water and make it safe to drink. Yea for technology!! People are getting desperate. I feel sorry for the people in the desert of Africa who have no safe drinking water thus leading to disease and deaths. I’ve been a lot more conscious of my water usage in the last few years. Seemed I just woke up one day and thought about what I was using. Guess better late than never.

    I wonder how many birds are actually killed by wind turbines. Does anyone know? It’d be interesting to find out.

  7. Hi Mary,

    Another lover of windmills. I don’t blame you for keeping the one on your ranch. They’re great to look at and imagine you were back in frontier days. Windmills sure saved those poor women from pumping water up from the ground. That would’ve been horrible in the winter when the pump handle froze!

  8. Mary,

    The sound of m-i-l’s windmill must’ve really given you goosebumps. That must’ve been a case for a good dose of WD40! lol I’ve always liked the sound of them but then I never had one in my backyard. I’m sure you get used to whatever noise they make. We used to live near a railroad tracks when I was growing up and I swear I never heard the train. Ha, maybe I was deaf!

  9. A very poignant post, Linda. Beautifully stated. I think windmills are creations of beauty, as well. Why not take advantage of what nature has given us? If a windmill is an eyesore, what in the world would you say about a papermill?

    Anyway, although community water service has served us well for more than 60 or 70 years now, it can too easily be damaged by people whose intentions are definitely in question.

    Did you know that today, our water supplies are finding so many different drugs in the water — mostly the new psychotropic drugs — that just drinking water from the sink can be a danger. And bottled water isn’t much better, often being no more and no less than good ole tap water. Not to mention the addition of other chemicals that have negative reports connected to them — chlorine and flouride.

    Flouride, by the way, was put into the water supply at Nazi prison camps as a way to make the prisoners more docile. It’s also (even in its natural state) listed as a deadly poison — more deadly than arsenic. Interesting from my point of view that’s it’s found its way into our water supply.

    Anyway, that’s my take on it. Thanks for a very enlightening bog.

  10. Great blog, Linda, so full of good info. And I enjoy the comments, too. My kids’ dentist always said the reason they didn’t have cavities was because of the flouride in the water???? Hubby and I both had a mouthful of fillings LOL.

    I love the old-style windmills…and I’ve always liked the “windmill” farms on the way to Palm Springs where we frequently vacation. I didn’t realize the hazards to birds though, which I love.

    I love water and hate to waste it. We get drought-y here in So.Cal. sometimes so conservation is pretty much a habit. Low-flush toilets, short showers, sprinklers on short timer…we actually removed all the grass from our suburban backyard (read: small) and set flagstone and stone pathways. Although…I must confess most of the reason was to prevent the constant dead yellow spots everywhere from our Labrador Retrievers.

  11. Hi Kay,

    Very scary about the prescription drugs that are in our water now. Sure makes sense to use a water purifier. Who knows what some of those drugs would do to you if you didn’t need ’em. I think cities need to be do more to protect our water source. And I’m so in fear of the wrong people getting access to our water supply. In the West bad people poisoned the water when they were trying to run someone off or get back at them for a slight.

    Wind turbines seem to me to be the way to go, too. We have to get back to the “green” way of living if the world is to survive. But it’s not too late. The Texas millionaire, T. Boone Pickens, has a plan if he can get people on board. I hope he does.

  12. Hi Tanya,

    I, too, have heard it preached that flouride prevents cavities. I wonder just how much is in our water. And if it’s supposed to make people docile, it’s sure missing the mark. We have so many angry destructive people in the world. Hmmmm.

    I’m sure there in Southern California water is a desperate commodity. Don’t blame you for removing your grass and putting in flagstone. I’ll bet that’s so pretty though. Cactus gardens are another very attractive feature in drought areas. Doesn’t take much water for them. My sister has a beautiful one where she lives in central Texas.

    Yes, we have to conserve water every way we can. There’s just never enough.

    Enjoy your windmills and pray they don’t vanish.

  13. Hi Linda! What a great post. We sure take our water supply for granted, don’t we? It must’ve been such a struggle for those pioneers.

    I’m all for wind turbines! Apparently, there is a noise factor to consider–which I didn’t know about–if there’s a wind farm near your property, they can be a bit noisy. I don’t know what sound they make–I think a low hum of some kind.

    We have a few giant ones I’ve seen as I pass them on the highway. They cost like $1 or $2 million to erect, so they’re not cheap! But apparently worth it in the long run.

    We’ve got to protect our water supplies! I don’t recall ever seeing a Western movie or book based on this–where have I been?? LOL Other than the movie Chinatown, that is. I’ll have to watch for them now!

  14. Hey, Linda! A thought-provoking blog today.

    I don’t see windmills like I did when I was growing up in western Nebraska. They just scream *west* to me. Now that I live in the big city, I miss those memories.

    I, too, say keep the wind turbines!

  15. Hi Kate,

    I never thought about wind turbines making a bothersome noise. Maybe that’s what all the fuss is about. But they’re putting up a large amount of them on remote land here in Texas that I can’t see is hurting anyone. I think we can find excuses for anything we don’t want to happen.

    A lot of western movies and TV shows featured a bad guy poisoning someone’s water. I can’t recall the titles of any right now though. My mind has gone blank. Sorry.

  16. Hi Pam,

    Glad you liked my post. Maybe the reason you don’t see windmills much anymore is that it’s big business according to Mary to dismantle them and sell the angle iron off. But yeah, nothing else symbolizes the west like windmills. It’s sad to see them disappear.

  17. When we moved onto my grandparent’s farm there was a windmill on the hill that we turned on whenever the water pressure seemed low. It filled a huge holding tank that supplied our water.

    The wind turbines do make a humming noise when they are turning. I would think this noise would scare off the birds. There are drawbacks to every new technology, but we have to move ahead with the renewable energy sources.

    The Platte River in Eastern Nebraska has so little water in it most of the time that you can walk across it and not get your feet wet. Irrigation in the Western part of the state has almost dried it up. Kind of sad.

  18. Hi Sue,

    I’m wondering how long ago it was when you moved onto your grandparent’s farm. It sounds like a good idea to have a windmill even in this day and time.

    Yes, you’d think the dumb birds wouldn’t fly into something that was making a noise. I thought they were smarter than that. lol

    It is sad to see the rivers being dammed up and they don’t have any water in them. The Red River that forms a boundary line between Texas and Oklahoma has only a trickle of water in it now. Back in the cattle drive days every cowboy feared crossing the Red River. It was a mighty river. Not anymore though.

    Thanks for dropping by to comment!

  19. We moved onto the farm in the late 50’s, and my parents lived there until sometime in the 60’s. I’m not sure the windmill is still there. I guess I will have to drive by next time I am down that way.

  20. My state votes by mail, so I voted several days ago.
    I live about 20 miles from a wind turbine farm. I think it is the answer to the energy of the future.

  21. Sue,

    Yes, wouldn’t it be interesting if the people who bought your grandparent’s farm still use the windmill? I love the soft sound of the blades turning in the breeze, the creaks and groans of the metal. Windmills can lure me right to sleep.

  22. Hi Estella,

    I’m glad you voted. That’s great. I went this morning early and didn’t even have to stand in line. It sure felt good to excercise my rights. Now, I’m on pins and needles waiting to see who won. Such suspense!

    I agree that wind turbines could be the answer to good clean energy. How neat that you live near a windfarm!

    Thanks for coming by to comment.

  23. Hi Linda,
    What a great idea for a blog! I guess count me among the ones who take our water for granted. It’s hard to think of a time when there was NO indoor plumbing. People often think they’d like to live back in the 1800’s, but not me. I need my indoor plumbing. Can’t imagine lugging buckets of water to the homestead. I won’t even talk about toilets!
    I do like windmills of all kinds. In Palm Springs they aren’t eyesores at all but an icon into the city. In fact, I get warm fuzzies when I see them on the roadside, because I know I’m getting near our favorite vacation spot!

  24. Hi Charlene,

    Glad you liked my subject matter today. It just came to me the other day how important and how crucial it is to have available water. Nothing on this planet can survive without it. Yeah, I’d hate to have to haul water from somewhere. I remember how it was after the tornado here and how awful it was to be without water for a while. Sure makes you appreciate it.

    Palm Springs must be a neat city to have windmills as icons. Honestly, I just don’t get these people who are fighting them. Makes no sense.

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