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Early History Settlement Construction Era Aftermath Appendices

Settling the West

Pipelines around a bridge, 1908.

After the fur traders, the missionaries, and other small expeditions, the American West again fell prey to the resurgence of imperialism. An overall search to establish American hegemony was caught in the early tangles of the North and South antebellum struggles. The railroad surveys moved westward followed by wagon road surveys. Road building was crude but far superior to any other options at the time. Eventually freight and passengers moved by stagecoach. Transcontinental mail became a necessity and a source of federal funding. The first source was the Overland Mail Company established by Congress in 1857. More legendary was the Pony Express that moved mail cross country in about ten days. After its speedy rise, federal exploration of the West was truncated during the civil war although the local surveys flourished. It was not until the 1870s that in a mass movement Americans would ride off into the sunset.

This is the period in water history that Donald Worster calls the "diversion plateau". In his article "Hydraulic Societies in California" Worster outlines the three stages of man's interrelationships with natural water resources. The first is the "diversion plateau", which means simply that small technologies are employed to increase water use on a small, private scale. The means are usually reversible and easily overtaken by nature. Examples would be fishing devices like weirs and gillnets or siphons for small-scale irrigation. The water is simply diverted, not pumped or drained. This stage involved decentralized workers striving for personal profit from natural resources.

Exploitation & Expropriation Native Culture Exchanges Water Law Science & Technology Homesteaders Working the River

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