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Mormon Row Irrigation and the Kelly Warm Springs:

Quotes from Grand Teton National Park’s History Pages.

If you stop at the intersection of Antelope Flats Road and Mormon Row, you can pay 50¢ for a GTNP Pamphlet called “Mormon Row Historic District – A Once Vibrant Community”. Near the end of the pamphlet, you’ll find this paragraph: “In 1927, the Kelly Warm Springs emerged as a result of a powerful flood. Residents of Mormon Row named it “The Miracle Spring” as it provided the community with much needed water year round.”




These three photos were taken in1964 by Al Pounian, showing the irrigation ditch. When working on the other posts, I pulled up Google Maps and traced the ditch all the way to the Kelly Warm Springs, but I wasn’t sure how that information affected other issues at the homestead. The bottom images show an “overpass” over Ditch Creek. Parts of the concrete footers are still there.

The paragraph in the pamphlet started me on a search for more information, which landed me on the Park Service’s web site. The information below is copied intact. I highlighted a few key comments, but all of it is interesting reading.

Grand Teton

Historic Resource Study

NPS Logo

Reclamation and Irrigation

Virtually all irrigation projects in Jackson Hole were the products of individual or group efforts. None of the ditches were engineering marvels, but nevertheless represented many hours of labor. According to the Tabulation of Adjudicated Water Rights for Water Division Number Four, D. H. Goe secured water rights to 2.28 cubic feet of water from South Twin or Twin Creek dating from June 10, 1883. Water was diverted through Holland Ditch Number 1 to a 160-acre parcel in the Flat Creek area. This water right may have belonged originally to John Holland, who secured the first water rights in Jackson Hole in 1883, according to another source. It was common for ditches to be named for their owners. The date of 1883 is inconsistent with popular tradition, which places the arrival of Holland and Carnes as 1884. [12]

Within the boundaries of the present Grand Teton National Park, homesteaders diverted water from several major tributaries of the Snake River; Pacific Creek, Spread Creek, Cottonwood Creek, Ditch Creek, Gros Ventre River, and the lower Snake River, which encompasses the areas in the park south of Moose, Wyoming. [13] The first ditch known to be excavated in Jackson Hole was the old Mining Ditch on Antelope Flats. As the name implies, unknown prospectors excavated a ditch to conduct placer mining on the Snake River. Orestes St. John, the geologist with the Hayden Surveys, described the ditch in his report of the 1877 survey. W. O. Owen plotted the course of the ditch on his survey map of Township 43 North, Range 115 West, 6th Principal Meridian in 1893. Owen’s map shows a ditch approximately three and one-half miles in length, which diverted water from Ditch Creek at a point downstream from the present Teton Science School and ran a northwest course to Schwabacher’s Landing on the Snake River. [14]

In 1896, James I. May and William Kissenger dug the first ditches for agricultural purposes in land comprising today’s Grand Teton National Park. May excavated the Trail Ditch using a horse-drawn plow and hand tools. He used the water to irrigate 35 acres at the base of Blacktail Butte. Kissenger constructed a four-mile ditch to his homestead at Kelly Warm Springs. Homesteaders utilized water from the Gros Ventre and Ditch Creek to irrigate fields in the Mormon Row-Kelly area and on Antelope Flats. [15]

The first ditches taking water from the Gros Ventre were located in the Spring Gulch area. The earliest water right belonged to P. C. Hansen, whose priority dated from June 8, 1894. In 1898, five ranches secured rights to the Spring Gulch Ditch, which diverted water into the gulch. In the park, Nels Hoagland homesteaded west of Kelly with his four children. Filing for water rights in 1898, it took him at least four years to complete the Cedar Tree Ditch. Because of a lack of water, Hoagland was unable to plant a crop until 1903. [16] Plans to divert water from the Gros Ventre began in earnest in 1899, when Fred Lovejoy and George Kissenger filed for water rights to be diverted through the Midland Ditch. On July 31st of that year, Jim Budge, James May, Mart Henrie, and Joe Henrie secured water rights to 9.26 cubic feet of water, and constructed the Hot Springs Ditch above Kelly to divert water to 650 acres of land near Blacktail Butte. Other early ditches along the Gros Ventre were the Hobo, the Wild Cherry, the Sebastian, the Mesa, the Ideal, and the Savage. Rights to water coursing through these ditches date from 1899 and 1902.

Ditch Creek provided the other major waterway for irrigating lands in this area. James I. May tapped this creek with a headgate for the Trail Ditch while William Kissenger constructed a ditch to irrigate 65 acres at Kelly Warm Springs. Except for these two ditches, Ditch Creek remained untapped until 1907 or later, when settlers preempted lands around the creek. Several homesteaders rehabilitated and modified the old Mining Ditch, beginning with James Williams in 1908, O. H. Bark in 1909, E. C. “Doc” Steele in 1911, George Carpenter in 1912, and T H. Baxter in 1914. The Courier reported that A. Z. Smith, J. R. Smith, Carpenter, and Baxter were digging a ditch to their properties in 1914. [17] Between 1908 and 1930, 17 ditches were developed along Ditch Creek. Sometimes springs provided a water source. For example, Norm Smith obtained water from Pemble Spring on Blacktail Butte enabling him to irrigate 20 acres of his homestead.

In May 1927, water breached the natural dam at Lower Slide Lake on the Gros Ventre River causing the catastrophic Kelly flood. Irrigation works on the river were seriously damaged or destroyed. At that time, a group of farmers on Mormon Row had been excavating a canal from the Gros Ventre, each devoting several hours of work per week. They hoped to convert land being dry farmed for wheat and oats to irrigated hayfields. The flood ruined their work. But, for uncertain reasons, Mud Springs (today’s Kelly Warm Springs) began producing more water after the Kelly flood. Settlers cut the Mormon Row Ditch to the springs and began irrigating dry lands. John Moulton, T. A. Moulton, Andy Chambers, J. Wallace Moulton, and Joe Heniger owned rights to nine cubic feet per second dating from 1929. To add even more water, settlers diverted water from Savage Ditch, cutting a channel to Mud Springs in the 1930s. The enlarged Savage Ditch added eight users to the system. As a result, Andy Chambers switched from dry farming to ranching, raising hay and cattle. [18]


Mike’s Comments:

So, Mud Springs turned into the Kelly Warm Springs after the flood. My first question would be, “Where did all the water go until they had a chance to build a ditch?” I assume it would have just flooded the flat area surrounding it, but they were apparently already in the process of digging a ditch from the Gros Ventre.

I’ve wondered if the families along the irrigation ditch used the water for drinking? Or did they drill a water well? I saw a comment in some document saying Joe Pfieffer drilled water wells for some of the homesteaders but could never get one on his property.

There’s one other comment in the text of interest to me:

“Owen’s map shows a ditch approximately three and one-half miles in length, which diverted water from Ditch Creek at a point downstream from the present Teton Science School and ran a northwest course to Schwabacher’s Landing on the Snake River.”

If you ever watched the movie “Shane”, there was some sort of water supply flowing through next to the cabin and a deer  in velvet grazing in the “stream”. (Note, this is not what people call the Shane Cabin now, but the one built for the movie set out in the sage flats). The Starett movie cabin was located north of NW of the Kelly Warm Springs. I’ve scratched my head while watching the movie and wondered where the water supply could have come from. I suppose the movie company could have simply brought in a large water truck to flood the area?

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Comments (2)

  1. William D. Schroeder, MS, RPA

    Walt Farmer (2000) put together a CD-ROM detailing set locations and other information regarding the filming of Shane. The set location of the Starett Cabin was on the north bank of Mormon Row Ditch. The film crew dumped gravel into the ditch to raise the bottom so that horses and wagons in the movie could more easily traverse the ditch (otherwise it’d have been a 2+ ft. drop!). The town set was north of Mormon Row proper in the northern Antelope Flats area. The Starett Cabin set was completely dismantled and the gravel removed at the end of filming, according to Walt Farmer (2000). I have located a ‘patch’ of gravel on the north bank of the Mormon Row Ditch in the area of the Starett Cabin.

    Also, Mud Springs, a.k.a. Miracle Springs, a.k.a. Kelly Warm Springs produced water well before Mormon Row was settled as evidenced by the 1894 BLM GLO Cadastral map for Township 42 N, Range 115 W. Also, there was an original hot spring at the mouth of the Gros Ventre River near Kelly, WY that time has forgotten. Check the GLO Cadastral!!! The ditch indicated on the GLO Cadastral is Old Mining Ditch. But look in Sections 1 and 2. The springS were there well before 1894.

  2. Hi William, Great info! You might enjoy Shane Movie Locations

    A lot of the info comes from Walt Farmer’s CDs. MJ

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