Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair(s)

Clyde A. Milner II


Clyde A. Milner II


Tom Lyon


Nineteenth-century Mormon settlers in Utah combined a unique set of religious beliefs with a fervent agrarianism and a strong sense of community. They encountered a specific arid environment along the Wasatch Front. A distinctive cultural set of irrigation institutions and practices developed out of the complex interchanges between nature and culture in Cache Valley, Utah, between 1860 and 1916. The structure of water flow, and conflicts over water rights and responsibilities, reflected the fundamental tensions within Mormon communities between individual gain and collective progress; it also reflected the patriarchal essence of Mormon culture.

The season-to-season workings of irrigation institutions that distributed water from the Logan River, whether large irrigation districts or neighborhood canal cooperatives, showed how Mormon communities developed systems of exchange for water that allowed each individual irrigator to take water in direct proportion to the amount of labor, cash, or crops he contributed to the group's collective construction and upkeep of canals. The democratic nature of these exchanges, however, were tempered by natural hierarchies inherent in the geography of water canals, and by community hierarchies of power. A small group of elite town fathers held most of the responsibility for irrigation administration, and used their influence -in disputes over water. Those town fathers also tended to own more land than other irrigators. They often owned valuable land in proximity to the canals themselves.

Between settlement in 1860 and the Call Decree in 1916, Logan River irrigators worked together to formulate a water distribution system that allowed for both the growth of local communities and for continued adherence to the basic religious principles on which the communities were founded. They also struggled to follow seasonal cycles of water use that fit within the natural cycles of the rise and fall of the water level in the river.

Whether at the level of the high-line canal, the city block, or the family garden, Mormon water systems constituted an interesting example of the ways in which culture and the environment come together to shape natural resource use, especially in the arid regions of the American west.




This work made publicly available electronically on June 1, 2012.