Watering the Big Horn Basin: William F. Cody and the Environmental Transformation of the American West

Brian Sarnacki and Douglas Seefeldt

The late nineteenth and early twentieth century not only saw the settlement of the American West, but its environmental transformation. The Carey Act of 1894 gave private irrigation projects public support, privileging town promoters and businessmen. Though the Carey Act produced some modest successes, politicians of the day and later historians have both seen the act as a failure. William F. Cody's irrigation projects in the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming best represent the Carey Act's overall failures and successes as Cody's company failed to profit, though he did manage to complete his canal as originally planned. Because the businessmen and town promoters failed to satisfactorily transform the environment, Congress passed the Newlands Reclamation Act in 1902, handing over the management of the environment to government bureaucrats in Progressive agencies, such as the United States Reclamation Service. Once again, William F. Cody's efforts to irrigate Wyoming's Big Horn Basin provide the best window through which to examine the environmental change of the American West. Cody tried to use his personal relationships with politicians and his personal history as pioneer and celebrity to influence government decisions. However, politicians relied on the New West's bureaucrats, who were unimpressed by Buffalo Bill. William F. Cody, like many of the promoters and businessmen who undertook Carey Act projects, struggled after the Newlands Reclamation Act to maintain his influence in the emerging New West.


The Cody Canal in the context of Wyoming Carey Act Projects (Coming Soon)

Concept Highlighting of Cody Canal Project Reports (Coming Soon)

Concept Map of Reclamation Service Correspondence (Coming Soon)

Concept Timeline of William F. Cody's letters to the Reclamation Service (Coming Soon)

Mapping William F. Cody's influence on the Reclamation Service (Coming Soon)

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