compiled by Stephenie Flora
copyright 2007


The lack of water when crossing some areas of the plains occasionally exposed the traveler to intense suffering.  It was a matter of much importance for them to learn the best methods of finding water when none appeared to exist.

In mountainous areas water could generally be found in springs, the dry beds of streams or in holes in the rocks, where they were sheltered from evaporation.  During the season of the year when there are occasional showers, water could generally be found in low places where there was clay in the soil, but after the dry season set in these pools evaporated and it was necessary to dig wells.  In searching for water along the dry sandy beds of streams, it was best to look for indications of moisture by poking the earth with a stick or ramrod; if found, water could generally be obtained by digging down a bit.  Indications of water in an area are represented by deep green cottonwood or willow trees growing in depressed locations or tall green grasses and water rushes.  The fresh tracks and trails of animals converging toward a common center, and the flight of birds and water-fowl toward an area will also lead to water.

When it became necessary to sink a well in a stream of heavy sand, a flour barrel, perforated with small holes, was forced down as the sand was removed.  This prevented the sand from caving in, and when there was water through the sand, the well would continally be filled with water.

A supply of drinking water could be obtained during a shower from the drippings of a tent, or by suspending a cloth by the four corners and hanging a weight in the center, so as to allow the rain to run toward one point, from where it could drop into a container below.  India-rubber, gutta-percha, or painted canvas cloths were very useful for this purpose.

One method of limiting water was to drink a large quantity of water before breakfast, and on feeling thirsty on the march, chew on a small green twig or leaf.

Water taken from stagnant pools without boiling it first was a cause of fevers and dysentery.  It was recommended that it should be thoroughly boiled and the surface scum removed; this clarifies it, and by mixing powdered charcoal with it the disinfecting process was complete.  Water could also be purified by placing a piece of alum in the end of a stick that had been split, and stirring it around in a bucket of water.  Charcoal and the leaves of the prickly pear were also used for this purpose.

Travelers frequently drank muddy water by placing a cloth or handerchief over the mouth of the cup to catch the larger particles of dirt.  It was also possible to take a barrel and bore the lower half full of holes, then fill it up with grass and moss above the upper holes, after which it was placed in the pond with the top above the surface.  The water filtered through the grass or moss, and rose in the barrel to a level with the pond.

Water may be cooled by wrapping cloths around the vessels containing it, wetting them, and hanging them in the air, where a rapid evaporation with be produced.  Some of the frontier men used a leather sack for carrying water; this is porous, and allows the necessary evaporation without wetting.

My name is Stephenie Flora. Thanks for stopping by
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