BYU-Idaho HomeLibrary HomeUniversity ArchivesManuscriptsPhotographsFamily History
Special Collections Home :: Manuscript :: MSS 31
Search Special Collections | Contact Us


Great Feeder Canal Company


Collection processed by: John L. Powell

Register created by: John L. Powell

Date: January 23, 2002

Physical Description: 6 bound volumes

Agency History

The Great Feeder is the largest irrigating system in the Upper Snake River Valley and one of the largest systems in the West. It supplies water for some twenty major canal systems, diverts up to one million acre-feet of water and has irrigated one hundred thousand or more acres of farmland. At one time, the head gate (116 feet from end to end) was said to be the largest in the United States. What makes this achievement even more impressive is that the pioneers built the system using what today we would call primitive methods and tools.

The Great Feeder is a product of pioneer organization and effort. A most pressing concern for the pioneers of the semi-arid Upper Snake River Valley was how to get water onto their land. Most of the early settlers of the area were Latter-day Saints and had come into the area from Utah where they had learned the lesson of how to make the desert bloom through irrigation. Most of them were, but not all. Many non-Latter-day Saints made significant contributions to building and maintaining the system. The settlers quickly looked to the Snake River to supply the necessary water for the new settlements they had established.

Nevertheless, drought struck the newly established settlements in 1894-95. The settlers held meetings and drew up plans aimed at controlling the river and thereby securing the needed water. What became the Great Feeder grew out of these meetings. Unfortunately, this period is hard to document. The only known documentation of these organizational meetings can be found in newspaper accounts from the Idaho Register and the Idaho Falls Times. There may well be unknown sources of information just waiting to come to light, however.

Articles of incorporation for the Great Feeder Canal Company were recorded in Fremont County on April 8, 1895 and with the Secretary of the State of Idaho on April 20, 1895. A board of seven directors was named. The canal itself was dedicated on June 22, 1895 when water was first turned into it.

The first annual meeting of the stockholders was held in Rigby, Idaho on March 21, 1896. The meeting adopted By-Laws and elected a board of trustees. The following men were elected directors: E. Bachman, H.W. Perry, Omie S. Call, P.J. Davis, Eli McEntire and F.W. Smith.

The incorporated canal systems that irrigate under the Great Feeder give an idea of the system's importance to the region. They are: Butler Island, Harrison, Rudy, Lowder Slough, Burgess, Clark and Edwards, Labelle, The Island, Diltz Irrigation Company, Long Island Irrigation Company, Rigby, West Labelle, Parks and Lewisville, North Rigby, Progressive Irrigation District, Farmers Friend and Enterprise Canal Company.

As can be imagined, there has been a good deal of construction and almost continual repair work on the canal over the years. The company replaced headgates in 1906 and again in 1915. Those same headgates originally constructed in 1915 and renovated in 1967, were still in use in 1997. Small temporary dams, at first made of pole cribs and later replaced by cement overflows, have been built to contain the flow of the river at various times. Other special projects, like the blasting of Kelly Rock around 1910, occurred from time to time.

Most of the information in this sketch comes from Eldred Lee's excellent book The Great Feeder Canal. Members of the Lee family have served in the company for nearly a century. Eldred Lee served as secretary/treasurer of the company from 1949 until his retirement in 1994. His father, John Lee, was secretary/treasurer from 1913 until his death in 1949. The book contains lists of officers and directors, and biographical sketches of presidents, secretary/treasurers and watermasters of the company.

Another source of information is Pioneer Irrigation: Upper Snake River Valley by Kate B. Carter.

Scope and Content

The Great Feeder Canal Company Records consists of minute books, a daybook and a ledger.

The minute books document nearly a century of the company's annual meetings, from 1896-1989, without a break. Although often short on details, the minutes give vivid descriptions of the problems that confronted the board of directors as it worked to deliver water to the stockholders. Some problems of a physical nature, like containing the water, remain the same over the years with only the techniques of dealing with them changing. Other problems, however, fundamental land and water use questions of a legal nature, developed with the passing years.

The rest of the collection is more fragmentary. The daybook covers the years 1940-1969 and the ledger covers fifty-year time span, 1933-1985.


Volume 1 Minute Book; March 21, 1896- April 23, 1909
Volume 2 Minute Book; April 23, 1909- January 1, 1917
Volume 3 Minute Book; February 10, 1917- February 9, 1936
Volume 4 Minute Book; February 9, 1936- August 21, 1989
Volume 5 Day Book; March 9, 1940- February 25, 1969
Volume 6 Ledger; 1933-1983