Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Richard Lowitt


This study examines the economic and social development of the Fort Shaw division of the Sun River project, a federal reclamation project in central Montana. From 1910 through 1940, the period of this study, the settlers of the Fort Shaw division struggled to overcome such handicaps as poor markets, poor soil, and the constant need for cash to meet annual costs associated with the irrigation system. Unable to find a satisfactory high-return specialty crop to raise on their irrigated land, the farmers integrated their operations into the grain-growing and livestock-feeding economy that had existed prior to the establishment of the reclamation project;To test the belief of proponents of federal reclamation that irrigated farming would stabilize the rural population and lead to greater cooperation within the community, this study compares the development of the communities of the Fort Shaw division with Cascade, a dryland farming community located twenty miles southeast of the reclamation project. A comparison of social development of the communities reveals no substantial difference in their institutions, associations, and patterns of leadership. Also, a comparison of persistence of settlers in the two communities indicates that farmers of irrigated land were as likely to leave as were their dryland neighbors. In 1940, 24.4 percent of those who had come to the Fort Shaw division before 1915 remained; in Cascade, 23.3 percent of those who had arrived by 1915 remained;While the Fort Shaw division failed to fulfill many of the expectations of reclamation policy-makers, it succeeded in one respect. By 1940, the use of irrigation had increased by more than 40 percent the number of persons who made a living from agriculture in the Sun River valley. By comparison, the community of Cascade experienced a 50 percent increase in population from 1900 to 1920, during the boom in dryland farming that took place in Montana. However, by 1940 the population of Cascade had returned to the level of 1900, due to periods of drought that had forced people from the land.



Digital Repository @ Iowa State University,

Copyright Owner

Judith Kay Fabry



Proquest ID


File Format


File Size

314 pages