The Water Thief

A Way-Low Criminal

By Bill Strange

I’ll wager few things were or are more important to Idaho farmers and ranchers than their water rights. Cattle might be stolen, or money, even wives or lady friends, but water theft has often carried dire consequences, including death. Following is a case in point from my own family history.

My father grew up in Lund. Although he moved to Utah, started a business in Salt Lake City, and raised his family there, he often said, “You can take a kid out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the kid.” He dreamed of moving back to Idaho one day and buying a farm or small ranch. After almost twenty-six years in Utah, he enlisted the help of my mother’s uncle, who was then living in Hagerman, to locate and purchase a small ranch on the bank of the Snake River west of Wendell.

The purchase was completed in late-July 1949, and the family immediately loaded up and made the miserable six-hour trip to Wendell. I say “miserable,” because we had to travel over slow-moving old US 30, and much of it was under construction. It had a lot of steep hills, only two lanes, and was heavily traveled by trucks.

Arriving at the ranch and gazing upon it for the first time was the most disheartening sight I can remember. The house had not been lived in for at least a year, probably much longer. It could hardly be seen through the tall weeds and brush. Inside, dust covered everything, and each step we took threw up a cloud.

Dad was as happy as a kid at Christmas, and couldn’t wait to start working. He soon had us unloaded and inside the house, cleaning. The first order of business was mopping and dusting. By the time we had the inside clean enough to be reasonably habitable, it was dark, and we were almost too tired to eat. It had been a long day.

The following morning, and every day after that, my brother and I were rousted out of bed for breakfast before daylight and worked until dark. Our dad only reluctantly allowed us to take time out for lunch.

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