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Windmills on the High Plains

Oldtimers say it’s a place where you can watch your dog run away for two days.

A vast, arid plain of un-watered hearty mixture of grasses. Charles Goodnight set his ranch in Palo Duro Canyon and watered his livestock from the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, the flowing channel that had cut the deep canyon. In the northern Texas Panhandle, the early sheepherders settled along the banks of the Canadian River. In between were millions of acres of land without water. The thing that drove early pioneer women mad, coating clean laundry with dust and turning vegetable gardens into wilted choas, was the thing that opened the Texas Panhandle for settlement.

The wind.


It wasn’t unheard of to combine the power of wind with the movement of water. The Europeans had utilized windmills in ancient villages for several centuries to drive sawmills, power small factories, and mill flour. The shallow wells back East produced water by drawing a bucket “hand-over-hand”, but that method didn’t work in the Panhandle where the land was hard and the water lay deep below the surface.

B. B. Groom of the Diamond F Ranch in Carson County brought the first well-drilling machine into our area in 1882. American inventors applied the same principles only made it portable. The newly developed windmill was light, transportable by wagon, and ran on energy that was free. The basic design of the windmill now used in the Texas Panhandle has required very little changes in the past one hundred years.


I remember touring the American Windmill Museum in Lubbock. The group included a variety of folks from many different states, and I found their questions surprising. One point of confusion that seemed to be common among the group is that windmills were, and still are, not just for waterning livestock. Before windmills, early homesteaders carted barrels of water across the pasture lands to and from the water sources. With windmills, they could easily pipe water directly into their homes.

Sadly one of our squeaky “mills” was replaced recently with a more efficient submersible pump and solar-powered panel. It’s definitely does not make a good photograph. Although a submersible is sometimes more money for maintenance than mill rods, in the short term it was cheaper than repairing or buying a new windmill tower. Also, we experience less wind during July thru August which means less water during the hottest, driest months when livestock need it the most. Definitely something to consider during periods of fluctuating cattle prices.


All photos by N. Bright.

Natalie Cline Bright is a blogger, hobby photographer, speaker and author of the fun, historical western TROUBLE IN TEXAS series for middle grades is a great read for the entire family, and the RESCUE ANIMAL series features true stories about horses.  Read about Natalie’s grandmother and her cherry salad recipe, recently selected for “THE WESTERN WRITERS OF AMERICA COOKBOOK: Favorite Recipes, Cooking Tips, and Writing Wisdom” (TwoDot Publishing, June 2017). Read the bargain novella MAGGIE’S BETRAYAL, a dark, dramatic women’s fiction set on historic Route 66 of the 1930s, and selected for the anthology OUR TIME ON ROUTE 66.  If you enjoy pictures from the Texas Panhandle, check out her Instagram account @natsgrams