This came to mind while I was doing some research on Idaho pioneer Presto Burrell for a family magazine I edit. My family isn’t related to Burrell, but he was important enough in our history that our magazine is called Presto Press, named after him, as was the community of ranches where I grew up, near Blackfoot. It is called Lower Presto.
The April 29, 1910, issue of the Idaho Republican, a Blackfoot newspaper had the following under the heading, Blackfoot A Historic Spot.
“The newspapers of the state are giving Blackfoot some publicity on account of the fact that this is the fortieth anniversary of the building of the first irrigating ditches in the upper Snake River Valley. Now, within four decades we have more mileage of canals and more acreage of irrigable lands than any other county in the United States, and the marvelous development of forty years, for things move rapidly now.
“It was in 1870 that Fred S. Stevens, Presto Burrell, and Henry Dunn made their first ditches to convey water out upon the soil and they are all living and making money out of the products being raised each year by the same ditches on the same lands. Their work was experimental and the present prosperous population is reaping the benefit of the demonstrations they made.”
My great grandparents, Nels and Emma Just moved to the valley in which Presto Burrell settled, just a few months after he did. In later years Emma would be the postmistress for the area and Nels would suggest the name Presto for the post office. That’s how the area got its name, something Mr. Burrell was never comfortable with.
So, I grew up in that little valley where one of the first irrigation ditches in Bingham County was dug by Presto Burrell (photo). Family members—cousins—still farm and ranch in the valley. You’re likely to see a few more stories about early irrigation in future posts.