SUNBONNET DAYS - CHAPTER XIV - WITCHING FOR WATER
Christian's plan of saving carpenter work for rainy days or winter time was applied also to well digging. Our nearness to the creek enabled us to do without a well, but it was very inconvenient. For a year we carried drinking water from a spring about eighty rods from the house, while we brought wash water in barrels in a wagon or a sled. Finally Christian found time for well-digging, and we talked over the location of the well at considerable length. We wanted it to be conveniently located for supplying water both to the house and to the barnyard.
As we were discussing the location, Dr.S.D.Storrs, superintendent of the Congregational churches of Kansas, who was looking after the interests of a church at Fairview, entered the yard. He was a tall,dignified New Englander, a graduate of Andover, Massachusetts, Theological Seminary. His correct speech and bearing were such as to denote a cultured man. He not only was well versed in book lore but, like most pioneer preachers, had a wealth of practical knowledge. So we asked his advice about the well.
"Dig where the water is nearest the surface," he advised.
"But how can we know where the vein lies near the surface?" we inquired.
Then he told us how he had inherited from his father the gift of water-witching or, as it was commonly called, "smelling water." In a thicket at the edge of our timber he cut a hazel switch two or three feet long. It was a forked stick, the two prongs and the main stem forming a figure like the letter "Y." Holding the stick with a prong of the "Y" in either hand and the stem of the "Y" pointing straight forward, he walked about the farmyard with Christian and the children and me watching the strange performance. As he walked across the garden, through the patch of sprouting peach trees, down past the hog lot and near the barn door, the switch lay inert, just as any other switch might do. But as he approached the house the switch began to turn as though alive. Although Mr. Storrs gripped the two prongs as tightly as possible, the stem no longer lay inert; but, instead, began to bend and point downward. About two paces from the kitchen door it pointed straight down.
"There's the place to dig." directed the preacher.
Had anyone but a clergy man done this we would have regarded the whole thing as a hoax, but under the circumstances Christian dug where the switch directed.
It takes faith to dig a well. First with a spade and shovel and pick Christian dug away in the dry ground, until he had gone so deep that he had to have the assistance of a man with a bucket and windlass to hoist the clay and stone. Christian encountered strata after strata of solid rock, which had to be broken by crowbar, sledge, and blasting powder. Day after day he toiled in the dry shaft without a sign of water, but finally, at a depth of thirty-two feet, under a ledge of limestone, he struck his crowbar into a spring out of which gushed a stream of water as big around as his wrist. It speedily filled the well to a depth of two feet with soft, sweet water. Christian and his helper walled up the shaft to prevent cave-ins. They set a pumpstock and from that day we had water at the door.
I suppose scientific-minded ones will say that Dr. Storrs purposely located the well at the kitchen door because he knew that a pioneer wife with a large family needed a well close at hand more badly than a farmer needed a well near his hog lot. Perhaps there is nothing to water-witching; but twenty-five years later, when a second well was sunk convenient to the hog lot, we had to drill sixty-one feet to water.
The well at the house produced softer water, and not only supplied us with water but answered as a refrigerator as well. In warm weather we put cream, butter, and other perishables in a bucket, which we suspended in the well at the end of a rope.