Water Cisterns Made Farm Life Possible in Texas Panhandle

It's All Trew

| October 2002

Talk about old times with almost any senior citizen of the Texas Panhandle and you will hear stories about cisterns – those crude, hand-dug, underground reservoirs that held the precious drinking water on almost every farm.

In this country, a good cistern meant the difference between surviving on one’s chosen land and having to leave it to find a better water source.

Before windmills were introduced in the area, drinking water had to be hauled on sleds or wagons across rough prairie from the nearest source. The water was put in barrels with gunnysacks tied over the tops, and many gallons sloshed into the soil in transit.

After living quarters progressed from dirt-roof dugouts to frame houses with shingled roofs, settlers captured the natural runoff of rainwater from the roofs.

Gutters directed the water into barrels placed below the gutters’ spouts, but when the barrels filled up, overflow ran onto the prairie again.

To save that overflow, settlers began to build cisterns, which were filled by lowering down buckets of water by rope. Hand pumps were utilized to bring the stored water back to the surface.

A family’s pride, character and material resources were represented by the quality of its cistern. Some were merely crude holes in the ground with wooden boards covering the top opening. If rock was available, the walls might be lined and a rock top constructed for safety and cleanliness.