Just down the mill from Jack Linger's front door, Progress is writing the last lines of a history that began in this gentle mountain country in 1835.

The Army Corps of Engineers is coming to put Jack Linger's valley under water. Soon, he and his wife Eleanor, and dozens of other families, will have to leave.

After they're gone and their homes are razed, after Vandalia and four other hamlets are demolished, after the cemeteries are moved and the roads closed, the corps will build a $117 million dam, named after Stonewall Jackson, and fill its lake.

Then, according to the Army, there will be flood protection for the downstream cities of Weston and Clarksburg, more flood control in the Monongahela River basin, and a new recreation paradise in Lewis County.

But paradise is a relative term and the story unfolding here is a story that follows the federal dam-builders virtually everywhere they go these days: Popular organizing and protests, lawsuits, bitterness and political division, uprooted families and dislocation, unhappiness with government.

Cattleman Jack Linger, 69, whose ancestors came to work this land between the ridges in 1935, stood outside his hillside farm home, looking down on the valley that will be part of the lake.

"It is hard to take - being turned off of your land - especially when they talk about how much new money will come in with the development. This dam dispute has torn Lewis County all to hell. The passions run deep," he said.

Up and down the valley of the Upper West Fork River valley, which the Stonewall Jackson will dam, one hears similar protests from families whose roots go back generations to a time before there was a West Virginia.

They see themselves aligned against political and economic forces bent on taking their heritage from them, at unreasonably low prices, in the name of progress and development.

The Stonewall Jackson controversy, one of a number going on aroung the country, coincides with a larger controversy between Congress and President Carter over the direction of federal water-resources policy.

Carter's proposals, although they have not moved very far, have scraped a raw nerve on Capitol Hill, where legislators consider the placement and funding of locks and dams their own domain.

Last year and again this year Congress and the president clashed over his ideas for establishing more realistic economic and environmental standards, more cost-sharing and water conservation, tighter dam safety.

Congress, in fact, went the other direction in its handling of the traditional "port barrel" bills that provide for these federal water projects.

Some examples:

An appropriations bill - subsequently vetoed - provided money for a number of projects Carter opposed on economic and environmental grounds. A revised bill, incidentally, included $6.4 million for the engineers to continue buying land for the Stonewall Jackson.

Another bill authorizing new starts on 158 water projects in 46 states, ignoring legal requirements in some cases and increasing federal expenses in others, died when time ran out on the 95th Congress.

Congress adopted another measure that went counter to Carter's ideas, exempting the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) from basinwide planning requirements for new dams in the Colorado River basin.

The president signed a dam safety bill that became, contrary to his own cost-sharing proposals a small Christmas tree. It provided full federal funding for some repair jobs that BOR water users ordinarily would have had to help finance.

The appropriations veto, the failure of the bill authorizing new starts and the continuing furor over general water policy have set the scene for more acrimony when Congress reconvenes in January.

Under the direction of Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus, 19 administration task forces are at work on formal policy proposals, gathering public and governmental opinion, and devising a plan for the future.

While Washington debates policy, another part of the battle goes on in such places as the Upper West Fork Valley, the Tug Fork Valley and the Canaan Valley - West Virginia outposts that, in many ways, typify water politics and problems in the eastern United States.

One area will get a dam, despite vigorous opposition. Another wants a dam but can't get it, for economic reasons. Another wants a power company dam built but the Army won't allow it, for environmental reasons.

In the central section, about 35 miles south of Clarksburg, landowners are opposing corps' plans to take 21,000 acres and remove 1,8000 residents to build the Stonewall Jackson. The corps and its political supporters are moving ahead with the project, despite marginal economic justifications.

Along the Kentucky border to the south, an area devasted by floods in April 1977, residents of the Tug Fork Valley of the Big Sandy River are crying for a flood-control dam. The corps insists a dam cannot be justified under its cost-estimate standards.

Northward, in Tucker Country, residents are urging approval of a $317 million hydroelectric generation dam that the Allegheny Power System wants to build on the Blackwater River.

They say it would bring economic boom - jobs and more taxes - to their poor county. But opponents say it would ruin the delicate environment and wildlife habitat of the scenic Canaan Valley. The corps has denied Allegheny's permit application.

Each of the West Virginia cases illustrates the conflict and sometimes curious contradictions of federal water policy, which, in many instances, is little more than the flexing of political muscle.

The Stonewall Jackson case is an example of another of the truisms of current water policy - once the corps decides a project is needed, it can wait for years, even decades, for the right political winds to push it along.

Corps planners first envisioned a dam on the West Fork River in the 1930s, but citizen opposition and lack of political support prevented its approval.

A decade later, the corps renewed its efforts. Again, local opposition - including cattleman Jack Linger and others who went to Washington to protest - stopped the project.

The corps went back to the drawing board and came up with a new approach - a multipurpose dam for flood control, water supply, water-quality control, recreation and area development. Congress authorized the dam in 1966.

But the Stonewall Jackson had political problems. Until last year, when Gov. John D. Rockefeller IV signed a vital recreation cost-sharing contract, the corps had been stymied by previous governors' refusal to sign.

By 1974, however, residents of rural Lewis County could see trouble coming. They organized themselves as the Upper West Fork River Watershed Association to combat the Stonewall Jackson.

So, far, it has been a losing fight - a lawsuit failed: their senators, Jennings Randolph and Robert C. Byrd and their congressman, Harley Staggers, all Democratic powers in Congress, support the dam; the White House supports it; Rockefeller supports it.

The landowners have produced an array of challenges to the corps' economic calculations, questioning low compensation for underlying coal deposits and criticizing the recreation development plans.

And, in the spirit of Carter's ideas for alternative approaches to development, the association has come up with a plan of its own - to reduce the cost, save most of the land, yet provide flood control.

Property owners have offered to donate land on which small watershed dams, less costly than the engineers' approach, could be built on West Fork tributaries to hold back flood waters.

Corps officials say that approach won't work. Watershed dams, of course, would put an end to the engineers' $117 million development scheme.

If any of its central features were removed, the Stonewall Jackson project could not meet the corps' benefit-cost ratio requirements. As planned now, the project would produce $1.30 in benefits for each $1 spent.

But Kenneth Parker, association president, argues that the corps' calculations are outdated and misleading. The group's efforts to have a new, independent cost-benefit evaluation have been rebuffed.

The newest weapon in the association's fight is aimed at ensnarling the corps in its own paper-work: The sale of square-yard chunks of land within the project area.

Each $10 land sale means one more new landowner and, perhaps, one more time-consuming condemnation case for the corps to deal with. It also means more money for the group's war chest.

The association hopes this technique will buy time that might allow a change of political winds in their favor here or in Washington.

Beneath the layers of politic and the grassroots mobilization, the people in the Upper West Fork Valley are talking about the peace of mind that comes with the continuity of living on the land, working it and passing it on to a son or daughter.

"We are trying to preserve our way of life," said Ken Parker. "Once this is broken up, the roots are gone."

Matthew Snyder, 32, a red-bearded contractor and protest leader, put it another way: "My family came here in the early 1800s. Myson is the seventh generation living on the same farm. We've been around the country and place better than this."

But when Progess, in the form of a federal dam, comes knocking on the door, trauma and bitterness set in.

"There are sentimental values here that I won't be paid for," Jack Linger said. "I don't want to be so bitter, but I am. Eleanor and I have asked it we should continue to go to church, if the Lord would like our attitude, being so bitter."

Paul H. Loudin, a mortician from down the road at the Ireland community, has another perspective. "I've buried five people who died from worry over this thing. It's just not right." he said.