RIVER OF RECONCILIATION:
A HISTORY OF THE CACHE LA POUDRE
B.A., St. Johns College, MD, 1983
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Evan W. Clemon
has been approved by
Thomas J. Noel
Justice Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr.
Clemon, Evan W. (M. A., History)
River of Reconciliation: A History of the Cache la Poudre
Thesis directed by Professor Thomas J. Noel
Mans changing outlook on Western rivers and their significance has colored
the settlement and development of the American West. Due to its arid climate, the
West has always had a peculiar dependency upon water and the forces that provide
it, resulting in protracted debate over what is the highest and best use. Western water
supply has always been a vital precondition for the regions survival and growth.
Rivers were originally perceived and treated mainly as objects of development, to
facilitate settlement in an arid climate. Only gradually over time did they come to be
looked upon as having a possibly overriding intrinsic value scenic, recreational, and
as part of an ecostructure that predated mans tenuous life west of the 100th meridian.
The approach to the Cache la Poudre helped lead the way toward a broader
interpretation of the roles of rivers in Western development, through its status as
Colorados first and only river to receive the federal Wild and Scenic designation.
Furthermore, the Poudre in 1996 became Americas first National Water Heritage
As the Front Ranges population rapidly expanded along with the regions
economy, the West passed from a colonial status of economic dependency on the
East to a new autonomy. Such growth created increased pressures among groups
vying for control of the regions waterways and their use. Throughout the Cache la
Poudres settled history, key individuals created a foundation for later consensus
among competing groups. This teleologic purpose has not been fully revealed before
in discussions of the rivers past. By examining the lives of some of the rivers
community leaders, and the changing manner in which water use was delegated, I
will demonstrate how the Cache la Poudre and its residents have been trend-setters
on the important stage of Western water use, and have furnished an example for
residents of other Western river basins on how to reconcile conflicting ideas over the
right use of a river basin, a necessity for mans continued survival in an arid land.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
Thomas J. Noel
I would like to thank my advisor, Tom Noel, for his patience with me during the past
year. I would also like to think the staff of the Graduate School for all of then-
support. Finally, a special thanks to my sister, Amy, for her consistent moral support.
1. EARLY SETTLEMENT ANTOINE JANIS AND CHIEF
2. EARLY DEVELOPMENT BENJAMIN EATON AND THE
3. EARLY BUILDERS JOHN ZIMMERMAN AND JOHN
4. LOCAL PERSONALITIES LADY MOON AND THE
5. THE COLORADO-BIG THOMPSON PROJECT CHARLES
6. THE WILD AND SCENIC DESIGNATION HANK BROWN... 124
7. CURRENT ISSUES...........................147
1. Map of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project on the Eastern Slope.......118
2. Map of the Wild and Scenic River Designation........................144
A river history can provide a means of examining the importance of water
use to a rapidly growing and arid American West. The Cache la Poudre has typefied
the debate between water users and conservationists over right use. The Poudre has
been called the most managed river in the world, symbolizing the struggle over the
highly-engineered state of most Western rivers. The West has always been
characterized by a strange love/hate relationship with the East, arising from an early
situation of economic dependence on Eastern financial interests and on the federal
government. Settlement west of the 100th meridian has been a difficult and expensive
affair, contingent on large reclamation projects providing cheap, federally-subsidized
irrigation to area agriculture. Cache la Poudre settlers found irrigation projects
necessary from the first, and they grew in technological and economic difficulty to
keep up with a rapidly growing local population along the Front Range. This paper
will explore the complexity of efforts to distribute the rivers water in an equitable
manner and to obtain a sufficient water supply for an expanding region.
American historians approach to Western water issues has changed over the
past 30 years, reflecting Westerners growing awareness of the issues of growth and
conservation, as well as changes in American historiography itself. Popular opinion
and historiography have not been independent forces, but have become dynamically
interrelated in recent years, as the region has achieved awareness of how water use
has impacted the West. A gradual shift in emphasis has occurred among historians,
from a growth-based philosophy encouraging large reclamation projects to a concern
for the multiplicity of interests which have not been equitably affected by such a
Recent American historians have sought to emphasize diversity and an
understanding of social forces not traditionally at the top of the political hierarchy.
Historians of the West have followed a similar course, unlocking a complex mosaic
of interests vying for control of Western water, its consumption, recreational use, and
availability in an arid environment. This paper will focus on one river system, the
Cache la Poudre. Man has gradually discovered his conquest of the West to be a
contingent affair, breeding a new respect for an older force, nature, which generally
operates outside of human control.
Robert Atheam discusses the early settlement of Colorado, in the context of
the Missouri River systems development, in High Country Empire: The High Plains
and Rockies. Written in 1960 with a second edition in 1971, the book focuses on the
Missouri Basins history of colonial exploitation by the East. A persistent theme is
the wave of irrational optimism that sparked the move west of the 100th meridian.
The aridity of the Great Plains should have served as a deterrent to settlement much
more than it actually did. Atheam writes almost exclusively from the perspective of
the Plains settlers, beginning with early traders and trappers in the pre-Civil War
years. Trading companies such as John Jacob Astors, run from New York, set an
example of the ways in which Eastern capital could manipulate the West for its
resources.1 The frontiersmen of the 1840s and 50s were just passing through on
routes such as the Oregon Trail, but the Colorado Gold Rush of 1859 drew attention
to the region. The eastern plains flourished as the staging ground for the trip west,
and because of its wetness relative to the Great American Desert west of the 100th
meridian.1 2 Most of this desert was considered incapable of reclamation, before the
Combined with postwar optimism, mining helped fuel settlement of the
western Missouri Basin, including the Poudre valley. Atheam reveals a consensus
perspective with his discussion of the impact of this initial wave of settlement on
Native Americans in the Basin:
.. .for a generation Americans toyed with the conundrum of how to dispossess
another race and still look the civilized world squarely in the eye. The
outcome brought them no glory. The best they could do was to point to a new
area of the globe that was now civilized. For this contribution the price had
The high price is a generalization indicating the troubled conscience of the
civilizers as well as the devastation meted out to Native Americans. As Marc Reisner
1 Robert G. Atheam, High Country Empire: The High Plains and Rockies (New York: McGraw-Hill,
2 Ibid., 62.
3 Ibid., 126.
would later argue, the conquerors of the West would pay a second price unseen by
Atheam: the conquering, exploitative approach to the West and its resources would
ultimately have a destabilizing, even addictive impact on the colonizers themselves,
specifically in the act of reclamation.
Atheam describes a frontier comprising successive waves of colonization:
first the miners, then the cattle industry, then the farmers or sodbusters, assisted by
the arrival of the transcontinental railroads 4 The Desert Land Act of 1877 sought to
limit the wild speculation this settlement had created: it set a limit of 640 acres that
could be settled if they were irrigated. This act was much circumvented by the
speculators, however, creating a wild spirit of land grabbing: Where one turned
back, two more appeared to take his place. The movement would not be stopped.5
Above average rainfall in the 1880s helped fuel this land boom, but when drought
returned, Western settlement came to be perceived as a trap. Atheam frames these
events in terms of a struggle between the farmers and the federal government.
Concerned, the agrarians turned upon the East, the government at
Washington, the world itself, and snarled like animals at bay. When the first
bitterness subsided, they turned to each other and sought a solution to their
dilemma. It was at that moment that the high plains truly became a region.6
4 Ibid., 182.
5 Ibid, 187-8
6 Ibid, 203.
This theme of unity among Westerners in the face of an unseen oppressive force
captures the exploitative nature of the early Western economy. It fails, however, to
hold settlers accountable for their own decisions, and leaves out much of the
complexity of relations among the nations competing interests. Atheam describes
the Populist movement in the West as the outcome of the Panic of 1893 and farmers
anger at the railroads for raising freight rates; many farmers were angry at the East
for promoting Western settlement in the first place. Westerners claimed their region
had not been fully settled, but was merely being used for what resources could be
obtained. Atheam thus provides an interesting difference of approach from the
Turner thesis, which held that the frontier had ended in 1890. In a sense the frontier
never really ended, since it was never fully developed or inhabited.
Atheam provides a brief sketch of water history: irrigation was first tried by
the Mormons in the 1840s; Coloradans then made an attempt in the gold mining days
of the 1860s. Nineteenth century attempts were privately funded, following the
Mormon example. He describes the founding of the Reclamation Service in 1902 as
the result of a Western consensus on the need for federal support, following the
failure of state-led efforts in the difficult 1890s 7 The new administration of
Theodore Roosevelt is also credited with providing an impetus, through its
Progressive emphasis on conservation. Atheam lists early federal projects, including
primarily the Pick-Sloan Plan of 1944, which was a compromise between the Bureau
7 Ibid, 280.
of Reclamation and the Corps of Engineers to dam the Missouri for flood control and
irrigation. Atheam does not mention the ruinous impact of the Missouri River dams
on Native American tribes in the Dakotas, for him a relatively recent event. This may
reflect the consensus historians approach which seeks to avoid complexity.
By the 1890s, Atheam argues, the most valuable resources had already been
extracted, leaving a difficult path for the settlers who followed. The boom of World
War I created high farm prices as the U.S. sold grain to a devastated Europe, but
farmers encountered great difficulties in the 1920s. The frontier had been led by
waves of exploiters whose only aim was to make their pile and go home.8 Farmers
came last and stayed to fight the arid, forbidding plains.9 But capital proved hard
to attract and the West experienced slower growth than the rest of the country, with
the result that the region lost its identity to the East, and became voiceless.10 11 But
the residents perseverance in the face of such forces is attributable to more than the
formation of a regional identity, as later authors will illustrate. Athearns conclusion:
If there is any quality that has characterized the farmer of the high plains it is that of
almost incurable optimism.11 Optimism fueled by huge reclamation projects and
8 Ibid., 327.
9 Ibid., 328.
10 Ibid., 329.
11 Ibid., 300.
subsidies. Atheara provides a valuable examination of the colonial aspect of Western
William Wame gives a closer analysis of one major part of the Western water
equation, the Bureau of Reclamation, in his 1973 book of the same name. Wame
concedes in his introduction that he is a former Bureau official and as such may hold
some partiality towards his subject. A bias does seem apparent, as he discusses the
history of reclamation from a primarily growth-oriented perspective. He begins with
the Carey Act of 1894, which allocated 1 million acres of public land to each
Western state, provided they were irrigated. Eight years later, only 7,840 acres were
patented, indicating a need for federal control.12 The Newlands Act of 1902
establishing the Reclamation Service (later the Bureau) was a key to Roosevelts
Progressivism; TR wrote, the first work I took up when I became president was the
work of reclamation.13 The Service was first authorized to build hydroelectric
power plants in 1906. Unlike irrigation loans, power funds had to be repaid with
interest. Power was thus considered the paying partner of irrigation.14
Wame terms the 1930s and 40s the golden years of reclamation.15 It was
during this period that the Bureau built the Colorado-Big Thompson project, the
12 William E. Wame, The Bureau of Reclamation (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1973), 7.
13 Ibid., 8.
14 Ibid., 86.
15 Ibid., 17.
most ambitious of Colorados waterworks, greatly increasing the Poudres supply in
a time of depression and drought. A certain degree of boosterism appears in Wames
analysis, particularly in his defense of the 160-acre limit, non-enforcement of which
would come under much criticism by later authors. Wame describes the construction
and design of Hoover Dam in glowing terms: The completed structure, with its
clean, utilitarian lines, is unadorned beauty.16 His discussion is clinical, deriving
from an engineers perspective; no mention is made of the deaths of workers or the
extreme difficulties they faced in building the dam, or of later resource hazards such
as silting, which threatens the dams operation. As with Atheam, the point of view is
that of the implementers of Western settlement, rather than the impact of such
implementation; this may not be surprising in a book written at the dawn of the
energy crisis of the 70s, when Western resources must still have seemed
inexhaustible. New reclamation projects were funded by farmers repayment of
irrigation loans from existing projects, creating a certain impetus for the Bureau to
continue creating new projects. Congress later asserted oversight authority over new
projects, following the Reclamation Project Act of 1939.
A chapter on the Colorado River describes the Colorado River Compact of
1922, created by Greeley native Delph Carpenter, in which the river was divided into
upper and lower basins at roughly the Arizona-Utah border, with each basin
receiving 7.5 million acre-feet of water per year. The compact was not signed by
16 Ibid., 45.
Arizona, which felt California was taking more than its allotted share. This conflict
was not resolved until the key Supreme Court decision in Arizona v. California,
1963, favored Arizona, leading to construction of the Central Arizona Project, a large
diversion providing the state with its share of river water. The Mexico Water Treaty
of 1945 allocated 1.5 million acre-feet per year to Mexico, further complicating
allocation problems.17 Wame states California was the only state using its full
allocation, and facing a cutback. He adds that a salinity crisis existed in the quality of
water reaching Mexico, anticipating a desalination plant that would soon be built on
the border. Thus, even Wame gave a sense of looming controversy.
He describes the Central Valley Project as a spectacular achievement of the
Bureau.18 The projects purpose was to balance water supplies between the
Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys. He terms the project instrumental to economic
growth in California. Later authors will take a dimmer view of this large project,
which subsidized large agribusinesses and caused environmental harm, but again,
Wames is the engineers emphasis on growth and development. He also devotes a
chapter to the Missouri River Basin Project, which originated in the Dust Bowl of the
1930s, when a demand arose for irrigation and flood control. The Pick-Sloan Plan
superceded a planned Missouri Valley Authority, which would have provided unified
basin development including the Poudre, similar to the TV A, instead of the constant
17 Ibid., 116.
18 Ibid., 150.
rivalry that had persisted between the Bureau and the Corps. Wame discusses dam
projects along the upper Missouri, again with no mention of the devastation wrought
on Native Americans. He admits the program failed to revitalize the economy of the
High Plains, compared with the success of the TV A.19
Wame acknowledges that the reclamation program is being challenged
today as never before... ,20 He considers the Bureau a possible victim of its own
success, predicting it could become a caretaker for existing projects. He defends the
Bureau from critics of its engineering mentality, yet in many places he seems to
share in that frame of mind. He sees the Bureau as an agent of growth, not an
instrument of continued colonization of the West. He concludes that the Bureau may
have developed the West to the point at which subsidized programs are no longer
necessary; yet continued aridity would seem to argue that subsidization of Western
farming will always be required, and indeed it persists 25 years after his book was
published. He acknowledges opposition to reclamation projects without exploring its
motives. He provides a valuable analysis of the central player in the reclamation
drama, though his approach does not achieve separation from that of the agency he
Peter Wiley and Robert Gottlieb touch on the imperial aspect of the
reclamation movement in Empires in the Sun: The Rise of the New American West.
19 Ibid... 173.
20 Ibid., 205.
Writing in the early 1980s, they describe the growth of an indigenous regional
economy in the Southwest, in the period from FDR to Reagan. As indigenous
businesses arose in the region, they seemed to inherit the Easts exploitative
approach. The authors begin with a thumbnail sketch of early water politics. A
struggle between farmers and corporate land interests sparked public control of
Western water. The Imperial Valley gained the majority of the Reclamation
Services early attention, and was able to keep its exemption from the 160-acre limit,
because California wielded greater political leverage than the other states in the
region. (It should be noted that both authors live in California, and Gottlieb is a
director of a Los Angeles water district, possibly weighting their interest.) The
Colorado River Compact sought to restrain Californias influence. An element of this
Compact was Hoover Dam, which was built by the Six Companies, a consortium
of Western construction firms contracting with the Bureau.21 The dams construction
signaled the birth of an indigenous Western capitalism led by these companies.
During World War II the West would become industrially autonomous. The Six
Companies, through a series of wartime industrial contracts, were at the heart of this
movement, led by industrialist Henry Kaiser.22
21 Peter Wiley and Robert Gottlieb, Empires in the Sun: The Rise and Fall of the New American West
(New York: G.P. Putnams Sons, 1982), 15.
22 Mark S. Foster, Henry J. Kaiser: Builder in the Modem American West (Austin: Texas U.P., 1989),
The books primary emphasis is on the roles of water and energy policy in
shaping the new West. Their interest in energy issues is understandable, writing on
the heels of the oil crisis of the 1970s. They ascribe significance to Nixon as the first
president from west of the 100th meridian. He was opposed to large reclamation
projects, but was distracted by Watergate from changing reclamation policy. It was
Carter who set out to defund 18 such projects in 1977, running into a storm of
Congressional protest; a compromise bill restored half the projects. The authors
consider Carter the first conservation-minded president, though he was forced into
retreat, having underestimated the power of the water lobby. Ultimately his reform
measures revitalized the old water lobby, now strengthened by the addition of major
energy companies seeking federal water for their new projects.23 The authors here
achieve the first clear expression of the domination of Western politics by powerful
They focus their study on the urban nature of the Southwestern power base,
using California as an archetype of water politics in the Southwest. As the region
urbanized, dependence on large reclamation projects increased many cities were
located far from their primary sources of water, such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
The authors discuss the attempt of California Governor Pat Brown to gain control of
the Central Valley Project in the 1950s, finally signing into law the State Water
Project in 1960. This law maintained the New Deal alliance between government and
23 op. cit., 73.
agribusiness that had characterized water politics in the state, according to the
authors. The governors son, Jerry, was elected governor in the 1970s as a new-age
figure who criticized big government and opposed the old-boy business network.
However, he failed to enforce the 160-acre limit; he signed the second phase of the
State Water Project in 1980, over the objections of environmental groups, though he
tended to side with environmentalists on such issues as nuclear power. This
underscored the power of the water interests: the agribusinesses got their way, and
more huge water projects were superimposed on an already impressive edifice.
The authors study the elements of political power among the water and
energy interests in several Southwestern cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Salt
Lake City, Denver, Phoenix and Las Vegas. All are characterized as dependent upon
federal water projects for their growth, even though their businesses were increasing
their autonomy from the East. The authors found the Denver Water Board to be the
most powerful public agency in the state.24 They devote a whole chapter to Native
American water issues. Native Americans had their water rights taken from them
prior to the New Deal, but in the 1930s some small irrigation projects came to the
reservations.25 In the 1950s, however, the Interior Department, utilities, energy
companies and states combined to reduce Native American claims to Colorado River
24 Ibid., 126.
25 Ibid., 234.
water. Spurred by Native American activism in the late 1960s, LBJs Interior
Secretary, Stewart Udall, began a series of public works programs on reservations.
The authors also give the environmental movement a good deal of
consideration. The Sierra Clubs opposition to Glen Canyon Dam and the Central
Arizona Project in thel960s established Western environmentalism as a force. The
book ends with the election of Ronald Reagan as president. Tor many, Ronald
Reagan represented the triumph of the corporate West.26 A renewed emphasis on
growth in a region whose resources were already stretched to the limit heralded a
new crisis in the Southwest. Throughout the book the interrelatedness of water and
energy issues is stressed. Primarily a political history, the book describes the leading
companies in each of the cities listed above, giving an overall impression of an
increasingly autonomous West that has not achieved separation from the Eastern
tradition of exploiting the West, without attention given to the problems of resource
scarcity. This issue had been highlighted by the energy crisis; the West is a region
rich in energy reserves such as oil, coal, oil shale and natural gas. Having suffered
from the energy crisis of the 70s more than some regions, it could easily make the
leap from energy shortages to similar considerations surrounding water. (Stories out
of California in the summer of2001 already suggest that states energy crisis could
soon be accompanied by water shortages.)
26 Ibid., 304.
Wiley and Gottlieb go beyond Atheam in dwelling on the peculiar
interrelatedness of government and Western interests. Paradoxically, the authors
observe, the region that most highly touts individualism has become the most heavily
dependent on federal aid and complained the most loudly when such help was
threatened, as with Carters hit list of water projects. This love/hate relationship with
Washington, D.C. will reemerge in later authors as a distinguishing Western theme.
Aridity tends to sharpen the focus of this relationship squarely on the issue of
reclamation. With their discussions of agribusiness, Native American water rights
and environmental concerns, the authors open the door to a more complex, many-
faceted consideration of Western water issues.
Donald Worster emphasizes the engineering of the West in Rivers of Empire:
Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West. Worster terms the West a
hydraulic society based on the manipulation of water by a bureaucratic elite.27 He
borrows the term hydraulic society from neo-Marxist Karl Wittfogel, who argued
that water control in Asia created a ruling bureaucratic class, differentiating it from
Europe. This ruling class prevented social change and industrialization. It gained
power in China because China is drier than Europe. Wittfogel identified three modes
of water development: 1. local subsistence, 2. the agrarian state, 3. capitalism.
Worster applies Wittfogels model to the American West and concludes it is in mode
27 Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West (New
York: Pantheon Books, 1985), 7.
3. He argues that the aridity of the West has paved the way for a similarly rigid
hierarchy of political control: The behavior that follows making water into a
commodity is aggressively manipulative beyond any previous historical
experience. Worster claims Wittfogels mistake was in abandoning his Marxist
roots; he seeks to pick up where Wittfogel left off.
Worster similarly divides Western water development into three periods of
intensification: 1. incipience (1847-1902), 2. florescence (1902-1940s), 3. empire
(1940s-present).28 29 The three all exist within the scope of Wittfogels third period.30
Worster begins by examining Californias San Joaquin Valley, site of the Central
Valley Project, as an example of how the technological transformation of the West
contrasts with the rugged individualism espoused by Thoreau and Turner. In stage 1,
irrigation was promoted in California as a tool against big money interests, but
actually ended up serving their purposes; this is because large amounts of capital
were required to build the projects canals, making the water expensive. The battle
over water rights in the valley was perceived as populism vs^ the big-money
riparians, when it actually brought the triumph of instrumentalism, the water
hierarchy, an alliance of engineers and bureaucrats. Irrigation had been sought as an
28 Ibid., 52.
29 Marxists seem infatuated with dividing things into threes, after Hegel. Since Hegels second stage
was negation, one could argue that we are actually only now moving from the first to the second
stage, as Westerners begin to question the impact of reclamation policies.
30 Ibid., 64.
answer to the social stratification bred by capitalism, as it would bring small farmers
to the valley, but it resulted instead in the opposite, domination by a few large
Worsters stage 2 begins with formation of the Reclamation Service and
addresses the state as an agency for conquest.31 He deems the Act the most
important single piece of legislation in the history of the West... 32 The seminal
event was a trip by scientist George Davidson to India, Egypt and China in 1875 as
an irrigation commissioner for the state of California. Davidson concluded that
centralized government control is necessary to conduct large-scale irrigation works,
borrowing from the British colonial model. But Davidson failed to acknowledge
imperialisms dark, exploitative side. The British model is interesting because it was
quasi-govemmental in nature, administered by the British East India Company, a
government bureau that could be compared in some respects to the Reclamation
Service. The East India Company had the power to act as a corporate entity;
similarly, the Service could market hydroelectric power in an attempt to be self-
supporting. (Instances of stylistic Victorianism emerge along the Poudre, perhaps an
unconscious reflection of the colonial nature of irrigation: first John Zimmermans
Keystone Hotel, high up in the wilderness; then the eccentric British heiress, Lady
31 Ibid., 130.
Worster proceeds to examine the Services early history; he castigates it for
elitist inefficiency. The Service tended to develop private land, Worster argues,
enriching speculators. The Newlands Act barely survived to the New Deal, because
irrigation was not economically feasible. The Service doubled the repayment period
on farm loans from 20 to 40 years, subsidizing many large landowners.33 Large water
works like the Central Valley Project resulted in making large landowners into a
ruling class dependent upon water suppliers, Worster argues. The Bureau as a
government bureacracy was more interested in preserving its own political power
than in democratization, its intended purpose. It thus allied itself with the money
interests. The high cost of irrigation also militated against small-scale farming.
Worsters third stage, empire, came after World War II, when the West had
begun to industrialize, emerging from colonial status. As with the war, total
victory over nature became the objective of reclamation policy. Federal water
spending increased from $33 million in 1939 to $230 million in 1949.34 Much of this
new spending was not economically warranted: Bureau projects caused farm
subsidies to increase, in the face of persistent national surpluses. Worsters proposed
solution: the hydraulic society must become accommodationist in its thinking
about Western rivers, turning from exploitation and domination, to increased
democratic methods, acting in the interests of small farmers. He thinks this may be
33 Ibid., 180.
34 Ibid., 266.
possible at the federal level, and advocates a return to local control through a variant
of John Wesley Powells idea of river communities.
Under this reckoning, the Poudre experienced an uncharacteristically long
first period, as private projects flourished well into the 20th century. The second
period began with federal involvement and the Colorado-Big Thompson project in
the 1930s, and the third period may perhaps be dated from completion of this project
in the 1950s until the present. Worsters concept of the hydraulic elite has been
mitigated by the passage of the Poudres Wild and Scenic designation, which put a
check on broadscale engineering efforts. I will examine to what degree Worsters
theory of an engineering/bureaucratic elite applies to the controlling entities along
the river, primarily the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (NCWCD),
administrator of the Colorado-Big Thompson project. Did Worsters social
stratification through engineering actually take place in the Poudre valley?
Worsters ideas are fascinating, though they may suffer from an attempt to
impose a preconceived theory on a region that has unique characteristics such as the
individualist philosophy. His choice of California as an example suffers from a
deviation from the Tumerian model it was first colonized by the Spanish, who did
not share the frontier ethos inherited by the pioneers. Spanish culture was based
more on concepts of community than the individual. Further, Worsters bureaucratic
elite is a monolithic force, a concept which seeks to straitjacket the complexity of the
West similarly to the early consensus historians. Worster is preoccupied with class
distinctions at the expense of ethnic or environmental concerns. It may be simplistic
to say so, but he also seems surprisingly anti-big government for a Marxist. He
succeeds in furthering Western awareness of the power of reclamation interests over
the regional economy.
Patricia Nelson Limerick examines a multitude of conflicting interests in her
study, Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West. Limerick
opposes the Turner thesis and Worsteds historic stages by conceiving of the frontier
as continuous over time: .the history of the West is the study of a place
undergoing conquest and never fully escaping its consequences.35 One can only
grasp Western history by taking into account multiple perspectives Anglos, Native
Americans, Hispanics; the conquerors, the conquered. She argues that control of
water is the key to unlocking all other resources. Water has so many uses in the arid
West that it creates a difficulty in establishing primacy of rights. Water exemplifies
her theme of continuity between past and present: aridity has been a constant foe of
Westerners ever since the first travellers on the Oregon Trail found the need to
husband their resources. The Newlands Act sought to remedy this. The vision
couldnt have been happier or harder to put into practice.36 Large agribusinesses
35 Patricia Nelson Limerick, The Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken Past of the American West (New
York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1987), 26.
36 Ibid., 136.
and suburban sprawl became the norm rather than small farms, due to violation of
the 160-acre limit. Conflicts over a limited supply have tended to pit state
against state, even region against region, as the Western Slope has battled the Front
Range in Colorado over Colorado River water37 38 Federal support has been a constant:
Progressive-era conservation programs, New Deal farm supports, World War II
defense spending, and the Great Society have all contributed to the continuity of
connectedness between government and the West.
Limerick finds that the frontier never really ended: instead of cowboys
shooting it out in the town square, multiple political interests vie for government
largesse, such as water rights. She even compares the West to a diabetic, with federal
support as the insulin it needs to survive. After Carters abortive opposition to the
water hierarchy, an odd coalition of fiscal conservatives and environmentalists
achieved a degree of local financing for water projects in the 1980s. More recent
efforts at flood control have proven ineffective. Though the beginnings of change
from large-scale water projects are hopeful, they have not achieved stability of water
supplies. Like Alice in Wonderland, Limerick concludes, the goal should be to get
water management in the West to the right size, neither too big nor too small.
Swinging from huge to tiny, dominant to dominated, humanitys place in nature
37 Ibid., 137.
38 Ibid., 139.
changes from day to day, hour to hour.39 Limerick seeks to understand the problem
in its full complexity. A danger is that she loses sight of the primacy of some forces
over others, in the attempt to give equal recognition to all. Her emphasis on the need
to consider as many sides as possible is warranted and helpful. However, she may be
too quick to dismiss Western dependency on federal reclamation as a thing of the
Marc Reisner provides a fascinating, witty critique of the powers behind
Western reclamation in Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing
Water. As the title suggests, Reisner does not hesitate to criticize the Western water
establishment for wasting a precious resource, in this follow-up to the PBS
documentary of the same name. He captures the pork barrel nature of the largest
irrigation projects, beginning with Los Angeles seizure of the Owens River from
area farmers in the first decade of the 20th century. Reisner takes pains to capture the
personalities of the shakers and movers of reclamations heyday in the 1930s-60s,
including a masterful portrait of Floyd Dominy, the irascible, bullying Bureau
chairman who always got his way, no matter the cost. It is hard, he writes, to
imagine today, when big public-works projects such as New Yorks Westway are
held up for fifteen years in the courts, what the go-go years were like.40 He calls
39 Ibid., 321.
40 Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water (New York:
Penguin Books, 1986, 1993), 158.
California a beautiful fraud, a lush paradise created by highly expensive water
projects.41 He describes the collapse of the Teton Dam in Idaho as the beginning of
the end of Bureau expansiveness the dam had been poorly engineered on unstable,
porous rock. Eleven people died from the 1976 accident. The Bureau was planning to
build Narrows Dam at the same time, on the South Platte just east of its confluence
with the Poudre, and tried to conceal the fact that it, too, would be built on bad
ground. Ultimately they were forced to abandon the project. Reisner portrays the
Bureau as trying to justify its projects in terms of public benefits, when actually it
comprises a group of engineers grown addicted to building dams. When you get in
the way, we move you, a Bureau official told a resident of the Narrows Dam area.
Most of the area farmers didnt even want the water Narrows would have provided,
as in the case of the CAP, but the Bureau could only sustain itself by building more
dams, due to the funding process Wame described.
Reisner describes recent Bureau efforts chronologically, in such a way that
each attempt seems more desperate than the last. Following Narrows Dam, the
Bureau introduced the Texas Water Plan, an attempt to pipe water from the
Mississippi River across Louisiana and Texas to the western end of the state. The
plan was abandoned as too expensive. Depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, which
underlies the Plains states, threatens primarily west Texas, but also the Plains region
in general. The aquifer will run out of water in a few decades, and when it does most
41 Ibid., 332.
irrigation in the Plains states will also have to end. Groundwater is also being
consumed faster than it can be replenished in many areas, and is becoming
increasingly salinized. Reisner notes that salinization destroyed the arid Sumerian
civilization; Egypt survived for millennia because the Nile flooded annually and
carried away the ground salts a characteristic lacking in Western rivers.42
NAWAPA the North American Water and Power Alliance emerges as the
costliest and most ambitious plan of all, a scheme to transport water from water-rich
British Columbia, which Reisner interprets as a sign of desperation on the Bureaus
part. He catalogues immense environmental harms that would accrue.43 He notes
such effects in other areas, such as in California, where salmon spawning patterns
have been severely interrupted by dams. In a 1992 afterword Reisner expresses more
optimism regarding a possible reversal of the trend towards large water projects. He
details a 1979 incident in which an environmentalist, Mark Dubois, chained himself
to a boulder by the Stanislaus River in California to protest the rivers damming,
which would halt rafting. If construction of the dam had gone forward Dubois would
have drowned, but Governor Jerry Brown interceded personally to halt the damming.
The Bureau eventually got its way, but the incident dramatized the conflict over
water use and energized the opposition to reclamation projects. Hardly any dams
have been built since by the Bureau. Reisner cites several causes: the popularity of
42 Ibid., 468.
43 Ibid., 489.
river rafting, lack of good sites remaining, environmental impact of existing dams,
and the growth of the federal government. A philosophy of returning rivers to their
natural states as much as possible has begun to emerge.
Its only recently mainly in the years since this book first appeared that
Westerners have begun to ask where their water goes, what it costs, and what
it earns. That inquiry may produce the most revolutionary results since the
The Bureau is Reisners primary target, but he also criticizes the states,
constantly at war over water rights, and ranchers and agribusinesses, who rail against
Uncle Sam while constantly asking for more handouts. Reisners prose is colorful
and engaging throughout. An example:
The role of the Bureau vis-a-vis the White House and Congress might be
likened to that of a child placed in a foster home by a doting pair of
unstable parents. The child may tell lies, throw tantrums, wreck the house
and eat everything in the icebox, but if his foster parents finally decide to
give him a thrashing, his real parents may materialize out of nowhere and
wrest the paddle from their hands.45
One surmises the real parents in this case are the large Western water interests
dependent upon the Bureau for their survival. Reisner follows recent authors such as
Limerick in presenting a many-sided conflict over water use, and succeeds in
separating out the main players for special treatment, an important step if a synthesis
is to be achieved. He emphasizes the environmental and political aspects of water
exploitation, producing a complex and enjoyable account.
44 Ibid., 514.
45 Ibid., 227.
The Bureau has itself contributed to the historiography of the West with a
centennial project, still in the making, that would gather a series of Reclamation
Project Histories covering all 180 Bureau projects, some of which are already
available on the Internet.46 Theis website also contains much current technical
information on the Bureau and its projects, and a collection of press releases with
updates by Bureau officials. One such update states that the Bureau is the nations
largest water provider, supplying 10 trillion gallons of water to over 31 million
people per year.47 The Bureau also plans a symposium in Las Vegas on the occasion
of its centennial in 2002. Another interesting website was produced by the Western
Water Policy Review Advisory Commission, established by the Western Water
Policy Review Act of 1992 to review federal water activities in the 19 Western
states. The Commission published 13 final reports in 1997, and one overall report -
all are contained on the website. The overall report concludes that western water
planners for the 21st century must address staggering growth projections, because
the U.S. has experienced its most dramatic growth ever over the past 15 years.
Water historiography has become more varied and complex over recent years
in its consideration of the causes and effects of water policy. Recent historians have
sought increasingly to emphasize social and environmental aspects over growth and
46 The Bureaus homepage is located at www.usbr.gov/
41 Ibid., B. of R. news release, 8/24/99, Bureau of Reclamation Is Ready For Year 2000, by Barry E.
engineering considerations, in response to the increased threat of scarcity. Western
businesses and governments have come to be seen as engaged in a relationship of
interdependence often unholy in nature and costly in impact. The more critical
approach to the water hierarchy finds its culmination in Reisner, who achieves a
degree of optimism: the forces behind Western water policy have demonstrated in
recent years that they are perhaps capable of changing course in mid-stream, as it
were, towards a more socially aware and cost-conscious approach to utilization of a
vital resource. Historians have become increasingly aware of the dwindling nature of
the Western water supply, and with it the tenuous nature of mans hold upon the
I will apply this awareness to the Cache la Poudre and changing perceptions
of its right use. Throughout its history the Poudre has been blessed with individuals
who have exemplified the attitude of reconciliation among conflicting interests that
must precondition wise water use in an arid environment. I will trace the lives of a
few of these individuals, community leaders whose actions subtly described and set
the stage for the coming battle over proper use of this valuable scenic resource. Time
will tell whether the regions inhabitants will finally be able to reconcile their own
areas rapid growth with the limits imposed on them by the regions aridity and by
conservation concerns. The Poudre valley, known as the Pleasant Valley where it
emerges from the mountains around Laporte, is a model for peaceful reconciliation
among diverse river users.
I will trace the rivers history through the lives of a few of its most notable
residents, demonstrating how they contributed to its development and equitable use:
Antoine Janis, the first European settler in the Pleasant Valley; Chief Friday, the
Arapaho leader who helped ease troubled relations between early settlers and his
tribe; Benjamin Eaton, who pioneered the Poudres sophisticated system of canals;
John Zimmerman, whose Keystone Hotel served as an upriver outpost of
Victorianism and community; John McNabb, who engineered many early Poudre
water works, including some of the important 1890s transmountain diversion
projects; Lady Moon, whose flamboyant exterior concealed a caring heart; the
Dickerson sisters, whose toughness and persistence exemplified frontier values long
into the 20th century; Charles Hansen, whose quiet peacemaking laid the groundwork
for the Colorado-Big Thompson project, Colorados greatest water work; Hank
Brown, whose spirit of affable compromise paved the way for the historic Wild and
Scenic designation; a manifold of complex modem issues, from which the
reconciliationist leader of the future has yet to emerge. The Poudre school of water
management has produced other important individuals, such as Delph Carpenter,
author of the Colorado River Compact; Elwood Mead, an early Reclamation Service
commissioner; and Gregory Hobbs, now a Colorado Supreme Court Justice. The
Cache la Poudre served as the fulcrum of Colorado water policy, when the Union
Colonys dispute with upriver water users at Fort Collins set the stage for the
incorporation of the prior appropriation doctrine into Colorados Constitution. This
thesis will describe the Poudres role as the stage for repeated innovation in Western
water use, a needed exemplar for other river basins in the arid West.
EARLY SETTLEMENT -
ANTOINE JANIS AND CHIEF FRIDAY
The modern Rockies were formed in the Cenozoic Era, about 60 million
years ago, according to geologists. An earlier range of mountains existed in the same
space and was much higher; this range was formed in the Paleozoic Era, 325 million
years ago, and eroded in the Mesozoic Era, paving the way for the modem Rockies.
Snowmelt carved its way through these mountains over the centuries, making its way
to the sea, forming riverbeds. The Cache la Poudre River has its origin at Poudre
Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park; it gently slopes downward and to the north
for about 20 miles, as if making its way to Wyoming, and may once have joined the
Laramie River, which flows north to the North Platte. However, upon leaving the
park, as if changing its mind, it promptly arcs eastward, and carves a steep course
through canyons on its way to the Plains. The river is the largest tributary of the
South Platte, supplying it with 29% of its water.1 The Poudre is 150 miles long, with
an average annual flow of 337,000 acre-feet.1 2 The mountains east of the Continental
1 Arlene Briggs Ahlbrandt and Kathryn Stieben, The History of Larimer County, Colorado, Volume II
(Dallas: Curtis Media Corp., 1987), 37.
Divide receive less rainfall than the west, so that canyon walls are straighter and not
eroded; canyons are steeper and narrower, as rivers have been forced to cut through
them like knives. Eastern rivers thus descend at a steeper rate, so that the Poudre
emerges from the mountains as if shot from a gun.3 If geologists are to be believed,
the river was cutting against the grain of an arid and obstructive Mother Nature
millennia before man arrived to try the same thing.
Man may have come to the Poudre sooner than to most other places in the
U.S. A pair of amateur archaeologists found the first evidence of Folsom Man at the
headwaters of Boxelder Creek, a northern tributary of the Poudre, in 1924 the
Lindenmeier site.4 Carbon dating estimated the find was over 10,000 years old. A
discovery in Folsom, New Mexico in 1926 led to the naming of the Folsom Point, a
specially designed spear point. Points found at Lindenmeier were then identified as
Folsom Points, in 1930.5 More recent but still prehistoric, a buffalo jump was found
on the North Fork of the Poudre near the town of Livermore a place where the
Native Americans would run the buffalo off a cliff to their deaths. The site was
believed to have been used by Shoshone hunters. Native Americans in the area were
3 Jeff Rennicke, The Rivers of Colorado (Billings and Helena, MT: Folsom Press, 1985), 18.
4 John S. Gray, A River of History, in The Poudre River, ed. Bruce Berends (Denver: The Gro-Pub
Group, 1976), 8.
5 Frank Jones Burnett, Golden Memories of Colorado (New York: Vantage Press, 1965), 169.
always nomadic hunters, but evidence indicates they began spending more time in
the mountains about 8000 years ago.6 Later Indians included the Utes, Arapahoes,
Cheyennes and some Sioux, with the Utes inhabiting primarily the mountains, and
the other tribes adhering to the plains. The Poudre Canyon at the edge of the
mountains thus became an important trading area and battleground. The Utes were in
Colorado for centuries before the other groups. The Arapahoes gradually migrated
from Minnesota, where they had been farmers, west across the Plains, and then were
driven south by the Sioux to the Platte valleys, by the 1820s.7 The Cheyennes
followed roughly the same path. Once in Colorado, the Cheyennes became powerful
as middlemen in the trade between the horses of the southwest U.S. and the guns of
the northeast, in a growing commercial network.8 The Poudre similarly became an
important meeting-place between mountain and plains Indians at the place where it
left its canyon onto the plains. Eastern Colorado as a whole also became a meeting-
place for three white frontiers, the Spanish from the south, and the French and
Anglos from the east. The same spot on the Poudre would later become a white
trading post, a ford for the stage line and the site of the areas first town, Laporte.
6 Curtis W. Buchholtz, Rocky Mountain National Park: A History (Niwot, CO: Colorado U.P., 1983),
7 Elliott West, The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado (Lawrence, KS:
Kansas U.P., 1998), 67.
8 Ibid., p. 71.
The Poudre thus served historically as a crossroads between groups with different
backgrounds and purposes.
The first European visitors were possibly Spanish explorers in 1720, probing
north from their colony in New Mexico.9 The Spanish are not believed to have
settled as far north as the Poudre, though an 1846 expedition reported the ruins of a
Spanish mission at the mouth of the Crow Creek tributary, on a trail from Sante Fe to
Ft. Laramie.10 11 This report was never substantiated, however. Major Stephen H.
Longs expedition recorded the Poudre, nameless, in 1820. William Ashley led a
group of traders to the river in 1825, towards a trapper rendezvous on the Green
River across the Divide. His party camped near Poudre Canyon February 4-25, while
seeking a passage.11 They found the main river impassable due to its canyons, and
went up the North Fork instead, past the site of Virginia Dale, to the Laramie plains,
north of the Medicine Bow range, and across southern Wyoming. This would later
become an important trade and stage route.
The traditional story of the naming of the river credits a French trapper,
Antoine Janis, and his father. On an expedition to the Green River in 1836, their
party found it necessary to stow a cache of gunpowder along the bank of the river
9 Erme Burton Stoner, History of Larimer County, in The Historical Encyclopedia of Colorado, ed.
Thomas S. Chamblin (Colorado Historical Association, 1975), 259.
10 Charles A Duncan, Memories of Early Days in the Cache La Poudre Valley (Unpublished MS,
Written for the Columbine Club of Timnath, Timnath, CO), 6.
11 Gray, 12.
before entering the mountains, hence the French name, from the phrase ou on cache
la poudre, or where one hides the powder.12 This story was first printed in the
Fort Collins Courier on February 8, 1883.13 It was later repeated in Ansel Watrous
1911 History of Larimer County. Watrous had been told the story by Abner Loomis,
an 1860 settler and friend of Janis.14 A DAR monument placed in Bellvue in 1910
gives the 1836 date, based on Watrous account. However, it could not have been
correct: Colonel Henry Dodge crossed the river in 1835 with a battalion of dragoons
on an official government expedition, and a Captain John Gantt on this expedition
referred to it in his account as Cache-de-la-Poudre,15 indicating it had been named
earlier. Antoine Janis was bom in 1824, so he would have been only 12 years old at
the time of the 1836 expedition. He is not reported to have visited the West until
1840, further invalidating the 1836 version. However, Janis father Antoine was a
member of Ashleys 1825 expedition, and it is likely that this is when the river was
named. Albert Gallatin Boone, a member of Ashleys party, gave a story of a similar
12 U.S. Forest Service, Cache la Poudre Wild and Scenic River: Draft Environmental Impact
Statement and Study Report (Fort Collins, 1980), 17.
13 Rennicke, 75.
15 Howard E. and Mary A. Evans, Cache La Poudre: The Natural History of a Rocky Mountain River
(Niwot, CO: Colorado U.P., 1991), 2.
cache of supplies, including gunpowder, on the rivers south bank in Pleasant Valley,
the area just downriver from the canyon.16 Francis Cragin, an area historian, searched
the cache area in 1903, finding a hole filled with manure and refuse.17 He claimed
the younger Janis had shown him the cache in 1860; then it had been a hole 4 feet
wide by 8-10 feet deep, but it had caved in some time in the 1860s.
Ashley had led a formidable group, including mountain men Kit Carson, Jim
Bridger and William Sublette.18 A Kit Carson protege, William T. Drannan, whom
Carson delegated to trap along the upper Poudre in 1849-50, claimed the river was
named by Virees Robidoux, a French trapper.19 It is possible Carson once crossed to
North Park via the Poudre and trapped along the river, as told by Drannan, but tales
of him frequently working along the river are questioned by later authors. Carson
established four trapping camps on the river, according to Drannan. A possibly
apocryphical tale concerns one of these trappers, Mountain Phil, a huge, violent man.
Snowed in with his squaw wife, he cannibalized her and ran off. Heavy snowfall
16 Janet Lecompte, Antoine Janis, in LeRoy Hafen, ed. The Mountain Men and the Fur Trade of the
Far West, ed. LeRoy Hafen (Spokane, WA: Arthur H. Clark Co., 2000), 194.
17 Evadene Burris Swanson, Questions Linger about the Cache La Poudre, Triangle Review, 3
18 Rennicke, 36.
19 Burnett, 181-2.
made for a light catch on the river that winter; Uncle Kit was, however, very well
satisfied with our work, said Drannan, with the exception of Mountain Phil.20
When Carson came across Phil, he did not punish him, but supposedly told him that
if he ever said he was hungry again, he would kill him.
The canyon was becoming a popular route for traders and explorers: another
expedition of trappers representing the American Fur Company passed through in
1828, from St. Louis en route to the Green River, led by Philip Covington, a future
Laporte settler.21 A John C. Fremont expedition in 1842 called the river the Cache a
la Poudre.22 This group also detoured up the North Fork after entering the canyon.
The site of Laporte was already a trading post when the Mormons travelled through
on their way to Utah in 1847.23 Traffic from the East principally consisted of traders
and trappers prior to the gold rush of 1859. Trappers from the Hudsons Bay
Company of Canada built cabins on the rivers North Fork and operated there every
winter from 1824-50, until the beaver supply was exhausted.24 Drannan told of Utes
20 Ibid.. 183.
21 Dick Baker, Trappers and Indians meet Laporte the gate, Triangle Review, 8 Dec., 1873.
22 Evans, 2.
23 Stoner, 259.
24 Burnett, 163.
raiding and killing trappers during this period.25 The elder Janis, Antoine St. Charles,
lived in St. Charles, Missouri, which he used as a base for frequent excursions west.
He became employed with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company and William Sublette
in 1832. The company sent him to Arkansas in 1838 to bring the trapper Auguste
Pierre Chouteau to his creditors, and again to collect his estate when Chouteau died
that same year.26 He was killed by Blackfoot Indians in 1840 in Yellowstone,
His son, Joseph Antoine Janis, would become an early bridge between
cultures along the Cache la Poudre. He was bom March 26, 1824, in St. Charles, the
third of five children.28 He was bilingual from childhood, in French and English. His
mother, Marguerite Thibaut, was also French. Antoine fils moved west in 1841,
following the Santa Fe Trail, going to work with the American Fur Co.29 He first
lived in Ft. Laramie, or Ft. John as it was called before 1849, where he traded with
25 Buchholtz, 42.
26 Janet Lecompte, Auguste Pierre Chouteau, in French Fur Traders and Voyageurs in the
American West: Twenty-Jive Biographical Sketches, ed. LeRoy Hafen (Spokane, WA: Arthur H. Clark
Co., 1995), 121-2.
71 Lecompte in Mountain Men, 194.
28 Gray, 12.
the Oglala Sioux. He was returning from New Mexico in 1844 along the Front Range
when he stopped at the Poudre, calling it the loveliest spot on earth.30 He later said
he staked his claim in the Pleasant Valley on June 1, 1844,31 though at this point the
land was still controlled by Native Americans. He continued to operate out of Ft.
Laramie, marrying an Oglala woman from the Red Cloud family, Mary or First Elk
Woman. Janis also took an Indian name, meaning Yellow Hair All-Messed-Up 32
He began to work with the Ward and Guerrier trading company in 1849; then his
time spent with the Indians served him in good stead, as he became a Sioux
interpreter for the Upper Platte Indian Agency at the fort in 1855, for which he was
paid $400 per year 33 Knowledge of the Rockies served him well, as he guided
General Albert S. Johnstons expedition against the Mormons in 1857.34 Janis then
led a trading party to the John S. Smith post on Cherry Creek in 1858, where the
promise of gold may have led him to remember his 1844 claim along the Poudre, and
its possible value in a gold rush. Ward and Guerrier had a trading site with the
31 Letter from Antoine Janis at Pine Ridge Agency, March 17, 1883, in Ansel Watrous, History of
Larimer County, Colorado (Fort Collins: Cornier Print. & Pub. Co., 1911, 1972 reprint by The Old
Army Press & DAR of Fort Collins), 44.
32 Evadene Burris Swanson, Fort Collins Yesterdays (Fort Collins: Publ. by the author, 1976), 86.
33 Mrs. Alice R. Gossage, Tales of the Hills, Rapid City (S.D.) Daily Journal, 7 Nov., 1928.
34 Gray, 12.
Indians on the Poudre a license for trading with the Indians on the river was first
issued in 1856 35 Janis brought a group of traders there in the fall of 1858 following
the gold strike at Cherry Creek. After wintering they decided to settle there, and
called the new town Colona, after Antoines friend, J.B. Colona, an original settler.
Arapaho Indians under Bold Wolf gave the new settlers all the land along the river
from the mountains to the mouth of Boxelder Creek,37 and Janis built his cabin there
in the spring of 1859. His claim was located between the river and the hogback
mountains to the north, just west of the Laporte townsite. Fellow settlers included
Elbridge Gerry and Antoines brother Nicholas.
Nicholas Janis was bom in 1827 in St. Charles, and moved west in 1845,
where he lived with the Oglala Sioux.38 39 His Indian name meant Long White Man.
He did not stay long at Colona; his name later appears at the Gold Hill mining camp
to the southwest; after which he moved to Denver, and then to Ft. Laramie. He
% served as a host for Grenville Dodge when the latter arrived to do a survey for the
Union Pacific Railroad in August, 1865: Nicholas made a Ft. Laramie puppy into a
6 Mary Hagen, ed., Larimer County Place Names: A History of Names on County Maps (Fort Collins:
The Old Army Press, 1984), 24.
37 Lecompte in Mountain Men, 199.
38 Ibid., 197.
39 Gray, 14.
soup for the general, in the days before politically correct cuisine. Major Ostrander
of New Jersey later recalled Nicholas as an excellent storyteller, the leading spirit
among the old-timers still left at the fort.40 Nicholas married a Cheyenne Indian
woman at the fort. His signature appears in several places on the Sioux Treaty of
1868, at which he served as an interpreter. Antoines signature also appears once.
The treaty was worked out at Ft. Laramie on May 25 and 26. A photograph of the
event shows Nicholas seated on the ground with several Sioux participants.41
The town of Colona soon achieved political significance, as the federal
government considered naming Colorado Territory Colona with the new town as
its capital, but the bill died in Congress in January, 1859.42 Colona became a precinct
to elect delegates to a statehood convention in 1859, though the notion of statehood
proved premature. Horace Greeley stated the town was hardly three months old
when he launched a ferry boat on the Poudre on June 20, 1859.43 The Colona Town
Company was organized in February, 1860. The settlers would often hire out as
mountain guides, as they were all old trappers, or they would go on buffalo hunts
40 Merrill J. Mattes, The Sutlers Store at Fort Laramie, in Fort Laramie: Visions of a Grand Old
Post, ed. Robert A Murray (Fort Collins: The Old Army Press, 1974), 35.
41 Antoine Janis file, Local History Department, Fort Collins Public Library.
42 Carl Ubbelohde, Maxine Benson and Duane A Smith, A Colorado History, 7th ed. (Boulder: Pruett.
43 Gray, 14.
together the Nebraska Territorial census of 1860 found many empty cabins in
Pleasant Valley. Land speculators became interested in the Poudre as a possible
gateway for a transcontinental railroad, via the North Fork trade route, in I860.44
This interest drove away many of the old trappers, some of whom moved to Miraval
City, a temporary settlement on the Big Thompson River. The Colona Co. was
reorganized as Laporte Townsite Co., with Enoch Raymond and the Janis brothers as
the only original settlers on the board of directors. Laporte means the gate in
French, an homage to the French trappers. The Cache La Poudre Claim Club
Association was organized in lieu of a county government, which did not yet exist.
Native Americans still held title to the land, so that only squatters claims could be
initiated. The new wave of speculators vanished when talk of a transcontinental
railroad was delayed by the start of the Civil War. Laporte thrived in their absence:
the town boasted four saloons in 1862, with one building still standing in 1973 45
Antoine Janis continued as a mountain guide, helped as an interpreter at the
Red Cloud Indian agency on the North Platte in 1861-2, traded, and supplied the
Indian reservations. He also played the fiddle, a valuable skill in the lonely life of the
early trappers 46 He received irrigation rights from Alfred F. Howes on March 17,
44 Ibid., p. 17.
45 Dick Baker, Trappers and Indians meet at Laporte the gate, Triangle Review, 8 Dec., 1973.
46 Ellen Driscoll, The History of the Antoine Janis and Elizabeth Stone Cabins, Ft. Collins Museum,
Ft. Collins, Colorado (Unpublished internship report for Fort Collins museum, 16 Dec., 1980), 10.
1862, an important step in establishing a long-term presence on the Poudre,47 48 and
obtained legal title to his land on November 17, 1865, the first land patent in Larimer
County under the Homestead Act. The land had been a military warrant given to the
trader Marcas Minorca for his help in conflicts with the Navajos. Minorca was a
trader on the Big Thompson River to the south. The deed was transferred to Janis by
Minorcas wife, Alligracio. Antoine kept busy in those years, as he also helped train
the soldiers at Camp Collins, the new outpost near Laporte, with his friend, Abner
Loomis.49 Janis was the possible victim when Indians stole 40 horses from a Laporte
settler on June 11, 1865.50 The Blackhawk Mining Journal, July 7, 1865, suggests
Janis sent a son north in pursuit. Soldiers from Laramie attacked the Indians and
returned the horses to their owner.
Janis had 16 children, including two sons, William and Pete, who were killed
in an argument on Christmas Day 1872, at a camp on Kiowa Creek in Nebraska,
south of the Red Cloud Indian agency on the Platte.51 The brothers left the agency on
December 20 for Nicholas camp on the creek, in the face of warnings they might
run into trouble. The perpetrators were Charles and Joseph Richards, half-breed
47 Larimer Cty. Clerks Records, Deed Book A Larimer Cty. Courthouse, in Driscoll, 7.
48 Larimer Cty. Clerks Records, Deed Book B, in Driscoll, 10.
49 Swanson, Fort Collins Yesterdays, 86.
50 John S. Gray, Cavalry and Coaches: The Story of Camp and Fort Collins (Fort Collins: The Old
Army Press, 1978), 91.
51 Murray, 42.
Indians, and Paddy Miller, a full Sioux; they were drunk at the time, as were the two
brothers. The locals considered the killings blessings in disguise, freeing them from
hangers on to the Indian reservations, who are and have been the cause of our
Indian difficulties.52 The killers fled to the Indian Territory, and the Interior
Secretary recommended that no action be taken in bringing them to justice, as the
killings had been the result of a drunken struggle between half-breeds and
Indians.53 This reflected the prevalence of anti-Indian prejudice at the time.
When his wifes tribe was relocated to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South
Dakota in 1878, Janis chose to move there rather than be separated from her. His
brother Nicholas followed in 1880.54 A letter Antoine wrote to E.N. Garbutt in 1879
indicates he had yet to sell his land: he requested $15 per acre, saying Garbutt could
keep $300 of the hay money. Janis wrote that he might return to the Pooder,55
but he never did, dying on the reservation on April 10, 1890, just prior to the
massacre at Wounded Knee. He left behind many descendants. His cabin was moved
to Library Park in Fort Collins in 1938. Janis had been devoted to the Sioux, a
mediator in a time when they were sorely needed.
52 Cheyenne Daily Leader, 13 Jan., 1873.
53 Letter, C.W. Delano, Interior Secretary, Washington, D.C., to Acting Commissioner of Indian
Affairs, 25 April, 1873.
54 Lecompte, Mountain Men, 201.
55 Letter, Antoine Janis, Pine River Agency, to E.N. Garbutt, 13 Nov., 1879.
Laporte had early geographic importance, as it sat near the Poudre Canyon, at
a historic meeting place between Indian tribes. It also occupied a trade route along
the Front Range, through the canyon and northwest along the path of modem
Highway 287. This path was named the Evans Road, for Lewis Evans of Arkansas,
who led a party to the California Gold Rush along this route in 1849.56 It had also
been the route of Ashleys party in 1825. It was later named the Cherokee Trail, for a
group of Cherokee Indians who took that route to the California gold fields in
1848.57 When the Overland Stage line along the North Platte was abandoned in 1862
by troops bound for the Civil War, Indians raided the line repeatedly, forcing owners
to move it to the Cherokee Trail: it turned south at Julesburg, followed the South
Platte to Latham Station at the mouth of the Poudre, and followed the Poudre up to
Laporte. The main line would shift back and forth between Denver and Laporte in a
political struggle.58 The gold rush to Montana in 1864 brought more traffic, and
economic growth. The infamous Jack Slade, vividly described in Mark Twains
Roughing It, built the Virginia Dale station on this route, naming it for his wife.
Twain portrayed him as a frightening killer:
We had gradually come to have a realizing sense of the fact that Slade was a
man whose heart and hands and soul were steeped in the blood of offenders
56 Gray, The Poudre River, 13.
57 Peggy A. Ford, Cache La Poudre-Big Thompson Rivers Integrated Interpretive Project
(Unpublished MS, Greeley Public Library, Archives, 1996).
58 Ibid., p. 18.
against his dignity; a man who awfully avenged all injuries, affronts, insults
or slights, of whatever kind on the spot if he could, years afterward if lack
of earlier opportunity compelled it; a man whose hate tortured him day and
night till vengeance appeased it and not an ordinary vengeance either, but
his enemys absolute death nothing less; a man whose face would light ujj
with a terrible joy when he surprised a foe and had him at a disadvantage.59
When he later met the original at his station, Twain was relieved but disappointed to
find the stage manager polite and composed. Slade spent four months at the station,
in 1862. He was less violent than his legend, though he was rumored to have killed a
man at Julesburg, the towns namesake, Jules Beni. When Slade was in charge of the
Julesburg stage station earlier in 1862, Beni shot him, as revenge for the confiscation
of some horses. Slade was believed to be dying, but recovered, pursued Beni and
eventually killed him. Officers of the stage company absolved Slade of
wrongdoing.60 He was also known to become ugly and domineering when drunk.61
He once became abusive of a Laporte liquor store owner, George Sanderson, when
Sanderson refused to stop selling alcohol to Slades passengers. Slade made his point
by creating a massive cocktail on the shop floor, and sliding in it. He was
consequently jailed in Denver by the territorial government, released, and banished.
But legend persisted of Slade leading a band of outlaws after his banishment. Slade
was known as a tough agent, but also a friend to widows and orphans. After moving
59 Mark Twain, Roughing It (Pleasantville, NY: Readers Digest Assn, edition, 1994), 40.
60 Jules Beni: The Showdown with Jack Slade, in \vww,over-land.corn. 19 Jan., 2001.
61 Gray, The Poudre River, 19.
to Virginia City, Montana, he grew rowdy on Christmas 1863, and was hanged by
vigilantes for defiance.62 63
As increased trade and settlement came to the Pleasant Valley, frictions with
the indigenous tribes increased. A Ft. Laramie treaty of 1851 had ceded the land near
the South Platte and its tributaries to the Arapahoes and Cheyennes for hunting.
After the 1859 gold rush, however, squatters lined the valley from the canyon to the
South Platte, according to an early settler.64 This occurred over the protests of Chief
Friday, the Arapaho leader who served as another bridge between cultures in the
early Pleasant Valley. Chief Friday was an unusual Indian leader. He was found
orphaned near the Cimarron River at age 6, by trapper Thomas Fitzpatrick, and
named for the day he was found.65 Fitzpatrick was also the architect of the above-
mentioned treaty. He took Friday back to St. Louis with him, and enrolled him in a
Catholic school66 He thus became conversant in white American culture. Friday
returned often to the mountains with Fitzpatrick. One trader who encountered them
in 1834 praised Friday: Mr. Fitzpatricks little foundling, Friday, is becoming, every
day, an object of greater and greater interest to me, his astonishing memory, his
62 Ibid., 20.
63 Swanson, Fort Collins Yesterdays, 78.
64 Duncan, 20.
65 Gray, The Poudre River, 9.
66 Swanson, Fort Collins Yesterdays, 78.
minute observations, and amusing inquiries interest me exceedingly.67 He visited
the trappers rendezvous regularly in 1833-6, becoming familiar with that unique
group.68 He was reunited with his mother in 1838, and rejoined his tribe,69 though at
first he was reluctant to do so, wanting to stay with the traders.
Friday remained a friend of the white man, advocating peace even in the
difficult 1860s. He won accolades for his command of the language, and his skills as
a buffalo hunter. When Friday met Fitzpatrick accompanying a Colonel Stephen W.
Kearny expedition in 1845, Kearnys troops were astonished at the friendliness of
their reunion.70 71 Friday once went on an expedition to the Green River with a party
that included Antoine Janis and future president Benjamin Harrison. He went to
Washington, D.C. in 1851 to meet a second President, Millard Fillmore, with
Fitzpatrick and other Indians. This experience led to his becoming an Arapaho
leader,72 with several hundred in his tribe when Antoine Janis and the other settlers
first arrived. A three-day battle between the Arapahoes and Pawnees near the site of
Laporte in 1858 emphasized the importance of that location to Native Americans.
67 Evadene Swanson, Friday: Roving Arapaho, Annals of Wyoming 47 (Spring 1975): 59-68.
68 LeRoy Hafen, Friday, The Arapaho, Mountain Men, 187.
69 Gray, The Poudre River, 9.
70 Swanson, Friday: Roving Arapaho, 60.
71 LeRoy Hafen, The Life of Thomas Fitzpatrick: Mountain Man, Guide and Indian Agent (Denver:
Old West Pub. Co., 1973), 127.
72 Swanson, Fort Collins Yesterdays, 79.
The establishment of the Colona townsite was thus disruptive to the indigenous
tribes. According to early settlers, the buffalo in the valley had mainly disappeared
by the 1860s, possibly due to a great snowstorm in 1851-52, in which the area
received six feet of snow, according to Antoine Janis.73 This loss of buffalo would
also have impacted the Native American population. Chief Friday remained friendly
with the settlers, however, which made him unpopular with other tribes. His best
friend was Ebenezer Davis, a Welsh miner and Indian trader. Many frustrated miners
who ended up settling along the Poudre and the South Platte would enjoy amicable
relations with Friday. James B. Arthur, an early Poudre settler in 1860, would allow
his home to be used as a sort of fort by Fridays band in defense against their
enemies, the Utes.74 The F.W. Sherwood ranch south of Fort Collins served as
another Indian headquarters. The same ranch also saw use as an Overland Stage stop.
Watrous claims that all river lands from Laporte to the site of Greeley were
taken by settlers by the end of 1861.75 A treaty at Fort Wise that year ceded all
Indian lands east of the Rockies to the U.S., invalidating Fitzpatricks 1851 treaty.
Some local Indians began harassing settlers wives for food, when their husbands
went away to the mountains for trading or mining. Friday recommended guns for the
settlers wives so they could defend themselves. Settlers believed an Indian could eat
73 Duncan, 18.
74 Swanson, Friday: Roving Arapaho, 61.
75 Watrous, 50.
enough at one meal to last him three or four days. The Arapahoes and Utes stole
horses when the opportunity presented itself, in an attempt to continue their way of
life. Accusations of horse theft frequently led to raids against the Indians that
exacerbated tensions. When Indians attacked the Overland Stage line, the
government responded by establishing Camp Collins near Laporte, in July, 1862,
with four companies of the Ohio Cavalry stationed there, commanded by Captain
Asaph Allen.76 The camp was named for Lt. Col. William O. Collins. The stage was
not attacked again in the area, though Indian attacks commenced to the north, near
the Medicine Bow Mountains. In 1862 the government promised to supply the
Indians, in exchange for land. But Friday was forced to sign the treaty of Fort Wise
in 1863, when the government threatened to withhold food rations from his tribe.
The treaty would remove the Arapahoes to the Sand Creek Reservation in southeast
Colorado.77 Friday wanted the land along the north shore of the Poudre, from
Boxelder Creek to the South Platte, but was told there were already 16 white families
there, and that it lay along the stage route. Fridays tribe opted for a tenuous life
along the Poudre, camping on various ranches and living on rations from the settlers.
Their decision proved fortuitous in the event of the horrible Sand Creek Massacre.
Of all the area Indians, Fridays band especially tended to make the Poudre their
76 Gray, The Poudre River, 21.
77 Swanson, Fort Collins Yesterdays, 80.
home 78 The Arapaho Indian Council Tree, a 100-foot-high cottonwood on the banks
of the Poudre northwest of Timnath, was for over 100 years the site of Arapaho and
Cheyenne council meetings. An Indian womans body was tied to a platform up in
the tree, an Indian custom; it was often called the Squaw Tree.79 The tree later
burned to the ground. The river thus had special significance for indigenous tribes.
The Platte River agent had recommended in 1856 that the Poudre valley be used as a
possible area to teach agriculture to local Native Americans.80 It is doubly sad that
this idea was never implemented, since Fridays band, under his intelligent
leadership, might have proven ripe for assimilation and thus been spared the horrors
of reservation life, and since the Poudre later proved in other ways to be a river of
Fridays tribe kept up friendly relations with white settlers, even going on the
warpath against the Utes when they raided the stage lines in 1863.81 Unsubstantiated
claims of Indians running off cattle led to attacks by troops from Camp Collins in the
spring of 1864, leading to war.82 Territorial Governor John Evans designated Camp
Collins a sanctuary for friendly Indians, to separate them from hostiles, and Fridays
78 Gray, Cavalry and Coaches, 31.
79 Ahlbrandt, 8.
80 West, 262.
81 op cit., 40.
82 Gray, The Poudre River, 20.
band took advantage of this new hospitality. It was at this time that Antoine Janis
was hired by the camp as a guide and interpreter. Fridays group struggled and
experienced hunger, but remained loyal to the whites.83 The Camp Collins
commander, Captain Love, allowed Fridays band to hunt on the Poudres South
Fork in 1864, which had once been their exclusive preserve.84 Governor Evans called
out the militia and declared war on the Indians responsible for the alleged cattle theft.
Fridays band was threatened when 100 armed men sought them out, but the 100
detoured to Ft. Lupton on report of hostile Indians there an incident that was
prelude to the Sand Creek Massacre.85
Fort Collins was established in October, 1864, after the camp had been
flooded out in June. Its primary purpose was to protect the stage line. Indians closed
down the Julesburg station in retaliation for Sand Creek; Captain William Evans
raised a militia along the Poudre.86 The forts garrison was increased from two
companies to five or six with the end of the Civil War. Indians attacked wagons and
stage stations in the summer of 1865; several Poudre settlers had horses stolen. An
army order dated April 29, 1865 banned Indians from the fort, a sign relations were
83 Gray, Cavalry and Coaches, 61.
84 Swanson, Friday: Roving Arapaho, 63.
85 Swanson, Fort Collins Yesterdays, 82.
86 Gray, The Poudre River, 26.
cooling towards Friday and his group, following Arapaho raids along the stage line.
However, 154 friendlies remained at the fort in June, including many more besides
Fridays number. Calm returned the next year, and volunteer troops were replaced by
galvanized Yanks, or released Confederate prisoners pressed into service; their
number declined until the fort was abandoned in the spring of 1867, against Fridays
protests. The Indians had become dependent upon the fort for food, and Chief Friday
had to seek out Governor Cummings in Golden for relief when it closed. His group
had dwindled to 85 in number by August, 1868.87 88
The fort had benefited from the ministrations of Elizabeth Hickok Auntie
Stone, who established a boarding-house and mess hall for the troops in 1864, at age
63. Bom in Connecticut in 1801, Auntie Stone had moved to Denver from Minnesota
in 1862 with her second husband and eight children. The mess, known as Auntie
Stones Cabin, was moved to the Agricultural Hotel in 1873, where it was used as a
kitchen.89 It still stands in Library Park, with Antoine Jams cabin. When her
husband died in 1866, Auntie Stone opened a mill with Henry Clay Peterson, a
gunsmith, then sold it in the early 1870s. She then opened a hotel in 1879 that
became the Tedmon Hotel. Auntie Stone often boarded relatives who were in need.
87 Gray, Cavalry and Coaches, 86.
88 Swanson, Fort Collins Yesterdays, 83.
89 op. cit., 134.
She died in 1895, a very popular and well-known hostess who made the frontier
more livable for many. Her cabin is the only building surviving from the fort.90
Most of the Arapahoes and Cheyennes had been removed to reservations
outside the state in 1867. The Utes along the upper Poudre were forced to cede their
mountain claims in 1873 and relocated to Utah and southwest Colorado.91 The
Arapahoes were divided into northern and southern tribes, roughly along the South
Platte, with the northern tribe being sent to the Wind River Shoshone Reservation in
Wyoming and the southern tribe to the Indian Territory. Friday wanted to move his
people to the Wind River Reservation but the Shoshone Chief Washakie refused.
Friday became an interpreter at Ft. Laramie in 1867, with Nicholas Janis, and again
at the Red Cloud Agency in Nebraska in 1875. He also served as an interpreter at
Custers Last Stand.92 Friday finally left the Poudre with his people, moving to
Lander, Wyoming in 1869. One night his horse came riderless to the town of Miners
Delight where he was staying; a friend, Captain H.G. Nickerson, sought Friday and
found him drunk and freezing by the roadside.93 A white mob attacked the group of
Indians at Lander and killed 25, including four of Fridays tribe. Friday went on to
serve as a scout for General Crook during the Indian wars, but did not return to the
90 op. cit., 103-4.
91 Buchholtz, 27.
92 Ahlbrandt, 5.
93 Virginia Trenholm, The Arapahoes: Our People (Norman, OK: Oklahoma U.P., 1970), 232.
Poudre. He was finally allowed into the Wind River Reservation with his people in
1879, where he died in 1881.94 On the reservation, he was known as Man Who Sits
in the Comer and Keeps His Mouth Shut perhaps a reflection of his Jesuit
training. He was the only Arapaho there who knew English, so he served as
interpreter, and when he died the whites were left in a quandary as to how to
communicate with the Arapahoes.
Settlers always had a high regard for Friday, even when they denigrated other
Native Americans. A historian of the Indian Wars remembered him as a peacemaker:
He had great influence among the Arapahoes as well as the Cheyennes, the Oglala
and Brule Sioux and did much to keep these people quiet. He prevented many wagon
trains from being attacked.95 He sat for a couple of famous Western photographers,
William Henry Jackson and Matthew Brady. He was a polygamist and a heavy
drinker, like many Indians, with at least 10 wives, and many children. He had many
things in common with Antoine Janis. Like Janis and perhaps to a greater degree, he
was a bridge between the two sides, at the time when such a position was most
difficult but necessary. Like Janis, he spent his childhood in St. Louis, and his last
years on a reservation, and was bilingual, serving as an interpreter. But Fridays life
was more tragic, because of the fate of his people. The intersection of their lives near
94 Swanson, Fort Collins Yesterdays, 84.
95 J. Lee Humfreville, Twenty Years Among Our Hostile Indians (New York: Hunter & Co., 1899),
the trading spot on the Poudre helped define the river as a place where divergent
views could meet, and be reconciled.
EARLY DEVELOPMENT -
BENJAMIN EATON AND THE UNION COLONY
The Great American Desert was settled by a succession of miners, cattlemen
and farmers. Cattlemen tended to occupy the riparian lands, putting farmers at a
disadvantage, yet it was the latter group that boosters hoped to attract.1 The new
community in Pleasant Valley struggled economically as down-on-their-luck miners
tried their hands at farming in the arid plains; the area needed a railroad. Surveyor
Grenville Dodge was interested in the Poudre as a possible Union Pacific route, as it
would bring the transcontinental route closer to Denver and the Colorado mining
boom. The river was found to have a gentler grade than the Berthoud Pass route to
the south.1 2 The route would have followed the South Platte to the Poudre, then up the
river to Laporte, north along the Cherokee Trail to Dale Creek, Antelope Pass and
Wyoming, the current path of U.S. Highway 287.3 But Sherman Pass in Wyoming
was ultimately deemed an even easier route. It is interesting to speculate on how
1 Fort Collins History, in www.pe.net/~rksnow/cocountyfortcollins.htm#history.
2 Maury Klein, Union Pacific: Birth of a Railroad 1862-1893 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co.
Inc., 1987), 76-7.
3 Kenneth lessen, Railroads of Northern Colorado (Boulder, CO: Pruett Pub. Co., 1982), 12.
Colorados history might have been changed had it gained the route for the first
transcontinental. The state probably would have developed more quickly. The U.P.
did provide plenty of tie-cutting business along the upper river. Robert Chambers
was a trapper along the lake on the upper Poudre that would later bear his name,
when he was killed by Indians in 1858. His son, Robert Jr., was away seeking
supplies at the time.4 When tie contractors Isaac Coe and Levi Carter came seeking
timber for the UP, Robert Jr. told them about Chambers Lake, which subsequently
became a tie-cutting camp.5 Hundreds of cabins were built for the cutters, who were
hired at 10 cents per tie, 40 ties per day. Ties were cut in the mountains, floated
down river, removed once they left the canyon, and taken by wagon to the
Ties were also needed for the Denver Pacific, built from Cheyenne to Denver
in 1870-1, which gave the local economy the connection to the East it needed. The
federal land grant connected with the railroad provided an opportunity for
development that was soon seized by Nathan Meeker, associate of Horace Greeley at
the New York Herald-Tribune. Greeley had long contemplated a utopian community
stemming from the concept of Associationism, with educated workers sharing the
4 Stanley R. Case, The Poudre: A Photo History (Bellvue, CO: Published by the author, 1985), 18.
5 Norman Walter Fry, Cache La Poudre: The RiverAs Seen From 1889 (Unpublished booklet,
fruits of their labor; settlers would enjoy private property rights, but with the
guarantee of food and shelter.6 The Associationist educational program called for the
basics to be taught, plus botany, geology and the love and practice of industry.7
This anticipated the later focus of the agricultural college at Fort Collins. Greeley
might have been originally drawn to the Poudre by his visit to Laporte when it first
was settled. He claimed he was attracted to the area due to the availability of
irrigated water, as well as its proximity to the Denver Pacific. Nathan Meeker shared
the Associationist philosophy. Meeker put out a call for colonists to populate the
proposed Union Colony on December 4, 1869.8 The colony would be located at the
junction of the Poudre and the South Platte, where the Denver Pacific would cross
the rivers. Meeker purchased 12,000 acres from the railroads grants, at the site of
the future Greeley. People of all trades signed up with Meeker, but mostly farmers.
Colonists paid a $150 membership fee and a $5 initiation fee; town lots sold for $25-
The first colonists arrived on May 1, 1870 in Cheyenne, though the Denver
6 Coy F. Cross II, Go West Young Man!: Horace Greeleys Vision For America (Albuquerque: New
Mexico U.P., 1995), 115.
7 Ibid., p. 117.
8 Gray, The Poudre River, p. 27.
9 James F. Willard, ed., The Union Colony at Greeley, Colorado 1869-1871 (Denver: W.F. Robinson,
Pacific was not yet completed. Many would immediately return the way they had
come, after debarking at the railroads terminus and confronting the sparse,
forbidding countryside. Gradually 400-500 would arrive. General Robert A.
Cameron, a Civil War veteran, led the group until Meekers arrival. A large building
was shipped from Cheyenne for shelter until cabins could be built, the Hotel de
Comfort. Colonists tended to focus on developing the town and then radiate
outwards, so that in its early years the town of Greeley prospered faster than
surrounding farms. Hundreds of fruit trees were planted and ground broken, in good
faith that irrigation would soon work its magic. Ditch digging commenced almost
immediately. Horace Greeley abhorred debt, and advocated the sale of community
property to finance canal building this was carried out.10 Other towns in the area
borrowed to build their canals, and went under when they failed to repay their debts.
Meeker sought an Eastern microcosm, with old country benefits such as
social refinement, and without land speculators. Four classes of men were seen to
emerge: educated mechanics, to help build houses and canals; farmers; a well-
educated class, who worked hard alongside the others; and politicians, who vied for
power with the educated class. In view of his Associationist ideal of enlightened
workers, Greeley might have looked at the last category and thought three out of
10 Cross, 129.
four isnt bad. The town grew quickly, reaching a population of 1000 in a year.
(The citys population stood at about 60,000 in 1990.)n Most communal institutions
were abandoned within a few years of the towns birth, leaving it similar to many
other frontier towns. Strict prohibition was enforced. Not even a dog has been
known to fight, so powerful is the moral influence, a visitor remarked. A
saloonkeeper from nearby Evans saw his establishment mysteriously burn to the
ground, and six indictments were handed down for larceny, arson and riot.11 12 13 Evans
was a railroad worker town, whose night life contrasted with the temperance of
Meekers colony. When seeking a town site, Meeker realized he couldnt convert
Evans to a temperance town.14 The Weld County seat moved from Latham to Evans
in January, 1870; Greeley and Evans then fought for this honor, with Greeley
winning in 1877. The Union Colonists temperance was a function of their idealism.
In the absence of a Native American population, the more zealous of the newcomers
had found a new opponent in frontier vice, a foe less easily relegated to the
hinterlands. Yet the greater foe would prove to be the river itself.
By cleaving to a communitarian principle, the Greeley colonists unwittingly
11 Ibid., 130.
12 op. cit., 28.
13 Whisky in Greeley, Rocky Mountain News, 1 Nov., 1870, 4, in Willard, 310.
14 Peggy A Ford, Cache La Poudre-Big Thompson Rivers Integrated Interpretive Project
(Unpublished MS), 23 Aug., 1996.
extended the rivers role as a conciliator, following a course established by Antoine
Janis and Chief Friday. The need for irrigation helped influence the colonists in their
associationist belief: irrigation appealed to the Utopians as a communal foundation,
an enforcing mechanism for shared wealth, as water was necessary to survive in the
arid West. All western settlement might be seen as similarly utopian: America west
of the 100th meridian was initially considered hostile to settlement, and termed the
Great American Desert. Federal aid in the form of land grants for transcontinental
railroads, and the Homestead Act, enabled wide-scale Western settlement following
the Civil War; Western settlement was seen as a way of uniting the country after the
divisive war, as even the name Union Pacific indicates. Donald Worster writes that
a new emphasis on prosperity emerged among the Utopians following the war, with
many Union Colonists seeking to make a quick fortune and get out, though they
ended by staying and learning how to farm.15 The Eastern colonial ideals were soon
worn down by experience of Western hardship: the first colonists were forced to eat
random buffalo and antelope in the winter in order to survive. Meeker had thousands
of trees imported for a more homey atmosphere, but they soon died. Horace
Greeleys ban on fencing soon had to be violated in order to keep out the great
numbers of free roaming cattle owned by neighboring stockmen. A cooperative stock
association failed for lack of investors. Meeker finally moved to the White River Ute
15 Worster, 86.
Reservation in western Colorado to teach the Indians farming, but was killed and
mutilated for his trouble the Utes were not Associationists.16 17 The Great American
Desert imposed its own set of values on those who wished to conquer it. The
unifying ideal came into being in many ways along the Cache la Poudre, but always
on the rivers own terms.
Helped by the railroads arrival, the area began to grow rapidly. The town of
Fort Collins was established in 1872, and incorporated in 1883. With growth came
the need for irrigation in a semiarid climate. The Union Colony had planted 60,000
irrigated acres after 1870, the year they built Union Colony Canal No. 2. The colony
had struggled with earlier ditches: Canal No. 3 failed to provide enough power to
turn their mill-wheel. A larger canal was needed No. 2. Farming depended
completely on the canal. John C. Abbott, formerly of the Union Colony, and
Benjamin Eaton built the Lake Canal; R. A. Cameron, also from the Union Colony,
created the Larimer County Land Improvement Co. to irrigate Camerons Fort
Collins Agricultural Colony.18 Both canals were upstream of the Union Colonys,
16 Ibid., 87.
17 Lee G. Norris,^ Conversation With William R. Kelly, Esq. (Unpublished interview transcript,
1981), 90, 93. Courtesy Colorado Historical Society.
18 National Park Service, Resource Assessment: Proposed Cache la Poudre River National Heritage
Corridor (National Park Service, Rocky Mountain Regional Office, Dec. 1990), Appendix B:
Historical Context: The History of Water Law and Water Development in the Cache la Poudre River
Basin and the Rocky Mountain West, 2.
with the capacity to divert the entire river in a dry year. Customers of the various
canals were able to coexist until the arrival of a dry year in 1874, when the colony at
Fort Collins was able to take water from the Union colonists, beginning the question
of priority of water rights. The Union colonists argued that since their water right
was first, institutions should be put in place to enforce respect for their priority. From
this dispute arose the Colorado principle of first use: water would be allocated on a
first come, first served basis. This differed from the riparian tradition, in which
land located next to a river received primacy of water rights. Water was not
returnable under riparian rights, while the early Poudre settlers often found a need
for use and reuse of the rivers water.19
The move from riparian law to the principle of prior appropriation was begun
in 1861 in Colorado when territorial law first established that water could be used for
nonadjacent lands.20 The doctrine of prior appropriation was written into the State
Constitution in 1876, as a result of the Union Colonys conflict with Fort Collins.
Article XVI of the Constitution, Mining and Irrigation, contained the first
statement of this doctrine, expressing the need for a stable system of water rights.
19 Gray, The Poudre River, 70.
20 Justice Gregory J. Hobbs, Jr., Colorado Water Law. An Historical Overview, Water Law Review
1 (Fall 1997): 6.
Appropriation doctrine was considered more democratic than riparian doctrine,
because a persons labor was involved in creating the better right. Colorado Supreme
Court Justice Gregory Hobbs explains:
It is my view that the appropriation doctrine, which is entirely positive on
making actual beneficial use of water, is egalitarian. It operates in
priority with respect to perfected uses, for the historic beneficial use made
of the water right, regardless of societys changing ideas of the value to
which water ought to be put. For example, if you have a water right to
irrigate alfalfa, and a water right to supply the city and county of Denver,
they are vastly different in their economic benefit and unarguably in their
social utility ... So, you could say the system is misusing water. Or you
could say that the doctrine is based on those who use it first, and in times
of short supply, which is what the appropriation doctrine looks at, not
times of ample supply,... the appropriation doctrine curtails the junior
priorities in favor of the seniors. So, a system of resource allocation has
to have three attributes to it: security, reliability and flexibility. And I
would argue that the prior appropriation doctrine has no equal thats
been proposed yet in terms of procuring those three objectives.21
A California Supreme Court case, Irwin v. Phillips in 1855, had first
established prior appropriation as a guiding legal principle22 between two non-
riparian water users. The Colorado Supreme Court case Coffin v. Left Hand Ditch
Co. in 1882 first adopted it as a principle of all water allocations. That ruling stated,
Imperative necessity, unknown in the countries which gave it birth, compels
the recognition of another doctrine in conflict [with riparian doctrine]. And
we hold that, in the absence of express statutes to the contrary, the first
21 Colorado Supreme Court Justice Gregory Hobbs Jr. interview, July, 2001.
22 James N. Corbridge, Jr. and Teresa A. Rice, Vranesh's Colorado Water Law, rev. ed. (Niwot, CO:
Colorado U.P., 1999), 7-8.
appropriator of water from a natural stream for a beneficial purpose has, with
the qualifications contained in the constitution, a prior right thereto, to the
extent of appropriation 23
The Poudre and its Union Colonists had given birth to a new principle of resource
use; with its corollary that a water right must be put to beneficial use, it would come
to be known as the Colorado Doctrine. Elwood Mead, Bureau of Reclamation
commissioner and Greeley native, would write in 1903 that Colorado had been the
first state to adopt a code of laws for the administration of streams. Claiming the
Colorado irrigation system was born on the South Platte and its tributaries, he called
the Poudre Valley the best example of irrigation in the Rocky Mountain
region... ,24 25
Poudre residents had much work ahead in order to earn the praise of Elwood
Mead. Irrigation mostly took place in the Poudre valley or bottomlands until 1874,
when discovery of the richness of the uplands led to creation of canal corporations,
to finance the more expensive construction necessary to reach those areas. Passage
of the Desert Land Act in 1877, which provided that 640 acres could be settled if
irrigated within three years, also encouraged private irrigation efforts. Water
23 Ibid., p. 8.
24 Elwood Mead, Irrigation Institutions (London: Macmillan, 1903), 143, 149.
25 Watrous, 70.
shortages increased as more canals were built, putting pressure on irrigation
companies to somehow regulate supply. Larimer County receives an average of 14.3
inches of rainfall per year, classifying it as a semiarid environment, with irrigation a
necessity for farming.26 John Wesley Powell, in his groundbreaking Arid Lands
report of 1879, praised the success of cooperative effort at Greeley as one of the few
places outside Utah where it had been tried.27 Powell thought pasturelands should be
held in common, similar to the Union Colonys practice, but with each farm owned
by an individual a colony plan. He argued that farmers should not be at the mercy
of irrigation companies. Powells report was revolutionary, but Congress ignored it.28
However, on the Poudre some of his ideas were already being put into
practice. The difficulty of apportioning water rights, and the increasing cost of
irrigation projects, led to the formation of local irrigation companies in the 1870s,
which organized settlers into lots and made them shareholders, beginning with the
Laramie County Land and Improvement Co. in 1873.29 Called mutual ditch
companies, these new entities were an extension of the Union Colonys
26 Office of the Director, Cooperative Extension Service, General Description, County Information
Service: Larimer County (Fort Collins: Community Resource Development Project, Colorado St. U.,
27 John Wesley Powell, Lands of the Arid Region of the United States (Harvard Common Press, 1983,
1st ed. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1879), 11.
28 Ibid., xvii. Introduction by T.H. Watkins.
29 The Poudre River, The Rocky Mountain News, 16 March, 1890.
communitarian principle; they followed Powells advice of empowering water users
rather than speculators. Water rights were divided pro rata, or according to shares
held by farmers who were stockholders in an irrigation company. Farmers would
often work 12-hour days to build the dams and reservoirs themselves. The
Adjudication Acts of 1879 and 1881 established a state system of regulating water
rights through the judiciary. The Poudre became District #3 in the South Platte River
Valley Division. The District Court in Fort Collins had adjudication of Poudre water
rights. The Weld County District Court now has adjudication of the Poudre and all of
the South Platte below Denver.30 31 District Judge Victor Elliot appointed Harry
Haynes the first Poudre water referee in 1879.32 Haynes took evidence but failed to
present it in court. Greeley-area farmers began a lawsuit against Judge Elliot in 1880,
fearful of losing water to Fort Collins. Poudre State Senator James Freeman became
chairman of the Irrigation Committee in 1881, and authored a bill to establish a State
Commissioner of Irrigation, and have all Colorado rivers and streams measured. The
Colorado Supreme Court meanwhile ruled in Greeleys favor. Conflicts between
Greeley and Fort Collins finally were resolved, and the Union colonists priority
30 Norris, 156.
31 Ibid., 150-2.
32 Appendix B: Historical Context, Haiza Engineering Co., Cache la Poudre Basin Study: Final
Report, vol. 1 (Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority, Jan., 1987), 5.
respected. However, by the 1880s no more water was available for new irrigators.
The solution: 1. increase the amount of the river usable for irrigation, by storing the
excess from the spring snowmelt; 2. increase total flow, through reservoirs and
transmountain diversions. Aided by a uniform system and the advent of mutual ditch
companies, a chessboard of reservoirs soon sprouted in the plains north and east of
Fort Collins, beginning in 1881, to store water for the summer, when it was needed
Donald Worster claims that the first use principle gained favor in the West
because of its exploitative nature, not due to aridity, as Walter Prescott Webb had
argued. Under prior appropriation, all of a rivers use was encouraged anything less
was considered waste. The entire focus was placed on development of the Poudre
and other rivers as resources, with no consideration given to their intrinsic value.
Prior appropriation, Worster argues, was part of a new instrumentalism throughout
the West that saw nature purely as an object of exploitation.33 34 This principle led to an
overallocation of most streams east of the Rockies by 1890.35 A great number of
legal issues were created by the first use doctrine, leading reformers to believe that
the state would some day replace private control of water, but state water projects in
33 C.E. Tait, Storage of Water on Cache La Poudre and Big Thompson Rivers, U.S. Dept, of
Agriculture, Office of Experiment Stations, Bulletin No. 134 (Washington, D.C.: Govt. Printing
Office, 1903), 17.
34 Ibid., 89.
35 Donald J. Pisani, To Reclaim A Divided West: Water, Law, and Public Policy 1848-1902
(Albuquerque: New Mexico U.P., 1992), 210.
the late 19th century failed, chiefly due to a failure to resolve the issue of whether
economic development should achieve primacy.36 But as a practical matter, prior
appropriation had already insured this, in such places as the Poudre valley, where
large private irrigation concerns such as the Water Supply and Storage Company
would gain a major share of irrigation control in the 1890s. But the Poudre was also
protected by the communitarian ethos underlying many of its irrigation companies,
stemming from the Union Colony. This principle served to ameliorate some of the
harsher effects of prior appropriation, a doctrine which was consistent with free
market ideas a group of individual decisions guiding the community interest but
which also encouraged waste by emphasizing a rivers reuse in a way riparian
doctrine did not.
Perhaps the most important single contributor to the Poudres new irrigation
system was Benjamin H. Eaton. Born in Coshocton County, Ohio, on December 15,
1833, he learned about water works there while helping build Ohios canal system.
Eaton moved to Iowa in 1854, where he became a schoolteacher and farmer. He
returned to Ohio in 1856, where he married Delilah Wolfe in 1856; she subsequently
died giving birth to their son Aaron. Devastated, Eaton returned to Iowa in 1857,
then moved to Colorado as a 59er. While placer mining at Gold Hill he dug his first
irrigation ditch. He then worked his way south by placer mining, encountering the
36 Ibid., 222.
Hispanic irrigation settlement of San Luis, an early Colorado water work.37 He
worked extensively with irrigated water for the first time on the Maxwell Land Grant
in northern New Mexico; here he encountered the acequia system, Spanish
communal water works that had been in practice for hundreds of years.38 He would
bring a respect for the communal system back to the Poudre.
After serving with Kit Carsons New Mexico Volunteers on the Union side in
the Civil War, he returned to Denver, where he met his best friend, Jim Hill. He
started a claim by the Poudre in 1863, and dug an irrigation ditch. Returning to Ohio,
then Iowa, he married Jim Hills sister Rebecca in 1864.39 The couples trip west was
the typical frontier saga, except that Eaton was making his return. Son Abraham
Lincoln was bom on the Poudre in 1865; he died of diphtheria at age 14. The couple
had two other children, Bruce and Jennie. The family experienced the difficulties of
other area settlers, and had to winter at forts in Boulder and Fort Collins to avoid
difficulties with Native Americans. When the Union Colony arrived, Eaton helped
them build Canal No. 2; he assisted with construction of Denvers challenging High
Line Canal as well. After building the Lake Canal with John Abbott, the two men
dug the Larimer County Canal No. 2 for the Fort Collins Agricultural Colony,
37 Jane E. and Lee G. Norris, Written in Water: The Life of Benjamin Harrison Eaton (Athens, OH:
Swallow Press, Ohio U.P., 1990), 7-26.
38 Hobbs, 4.
39 Pauline Allison, The History of Eaton, Colorado (Publ. by the Author, 1963), 3,
sparking the controversy that led to establishment of the prior appropriation doctrine.
This was the first canal to water the benchlands, another escape from riparianism
with its emphasis on river proximity. When Greeley and Fort Collins came into
conflict, Eaton and General Cameron held a meeting in 1874 at a schoolhouse
located between the two towns, seeking reconciliation between the two sides; this
was another brick in the Poudre edifice of cooperation resolving difficult water
conflicts.40 Rain helped solve the problem temporarily, though a permanent solution
awaited the emergence of the state system of water rights.
When Eaton constructed the 50-mile Larimer and Weld Canal in 1878, from
near Poudre canyon to the Denver Pacific Railroad north of Greeley, his engineering
reflected a gain in expertise from his work on Union Canal No. 2. The canal, also
known as Eaton Ditch, proved a major aid in exploiting the 1877 Desert Lands Act.41
Its construction led to the surveying of the town of Eaton, with a post office opening
in 1882. Eaton was elected to the territorial legislature as a Republican in 1872, in
which capacity he assisted with drafting of the Adjudication Acts. His irrigation
efforts became a key selling-point when he ran for governor in 1884. Eaton was a
well-respected governor, earning the sobriquet Honest Ben.42 During his term from
1885-7, among other actions, he outlawed public executions, began construction of
40 Jane and Lee Norris, 117.
41 Ibid., p. 126.
42 Allison, 6.
the state capitol building, and enacted a prohibition on royalties being levied for
After retiring from politics, Eaton owned 80-90 farms in the Poudre area. He
once told his son Bruce he wouldnt live to see the land sell for $100 an acre, but
Bruce would, and he turned out to be right. He had a philosophy of not worrying
over the scope of his various obligations: "Let the other fellow do the worrying. He
will anyway, and there is no need for two people to worry over the same thing.44 An
early settler observed, He was the most pleasant man to meet. One just enjoyed
meeting and saying good morning to him.45 Eaton became an advocate of crop
rotation, of early-season crops such as wheat, barley and oats and late-season alfalfa,
potatoes and com. His reservoirs and canals increased farm production and made
more land available for fanning. Eaton was also an early advocate of sugar beet
farming, establishing Eatons sugar beet factory in 1902. The industry would later
become a staple along the Poudre. The town of Eaton sought to follow the Union
Colonys temperance example; when its first saloon was opened in 1892, it
mysteriously burned to the ground, like Evans saloon. It was later reopened in a
dugout, to prevent further such phenomena from occurring.46 Benjamin Eaton died in
43 op. cit., 183-4.
44 op. cit., 7.
45 Ibid., 8.
46 Jane and Lee Norris, 211.
Greeley on October 29, 1904, after a vastly productive life that saw the Poudre
Valley transformed into a fertile countryside, largely by his efforts.
EARLY BUILDERS -
JOHN ZIMMERMAN AND JOHN MCNABB
Along with irrigation farming, another source of growth occurred along the
river in the late 19th century. The Poudre is located about 30 miles north of
Colorados mineral belt, so mining in the area is limited.1 However, this did not
prevent a wave of prospectors from descending on the upper river, with the
discovery of gold in North Park in 1879. An assayer created rumors of over 13,000
ounces of gold and 21,000 ounces of silver at the park.1 2 The North Park is a broad
valley containing the headwaters of the North Platte River, which flows north into
Wyoming; the park is located just west of the Poudres headwaters, beyond Cameron
Pass. The chief mode of transport for miners was along the stage route that followed
the Poudres North Fork, before cutting south over Pingree Hill to join the main
river. The road stopped at this point, until the gold rush created the necessity of an
extension westward through Cameron Pass. Samuel Stewart constructed a toll road
along the river, and built the Rustic Hotel south of Pingree Hill. The road drops 1000
1 U.S. Forest Service, Cache la Poudre Wild and Scenic River: Draft Environmental Impact Statement
and Study Report (Fort Collins: U.S. Forest Service, 1980), 10.
2 Riches of North Park, Larimer County Express, 19 March 1880, 1.
feet downhill. The hill was named for a tie cutter, George W. Pingree. Once Pingree
was riding his horse over the hill with a group and refused to dismount with the
others. His horse stumbled and rolled down the hill, causing the drunken Pingree to
bawl, There, in one minute, goes everything I own! Pingree was a participant in
the Sand Creek Massacre, where he was shot in the cheek with an arrow. He
gathered 13 Indian scalps at the action he was often criticized for Sand Creek, but
always defended himself. He was one of many miners who moved to North Park in
Three mining towns sprang into existence around this time: Manhattan, just
northeast of the Rustic; Lulu City and Teller, in North Park. The Poudre canyon was
considered impassable, forcing a wagon road to be built up Rist Canyon south of the
Poudre; Coe and Carters tie cutters extended it to Pingree Park in 1870. Jacob
Flowers of Bellvue extended it west in 1880, north of the Mummy Range in what is
now Estes Park, toward Cameron Pass, but it remained unused. Coe and Carter had
paid $5000 for the extension of the north road to Rustic in 1869.4 But tie cutting had
taken place at a spot, Chambers Lake, that was farther east than most mining. The
toll road was encouraged to attract immigrant miners who were moving to Leadville 3
3 Gray, The Poudre River, 74.
in pursuit of the mining boom there. Stewart built his road in the spring of 1880,
working mostly along the north side of the Poudre, because the sun struck there more
often, melting the snow away.4 5 The modern Highway 14 past Rustic also follows the
river mostly on its northern side. When the road was completed, Luke Voorhees of
the Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage Co. established a stage line along the new route,
delivering mail and supplies to the miners. A land company was organized to
establish Lulu City as soon as the road was completed, emphasizing its importance.6
Teller was established in 1881 in the southeast corner of North Park; it was named
for U.S. Senator Henry M. Teller.7 Stewarts road reached Teller in 1881, and he
established a stage line there the next year, delivering daily mail. Teller flourished
for three or four years. The third town, Manhattan, was established in 1886. Miners
there had many good returns from assays, with tests as high as $600/ton, but after a
while interest died out, partly due to the absence of high quality mills in the upper
Poudre area.8 Cheyenne was considered by Fort Collins to be jealous of its
position as chief supplier of North Park: both towns claimed to be closer to the park.
The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad at this time considered a route up the
4 Ibid., 77.
5 A Road to North Park, Larimer County Express, 19 March 1880, 2.
6 The Rush to North Park, Larimer County Express, 21 May 1880, 2.
7 Frank Jones Burnett, Golden Memories of Colorado (New York: Vantage Press, 1965), 201.
8 Harold Dunning, Over Hill and Vale: In the Evening Shadows of Colorado's Longs Peak, v. 2
(Boulder: Johnson Pub. Co., 1962), 93.
The mining boom encouraged the construction of many hotels along the new
road. One of the most interesting was the Keystone Hotel, a large Victorian structure
55 miles upriver from Fort Collins, built by John Zimmerman in 1896. Zimmerman
would continue the peacemaking tradition of Friday and Janis, by creating two
enterprises that brought people together. Zimmerman was bom in Switzerland in
1840, and moved to Wisconsin with his family in 1847. He married Marie Scheid,
and moved to Minnesota, where he patented a water-wheel improvement in 1870,
showing a prescient interest in water works.10 11 They moved to California in 1862
seeking gold, then to Nevada, where he learned the mill process; this would serve
him in good stead on the Poudre. They then returned to Wisconsin, before coming to
Colorado in 1880, with his brother Michael, as part of the North Park boom. He had
four children, Edward, Casper, Eda and Agnes, with Agnes bom en route, in Lyons,
Nebraska.11 They moved in over Stewarts toll road soon after its completion, first
homesteading near Cameron Pass. The Zimmermans were the only settlers in the
9 North Park As It Is, Larimer County Express, 26 March 1880, 2.
10 Patent, Improvement in Spiral-Current Water-Wheels, 25 Jan. 1870, U.S. Patent Office, by John
Zimmerman of Owatonna, MN. John Zimmerman file, Local History Department, Fort Collins Public
11 John Fosholt, Poudre City Didnt Pan Out, Triangle Review, 29 Aug. 1974.
Cameron Pass area for two years, according to Ansel Watrous.12 John and Michael
went to prospect near Rustic, while the family wintered at Laramie Lake where there
was less snow.13 They moved their homestead downriver in 1884 to the site of the
Keystone. Zimmerman continued prospecting, as well as ranching, hunting, logging
and trapping, until he decided to open a stamp mill in 1889 for his mine, the Lone
Star, two miles west of Rustic.14 He moved a lumber mill from Chambers Lake and
built a ditch to provide water power for it, one of many such ditches necessary to
produce power in a remote area.15 The stamp mill was located below the Old Mans
Face, a rock formation since eroded. The site would become Poudre City, a mining
camp with 50 to 60 residents, a store, hotel and saloon. Zimmerman created a
momentary stir when he struck gold on October 24, 1890, taking six retorts of metal
to Fort Collins to be assayed. The retorts weighed three pounds each, and were
initially valued at about $2000, but further testing in St. Louis revealed a
predominance of copper over gold.16 Zimmerman complained he had been swindled.
However, his find started a gold rush to Poudre City. He had great faith in the mines,
though his son Casper did not. Casper later said it was possible to obtain 4-5 oz. of
12 Watrous, 267.
13 Case, 93.
14 Fosholt, Triangle Review.
15 Fry, 17.
16 op. cit.
gold at a time, in veins one inch wide. Caspers son Robert recalls, When my
grandfather died, he told dad, Cas, dont ever give up on the Lone Star, itll make
you rich some day. Dad never went back, never went up to get the tools.17 Johns
other son Ed complained about intrusive prospectors and suggested residents stake
the entire area as a placer claim and buy a gatling gun that would shoot the largest
size buckshot possible.18 The celebrity of the new town was shortlived: a new dam
built across Chambers Lake flooded on June 10, 1891, inundating the area.
Zimmerman rode his horse to death to warn the gold camp, and get everyone to high
ground. The cabins and mill were destroyed, with only its stone chimney remaining.
Later tests showed the site to lack mining value, and it was not rebuilt.19
When mining didnt pan out, Zimmerman turned to the resort business. He
opened a post office at his homestead, appropriately called Home, in 1894, and
began construction of the Keystone Hotel.20 In the interim the family operated a
string of cabins as a resort. The family built the hotel themselves, with bricks made
in a kiln onsite, and limestone from a quarry east of Livermore.21 Lumber was cut at
n Fort Collins Friends of the Library, Talking About Fort Collins: Selections from Oral Histories
(Fort Collins: Fort Collins Friends of the Library, Inc., 1992). Interview with Robert Casper
Zimmerman by Charlene Tresner, 1977.
18 John Fosholt, Zimmerman finds gold!, Triangle Review, 5 Sep. 1974.
20 Gray, The Poudre River, 64.
21 Case, 27.
their own saw mill near Chambers Lake. It was built in Victorian style, with three
stories and 40 rooms, and had a striking appearance in the middle of the mountain
wilderness 22 The hotel was completed in 1900. Son Casper drove a private stage line
from Fort Collins it cost $3 and the trip took 12 hours. Rooms cost $8-14 per
week.23 Johns wife Marie died in 1901, and daughter Agnes assumed the domestic
chores of the hotel. Oldest son Edward left early on and began a family; Casper
became a rancher when the stage service ended, with the advent of automobiles; Eda
preferred the outdoors life of hunting and trapping; John served as postmaster and
guide.24 Hotel life was characterized by hayrack rides, cookouts, Johns penchant for
storytelling, and horseback rides 22 miles to Crystal Lake, near Cameron Pass
upriver 25 It is easy to imagine the summer evenings around the campfire, the
huddled mountains blending with the stars, the Poudre rushing somewhere nearby.
The Zimmermans worked hard and played hard John played the fiddle (like
Janis) while Eda sang and Aggie played piano, a bulky grand that had been carted up
the river valley by wagon with great effort.26 The piano is now on display at the
22 Charlene Tresner, Take stage to Zimmermans, Triangle Review, 23 Jan. 1975.
23 Charlene Tresner, Zimmermans hotel was really quite a place, Triangle Review, 14 Dec. 1977.
24 Case, 97.
25 Ibid., 114.
26 Evadene Swanson, Over the river and through the woods, the piano arrives, Triangle Review, 26
July 1979, 14.
historic Avery House in Fort Collins. The Zimmermans often supplied the music for
the parties in nearby Manhattan, when the town was a going concern.27 Eda and
Agnes were good shots. When Agnes came across sportsmen fishing illegally at
Zimmerman Lake 11 miles from the hotel, she would shoot at them, then plunder
their catch when they ran.28 Eda shot several mountain lions and bears. John also
enjoyed hunting. Legend has it that he once caught a bear in a trap at Lulu City but it
escaped, losing all but three of its front toes in the process. Several years later, he
shot and killed a bear with three toes, and was sure it was the same bear, Three-
Toed Jim. It became a hotel rug 29 John experienced health problems in 1919,
moved to Arizona for a while, then returned home, and died on December 13, of a
cerebral hemorrhage.30 Eda and Agnes ran the hotel, maintaining scrupulous order,
according to Watrous.31 Business declined in the 1920s as the paving of the road to
Cameron Pass and advent of the automobile increased peoples mobility and
shortened their stays; the Depression also had an impact. Eda died in 1937. Agnes,
Casper, Edwards wife Gertrude and his daughter Mary, the owners, agreed to sell
27 Dunning, 54.
28 Gray, The Poudre River, 64.
29 Burnett, 157.
30 op. cit.
31 Case, 98.
the property to the Colorado Game and Fish Department in 1945. Agnes lived at
Chambers Lake and wintered at Kinikinik. Sadly, the hotel was destroyed in 1946; a
trout hatchery was built in its place. Agnes had been unaware of this plan, and was
bitter.32 Agnes moved to Florence, Colorado in 1950, where she died in 1954. She
never could bring herself to look at the hotel site when she drove by, after it was torn
down. John Zimmerman named a lake for her above Cameron Pass, changing it from
Island Lake.33 Watrous recalled John Zimmerman as one of the most interesting to
visit and talk with the writer ever met. I have listened with rapt attention for hours to
descriptions of his hunting and prospecting experiences.34 Zimmerman invested
untold hours into making the upper Poudre a livable and communal place.
Early hotels were necessary for weary travelers on horseback or coach who
came up the old road through Livermore and down Pingree Hill to the Poudre.35 The
Keystone was a resort hotel, unlike other, smaller hotels downriver, but it was part of
those places raison detre. The hotel kept a string of bams for horses along its stage
route. Many Easterners stayed at the Keystone, often spending the whole summer.
32 Ibid., 104.
33 Evans, 14-15.
34 Ansel Watrous, Fort Collins Express, 27 July 1921, in Case, 109.
35 Livermore Womens Club, Among These Hills: A History of Livermore, Colorado (Livermore:
Citizen Printing Co., 1995), 21.
The daughters decorated the hotel walls with their paintings. The hotel featured hot
and cold running water rather a novelty for an area resort.36 Other early hotels
included Stewarts Rustic, built in 1881, Clarks Hotel, built on Cameron Pass in
1881, for the mining boom, and the Forks Hotel, built in 1875, where the road forked
to follow the North and South Poudre. Russell Fisk at his ranch near Livermore
became the upper river basins first postmaster in 1871.37 These hotels must have
been a welcome sight to weary travellers coming up the rough supply road by
stagecoach. Stanley Steamers were the only cars that could make it up the road at
first. The Steamers would go as far as Log Cabin, a trip of 45 miles in four hours;
horse-drawn stages completed the trip to the Keystone, another 14 miles.38
Another early builder along the Poudre was the engineer, John McNabb, who
came west at age 21, with his friend John Zimmerman in 1880. McNabb was bom in
1859, a Scotch-Canadian.39 He prospected in North Park at first, and carried mail
from Chambers Lake to Lulu City. He was said to always deliver the mail on time,
despite the difficult winter of 1880-1; he snowshoed to Teller when the snow proved
too deep for his horses. He met Anna Sinclair, a schoolteacher, at the site of Walden,
36 Jessie L. Clark, Pioneer Hotels and Summer Resorts West of Fort Collins, Colorado Magazine 33
(July 1956): 209.
37 Ibid., 211.
38 Dunning, 92, and Watrous, 269.
39 Evans, 205.
married her in Laramie, Wyoming, and moved with her and daughter Stella to the
Poudre valley in 1890.40 Excellent with an axe, he helped John Zimmerman build the
mill at Poudre City. Long-time resident Norman Fry called him a man to match the
mountains.41 He soon became involved in construction of four major water projects
that would facilitate the growth of irrigation farming along the Poudre: the Skyline
Ditch, across the Medicine Bow Range from the Laramie River to Chambers Lake;
Cameron Pass Ditch, from Lake Agnes to the river; Grand Ditch, from the Grand
River over Mountain Meadow Pass to the head of the South Fork; and the Laramie-
Poudre Tunnel, built through Green Mountain, the last of the big diversion projects
until the Colorado-Big Thompson Project... ,42 Grand Ditch connected Colorado
River tributaries with La Poudre Pass Creek, a Poudre tributary, through La Poudre
Pass on the Divide. The ditch was begun in 1890 and continued until 1936. McNabb
died in 1935, very near the completion of his greatest project. Skyline Ditch was
begun July, 1891, and was instantly washed out when Chambers Lake flooded that
summer, the flood that destroyed Poudre City. McNabb supervised reconstruction of
Stewarts toll road in 1892 after the flood.43 He worked on other ditches, including
the Michigan Ditch, which he began with William Rist on July 10, 1902, before
40 Case, 113.
41 op. cit., 205.
42 Fry, 21.
43 Evans, 205.
transferring rights to the Mountain Supply Ditch Co. on October 22, 1906. The
Michigan was completed in April, 1907.44 McNabb later worked as foreman for the
Mountain and Plains Irrigation Co. on three projects: Barnes Meadow Reservoir,
built from 1922-4,45 Peterson Lake Reservoir, completed about 1930,46 and
Comanche Reservoir, in 1931 47 He also built three log bridges over the Poudre at
Indian Meadows Ranch for the new road in 1919, along with Norman Fry.48
The construction of the four major 1890s transmountain diversion projects
headed by McNabb underscored the areas growing need for irrigated water. Settlers
realized immediately that the regions semiarid climate necessitated artificial
supplements of water for farming. The first irrigation ditch, the Yeager, was dug in
1860 by an early Laporte settler, G.R. Sanderson, and sold to Joshua H. Yeager in
1863.49 It was the second irrigation ditch in Colorado north of the Arkansas River -
the first was on the South Platte near Denver. Many early ditch diggers were Civil
War veterans who learned by doing some traveled to Utah to learn from the
Mormons. Early irrigation was privately funded, in the age of government laissez
44 Case, 243-4.
45 Ibid., 269.
46 Ibid, 274.
47 Ibid, 278-9.
48 Ibid, 348.
49 Roy Ray, Highlights in the History of Windsor, Colorado (Windsor, CO: Press of the Poudre
Valley, 1940), 82.
faire. The need for irrigation was increased by the wave of settlement the Denver
Pacifics arrival created. Early settlers dug ditches near Laporte, where the rivers
bottomlands were thought to have richer soil. Larger canals to the uplands were later
required to accommodate the expanding population. The mutual ditch companies
arose, apportioning one share per water right, because farmers often could not cover
the cost of these larger water works; a quasi-communitarian principle thus evolved
that avoided the debt Horace Greeley had loathed.50 (One water right equaled about
22 acre-feet, with an acre-foot being the amount of water needed to fill an acre to a
depth of one foot.) Many plains reservoirs were simply natural depressions that were
enlarged. In addition, Fort Collins built a town water works on the North Fork in
1882-3, which still exists.51 The town also built a pumphouse and waterwheel along
the river in 1882, to avoid diseases such as typhoid that were resulting from domestic
water taken from wells and cisterns.52 (The pumphouse still survives, but not the
The mining boom in 1880-1 sparked a demand for upriver reclamation
projects. The Larimer County Ditch Co., formed in 1881, acquired the rights to the
water in Chambers Lake in 1889, but was held liable in the 1891 flood, which caused
50 Betty Jane Kissler, A History of the Water Supply and Storage Company (Unpublished paper, U.S.
History Seminar, Colorado St. College of Education, Greeley, 1952), 3-4.
51 Burnett, 120.
52 Evans, 221.
damage estimated at $50,000 to Poudre residents.53 The company paid most of the
claims, but went into dire financial straits, and was forced to sell Chambers Lakes
title to the Water Supply and Storage Co. in 1892, along with other mountain
reservoirs. The latter company thus became the major player in the Poudre irrigation
scheme. The companys new water rights included the Grand, Michigan and Laramie
Rivers diversions to the Poudre.54 They immediately rebuilt the Skyline and
commenced construction of the Grand River Ditch. The former ditch was completed
in 1893; it was praised as a bold conception.. .they have literally propped, and
pinned, and screwed it to the side of the mountain.55 Five miles long, the Skyline
was built on the side of a mountain with a 45-degree slope, dug with mules and
dynamite, in the age before bulldozers.56 Water was first diverted in 1894.57 The
increased supply of water improved the value of farmland in the valley, which in turn
aided the companys profitability. The increased amount of engineering prowess
necessary to continue to meet the areas growing demand for water is notable.
Federal officials contemplating the creation of a national Reclamation Service
praised private efforts in the valley: With the exception of the fruit districts in
53 Kissler, 15.
54 Ibid., 18.
55 Lawyer John C. Hanna, in Russell N. Bradt, Foreign Water in the Cache La Poudre Valley,
Masters thesis, Colorado St. College of Education, Greeley, 1948, in Kissler, 27.
56 Ahlbrandt and Stieben, 64.
57 Case, 221-2.
southern California, probably in no place is there as scientific and profitable a use of
the water available for irrigation as in parts of Colorado.58 The same official noted
that the Water Supply and Storage Co. was able to maintain a constant flow in its
canal, using transfers among its complex system of mountain and plains reservoirs.
Another major transmountain diversion, the Laramie Tunnel, was constructed
from the Laramie River to the Poudre in 1909-11. A dam was built above Poudre
Falls, just upriver from the tunnel site, with three waterwheels providing power to
build the tunnel, using water brought in wooden-staved pipes from below the falls.
Surveyors were extremely accurate dynamiting from both ends produced bores that
met within an error of less than half an inch, over a distance of two miles.59 Again,
the science of water works was improving to meet the demand. The tunnel passed
through Green Mountain, starting from the old stage station headquarters on the
The Grand River Ditch was the rivers climactic private project, setting the
stage for the later Colorado-Big Thompson Project. According to historian D. Ferrel
Atkins, the 14.3-mile Grand River Ditch was one of the nations largest early
58 C.E. Tait, Storage of Water on Cache La Poudre and Big Thompson Rivers, U.S. Department of
Agriculture, Office of Experiment Stations, Bulletin No. 134 (Washington: Govt. Printing Office,
59 Evans, 63-5.
60 Burnett, 126.
transmountain diversion projects.61 Workers operated at high altitudes in primitive
living conditions; construction could only take place during the summer. John
McNabb supervised early construction. Two camps were built for the workers, one
for the Swedes and one for the Chinese. Coolies were brought from the plains via the
Poudre in the summer of 1899 to work the ditch, with large quantities of rice being
shipped upriver by burro. Thirty Chinese worked all summer with shovels and
wheelbarrows, earning $.17 to $l/day.62 A dining hall and cabins were built, but it is
possible the Chinese dug and lived in caves along the mountainside: many holes
remain. However, the holes may have been used for supplies. The project stood idle
for longer periods of time than it was worked, plodding on mile after mile, summer
Construction went somewhat against the grain, the ditch being dug right
along the mountainside; ironically, the mountains were called the Never Summer
Range it must have felt like the Never Finished Range to the dedicated workmen.
The ditch was designed to catch snowmelt as it ran down the mountainside.
Machinery was not able to be brought into play until September, 1936.63 The Long
Draw Reservoir was created on La Poudre Pass Creek in 1925 to hold the ditchs
61 Buchholtz, 109.
62 Louisa Ward Arps and Elinor Eppich Kingery, High Country Names: Rocky Mountain National
Park and Indian Peaks (Boulder: Rocky Mountain Nature Association, 1994 ed.), 71.
63 Buchholtz, 111.
water, and the WSSC built a road to convey materials there.64 The company had to
get a bill through Congress to authorize Rocky Mountain National Park lands to be
used for the site. The reservoir was completed in 1929. Costs and the Depression
slowed completion of the ditch. It was considered finished in 1930, but three miles
were added in 1932 to connect it to Baker Gulch, a Grand River tributary. Water
from the ditch was stored for sugar beet irrigation in late summer. Problems of
erosion and seepage were not addressed until the 1960s, when the area came to be
viewed more as an aesthetic treasure than a mere resource project. The name has
changed from Grand River Ditch to Grand Ditch, perhaps to distinguish it from a
Grand Junction ditch of the same name.65 Also, the Grand River was renamed the
Colorado in 1921.66 The completed ditch provided the Poudre basin
with 25,000 acre-feet of water per year.67 But this large project would prove
insufficient to meet the areas growing water needs, setting the stage for the
intervention of Uncle Sam. As impressive as the rivers private projects were, they
would pale in comparison with the Colorado-Big Thompson project.
Elwood Mead, Greeley native and future Bureau of Reclamation
commissioner, gave the Poudre as an example of the use of a reservoir system to
64 Kissler, 53.
65 op. cit., 70.
66 Case, 223.
67 Norris, 29.
manage water shortfalls in the second half of the year, in Congressional testimony he
gave in 1901 as a Department of Agriculture irrigation expert.68 He testified that
Poudre farmers had greatly increased their crop yields through the addition of 10-15
reservoirs, at the cost of $344,000. Mead also made reference to a friendly system of
exchanges among farmers to help those most in need, in the context of a growing
belief that private control of upstream reservoirs gave their owners too much power.
He argued that the relief of existing farmers should take priority over pending federal
legislation that would first expand the amount of acreage under production. Mead
suggested charging for the water in order to finance reservoirs, rather than taxing the
land.69 Congressman Francis Newlands invited Mead to write any such changes into
his bill creating the Bureau of Reclamation. Mead thus had incredible influence in
inculcating ideas from the Poudre system into the creation of a federal reclamation
agency. Marc Reisner considered Mead probably the countrys leading authority on
irrigation,70 and after John Wesley Powell... the most illustrious reclamationist in
America... 71 Mead had earned his stripes as professor of irrigation at the Colorado
School of Agriculture in Fort Collins in 1882-8, the first such position in the
68 Hearings before the Committee on the Public Lands of the House of Representatives Relating to the
Reclamation and Disposal of the Arid Public Lands of the West, Jan. 11-30, 1901 (Washington: U.S.
Government Printing Office, 1901), 126.
69 Ibid, 129.
70 Reisner, 109.
71 Ibid, 147.
country,72 and as an assistant state engineer, where he gained first-hand knowledge
of the Poudre irrigation works. He then moved to Wyoming, becoming state
engineer. He served as Bureau of Reclamation commissioner from 1924 until his
death in 1936; during his term he oversaw the initiation of the Colorado-Big
Thompson Project, which would bring home to the Poudre the form of federal
involvement he had written into the Newlands Act in 1901.
72 James R. Kluger, Turning on Water with a Shovel: The Career of ElwoodMead (Albuquerque:
New Mexico U.R, 1992), 11.
LOCAL PERSONALITIES -
LADY MOON AND THE DICKERSON SISTERS
The Cache la Poudre community was blessed with women who displayed the
frontier values of hard work and reconciliation with their environment that
characterized the areas development at its best. Lady Moon exhibited a surface
Victorianism and gruffness that masked the transplanted Irish orphans concern for
people and desire to be liked; in a way she symbolized the irrigationists colonial
approach to river development. American attempts to colonize the West have been
compared to British colonialism, a rough, extractive enterprise, artificial and
overdone. Lady Moon similarly represented a grandiose, imperial approach towards
conquest of the West. The Dickerson sisters, by contrast, exemplified Spartan
frontier values, living alone in the mountains all their lives, without electricity or
indoor plumbing, working in the sawmill, chopping wood every day, running the
ranch. Their simplicity contrasts with Lady Moons eccentric artificiality, though the
three women shared a love for people, animals and the outdoors, and a tough
adaptiveness to a hostile environment. In all three women, the 19th century made a
stubborn mountain stand against the 20th.