The Valley of Opportunity: A History of West-Central Colorado
BLM Cultural Resource Series (Colorado: No. 12)
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Chapter VIII:

"This town is favorably located .... The convergence of valleys and streams offers natural road beds."


Mining, stock raising, and, moreover, farming, brought people to west-central Colorado. Once there, they needed central locations for trading and social activities. Towns and cities developed to fulfill these demands. Many of the area's communities were built at the same time settlers arrived in the region, townbuilders arriving hand in hand with farmers, stockmen, or miners. Over the years, the area's towns served a number of functions, as well as being centers of political activity. Each community took on unique characteristics as it matured. Topography controlled urbanization just as it did agrarian settlement. The valleys that offered natural transportation routes also contained prospective townsites. During the nineteenth century, city builders paid careful attention to the actual or potential road and rail lines while planning. Boosters served as the driving force behind many of these projects as well as spokesmen for the Western Slope.

Promotion was a key factor in the rapid development of the Grand Valley. Each vicinity had its boosters. Governor George H. Crawford of Grand Junction, the Nogal family of Eagle, B. Clark Wheeler of Aspen, and others were typical of promoters. Each of their towns went through rough and tumble frontier days of saloon fights, drunkeness, and a generally riotous decorum, however, the boomers and early permanent residents discouraged such activity. They sought permanence as a stable, "conservative" community. [1] Each booster from every "city" felt his was the "Athens of the West" and finding suitable epigrams occupied much of their time. Aspen became touted as "The Capital City of the Rockies" or "the metropolis of the Pacific Slope," [2] while Glenwood Springs claimed to be "the Spa of the Rockies" or the "Carlsbad of America." [3] Not to be left out, Grand Junctionites labeled their community as the "Little Empire of the Western Slope" and later the "All-American City." Platitudes were concocted to radiate a positive image of each city for prospective residents or investors.

Most of the towns, especially the ones that became heavily involved in booster activity, were those platted and sponsored by various companies. City building during the nineteenth century was as much a profession in the American West as medicine or law and western Colorado attracted its share of these men between 1880 and 1900. Foremost was governor George H. Crawford, mentioned earlier, who left Gunnison in Fall 1881, to found a town at the junction of the Grand and Gunnison Rivers. He had previously promoted Fort Scott, Kansas, and now was boosting both Grand Junction and Delta at the same time. Crawford, joined by others, founded the Grand Junction Town Company on October 10, 1881, at Gunnison, before he had seen the land. [5] The town was laid out on a barren desert, but Crawford's boundless optimism, combined with financial backing from Philadelphia, soon changed that. [6]

Grand Junction boomers used many means to entice people to the area. The mild climate and long growing season, combined with reports of soil fertility, became standard lines for all of the Grand Valley's boosters and were publicized not only to encourage farm settlement but also to convince merchants of the wisdom of relocation in the area. The logic was simple; when the farmers came they needed many stores and shops so why shouldn't you, the aggressive businessman, get in on the ground floor and await the prosperity that was sure to follow. Furthermore, Crawford's pamphlets argued that the location, at the river junction, was sure to be a natural avenue of commerce and transportation. Railroad surveys were already completed. Additionally, other natural resources such as nearby coal deposits, received praise by the promoters. [7] Crawford and his associates painted a picture of infinite promise for those willing to seize the opportunities at Grand Junction. Other promoters, such as Fruita's William E. Pabor, used many of these same ideas to entice people elsewhere in the region. [8]

Grand Junction
Grand Junction, like other towns in the Grand Valley, showed promise by the 1880s. Photo by U.S. Geological Survey.

Near the Continental Divide, other individuals were also at work building towns on unsettled lands such as in the Roaring Fork Valley. B. Clark Wheeler and Isaac Cooper went to the area in 1879 and 1880, and immediately set about building and boosting the town of Aspen. They used the mineral finds as a basis for these efforts, proclaiming Aspen as the most handsome and substantial mining camp in Colorado. [9] The local silver strikes helped to assure growth of that town, but not happy with one success, the duo, particularly Cooper, looked elsewhere along the Roaring Fork for townsites.

In 1881, Cooper travelled to Land's Ranch at the junction of the Roaring Fork and Grand Rivers where he saw possibilities for a future town. Cooper felt that the hot springs could be a resort for health seekers. [10] He interested a group of Denverites, including railroader D. C. Dodge, in the Defiance Town and Land Company that was soon renamed Glenwood Springs. These men published brochures and pamphlets portraying the natural beauty of Glenwood Canyon (then called the Grand Canyon of the Grand River) and the general area as well as touting the healing properties of the springs and vapor caves. [11] Cooper's resort appealed to many Aspenites, such as B. Clark Wheeler and Jerome B. Wheeler, or the Devereaux brothers, but its development as a tourist spot was forced to await arrival of a railroad in 1887.

Roosevelt hunting party
The Glenwood Springs area was a popular tourist spot as this photo of Teddy Roosevelt's hunting party in 1905 shows. Photo by Garfield County Public Library.

Cooper, Wheeler, Crawford, and Pabor all worked to build cities from the raw lands of the region and their efforts did not go unnoticed. Soon others joined the booster bandwagon. By the late 1880s and 1890s, as the towns grew, Chambers of Commerce were formed to encourage local business as well as to promote their town. Also newspapers came into existence and not only reported events but also provided a medium for selling their area. Activities of these later people were built on the foundations laid by original locators, in addition to adding new elements of their own.

Chambers of Commerce, businessmen's associations, or Boards of Trade and Information developed in nearly all towns of west-central Colorado. The exceptions were communities such as Redstone or New Castle that existed as company towns to house miners or the corporate farms at Garmesa. These groups published pamphlets and brochures, occasionally in conjunction with town or land companies and such publications made extravagant promises concerning an area's potential, carefully pointing out unusually good harvests, civic accomplishments, and unique events or scenery. [12] The propaganda campaign stretched far beyond the printed page in this region.

One way boosters attracted settlers was through the establishment of immigration services. Such organizations facilitated a settler's relocation to a new locale by first convincing him of the wisdom of such a move and then sending information on how to get wherever he was going, referring him to land agents and water brokers and helping him arrange for transportation. Once the newcomer arrived, the immigration panel helped locate temporary housing, put him in touch with bankers and other local suppliers, if needed, and generally smoothed his way. [13] Mesa County, in particular, created a Board of Immigration during the 1890s. It performed these services to encourage farmers to settle in the Grand Valley and cash in on the fruit bonanza. [14]

The fruit boom provided another way for boosters to attract settlers. Promoters sponsored fruit days and contests such as Peach Day or Strawberry Day. Not only did such festivals provide possible materials for pamphlets aimed at prospective newcomers, but also allowed the various towns to enhance their image and increase trade with people already in the vicinity. When visitors came to town, not only did they spend money by catching up on shopping that had been delayed or by eating a restaurant meal; new inter-personal relationships were also formed and old ones were reinforced. These contacts were as important to business success in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as advertising is today. [16]

The furthering of business became a primary focus of boosterism once settlers were attracted. To support this activity, various merchants banded together into the Western Slope Congress, a type of super Chamber of Commerce. The board functioned during the late 1880s and into the 1890s as spokesmen for the western part of Colorado. They based their operations at Grand Junction and Mesa County often got the lion's share of publicity. Congress documents emphasized the area's commercial and agricultural advantages, but it also included information about mining and tourism. The group held annual conventions where pertinent issues such as the monetary supply or railroad rates were discussed, in addition to issuing positive statements about the region. [17] Groups such as the Western Slope Congress were important in selling the area. Local newspaper editors were among the most vocal and constant spokesmen for west-central Colorado. Part of being a successful frontier editor during the late nineteenth century was to be an enthusiastic booster. From editorial pulpits, the papers constantly reminded citizens of the virtues of their residences as well as generally writing about the region. The publishers hoped these articles would be picked up by other papers "back east." Additionally, journalists used their position to stir up civic pride in an effort to better their towns. Topics ranged from the need to fix or pave streets to hopes for new commercial and/or industrial expansion. This writing style continued well into the twentieth century. [18]

Development of civic pride and community transformed the various clusters of people into genuine cities. The evolutionary process took many forms over the years from calls for law and order to demands for improved municipal services like fire protection. These efforts added to the pride and sense of identity held by residents. [19]

One of the first areas of concern was that of establishing local government. In towns founded by land companies, the corporations often became a basis for government. These administrative units were of various types including both the mayor-council and commission forms.

As towns grew, the residents demanded more and more from their municipalities. Basic needs for fire and police protection were recognized early. Many towns started by hiring night watchmen or town marshalls, who worked closely with county sheriffs. As communities grew, the necessity of a full time paid police department became more pressing. In larger towns such as Grand Junction constabularies came into existence by the 1890s, however in other communities part-time or volunteer watchmen remained active until the twentieth century. [21] Volunteerism was the basis of most fire protection, even in the larger cities, until the 1900s when some of these companies were replaced by paid professionals. [22]

After security from crime and conflagration was established, residents next wanted a reliable municipal water supply. Often this was accomplished by city government granting charters to individuals or corporations. The charters gave the grantee a monopoly of service and only with certain conditions such as quality and price. [23] Other towns such as Fruita, built municipally owned delivery systems, either because they could not attract investors or because the city feared monopolies. Either type of system replaced early supply methods such as wells or drawing river water. Centralized operation allowed for certification and maintenance of water quality. [24]

Complementary to securing a water supply was the removal of sewage and waste water. When first laid out, most area towns had mud streets with ditches along side for waste removal that then flowed into the lowest part of the city and stood in pools or marshes. To remedy this towns, such as Rifle, passed ordinances and raised taxes to build sewer systems and provide for public sanitation facilities in the early 1900s. [25]

Water supplies or sewage plants were matters of necessity and civic pride, as were schools. Many townspeople sought education for their children from the beginning of their residence in an area. At Grand Junction, a subscription school, paid for by fees levied on parents, commenced classes in 1882. [26] Other regions, once settled, followed suit. This practice continued into the early 1900s in the more remote reaches of the region. [27] Once towns and counties were formed, demands for public education grew and so did public school systems. [28] Development of education typified the attitude of area people in that they wanted "the best" of everything and would pay for it either privately or through public funding.

Foremost among the many public services new towns were expected to provide were schools, like the New Castle, Colorado school. Photo by Garfield County Public Library.

During the late nineteenth century, one thing exemplified modernity—electricity. Generation plant and transmission line construction was expensive and only the wealthy communities could afford this service, unless it came as an auxiliary of another company. Mining camps, such as Aspen, could afford it during the 1880s. In 1885, the Aspen Electric Company was founded, followed the next year by Consumers' Electric. Both organizations found backing from mine owners and business leaders. [29] Service began and Aspen became the first Colorado city to have electric street lights. [30] By 1886, W. B. Devereaux was promoting the Glenwood Light and Water Company as lines extended throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. [31] The next year Devereaux and D. R. C. Brown joined forces, chartering the Roaring Fork Electric Light and Power Company; they started to absorb smaller operations. In 1888, the new corporation built a hydro-electric plant at an uncertain location, probably on Castle Creek, and enlarged generation capabilities. This plant was one of the earliest of its type in the United States. [32]

Roaring Fork Valley residents were the first west-central Coloradans to receive electrical service while other area residents had to wait 20 or more years for the dawn of the electrical age. Service first came to Grand Junction with the opening of Grand Junction Electric and Gas Company facilities in 1903. [33] Other towns like Fruita and Palisade eagerly awaited the extension of power lines, by giving franchises as early as 1905. [34] They were not successful until 1910, when interurban trollies reached the towns. [35] It was typical throughout the United States for trolley lines to sell electricity to towns along their routes. Furthermore, the street cars represented yet another municipal service, publicly franchised and privately financed for local boosters to point at with pride.

By the time electric railways entered service, America was being swept up in a tide of reform. The period has been labeled the Progressive Era. One area of particular concern was the nation's cities. When examining urban areas, progressives found many problems, one of which was the abuse of franchise powers, practiced by many public utility companies such as water and power concerns. By 1900, such feeling reached Colorado, first focusing on Denver and later becoming wide-spread. The Denver home-rule charter battles of 1903, combined with the election of Mayor Robert Speer, served as a good example for the rest of Colorado as to the evils of corporate franchises. [36]

The people of western Colorado read of the Denver struggles with interest. No doubt they found many similarities to their own situation. Palisade voters cautiously approved a restrictive franchise for electric service in 1905. [37] The next year Glenwoodites took up the proposition of utility regulation by a different method. Because the power and water companies already existed and had charters, the city tried instead to revoke their franchises. The courtroom battles lasted for four years and the city lost. This did not stop those determined to control utilities. After the judicial decisions, residents voted for construction of a municipally owned system. A public electric company was founded but by 1917, it failed. [38] By the 1920s, with the founding of Public Service Company of Colorado, most area utilities came to be owned by this larger company.

The franchise question was just one manifestation of urban progressivism witnessed in west-central Colorado. Another was the "City Beautiful" movement. The basic premise of this crusade was that man was basically good and problems in human life existed because of a slum environment. If the physical surroundings could be restored or "beautified," then the social evils attendant with urban living would be eradicated. This line of thinking attracted many followers nationally and in west-central Colorado.

Two items were of particular concern for the region's reformers. First was widespread prostitution. Most towns, especially mining camps and railroad towns, such as Aspen and Grand Junction, had their red light districts. The "sporting ladies" arrived in Grand Junction with the Denver and Rio Grande Railway crews in 1882, and set up shop on Colorado (Hoodoo) Avenue. [39] At about the same time, the first ladies of the evening also arrived at Aspen and by 1900, they were present in both Aspen and Glenwood Springs. [40] At that point, Grand Junction's district had been nicknamed "The Barbary Coast" after San Francisco's red light neighborhood and was patronized primarily by area cowboys. [41] In those same years, the urban reform movement touched the region and various voices called for an end to vice. Glenwood Springs was noticeable for its efforts, spurred on by the Progressives, as well as a stinging rebuke, in its bid for the location of Western State College. The school was founded at Gunnison because the selection panel felt Glenwood Springs did not have the proper moral climate. [42]

Seen by reformers as a co-equal, if not greater, problem was drinking. Temperance and prohibition were ideas that had a long history in the United States. Given new impetus in the early 1900s by the general reform atmosphere, organizations such as the Womens Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) undertook far reaching campaigns to close all drinking halls. Saloons, as much as six shooters, were an American frontier tradition shared by west-central Colorado. Bars opened their doors as soon as towns were founded, from Aspen to Grand Junction. In 1882, Grand Junction had 22 saloons [43] while 5 years later, thirsts in Glenwood Springs supported 23. [44] One notable exception to this trend was Fruita, which was made dry by its founders in 1884, and kept that way until the 1930s. [45] By 1920, Fruita's example had been copied by many area towns, often under pressure from the WCTU. In 1909, Grand Junctionites voted liquor out of town. [46] The next year Rifle did the same, as part of a general civic "uplifting." [47] Glenwood Springs was somewhat slower to act but between 1912 and 1920, an anti-saloon atmosphere developed so that most residents supported enactment of state-wide (1916) and nationwide prohibition (Volstead Act) in 1920. [48] National prohibition, however, did not dry up all liquor supplies in the area. One Mr. Stubbs operated a ranch and still in Glade Park during the twenties and his product led to occasional shoot outs between drunken cowboys. [49] These cattle drovers were part of the region's color that did so much to attract tourists to Colorado.

The west-central part of the state attracted Americans from all parts of the United States who wanted to visit the "wild west" during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Glenwood Springs vicinity, particularly, came to depend on travellers for economic survival. That area became known as the "playground of the Republic," [50] a name given by President Theodore Roosevelt. If Roosevelt's endorsement was not sufficient, both the Denver and Rio Grande and Colorado Midland railroads promoted the various scenic attractions to potential customers including the Mt. of the Holy Cross, Hell Gate, and Glenwood Canyon. The transportation companies began this promotion and soon trains were running those locales. [51] The D&RG even went so far as to run open-topped cars in Glenwood Canyon for sightseers. [52]

In addition to its scenery, the Roaring Fork Valley offered other incentives to visitors. That general area was dotted with hot mineral springs known for their therapeutic qualities. Penny Hot Springs in the Crystal River Valley, Conundrum Springs near Aspen, or the most famous Glenwood Springs represented these sites. Each tried to promote itself as a spa comparable to those of Europe, but only Glenwood Springs succeeded. [53]

Early residents of that town realized the spring's potential and began to exploit it. Colorado developed a reputation for her healthy climate by the 1870s [54] and people like Issac Cooper used this in their efforts to boost Glenwood Springs during the next decade. The Ute had used the waters for healing long before Anglo-Americans, yet by 1881, Johnas Lundigren was looking for commercial use of the baths. [55]

Throughout the decade, more and more people, especially from Aspen and other mining camps, started using Glenwood Springs as a weekend resort. After the railroads arrived a tourist boom ensued. The rail trip from New York City to the spa took less than two weeks and medical experts pronounced the pool to be of the same chemical content and quality of Aix-la-Chapelle, France, one of Europe's finest. The waters were supposed to be helpful for a variety of maladies, from syphilis to arthritis. [56]

Glenwood Springs
Glenwood Springs in the 1890s, was a nice sized tourist featuring the pool and Hotel Colorado. This 1895 view, shows the old railroad yards and several bridges that are gone. Photo by Colorado Historical Society.

Glenwood Springs
By 1980, Glenwood Springs was a large town catering to tourists and the ski towns of Aspen and Snowmass. Note Interstate Highway 70 in this photograph. Photo by F. J. Athearn

To take advantage of the health seekers, ambitious businessmen built lodges to house them. Starting in 1883, with the St. James Hotel, to the present day, there has been a more or less steady trend of building more and more hostelries. [57] In 1886, the hot springs pool and bathhouse were constructed in an effort to attract more visitors. The project cost $400,000. [58] To further enhance the spa's cosmopolitan image, the Hotel Colorado, the most elegant in accommodations, was built between 1891 and 1892. Walter Devereaux, Aspen mining engineer, conceived and financed the project. He also bought ten acres of land south of town to build a polo field, as well as taking over ownership of the hot springs pool complex. Devereaux envisioned a resort which would appeal to the creme of American and European society. During the early 1890s, the English were among the most frequent foreign visitors to Glenwood Springs. [59]

Hotel Colorado
The Hotel Colorado was one of the most elegant buildings west of the Mississippi when it was built. This structure is on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo by F.J. Athearn

The spa attracted wealthy individuals during the early 1890s. It became known as the center of gracious living in Colorado. Silver kings were among Glenwood Springs' visitors. Because of its lifestyle, servants were needed and during the late nineteenth century these occupations were held by blacks. Anglo-Americans accepted members of that racial group because of their social position as much as anything. [60]

The posh life of Glenwood Springs proved short lived. The panic and depression of 1893, as well as the disastrous drop in silver prices, caused many of the town's former visitors to stop vacationing there. The local economy suffered, especially hotel owners and others involved in the tourist business. [61]

By the early years of the twentieth century, the spa was being revitalized. A major contributor to this resurgence was President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt. He liked to hunt in the White River Forest Reserve and to stay at Glenwood's Hotel Colorado. Due to Roosevelt's liking of the area, and to boost the resort, Colorado U. S. Representative Edward T. Taylor of Glenwood Springs proposed to Congress in 1909, that a permanent summer "White House" be built at the springs. The Representative felt that once in Colorado, all future presidents would find it as attractive as Roosevelt did. The legislature turned down Taylor's proposal. [62] All the publicity did lead to Glenwood Springs becoming the state's best known resort by 1915. [63]

Taylor, in another attempt to attract tourists to Colorado, introduced a plan in 1913, to create summer homesteads. His bill called for the Federal government to give forty acres of land to anyone who would build summer homes on the tracts. This scheme also failed to win Congressional approval. [64]

Glenwood Springs was the prime tourist attraction in west-central Colorado, but the wooded mountains along the Grand River and its tributaries offered another lure to visitors. Game abounded in those forests and trout thrived in the streams. Outdoorsmen came into the Eagle and Roaring Fork Valleys during the 1870s, and as time passed and settlement spread, so did the hunters and fishermen. [65] By 1900, sportsmen from across the nation visited the area, especially the White River Forest Reserve. Again it was Teddy Roosevelt who helped the area's reputation. Legends contend that during the President's 1905 visit, that the ever popular children's toy, a "Teddy Bear" was invented. Whether this is true or not, and the exact connection remains clouded. [66] Nonetheless the mountains of the area have remained a sportsman's paradise.

While Glenwood Springs was becoming a tourist mecca, events further west on the Grand River were taking place that would awaken Grand Junction as the leading city of the Western Slope. The early residents believed they had chosen correctly when they moved in and worked hard to make the dream of a commercial empire come true. The fact that Denver and Rio Grande Railroad management chose to locate a division point helped the town, as did the reality that after 1900, D&RG rates from Denver to Salt Lake City or to Grand Junction were equal. [67] During the late 1890s, Grand Junction merchants became aggressive in their search for customers and people as far away as Craig, Colorado, started trading with the town. [68] At the same time, Grand Junctionites also exerted every effort to encourage agricultural goods processors to locate in their town as witnessed by the beet sugar plant experience. Another entrepreneur, W. Currie, was sold on Grand Junction as the place to build a cannery, which he did during the 1890s. This was the first plant of its type in the Grand Valley [69] and led other towns to seek similar industries.

Fruita and Palisade both had canneries built in their towns during the first decade of the twentieth century in an attempt to compete with Grand Junction. These two communities felt dominated by Grand Junction and sponsored cooperatives to construct processing plants [70] and to take other steps to break Grand Junction's hold over them. Fruita residents went so far as to conduct a petition drive from 1909 until 1917, to force the state legislature to create a separate Pabor County from lands in western Mesa County. [71] This proposal was defeated for the last time in 1917. Palisade citizens did not go to those extremes; however, during 1905, in the midst of the fruit boom, Palisade farmers did form their own growers association in direct competition with the Palisade branch office of the Grand Junction Fruit Growers Association, feeling that the former organization favored Grand Junction to the detriment of Palisade. [72] Try as they might, these towns could not slow the business growth of Mesa County's seat.

The fruit boom and sugar factory aided Grand Junction's march toward commercial supremacy within the region. 1905 marked the take-off point for this growth and within twenty years the city dominated not only western Colorado but also eastern Utah. It became the largest city between Denver and Salt Lake City. [73] In addition to increased agricultural activity, the town also enlarged its number of commercial houses. The good roads movement, including a coast to coast highway and Taylor State Road, as well as other roads, made access to various parts of the state easier for businessmen. The merchants actively supported those highway projects and other road improvements. Furthermore, the introduction of parcel post and rural free mail delivery was immediately taken advantage of by Grand Junction traders. The city became a major distribution point and agricultural market by 1920, and by 1930, nearly $10 million worth of business a year was carried on there. [74]

Other towns in west-central Colorado also enjoyed commercial prosperity but to a lesser extent than Grand Junction. Among these were Aspen, Rifle, Wolcott, and Eagle. Aspen became a trading center because of silver mining booms and as the bonanza passed, so did the town's position. Rifle, on the other hand, based its trade on livestock, being a primary rail loading point in Colorado. Wolcott was the contact point for much of northwestern Colorado from the early 1880s until 1908. It lost business when the Denver Northwestern and Pacific reached Steamboat Springs. [75] All these commercial centers grew because of location, availability of transportation, and financial support secured both from within and from outside west-central Colorado.

Capital was critical for business development of all types from railroads to mining, and food processing or other industries. Grand Valley's commercial history, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, was that of attracting outside investors for regional projects. This money came from American and from European sources. Eastern financiers, like Jerome B. Wheeler, helped build Aspen. People from all over the northeastern U.S. loaned money for Colorado projects too. During the period for west-central Colorado, from 1880 until World War I, British financiers aided heavily in many western undertakings such as the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Specifically, Englishmen backed improvements such as the Hotel Colorado and other Glenwood Springs undertakings, and also the Colorado Midland Railway. [76] Eastern and European capitalists made significant contributions to the region's growth but, more importantly, so did eastern Colorado investors. Men such as David H. Moffat and Walter Cheeseman pumped large amounts of capital into various types of companies throughout west-central Colorado. Additionally, many other individuals and syndicates put money into land, water, railroads, and other similar projects in an effort to settle the area. [77]

The influx of money from eastern slope sources made western slopers uneasy as well as thankful. They felt that Denverites controlled too much of the state government, capital investments, transportation, and other things. This feeling was justified because there was a definite Denver circle that dominated much of the state's business activity. The group had coalesced during Colorado's territorial period and remained strong throughout the late nineteenth century. Western slopers resented the power base and a feeling of being a "poor cousin" developed. Part of the problem was that Western Slope residents had no cohesive political leadership such as a "Grand Junction Circle" in the statehouse. Not until Edward T. Taylor rose to prominence during the 1910s, did the Western Slope find a spokesman. [78] However, west-central Colorado sought political cures for their problems before Taylor's time.

During the 1890s, a political movement swept the West. It was known as Populism because of its "grass-roots" nature and close association with the People's Party. Many west-central Coloradans became involved in this party that started with the farmers and the Grange in the previous decade. In Colorado, by 1890, it became apparent to many voters that the major political parties were no longer responsive to them, but rather were pawns of Denver interests. Two socio-economic groups in particular felt left out of political life—miners and irrigators. [79] This feeling was based on many factors. For example, by the 1880s, state laws protected livestock's health better than miners. Furthermore, irrigators were among the heaviest in debt of any of the state's farmers and because of this, they actively sought implementation of an inflationary fiscal policy. Also irrigators wanted railroad rate controls and the regulation of water companies to protect the farmers' economic position. [80]

These dissatisfied people, joined by residents of other western slope states, banded together in 1890 to form the Peoples Party locally. The Populists seized on serious economic issues and built a political platform. They sought government intervention in the economy to increase the money supply, which also appealed to farmers. The use of silver as a currency base, which was not the case at the time, became a primary issue by 1892. Additionally, banking controls, railroad regulation, and employers' liability laws were demanded. [81]

By 1892, the Peoples Party was organized in Colorado and its followers braced for the upcoming elections. The party supported Iowan James B. Weaver for President nationally, but more importantly, they called for Aspen Editor Davis Hanson Waite to be Colorado's Governor. Waite had moved to Aspen in 1881, as a newspaper editor and by the close of the decade, was heavily involved in labor reform activity as editor of The Union Era. [82] He had a reputation as a radical, but was socially accepted because of family ties to B. Clark Wheeler. [83] As an organizer of the Colorado Peoples Party, and permanent party chairman, he was a logical choice as Populist candidate for Governor. When the ballots were counted in November, Waite had won. Once in office, he was frustrated by the legislature in his attempts to implement Populist reforms and in 1894, he was not reelected. Part of his problem came from his unorthodox conduct in office, such as proposing to use Mexican silver pieces nicknamed "Fandango dollars" as a means of exchange and other "radical" actions. [84]

Despite Waite's problems, the Populists remained a potent force in Colorado politics through the election of 1896 when the so called "Free Silverites" gained ascendency. These people were given that name because of their program to remove all restrictions on the use of silver for money. Free Silverites proposed the free and unlimited coinage of silver at a value ratio of 16 to 1 with gold. On the national level the party merged or "fused" with the Democrats who also supported "free silver." William Jennings Bryan ran as the candidate of the combined parties. He lost the election, but even before this, the Populists had lost their identity as a party because of the fusionists. [85]

While Populism was a dying force in much of Colorado, it remained strong in Mesa County. The party carried county elections in 1897, and area voters remained strong in their support of William Jennings Bryan well into the twentieth century. [86] Much support was based on the fact that irrigators had suffered from the Panic of 1893. Moreover the Federal government's new and active role in land and resource management, which began in the 1890s with the establishment of National Forest Reserves, was seen by west-central Coloradans as being adverse for their prosperity.

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Last Updated: 31-Oct-2008