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

"I am chagrined that our great government, through Pinchot, has become so cheapened as to say to you and me that we are aliens in our own country."

—Red Cliffe, Colorado Rancher

The late 1800s was a period of change in west-central Colorado. Forces like Populism held sway in the region's thinking because of many residents inability to keep pace with rapidly evolving socio-economic conditions. Much of the region's prosperity was based on the unlimited exploitation of easily available natural wealth such as minerals, timber, land, water, and grass. But by the 1890s, the seemingly endless resources were being exhausted. Most Coloradans failed to realize this, yet other individuals did. Citizens on the eastern slope, and elsewhere in the United States, with their different, somewhat wider perspectives did foresee the finite nature of the resources. These same people began taking steps during the 1890s to protect and conserve those resources that remained. [1]

Such vision began a nationwide conservation movement in America during the 1880s and 1890s. Resource protectionists were particularly concerned with abuses to the public domain occuring under the Desert Land and Timber Culture Acts. [2] By 1890, these misuses were well documented, as a result pressure grew in Washington, D.C., for action. In February, Illinois U.S. Representative Lewis Payson proposed a General Revision Bill to repeal the Desert Land and Timber Culture Acts, as well as to allow the President to remove any tracts that he designated from future entry thus creating the Forest Reserves. Debate over Payson's bill lasted over a year. [3]

Opponents argued that such a law would remove from future generations opportunities that had long been enjoyed by their forefathers. No longer would the pioneer be able to go forth into the wilderness and carve out a life for himself. To take large pieces of public domain and hold them forever in Federal hands would mark the demise of the yeoman farmer who in 1890, was venerated by many as the backbone of American civilization. [4] However, other voices claimed this was not so.

Supporters felt that if something like Payson's bill was not passed soon there would be nothing left for future generations. This was quite the opposite of the anti-conservationists. Furthermore, as the scientific understanding of ecological systems developed, the important role of forests as watersheds became more apparent. If the use of irrigation was to continue growing, these woodlands had to be protected, especially in the arid West. Colorado conservationists agreed with such views and also advocated the managed use of lands and resources. They did not seek to close access to the natural bounty, but rather to instill order over it and thus began a campaign for conservation in 1876. [5]

Coloradans had first-hand experience with unregulated resource exploitation. By 1890, private use of timber and grazing lands had left much of the state in a denuded condition. Over-grazing and fencing of the public domain had severely crippled much of the range's ability to produce adequate supplies of forage while denying many individuals access to the public domain. Worse yet were the depredation of Colorado's forests. The need for mine timbers and fuel (charcoal) led to the destruction of thousands of acres. Human carelessness that led to forest fires also wiped out timber resources. The lands around Aspen and the Mt. of the Holy Cross were two examples of this waste. As early as 1879, settlers caused forest fires in the Roaring Fork Valley. By 1905, mine timber and other needs for lumber led to many of the mountains from the Continental Divide to Battlement Mesa being barren except for tree stumps. Wildlife also suffered because of this uncontrolled use of the state's natural resources. [6]

The conservationist's arguments held sway and on March 4, 1891, the General Revision Act passed into law. Most Coloradans paid little attention to this event. But supporters of land management felt it would give them the power they had long sought to control resource exploitation. [7]

It was not long until west-central Colorado felt, the impact of the new law. During March of 1891, special agents for the General Land Office (GLO) started working out of Glenwood Springs surveying timberlands along the Grand and White Rivers. They went about their work through the summer, little noticed by area residents. However, results of their efforts were awesome. On October 8, 1891, 1.2 million acres were withdrawn from private entry and eight days later President Benjamin Harrison declared the White River Timber Land Reserve. It was the second such tract in the nation set aside under the new law. [8]

From 1891 until 1905, each of the country's Chief Executives faced the violent conservation question of having to decide if more land should be held permanently by the General Land Office. On December 24, 1892, Harrison withdrew more of west-central Colorado from entry when he set aside Battlement Mesa Timber Land Reserve. This forest was consolidated with Grand Mesa National Forest in 1945, and was the scene of many early government sponsored forestry experiments. [9] From 1892 to 1905, public opposition to the creation of reserves spread and it was not until the latter year that new tracts were set aside in west-central Colorado.

President Theodore Roosevelt was a staunch supporter of conservation. During his tenure as President, Roosevelt created 37 national forests. [10] On June 14, 1905, the Uncompahgre Forest Reserve was established and two months later, in one of the last presidential proclamations of its type, Holy Cross Forest Reserve came into being. [11] Part of the Holy Cross lands became a National Monument, from 1929 until 1950, when this status was revoked. All of Holy Cross National Forest was consolidated into the White River reserve in 1945, making it the second largest forest in the United States. [12]

Early history of these lands was one of trial and error with regard to administration. From 1891 to 1898, the General Land Office controlled the land but had no procedures or personnel to administer the timber reserves. A formal Forest Reserve Service was established within the Interior Department in 1898. This agency got the power to administer Timber Reserves. To do so rangers were hired. In Colorado, Superintendent of Forests William T. May, a Denver attorney, hired William R. Kreutzer on August 8, 1898, as Forest Ranger for all Colorado. [13] While this was gross under-staffing, it was compatible with nineteenth century views of a ranger's duties. At that time, the position's duties were limited to horseback patrols of the reserves in an effort to discourage timber trespass (cutting) and the destruction of illegal stock enclosures. [14] Finally, rangers were also under orders to fight forest fires; nearly a revolutionary idea at the time. Generally accepted theories of "forestry" maintained that timber blazes should be allowed to burn themselves out. [15] During this period, the Forest Service grew slowly because the entire idea of Federal involvement in conservation became the center of political turmoil during the early years of the twentieth century as the rangers became less policemen and more foresters. [16]

Opposition to the reserves in west-central Colorado did not become vocal until after 1900 when rules were established concerning use of the land and rangers were sent out to enforce them. After initial outcries in 1891 and 1892, many simply sat back and waited for the government's next move. [17] However, some residents in the area did make known their feelings about any attempt to limit access to Grand Mesa. The mesa was dotted with hundreds of small lakes which were populated with fish. In 1891, William Alexander and Richard Forrest started commercial fishing in some lakes they had homesteaded. From 1891 to 1896, they were reasonably successful in their business despite occasional poaching by other settlers. [18] During the latter year Forrest, having bought out Alexander a year earlier, sold his claims to an Englishman, named William Radcliff. The new owner decided to make a private guest ranch out of his Grand Mesa properties and in 1899, sought exclusive fishing rights. He secured a state license and notified all that poaching would not be tolerated. Armed guards were hired to keep trespassers out. Fishermen continued to use the lakes, feeling the fish belonged to whoever caught them. In 1901, one of Radliff's employees shot and killed a cowboy caught fishing in one of the private lakes. This touched off the long smoldering feud between the Englishman and other area citizens. His house was burned and he was driven from the mesa, returning to England the next year. [19] The Grand Mesa feud, as this episode was known, was not finally settled until the 1930s when the U.S. Forest Service bought up all private fishing rights in the area. [20] The conflict served as an example of west-central Coloradans' feelings concerning restrictions on the use of "nature's bounty."

By the late 1890s, Coloradans were economically hurt by the Panic of 1893 and the subsequent slow recovery. At the same time, the Forest Service issued regulations and sent out rangers to enforce them, particularly keeping lumbermen out of the reserves and controlling grazing. This was a serious attack on west-central Colorado's prosperity. Protest came especially from areas dependent upon mining, grazing, and lumbering for a livelihood. [21]

Another underlying factor that cannot be ignored examining the conservation conflicts that took place on the West Slope was that Forest Service policy makers, in particular Gifford Pinchot, were Easterners. Coloradans saw them as "carpetbaggers." According to area residents, government Foresters could not possibly understand the situation since they were not the ones who struggled to "civilize" the west-central Colorado frontier. To fight off these outsiders, the region's cattlemen and other residents undertook an almost evangelical campaign to stop the "U.S. Tree Agents." [22]

Foremost among Coloradans opposing the conservation movement was U.S. Senator Henry M. Teller. Teller had moved to the state in 1859 to make his fortune in Central City's gold mines. As statehood approached, in 1875 and 1876, Teller worked hard for it. Because of his long service to the Territory as a titular leader of one branch of the state Republican Party, Teller became one of Colorado's first United States Senators. He remained a politician for the rest of his life, serving numerous terms as Senator as well as Secretary of the Interior for three years. By the 1890s, Teller was the paternal voice of Colorado's Republican Party.

When the issue of Forest Reserves first became public, Teller led the state's forces in opposition until his death in 1908. He felt that such interference from Washington could permanently cripple Colorado's ability to grow. He also questioned whether the conservationists truly understood the Westerners' needs or if that region was being sacrificed to the whims of the politically dominate east. Teller continued to speak against federal conservation for the rest of his life. While Teller launched his first campaign, few other Coloradans joined. [23]

By 1898, as the Interior Department announced plans for a grazing system to control cattle on the reserves, Colorado opposition became stronger. Part of this resentment was due to President Grover Cleveland's "midnight reserves," a new set of forests withdrawn during the closing days of his administration in early 1897 in addition to the new rules. Governor Alva Adams helped lead much of the opposition. As a compromise solution, he suggested that the timber lands be turned over to the states because that would save the Federal government money, besides the states understood their own needs much better than Washington did. [24]

Adams' plan was debated widely through the early years of the twentieth century, especially by cattle and lumber interests. Ranchers with large operations in west-central Colorado generally favored both the proposed grazing permit system and the reserves. Others feared, however, that the permits would work to the detriment of small ranchers. C. H. Harris of Glenwood Springs and the Colorado Cattle Growers Association became one of the vocal opponents to permits. [25]

The next move made by area stockgrowers came on February 24, 1900, when a group from Garfield, Eagle, Delta, Mesa, Gunnison, Rio Blanco, and Routt Counties met at Glenwood Springs to form the Western Range Stock Growers Association. The purpose of this organization was to serve as a focal point for attacking ideas of permits and reserves. [26] The Western Slope quickly became one of the most vocal centers of opposition to Federal land policy.

As anti-government feelings grew in Colorado, changes that would have an impact on the conservation movement were taking place in Washington, D.C. After the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901, newly sworn in President Theodore Roosevelt decided to move ahead with plans for the management of the National Timber Lands. Roosevelt himself was a friend of conservation and his views were reinforced by Gifford Pinchot, then a forester in the Department of Agriculture. Pinchot had long maintained the need for Federal planning of timber resources use. He was of the belief that if the government did not more closely control use of the public domain it would continue to fall prey to cattlemen and timber interests. Furthermore, from 1901 until 1905, Pinchot argued that the General Land Office (GLO) was not the agency to be in charge of these lands because that organization was not willing to police its own territories. He felt that timber reserves should be put under the control of a U.S. Forest Service within the Department of Agriculture. [27] The transfer was first proposed to Congress in 1902, and it was voted down. Yet by 1905, enough support was developed by Pinchot and Roosevelt for the bill. In that year administration of the timber lands changed hands, [28] and two years later the reserves were officially renamed National Forests. [29]

One reason President Roosevelt supported the interdepartmental transfer was that he was a Progressive and part of this philosophy was the belief in scientific management of all problems. Pinchot and other leading conservationists believed that applied science was basic to timber growth and use. In 1905, these same people also proposed to develop a comprehensive plan for range lands to maximize efficient use of that resource. [30] To accomplish this, and to pay for range administration and improvement, the Forest Service proposed in 1905, that a system of grazing fees charged to ranchers for pasture use be established. [31]

When the fee system of 25 cents a head annually was announced, reaction in west central Colorado was immediate and loud. The charges were to begin on January 1, 1906, but before that the protests started. The leasing question galvanized opposition to the conservation movement in western Colorado. [32] Pinchot and Roosevelt felt that through a fee system, sustained range yield could be accomplished, [33] but the cattlemen viewed it as another way to harass and tax them, alienating ranchers from the land they viewed as theirs by custom and right. [34]

Beginning in 1905, and continuing for seven years, west-central Colorado stockgrowers vehemently denounced "Czar Pinchot" and his eastern carpetbaggers. Glenwood Springs became the focal point of this movement. [35] On a hunting trip in 1905, President Roosevelt visited the area and took that opportunity to address crowds at Rifle on the need for conservation. [36] Unconvinced by the President's words, the protests and rallies continued to grow. The Eagle Valley and Roaring Fork Stockmen's Association, Rifle Stockgrowers, Grand and Eagle River Stockgrowers all joined the anti-federal movement between 1905 and 1907. Usually these groups voted to ignore the grazing fees as well as call for repeal of the General Revision Act. Their actions led to mass meetings usually held in Glenwood Springs. [37]

From 1905 until 1907, conventions were held in the resort town by cattlemen. In January 1906, they challenged Gifford Pinchot, the Chief Forester of the United States, to attend such a conclave and debate the issues. Pinchot accepted and calmly allowed the angry stockmen to argue their case and cross-examine him. Late in the meeting he rose and spoke. By the end of the afternoon Pinchot had defused even his most vitriolic opponents. In later assessments, anti-conservation journalists concluded that Pinchot was just too slippery for the honest, hard-working Coloradans to deal with. [38] The Federal forces won the first round but the war was far from over; as events proved.

The next year conservation opponents picked up new support from Colorado political leaders. Governors Ammons and Shaforth both came out against grazing fees as did Colorado politician John Bell. Ammons in 1907, during a series of debates, convinced many formerly neutral citizens to become anti-government. He was particularly effective on the Western Slope. [39] Ammons sponsored a national public domain convention in Denver that year and Pinchot was again invited to defend the government's policies. The meeting quickly moved from an anti-conservation to a pro-forest reserve assembly as Pinchot and his forces eloquently argued against the protestors on every point. From that time on, such conventions were pro-conservation, [40] but opponents did not give up.

Shaforth, with the help of newly elected Congressman Edward T. Taylor of Glenwood Springs, continued the fight. Shaforth worked against the transfer of the reserves to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and once the relocation was completed he became more strident in his opposition to conservation. In 1909, as leader of the National Public Domain League, he set about to disseminate information damaging to Pinchot's plans. Shaforth pointed out that if the Chief Forester had his way, two thirds of Colorado's Western Slope would become National Forests or Parks thereby stopping future development. He argued that if the Federal agents were not stopped, the area's economy would stagnate. Representative Taylor was not as absolute in his evaluation of the situation. He felt the government needed directed multiple use of the public domain while not closing the land to genuine homesteaders. [41]

While Colorado politicians filled the air with rhetoric, area cattlemen took more direct steps toward stopping Pinchot's programs. By 1907, most stockgrowers decided to ignore the grazing leases and went ahead pasturing their cows on National Forests. They also questioned whether the whole reserve system was constitutional and one rancher decided to test the law in court. Fred Light of Snowmass, Colorado, near Aspen, was arrested for trespassing on the Holy Cross National Forest in 1907. He was found guilty and appealed the case through the Federal judicial system until it reached the United States Supreme Court. On May 1, 1911, the High Court rendered its verdict. They upheld Light's conviction and the constitutionality of the National Forest System, including regulated grazing and timbering. [42] After this decision, much of the furor surrounding the Federal timber reserves subsided in west-central Colorado. [43]

Outsiders observing Colorado's behavior during the entire conservation controversy were given the impression of statewide opposition toward Federal policies. However, this was not the case. The Colorado Conservation Association favored the Federal program as did many of Denver's civic and business leaders. [44] Even within the west-central portions of Colorado, hotbed of anti-forest reserve agitation, there were individuals who supported Pinchot's policies. Farmers in the triangle roughly formed by Grand Junction, Delta, and Montrose were among the staunchest proponents of the movement. Even some regional cattlemen, such as George Swigert of Carbondale, felt that Pinchot's programs would prove beneficial in the long run. In Glenwood Springs even the Glenwood Post backed President Roosevelt. [45] Swigert's views were correct because the Forest Service grazing permits did help stabilize local cattle businesses. Federal employment and spending became one of the main economic bases of Glenwood Springs, which served as the headquarters of White River National Forest as well as the site of a major branch of the General Land Office. [46]

One concern of the conservation movement that was less controversial, both nationally and in west-central Colorado, was the movement to create national parks. One project, in particular, was popular in the region. The creation of Colorado National Monument, west of Grand Junction, was considered important. This area of natural scenic beauty became a popular place for persons from the Grand Junction-Fruita vicinity to visit during the early twentieth century; long before it was made a national monument. Cattlemen used Monument Canyon for grazing and a few had settled there by 1900, however, because of the ruggedness, only the canyon was used. Ranchers also utilized other parts of the proposed monument as a route from summer to winter ranges between the Grand Valley and Glade Park. [47] Additionally, many people around the area visited the rocky cliffs and canyons to look for Indian relics. This was popularized by the successes of Rigg's Chicago Museum fossil expedition of the early 1900s. Rock hounding and pot hunting by amateurs in Monument Canyon destroyed many of the better archeological sites before they could be professionally examined. Such destruction led to passage of the Federal Antiquities Act of 1906. Despite the pot hunters, many petroglyphs remained and combined with the natural scenic beauty continued to attract visitors. [48]

One of these early twentieth century travellers was John Otto. He came to Colorado from California around 1900 to work on the Fruita Water pipeline. He fell in love with the canyon and its scenery and set out to find ways to share and protect it. [49] His habits were considered eccentric. He did not live in a house or cabin, although some sources indicate he did have a home in Fruita. [50] Nevertheless, he was a hard worker boosting his idea. In 1907, he started a petition drive to have the area designated as a National Monument. [51] After four years of debate, Otto's efforts were rewarded when Secretary of the Interior Richard Ballinger recommended to Congress the creation of a national monument. On May 24, 1911, President William H. Taft signed a proclamation setting aside 13,833 acres as a National Monument. The name was also a subject of debate, but in the official document the tract was listed as Colorado National Monument. [52]

The National Park Service made John Otto the first superintendent of the Monument because of his interest in promoting it and because he would work for $1.00 a month. He took great interest in the Monument and raised funds any way he could, cajoling money from local Chambers of Commerce or selling cord wood he had personally cut. [53] Otto used this capital and his own muscles to build many of the early trails in the Monument and on Grand Mesa. Because of his unorthodox behavior and unwillingness to accept direction from Washington, D.C., Otto was fired in 1927. He returned to California where he died in 1952. [54] During his tenure as Superintendent, Otto wanted to share the Monument with visitors and as time passed and access became easier, the tourists did arrive. Construction of a transcontinental highway during the 1910s facilitated this, as did Otto's work on auto trails within the park. The 1920s and 1930s saw new transportation improvements. The Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce had paid $45,000 for road improvements into the area by 1930. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built Rimrock Highway during the Great Depression as one of their many projects in west-central Colorado. Meanwhile, Fruita and Grand Junction boosters both fought to have a visitor's center located near their respective towns. Eventually the latter city won the contest. [55] The Monument continues to bring many tourists to the Grand Valley and is viewed by many local residents as a positive example of Federal involvement on the West Slope.

The Grand Diversion Dam was one of the first reclamation projects on the Colorado River. Irrigation of the Grand Junction area from the Highline Canal began in 1915. Photo by U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Another government-sponsored undertaking that had a major impact on the Grand Valley's economy was the Grand Valley Reclamation Project, also referred to as the "Government Canal" or Ditch. This was considered the answer to irrigators prayers when it was first planned. By 1902, the situation was such that a federal program was passed by Congress and implemented in the region. [56]

Federal interest in reclamation started during the 1870s with the explorations of Major John Wesley Powell. His principal goal was to map and then establish uses for the Colorado River System. In 1878, Powell published Lands of the Arid Region in which he outlined not only what water was available, but also how it could be best used for irrigation. The volumes also included his theories on farming and grazing on less well watered areas. The Powell treatise became standard for all those studying western lands and water policy. [57]

Powell and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) continued their work through out the west. USGS crews looked at specific sites for reservoirs and diversion projects. The purpose was to tell the General Land Office (GLO) of prospective areas for development and have these lands withdrawn from private entry. [58] As the surveys continued, Congress worked on the irrigation problem. The debates continued until 1901, when followers of Powell, among them President Theodore Roosevelt, were able to convince the legislature of the wisdom of Federal financial support for reclamation. [59]

In January 1901, U.S. Representative Francis G. Newlands of Nevada, introduced a bill calling for direct federal aid to western irrigation projects. The Newlands Bill sparked an eighteen month debate in Congress during which diverse opinions were expressed. Legislators from the east, midwest, and south all agreed that governmental aid to such undertakings constituted favoritism for one section over the others. To meet this objection, supporters proposed and incorporated into the Newlands Bill a system of self liquidating finances. Users of the water and those who would directly benefit from it were charged annual fees and part of that money was to retire the project's debt. This income was then to be put into a revolving fund to finance still more systems. One fear expressed by many was that of monopoly. Such persons felt that the law needed some provision to limit the size of an individual's land holdings within the project. This matter was corrected by limiting each farmer to 160 acres of irrigated land. By doing this, arid lands would be improved by reclamation for homesteader settlement. [60]

The debates dragged on through 1901 and 1902, until President Roosevelt stepped in. He used his power as a supporter of the west to break the Congressional log jam during the Spring of 1902. On June 3, 1902, a final version of the Newlands Bill passed both Houses of Congress and two weeks later Roosevelt signed it into law. [61]

The Newlands Act led to the creation of the Federal Reclamation Service, later the Bureau of Reclamation and presently known as Water and Power Resources Service. Charles D. Walcott was appointed to organize and head the new agency. The staff immediately set about looking at the earlier USGS survey reports. [62]

One potential site that attracted the interest of Washington was the Grand Valley from DeBeque Canyon west to Fruita. On July 17, 1902, notice was given by the Reclamation Service of intent to build a diversion dam on the Grand River and lateral canals to carry water west. [63] The announcement was welcomed by farmers, promoters, and businessmen alike. [64] However, before Colorado's second federal water project could be started, it was stopped. Because part of the land was privately held, most by being left over from earlier reclamation projects, it took time and court battles for the Reclamation Service to secure clear titles. Also water rights had to be acquired. Furthermore, the legal status of irrigation districts as debtors had to clarified in Colorado. Solving problems took ten years and it was not until 1912 that the first earth was moved for the government ditch. [65]

The Grand Valley Irrigation District had legal recognition by 1912, and it floated bonds to help finance the project. These obligations were the same as a first mortgage on the land. This created a unique debtor class dependent upon crop prices and the good will of the federal government in order to meet their financial obligations. [66] The project itself was an engineering oddity.

The diversion dam, built eight miles above Palisade, used a design common in Europe but not typical of most American sites. The roller crest dam, in which sections of the dam could be adjusted, was used to control the reservoir water level and also to protect the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad tracks from flooding. Because of its pattern and easy access, the Grand Valley dam attracted attention from the public as well as engineering professionals. [67]

Construction of the dam and canal system started in 1912, but it was not until the next year that major progress was made. There were 750 men employed in building the system, 300 on the dam and the remainder on canals. The diversion project was designed to irrigate 53,000 acres, using 60 miles of canals. As work proceeded west from Fruita, water began to flow into the fields along the way. By 1916, the government ditch reached Fruita and over the next two years it was extended westward. Total cost of the Grand Valley Reclamation Project was approximately $4.5 million. [68]

Before the system was completed, problems appeared. By 1911, intensive farming in the area caused water seepage from irrigation ditches into the groundwater supply and with it came the appearance of high alkali levels. Over the next two years, studies of this problem were undertaken and in 1914, the Grand Valley Drainage Association was formed. This group, made up of area irrigators, sought to remove excess water from the fields and thereby protect the groundwater supply. [69]

The Federal Bureau of Reclamation aided this effort after 1919. From that date until 1921, the government helped finance and construct 400 miles of ditches that saved thousands of acres from alkali contamination. In 1921, the Bureau of Reclamation ceased aid to the Drainage Association when most of the necessary work was completed. By 1930, water table recession helped offer what seemed to be a final solution, however, since then new salinity problems have arisen and projects by the Reclamation Service (Water and Power Resources Service) are underway to correct the situation. [70]

Water quality problems were not the only ones faced by farmers under the Government Ditch. They also had new and heavier debts to consider. Fate seemed to have cast her lot against these people because within a few years of canal completion, the bottom dropped out of the farm market. World War I led to increased demand and high prices for all agricultural produce, but once this artificial support was removed, economic disaster befell area farmers. While the reclamation project led to higher land values, it did not relieve debts. [71] One solution members of the Grand Valley Irrigation District tried as early as 1917, was to send out colonization agents to seek new settlers. Any new arrivals would be able to share the debt and lessen each individual's portion of it. This effort met with limited success. [72]

Failure to attract newcomers led farmers to try a new approach. Starting in 1922, as the recession deepened, they went to the Reclamation Bureau and Congress requesting an extension for their pay-back schedule. Edward T. Taylor, Congressman from Glenwood Springs, took up the cause and fought for three years for scaled down, longer term payments. [73] In 1925 he was successful; Reclamation administrators agreed to the plan. In 1927, a 40-year schedule was worked out with the Federal government, writing off nearly $1 million of the debt. On January 1, 1932, the users were scheduled to take over operation of the system, exclusive of dams and tunnels. Irrigators petitioned the government to continue its control of the project until 1937, which was done. [74]

Congressman Taylor, always concerned with the welfare and promotion of his district, proposed another plan for use of the Grand Valley Reclamation Project. He felt that 160-acre tracts of the public domain within the reclaimed lands should be given to any World War I veteran interested in relocating to the Grand Valley. The Senate, however, defeated Taylor's idea. [75] More than a decade later, Taylor and others again sought to use the area as federally sponsored homes for those who would use them. This time it was suggested that unsettled areas be used by the Resettlement Administration for farmers who had been economically ruined by the Great Depression. This proposal was accepted. [76] The impact of this federal program will be discussed in greater detail in a later chapter.

Edward T. Taylor's house still stands in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Taylor was one of the most important politicians in western Colorado from the 1890s to the 1940s. Photo by F. J. Athearn

The Grand Valley Project was not the only such Reclamation Service undertaking in west-central Colorado. The second, less well known operation was located on Orchard Mesa near Grand Junction. In 1908, the Orchard Mesa Construction Company was organized to build an irrigation and power generating system at that locale. The plan called for an extensive system of canals, flumes, and a power plant. It was under construction for two years before the company went bankrupt. Farmers on the Mesa wanted the project completed, so in 1910, they organized the Orchard Mesa Irrigation District which bought out the previous owners for $1 million. District efforts were not sufficient and in 1921, the members voted to request Reclamation Service assistance in upgrading and maintaining their system. Federal authorities agreed to the proposition. In 1930, 40-year financing from the Service was secured and 10,000 acres of land were thusly reclaimed. [77]

From 1930 until the 1950s the Bureau of Reclamation encouraged surveys and studies of proposed reservoirs. The U.S. Geological Survey carried on many examinations starting as early as 1910. [78] Representative Edward T. Taylor helped lead Congressional support for these projects until his death in 1941. During the 1920s he supported efforts by the Reclamation Service to put itself on a paying basis as had been the intent of the original Newlands Act in 1902. To further this goal, Taylor proposed, in 1920, that the Newlands Law be amended to allow sale of water from Federal projects for industries other than agriculture if farming did not suffer by such action. [79] In 1933, Taylor succeeded in getting Congressional approval for funds to build the Taylor Park Reservoir southeast of Aspen. [80] All his efforts were aimed at helping his district, as well as the entire west, by expansion of Reclamation Service activities.

The Colorado Congressmen made what may have been his greatest contribution to national water resource use planning in 1936, when he suggested a comprehensive development plan be built for the entire Colorado River Basin which included the Grand River. The Grand was renamed the Colorado in 1921, by joint consensus of various parties including the Federal government and the State of Colorado. [81] Taylor's proposal was in line with water use ideas at the time and the Reclamation Service and other government agencies adopted it.

World War II and defense preparations during the late 1930s and early 1940s distracted attention from the construction of any new projects, planning, however, did continue. During the 1930s, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) came into existence as an agency for comprehensive planning and development of water resources. The success of TVA led to many similar plans being proposed across the nation during the late 1940s and early 1950s, including one for the upper Colorado River Basin. The blueprints called for unified state and federal actions in an effort to best determine and meet area water and power needs. Well over a dozen projects for the Grand Valley were included in the 1945 plan. From Collbran, east to Glenwood Springs, nearly every creek and water course was determined a potential reservoir site. [83] However, it soon became obvious that there was not enough water in the Colorado River and its tributaries for all these projects. Therefore most were dropped and Colorado did not get its own "TVA." [84]

Part of this drive for comprehensive planning for Colorado River water was rooted in events of the 1920s. During that decade, water users from states all along the river from Colorado to California feared that the Reclamation Service, the Federal Power Commission, and other agencies were becoming too powerful and if the states did not stop this trend, they would lose control over water matters. Two Coloradans, Delph A. Carpenter of Denver and Congressman Edward Taylor, were among leaders of a movement to achieve interstate agreement on the allocation and use of Colorado River water. As early as 1920, Carpenter suggested such a compromise. [85]

For the next two years delegations from the various Colorado River Basin states met and debated issues, especially water allocation and the definition of beneficial use based on the state of Colorado's. In 1922, agreements were reached on all points and the Colorado River Compact was signed. Once the document was in many west-central Coloradans felt it would protect all water users including the irrigators of west-central Colorado. [86] However, this was not the case. Such a radical departure from typical political practice as a treaty between the states had to be approved by the federal government since the U.S. constitution made no provision for such action.

Edward Taylor, a long time supporter of the Compact, took it upon himself to defend the treaty before Congress. He worked throughout the 1920s for the agreement. Taylor especially sought to protect Colorado and Western Slope rights to water. In 1926, he spoke in opposition to Boulder Dam saying that until the seven state agreement was ratified such an undertaking might jeopardize other states water rights. In 1927, the treaty was approved by Congress at the urging of Taylor, the Chairman of the subcommittee on the Colorado River, and despite threats from power companies. [87] From that point on he continued to defend Western Slope water both from interstate and intrastate forces. Taylor felt that since 1860, when the first water was diverted to the eastern slope at Hoosier Pass, that interests on the western side had been ignored. He saw it as a matter of sectional rights and that Western Slope needs should be considered not sacrificed. By the 1930s, Taylor was such a dominate force in Colorado politics that citizens along the front range seeking new or expanded water supplies, secured his blessing before proceeding with their plans. He was widely recognized as "the father of Western Slope water rights." [88]

At the same time, the Glenwood Springs Congressman was also becoming a major force in the development of hydro-electric power. This came from the fact the located near his hometown was the first major hydro-electric plant along the Colorado River. In 1909, the same year Taylor left for Washington D.C., the Central Colorado Power Company completed construction of the Shoshone Dam and generating plant. The under taking cost $2.7 million and was estimated to supply all of the Colorado's electrical needs as of 1905. [89] Electricity was transmitted to the eastern slope. In 1924, the original owners sold the facility to Public Service Company of Colorado. [90] The Shoshone plant remained the largest on the river until 1945, when larger plants were built. [91] Hydroelectric power did not attract much attention because of readily available coal for steam generation. This was despite many excellent hydro power sites throughout west-central Colorado. [92] Taylor was well aware of this situation throughout the 1920s and 1930s, and by 1927, began to sponsor bills to maintain federal control over hydro-electric development, thereby preventing "power trusts" (electric companies) from denying Americans access to a cheap source of energy. [93]

Edward Taylor's work on water problems was significant in the development of west central Colorado, as was what he did concerning the use and administration of public domain within the area and the entire West. By 1920, after 11 years in Congress, he became recognized as an expert on public land issues. [94] As Representative from Colorado's fourth congressional district which contained much public domain, Taylor had first hand experience with the Federal administration of land. His opinion was sought by others in and out of Washington on such matters. Congressional committee assignments placed Taylor on the Committee of Interior and Insular Affairs, which he eventually chaired, as well as the Appropriations Committee that originated all Federal spending measures. By the 1930s, he was one of the senior Democrats in Congress and at his death in 1941, he was the ranking majority member. [95] In such a position Taylor was able to protect west-central Colorado's interests while furthering his own philosophy of proper use for public lands.

During the 1920s, the Glenwood Springs Congressman began to develop a clear program for use of the public domain. Bills such as the Taylor-Mondell Act represented his ideas. He felt that the land should be multiple-use, in this case, Federal coal lands were to be opened for farm settlement which would allow beneficial use of the surface while protecting the fuel reserves. [96] During the same decade, Taylor turned his attention to the plight of cattlemen throughout the West, including his district.

In 1928, Congress established the Mizpah-Pumpkin Creek Grazing District in Montana as an experiment in government management of public rangelands. The tests were followed with interest by many, including Taylor. Results were encouraging, especially increased productivity, thanks to federally sponsored improvements. [97]

The next decade witnessed an enlargement of the Montana system until it covered most of the western states including Colorado. Taylor was instrumental in this process. As early as 1930, he promoted the idea that all unhomesteaded, unreserved public land should be set aside for stockmen and others to use on a fee basis. In January 1934, Taylor's plan was formally introduced into Congress as a bill. [98]

The proposal called for lands to be withdrawn from private entry and administered by the Department of the Interior. Ranchers were to pay fees for use of the range and these rentals were to pay for conservation and improvements in addition to a portion of revenues to be returned to the states. [99] Opponents of the act felt that the individual states should be given the land to dispose of or use as they saw fit. [100] However, Taylor and Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, were successful in stopping the proposal and on June 28, 1934, Congress approved the Taylor Grazing Act which was signed into law the next month by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. [101]

West-central Coloradans generally reacted favorably to the new statute. Taylor had included in the package the idea of self-governing grazing districts where the users had input in the decision-making process. This helped head off potential opposition. During the late summer of 1934, as organizational work for the Grazing Service was underway, President Roosevelt withdrew most remaining lands from entry by homesteaders. This included much of the balance of west-central Colorado, some of which was being "proved up." [102] Support for implementation of the new law spread. When Grand Junction area stockmen voted on the question of organizing a district, the tally was 414 yes, 58 no. [103] The large favorable vote could, in part have been due to overgrazing on the public range in areas like Glade Park. [104] Whatever their reasons, stockmen from Moffat, Mesa, Garfield, and Rio Blanco counties met on September 17, 1934, at Grand Junction and formed Grazing District Number One, also known as the "Taylor District." Edward T. Taylor attended the conclave and proudly announced that the Grazing Act was the greatest achievement of his political career. [105]

Despite the positive reaction to the new law, not all west-central Coloradans were happy with it. Some smaller ranchers objected to the Grazing Act for the same reasons they did the Forest Service grazing permit system. These stockmen felt that provisions of the act favored major cattle raisers over smaller ones. In at least one case, a Glade Park stockman felt the new law was responsible for the failure of his ranch. [106]

Ranchers were not alone in their complaints about the Federal government during the first three decades of the twentieth century. Changes in national mineral policies disturbed mining interests in west-central Colorado too. In 1906, the President was given powers to withdraw potential coal lands from use and this, combined with the forest reserve controversy, led area residents to conclude that Washington, D.C., was solidly opposed to development of the region's resources. [107] Fourteen years later the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 passed Congress. This law allowed certain types of minerals, such as coal and oil shale, to be leased for development from the government and removed these resources from entry under the 1872 Mining Act. This led to a short, but sharp, series of public outcries from mining promoters in the region and proved to be of long-term importance. [108]

Whether one views the new and expanded role of the Federal Government from 1890 to 1935 as a positive or negative force, no one can doubt that national policies did influence historical development of west-central Colorado during the early twentieth century. Congressman Edward T. Taylor caused millions of dollars to be spent in the region by various federal agencies. [109] Moreover, the national conservation movement which included forestry, mineral development, and rangeland use, led to the passing of the "wide open" frontier. Prior to government intervention, resource use was haphazard, based on a first come, first serve philosophy. New policies such as reclamation imposed order to this process, something that was not achieved earlier. The dominance of federal control would become the key factor in regional development from 1920 on. The Great Depression of the 1930s and Franklin Roosevelt's response to it in his "New Deal" did much to further the trend of national control for regional events.

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Last Updated: 31-Oct-2008