The New Empire of the Rockies: A History of Northeast Colorado
BLM Cultural Resources Series (Colorado: No. 16)
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Depression Decades, 1920-1940

When the fighting in Europe ended during 1918, few in northeast Colorado could foresee the impact it would have on their region. Basic industries, like farming and mining, experienced production expansion to meet wartime demand. Markets remained firm in the first several years after the war because the conflict had destroyed Europe's economy. The patriotic outpouring attendant to United States' participation and promises of lasting peace in "the war to end all wars," made Americans optimistic about their futures. However, the situation that caused these hopes also contained the seeds of more problems. The crisis was not long in coming to northeastern Colorado.

By 1920 European manufacturers recovered from war and the continent was less dependant upon America. In response, the United States experienced a short but deep depression; the Panic of 1921. Especially hard hit were farmers. Wheat and other commodity prices fell. During the Panic they crashed. While other businesses suffered equal catastrophes in 1921, they recovered. Unfortunately for area farmers, prices stabilized at lower levels than before the Panic. Corn, alfalfa, hay, beets and wheat were considerably affected. Such crops were the primary income for both drylanders and irrigators. As prices fell producers found themselves hard pressed, especially on the plains of northeast Colorado. They had borrowed heavily to expand and cash in on the wartime bonanza. As returns diminished, debts were more difficult to service. Two solutions were used by dryland farmers. First, some increased production to create more income. This included purchasing more land, and putting marginal areas to the plow. Farmers also drilled deep wells to irrigate fields. These choices were open only to those who could raise capital or who had extra land. Another alternative was to stop farming and sell their land or take up ranching, particularly sheep raising. By making adjustments, the dryland farm industry of northeast Colorado survived the early 1920s. [2] The latter part of that decade saw a revival in the region's agriculture. But it came too late for many, like the settlers of Dearfield. For those who stayed, the slow market upswing was a welcome relief. Farmers also sought help from the Federal government. Proposals for price supports, parity, and government purchases of surpluses to stabilize prices all were proposed by the agricultural industry. The calls mainly came from the Midwest, but northeast Colorado's producers heartily endorsed the idea. [3] Drylanders were not the only producers in the region intrigued with Federal aid. Irrigators, especially beet producers, found such proposals interesting. The "boom" psychology of the teens caused great expansion in the irrigation of northeastern Colorado. Debts were accumulated by local farmers. Water shares jumped dramatically in price during the war, but values fell sharply by the end of 1921. Irrigators had fewer options than did farmers on arid lands. Proportionally, loans were much larger and nearly all available farm lands were in production. They could not easily up output and increase incomes. Instead farmers demanded higher prices from sugar companies and changed some crops to raise cash. Fruits and vegetables replaced beets on farms. Produce was sold in local markets in Colorado or else shipped out of the region, as either fresh or processed food. These changes helped weather the turbulent early 1920s.

Later in that decade, as farmers and beet sugar companies lobbied Congress for relief, Washington responded. In 1929 the Republican administration of Herbert Hoover enacted the Smoot-Hawley Tariff. This new import tax put duties at their highest levels in decades for many products, one of which was sugar. Northeast Colorado's beetgrowers were quite pleased with this turn of events as domestic sugar prices began to climb almost immediately. [4] Actually, northeastern Colorado agricultural markets had started an advance in 1928 gaining momentum through that year and well into the next. As prices rose talk of a new prosperity was heard around the region. The good times of the past were recalled and projections were made that the next years would be a new "boom." However, it ended almost as soon as it began. On October 23, 1929, the New York stock market crashed and this nation slipped into its worst Depression. As factories closed and workers were laid off, farmers faced both rapidly declining prices and slackened demand. [5]

To compensate these losses, agrarians tried increasing production only causing a glut of farm goods that drove prices down even further. As the Great Depression deepened in 1930, 1931 and 1932 this vicious cycle continued. Northeast Colorado's farmers slid deeper into debt with no way out. Those who were able to hold on during the 1920s by reducing their long-term debts were now unable to service their loans. More than a few found the only choice was foreclosure or having their farms sold for taxes. By 1932 auctioneers were busy throughout the agricultural areas of northeast Colorado as farm after farm went on the block. [6]

Watching as more and more families were dispossessed and wondering how long it would be before the same fate overtook them, surviving farmers sought new solutions to their plight. Those who waited for years, hoping for market recovery or direct government help, finally rose in rebellion. At auctions armed farmers helped their neighbors by offering a bid of one dollar and then they insured that it was the highest. At other times auctioneers or judges were run off at gunpoint. During 1932 Sedgwick and Larimer Counties became centers of hostility and local farmers became threatening. Mobs stormed county courthouses and destroyed land records. At the same time, support for a Farm Holiday Movement spread throughout northeast Colorado. These so-called "Holidayers" supported Iowan Milo Reno who saw the only way to drive up prices was to voluntarily withhold produce form market. For those farmers who did not join, "Holidayers" made it nearly impossible to sell goods. They built road blocks, dumped milk in ditches and stopped trucks on the way to market. [7] The Farm Holiday Movement was short-lived in Colorado, for as the Depression deepened and prices fell further, farmers simply gave up and fled the land. This led to even more plains ghost towns. [8]

As beet growers cutback production laborers were put out of work. Migrants, and other temporaries, lost their jobs. Hispanics were among the very hardest hit. Meanwhile both farms and irrigation projects were abandoned. From a record high of 6,400 irrigated farms in 1930, numbers declined to 4,300. Ditch companies, themselves already in debt and totally reliant on farmers for income, went broke. Even those operators that did not run out of money found themselves without adequate water as a new drought cycle began and junior water rights proved utterly worthless. Early in the 1920s, after these rights were adjudicated, complaints arose from Nebraska farmers also dependent on the South Platte for water. Nebraskans felt that Coloradans diverted too much of the stream's flow. To fairly divide Colorado water, negotiators from both states hammered out the South Platte River Compact. Colorado's team was led by Delph A. Carpenter, a national expert on water law. The agreement was signed in 1925. Division of the South Platte's water worked no undue hardships until the dry years of the early 1930s. [9] Irrigators with junior rights were not the only ones hurt by drought during the thirties. Drylanders, already under intense pressure from declining prices, found it hard to handle crop failures caused by lack of rain. Some just quit while others tried, year after year, to grow crops without water. As the dry spell lasted, more and more farmers were forced to abandon the area. The next years brought more of the same, but by then the ground was so dry, almost nothing grew. Those who did plow their fields were rewarded by blowing dust. Soils were so deteriorated that it was pulverized into tiny particles, which were carried by hot dry winds. At times the dust was so thick that it appeared as a brown blizzard. Records of the period indicate that dust storms were so bad that the entire region was literally paralyzed.

People were unable to breathe, cars and trains stopped, and thousands of souls barricaded their homes only to watch fine dirt sift in under doorframes and through windowsills. On at least one occasion there was so much dust in the air that when rain fell it became mud before hitting the ground. The dust storms, called "dusters," sometimes happened during snowfall and became "snusters." As if this was not enough grassshoppers swarmed across the land and destroyed most of what was left. This area was called the "Dust Bowl" because what happened in northeastern Colorado was common throughout most of the Great Plains. In fact, Colorado was not the hardest hit; that dubious distinction went to Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Kansas. [10] The Dust Bowl was also death for ranchers. Their problems dated from the second dryland farm boom of 1910. As Federal land policies encouraged settlement of arid plains, most uncontrolled range on public lands in eastern Colorado was claimed, plowed and planted. Dwindling natural forage caused stockmen to rely on feed lots. By the 1920s cattlemen, were deeply in debt hoping to accomplish the open range to feed lot changeover and to take advantage of the wartime "boom." During the twenties both beef and mutton markets declined. Those who could afford to, decreased their herds, but most ranchers were under heavy mortgage obligations. Such stockmen had to keep producing in order to meet increasing debts. Throughout the 1920s cattlemen used every means to keep their operations alive. Like farmers, ranchers also called for Federal aid like price supports. At the time of the Great Depression their pleas, were finally heard. As with farmers in northeast Colorado, a number of cattlemen simply gave up by 1933. To many it seemed as if the 1890s were being replayed on the plains of Colorado. [11] However, unlike the '90s, the federal government stepped in to aid the range industry. In 1934 the Taylor Grazing Act was implemented and for the first time, both grazing allotments and a fee system were placed on the use of public lands. The U.S. Department of the Interior's Grazing Service oversaw this new legislation. Northeast Colorado's ranchers were not much affected by these changes for most of the plains was already in private hands. States like Utah, Montana, Nevada and, of course, western Colorado were considerably changed by the grazing law.

The region's towns and cities also found history repeating itself. During the early 1900s villages sprang up on the prairies to serve a new wave of drylanders. But when the bubble burst during the 1920s more than a few communities either disappeared or found a new economic base. This trend continued well into the 1930s. Those places fortunate enough to be on main highways had better chances for survival as they turned their attentions to auto travel to augment declining business. Farming during the late 1920 also kept some towns alive. When the Depression and concurrent drought struck early in the 1930s large numbers of these small service centers were abandoned because farming, their reason for existence, no longer supported them. A new series of ghost towns again dotted northeast Colorado. [12]

Older, established urban areas did not escape the 1930s either. The spreading of mass communication and easy travel during the twenties encouraged rural dwellers to visit and shop in the larger cities of northeast Colorado. Autos and good roads made it commonplace for individuals to travel what were once long distances to get better prices or larger selections at stores other than the nearest mercantile. This tough competition forced small, local, shopkeepers out of business. Those already weakened by the twenties, saw the 1930s lead to bankruptcy. This shift in trade patterns also led to creation of localized mini-trade centers, like Sterling, or Akron or Wray or Yuma. [13]

The advent of automobiles forced counties and the state to consider better roads. This 1917 photo demonstrates that cars were not yet totally accepted. F. L. Hess Photo, Courtesy USGS.

The post war years saw more oil and gas development on the plains, as this well in eastern Arapahoe County shows.

While smaller towns and cities were busy with commercial rivalries, the major cities of northeast Colorado entered the twenties with a spirit of unbounded optimism. They thought prosperity had arrived and that the new decade would bring to fruition all the plans that were earlier laid for growth and wealth. Most projections were based on predictions of increased tourism, caused by a rapidly developing road system, not to mention the area's natural beauty. Boosters saw the vacation industry as ideal. It was a clean business that generated large amounts of cash with minimal capital outlay. Promotion of tourism became a function of local government and Chambers of Commerce or Visitors' Bureaus. Not only did these agencies supply potential vacationers with information, but they also encouraged development of facilities for them. Denver, and other cities, developed systems of mountain parks and campgrounds. Local merchants took advantage of the "boom" by creating special hostelries for motorists—motor hotels, soon called motels. Tourist cabins sprang up along major highways as did new "service stations" and diners. During the twenties, millions vacationed in northeast Colorado and the tourist industry boomed. [14] While the transient segment of urban enterprise flourished, others sectors made less spectacular advances. Population increases slowed over the previous decade, partially from a conscious decision by the local power structure, especially in Denver, not to actively recruit new residents or commercial ventures. Instead it was thought that slower paced growth would offer greater stability. An attempt was made to halt the "boom and bust" cycles that once dominated nearly all this region's cities. Further, leaders considered prosperity assured under the present conditions and no need was seen to change. The hustle and bustle of a boomtown atmosphere was gone and community leaders throughout northeast Colorado were content with their status. [15]

On the surface, the early 1920s looked calm. However, there were underlying tensions that occasionally broke through. The first started before the decade had begun. In 1919 various charges were hurled at opponents of the Federal government. One was that Communists had infiltrated positions of power throughout the nation and helped bring about failure of President Woodrow Wilson's peace plan while they sought to further the Russian Revolution of 1917. Mass hysteria soon engulfed some of northeast Colorado's towns. The "Red Scare" took on a distinct anti-Catholic, anti-labor union cast. Simple allegations of Communist affiliations or sympathies were enough to discredit victims and numerous Coloradans fell to accusers. Fortunately, the panic passed, but not before ruining many lives. [16] The "Red Scare" of 1919-1920 did have one lasting impact in that it helped set the stage for rapid growth of the Ku Klux Klan. This organization had the appearance of a fraternity, complete with secret codes, uniforms and "official" ceremonies. Scores responded to ads and the Klan spread beyond the Old South. [17] One of the first in Colorado to join the reconstituted KKK was Denver dentist, Dr. John Galen Locke. He realized that if properly molded, the Klan could be a vehicle for political power. The KKK's philosophy was based on white supremacy and racial purity. Insecure working class whites who saw their livelihoods threatened by blacks and Mexican-Americans found KKK preachings attractive. The latter group also happened to be largely Roman Catholic which violated one basic tenet of the Klan; Protestant superiority. The Klan movement in Colorado began in Denver and it spread throughout the northeast corner of the state. [18] In the "Queen City", KKK popularity grew quite strong. The Klan was aimed at those who were not "100% American." From Denver, recruiters fanned out and soon members of the "Invisible Empire" could be found from Colorado Springs to Boulder, Sterling, and all points in between. By 1923 the KKK was a potent force in regional politics. To show their strength, on July 4, 1923 members burned a cross atop Pike's Peak. More importantly when municipal elections were held in Denver that fall, Benjamin F. Stapleton found it politically expedient to seek Klan endorsement. Once in the Mayor's office he appointed Klansmen to numerous city jobs. [19] The next year saw even greater expansion of the "Invisible Empire" in Colorado. The general elections of 1924 sent Klansmen and their sympathizers to the state legislature while one of Locke's associates, Clarence J. Morley, was elected Governor. The "hooded knights" also dominated the Republican Party. But opposition to KKK backed legislative programs, led by State Senate Democrats, and helped by an Internal Revenue Service investigation of Locke's personal finances broke Klan power in Colorado. By 1926 the organization had collapsed, especially after a dismal failure to carry the Colorado Springs municipal election in 1925. The "Invisible Empire" was one of the most striking manifestations of social tensions during the 1920s. [20]

Prohibition violators were another problem. Liquor flow was flagrant as speakeasies and bars operated as "private clubs" under the noses of local law agents. Bootlegging was a popular pasttime and citizens took up "running" professionally. There were deaths because of territorial encroachment by one liquor dealer into another's "turf". While this region never had gang wars like those in Chicago or New York City, there was still organized crime in northeast Colorado. Farmers also operated stills, adding to the flow of booze. Few worried about the law because even if arrested, juries tended to be sympathetic to defendants. After only a few years most police found the frustration too much and opted to control illegal liquor traffic, not to stop it. [21]

One factor that contributed to social unrest during the 1920s in northeast Colorado was the unhealthy state of this area's mining industry. From the end of World War I into 1925 precious and semi-precious metal extraction experienced a period of precipitous decline. By 1925 nearly every operation had closed in Boulder, Clear Creek and Gilpin Counties including limited stream dredging. Those mines that were left were "one man" operations. During the Great Depression there was a minor resurgence in activity, as some sought any available income. Nevertheless, hard-rock mining was a dead industry in northeast Colorado by 1940. [22] Meanwhile, energy fuel companies prospered from 1920 until 1940. Rocky Mountain Fuels, a coal firm then under the ownership of Josephine Roche, kept its mines open. Despite an overall drop in coal demand she was able to direct the corporation to moderate prosperity. First, urban markets remained fairly strong, despite inroads by natural gas. Secondly, Miss Roche formally recognized the United Mine Workers (UMW) union and managed her workers to make operations more efficient. This enlightened attitude allowed Rocky Mountain Fuels to avoid violent strikes experienced by other northeast Colorado coal operators during the 1920s. Management's refusal to recognize the UMW and then subsequent wage cuts caused these outbreaks. Because Miss Roche worked with organized labor and attempted to find other jobs for her laid-off workers, miners cooperated to keep the mines open. Even as the Depression deepened 1930s this spirit of self-help continued. Nevertheless, demand and production both dropped and most mines were eventually closed. [23] Even before the Great Depression, northeastern Colorado's coal mines found their markets contracting as natural gas, became a more popular form of home and industrial heating. The 1920s saw increased gas well drilling and development of gas in the northeast corner of this state. By the 1930s local supplies were augmented by fuel brought to the region via pipelines from west Texas. In 1936 Colorado Springs was connected to Texas and almost immediately residents converted because of the convenience natural gas offered. The cheap, clean burning gas led residents and industry across the area to abandon coal during the thirties. [24] Petroleum also enjoyed a "boom" during the 1920s, due to increased production in older fields in northeast Colorado and the discovery of the Wellington Dome near Fort Collins. The Wellington fields were tapped in 1923 and almost overnight there was a rush to the "new Texas." This stage of development passed and established companies took over both wells and development work. Energy production was the one bright spot in northeastern Colorado's mining from 1920 until 1940. [25]

Railroading, like mining, experienced a period of contraction throughout northeast Colorado between the World Wars. However, some new and important developments did take place. Of these, none was more needed than construction of the Moffat Tunnel under the Continental Divide. After David H. Moffat's death in 1911 direction of his rail empire passed to William Gray Evans, who undertook a campaign to secure municipal or state funding for a tunnel under the Main Range eliminating the costly run over Rollins Pass. From 1912 until the early 1920s Evans carried on the fight. Finally, in 1921 the Colorado legislature approved a plan that included creation of the Moffat Tunnel District with power to issue bonds, and raise taxes to construct the bore. Work began in 1924 and four years later the first D&SL train made its way through the tunnel onto the Western Slope, giving Denver a new outlet west. [26] Even with the Moffat Tunnel built the Denver and Salt Lake could not take advantage of all that it offered, because D&SL rails went no further than Craig, Colorado. The 1920s renewed talk of extending the line to Salt Lake City. Efforts of the Denver and Rio Grande Western to gain admittance to the tunnel by building a connection from Dotsero, Colorado north along the Colorado River to Bond, meeting the D&SL came to naught. The Great Depression sapped the financial strength of both companies. Through an intricate series of agreements the D&RGW was allowed to build its cut-off in return for access to the tunnel. Part of the pact called for the D&RGW to buy a controlling interest in the D&SL. Funds for the 34 mile cut-off came from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) and in 1934 the Dotsero Cut-off was opened. D&RGW trains operated from Denver to Bond on the D&SL, allowing use of the tunnel and giving the "Queen City" rail service directly west, a goal since the 1860s. [27] While the rail situation west of the front range moved forward, elsewhere in the region events were less cheerful. Most carriers faced decreased business after World War I, into the 1920s. This did not lead to wholesale abandonments, but rather service cutbacks and severe lack of maintenance. Lightly travelled lines in northeast Colorado fell into disrepair. The backsliding continued until the Great Depression when more than a few lines were finally abandoned. This process continued through the 1930s, often taking years because of Interstate Commerce Commission slowness and public appeals. Lines were given up as more goods moved by automobile, bus and truck. Two of the largest abandonments were by the Colorado and Southern when it tore up the old Denver, South Park and Pacific and also tore out Colorado Central rails west of Idaho Springs, on the Clear Creek line during 1938. [28]

Mainlines to and from Denver suffered less during the Depression. Management of companies, like the Union Pacific or Burlington quickly give up branchlines while at the same time they used their resources, as well as Federal loans, to upgrade primary routes. Besides improvements to tracks and facilities, the Burlington, Pacific and the Rock Island introduced new service. The most dramatic was a diesel-powered streamliner. The Denver Zephyr, Burlington's replacement for its first class steam-powered service from Chicago to Denver was introduced in the early 1930s with considerable fanfare. The train made a record-shattering run from the Rockies to the "Windy City". This inaugural trip brought northeast Colorado into the streamline era and other railroads soon followed the Burlington. One by one they introduced new streamlined service to try and keep their share of the tourist trade and not allow autos to eliminate rail business. [29] Rail companies were justified in their fears of automobiles throughout the region. The 1920s and 30s were a period of rapid expansion of both miles of improved roads and of auto ownership. Denver, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Limon and most other towns lobbied both the state legislature and Washington, D.C., to get government aid in further new highway construction. These efforts accelerated during the Great Depression as county and state highway departments found road building a means of unemployment relief and a way to spend money provided by Washington, D.C. The availability of new and good roads led residents to purchase cars for personal and or business use. New mobility decreased the isolation of small towns further as more residents took to the highways. For those who could not afford an auto, local bus companies offered service to and from almost every little town in the region. At the same time, the use of trucks to haul goods and commodities increased. Internal combustion engines also revolutionized northeast Colorado's farm life. No longer did farmers depend upon animal power. Introduction of trucks and tractors to farming meant that each farm could till more land with less effort. Rapid mechanization of agriculture halted during the Great Depression, as did growth of auto ownership due to a shortage of money. [30]

New methods of getting around were not the only changes in rural life between 1920 and 1940. The spread of electricity by the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) during the New Deal allowed for rapid local communication. The cities of northeast Colorado were put in instant contact with rural areas by radio. The state's first commercial broadcasting facility opened in 1919 at Colorado Springs. Transmitters soon operated in Denver and other cities throughout the region. By the 1930s most households had crystal sets and the radio became the popular form of entertainment. [31]

Another new form of transport that was widely accepted in northeast Colorado by the late 1920s was the airplane. Flights first started, commercially, in 1920 as airmail service. Local carriers connected Colorado Springs and Denver to Cheyenne, Wyoming, then hub of the main transcontinental route. A few years later a company known as Colorado Airways took over the route from Pueblo to Cheyenne and started passenger service. While there were the curious, few took the airline and most passenger flying during the twenties was of a barnstorming nature as freelance pilots put on one-man air shows around the region. Not everyone in the area felt that air travel was a fad that would pass. Mayor Ben Stapleton was one who boosted the idea of a major airport in Denver to serve the Rocky Mountain West. As an incentive, the city bought 640 acres east of town and in 1929 Municipal Field, (later Stapleton International Airport), opened for business. Air travel continued to gain popularity and by 1937 United Airlines, the first national carrier, started connecting flights from the Mile-High city to Cheyenne's transcontinental service. Cheyenne was used because crossing the Continental Divide in Wyoming was easier and safer in unpressurized aircraft of the day. With the "Queen City" now the region's air center, other towns gained air service between themselves and Denver. By 1940 critics of flying machines, were silent. One factor behind rapid development of airport facilities in northeast Colorado, during the 1930s, was an ever-increasing support Federal authorities provided. [32]

These changes did not come about because bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., decided to place more emphasis on northeast Colorado but rather because citizens there, (and across the nation), were pleading for help by 1932. The stock market crash of 1929 evolved into the worst depression ever to hit the United States. President Herbert Hoover waited and proclaimed prosperity was "just around the corner." As the election of 1932 approached, Hoover faced Franklin D. Roosevelt, who promised Americans a "New Deal." Not believing Hoover's claims of recovery, voters chose Roosevelt and the New Deal became the by-word of his radical economic recovery programs. Actually, FDR's cure for the nation went beyond simple change. He and his advisers saw they had an opportunity to profoundly alter the foundations of American society. Evaluating the situation, in 1933 the new leadership decided that a three step program was needed. First was the matter of relief. Over the years, from 1930 to 1933, old welfare and charity systems were burdened to the breaking point. Millions were out of work and literally starving. To avoid disaster, FDR took Hoover's puny efforts, like the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) and greatly expanded them. Relief functions were viewed as stop-gap measures to keep the country going while a "second phase" was initiated: recovery. The White House decided that through a partnership of business and government, economic growth could be encouraged. Roosevelt's final step was reform of the Federal system to reduce the likelihood of a future depression. At various times between 1933 and 1940, all three parts of FDR's program were at work in northeast Colorado. [33]

Of this region's industries, agriculture received the most assistance from New Deal agencies. Foremost was the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA). The AAA offered farmers relief payments to keep them going while they increased commodity prices through production controls. To make up for lost income, the AAA paid farmers not to produce above certain quotas. It was seen that this would help recovery by reducing market surpluses while driving up prices. Not all crops were controlled. Most of those grown in northeast Colorado were, including wheat, corn and other grains. After protracted debate, sugar beets were finally included. In 1933, as the AAA took effect, just after the growing season had begun, the Federal government found it necessary to plow up crops and slaughter livestock in order to meet that year's quotas. This led to some protests, but AAA administrators went ahead and by early 1934 it appeared as if the program would succeed. [34] In 1934 the AAA was ready to undertake other efforts to help northeast Colorado's Farmers. One solution was the repurchase of marginal farmlands by the government so as to permanently remove them from production. This work was carried out under provisions of the Bankhead-Jones Land Utilization Act of 1937. In cooperation with Federal agencies like the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), the Resettlement Administration, and the Farm Securities Administration, (FSA), AAA representatives went into northern Weld County and other stricken places to negotiate sales. Those willing to leave their farms were provided cash or were resettled in other parts of the West, usually near irrigation projects operated by the U.S; Bureau of Reclamation. The purpose of this program was to take marginal lands out of production and return them to original rangeland. Often Federal agents arrived too late because by even 1930, hundreds had abandoned their farms. Later some of the smaller tracts were re-sold to ranchers but the majority of L-U lands remained in Federal hands. Control eventually passed from the Soil Conservation Service to the Forest Service and two large parcels in Weld County subsequently became the Pawnee National Grasslands. [35] Repurchase was not the only land management activity "New Dealers" undertook in northeast Colorado. Other Federal programs were aimed at helping an ailing beef industry. The Forest Service led much of the work. Managers hoped to improve grazing on forest ranges. Experiments with grasses, new plantings and a variety of other projects were designed to accomplish this. Not only were ranchers helped but also improvements required labor and temporary employees, including members of the Civilian Conservation Crops, (CCC) who were hired to do the work. Another program was the creation of the Grazing Service within the Department of the Interior. It also allowed the President to withdraw from homestead entry. Less than 100,000 acres of northeast Colorado fell under this bill, but area ranchers supported it. [36]

Possibly the greatest engineering work for regional agriculture in the 1930s was the Colorado-Big Thompson water diversion project. The Bureau of Reclamation, established by the Newlands Act in 1902, was long interested in the possibility of moving water from the Colorado River (on the Western Slope), under the Continental Divide and to fields throughout northeastern Colorado. While Reclamation planned such a project during the 1920s nothing happened due to estimated high costs. This problem was solved in the "New Deal" as Federal agencies sought ways to hire workers thereby stimulating economic recovery. From 1934 into 1938 detailed blueprints and studies were made and in 1938 actual construction started. Backers of the Colorado-Big Thompson claimed the project would take care of water needs in northeast Colorado for decades, eliminating the dependence of farmers on natural rainfall while slowing the abandonment of small irrigation projects during dry years. This project affected lands from the Rockies east to Nebraska. To further Big Thompson's image, hydro-electric generating capabilities were included in the plans. Positive public reaction was cultivated by the Bureau of Reclamation, especially after an outcry over a diversion tunnel to be built under part of Rocky Mountain National Park. Construction continued through 1938 into 1942, when shortages of materials like concrete and steel caused, by World War II, led to stoppage of most work. Once the war was over, the project resumed after some local debate. Finally in 1954 the Colorado-Big Thompson Project completed. Not only was it one of the largest reclamation efforts in the United States, but the diversion helped farmers and towns. [37]

The Granby Dam spillway represented the western slope side of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, a major water diversion begun in the 1930s. A. E. Turner Photo, Courtesy U. S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The positive effects of New Deal programs were felt in northeast Colorado long before World War II began. While farmers in the area suffered they were not alone. As the stock-market crashed, the sudden downturn all but wiped out most business overnight. Banks and merchants of all sizes were forced to close their doors. Banks experienced runs like those of 1893. By 1933 depositor panic was so great that President Roosevelt declared a "bank holiday" to allow Federal bank examiners to evaluate each institution before it re-opened. This led to the lack of currency circulation and local governments in northeast Colorado resorted to printing their own "script" to provide a medium of exchange. The Bank Holiday was Roosevelt's first step in putting business on a solid footing and to prevent the Depression from worsening. At the same time, he went to Congress proposing creation of the National Recovery Administration (NRA). NRA was to operate in partnership with industry to voluntarily control output thus reducing price competition. Representatives of businesses from automobile manufacturing to burlesque were called to Washington, D.C. where codes were enacted. Once the rules were in effect, all companies were encouraged to join NRA. This was accomplished by a massive campaign to sway the public to only do business with members. Those firms that subscribed to NRA codes displayed the "Blue Eagle" and soon these symbols were posted on shop doors and in store windows throughout northeast Colorado. After initial success, enthusiasm for the "Blue Eagle" dwindled despite promotional efforts by Chambers of Commerce and other groups. Eventually this program, and its companion the AAA, were declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court. Nevertheless, both programs did help this region weather the worst of the Great Depression. [38]

Of all New Deal initiatives, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) did the most to help this region's citizens survive economic disaster. Grants from that agency were forthcoming as local charity funds ran out. By 1933 it became impossible to provide further private aid to individuals. With the threat of bread riots, local governments found themselves broke and unable to raise more cash because as the Depression worsened the local tax base contracted. "New Dealers" responded with large amounts of aid to northeast Colorado. Another agency that eased suffering throughout this region was the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC). The RFC provided companies with low interest loans to finance new projects or to improve their physical plants. RFC also lent money to local government for public works. RFC funds helped build the D&RGW Railroad's Dotsero Cut-off and the Remington Arms Plant in Denver, in addition to hundreds of other projects. [39] Operating in conjunction with the RFC were the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Public Works Administration (PWA) and the Civil Works Administration (CWA). These bureaus were involved in projects from collecting interviews from old timers to building new sewer systems, roadways and airports. Structures like city halls, libraries and post offices were built with WPA or PWA labor. These programs also helped the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. Not only were permanent improvements made, but the unemployed were given work and living wages. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was another "New Deal" Program that put citizens to work on jobs to improve northeast Colorado. The CCC was mostly of youths from outside the region. It was seen that they would benefit from experience in the western outdoors while Colorado's young people were sometimes sent elsewhere to broaden their perspectives. CCC camps were organized on para-military lines and overseen by U.S. Army officers. The Colorado state headquarters was located at Fort Logan near Denver. CCCers built roads, hiking trails, picnic areas and other facilities throughout the region's national forests, in Rocky Mountain National Park, and in other public recreation areas. [40]

The "New Deal" had another effect on this region because the program put a greater emphasis on aid to the underprivileged and to minorities. Franklin D. Roosevelt and his advisors determined that blacks, Mexican-Americans and Oriental-Americans were ignored too long. Since these people were generally on the lower end of the economic ladder before the Depression, they suffered more during it. To force action "New Deal" agencies withheld aid until the states took more positive steps to see that all citizens benefited equally. At first this pressure was resisted by Colorado's political leaders, but as the Depression worsened concessions were made. While northeast Colorado's minorities saw only measured progress toward social equality during the 1930s, the door was opened in World War II. Despite Roosevelt's programs, the northeast corner of Colorado failed to recover from the Great Depression even by 1940. There were various reasons, but mainly the problem revolved around the fact that even with greatly increased Federal spending, the region's economy still had fundamental weaknesses, like a lack of hardrock mining. Failure to achieve recovery by 1939 led northeast Colorado's political and business leaders to decide that without continued Federal help, the area would slip backwards in growth and economic activity. This fear caused locals to attempt to convince the government to locate its new offices, plants and military bases in the region. Such recruitment led to ever-increasing Federal presence during and after World War II. [42]

Chapter XI: Notes

1John Hearal Interview, Civil Works Administration Interviews, Volume 352, Colorado State Historical Society, hereafter cited: CWA, CSHS; James E. Wickens, "Colorado in the Great Depression: A Study of New Deal Policies at the State Level," (Ph. D. Dissertation, University of Denver, 1964), pp. 1-3, hereafter cited: Wickens, "New Deal"; Paul Bonnifield, The Dust Bowl, Men, Dirt Depression, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1979), pp. 54-57, hereafter cited: Bonnifield, Dust, and Nell Brown Propst, Forgotten People, A History of the South Platte Trail, (Boulder: Pruett Publishing Co., 1979), pp. 202-204, hereafter cited: Propst, Forgotten.

2Joseph P. Dillon interview, vol. 341, CWA, CSHS; John G. Abbott interview, "Removal of the Old Sheedy Building," vol. 352, CWA, CSHS, and Robert G. Athearn, The Coloradans, (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1976), pp. 251-253, hereafter cited: Athearn, Coloradans.

3Wickens, "New Deal." pp. 1-2, 209-212, and Bonnifield, Dust, pp. 51-53.

4Wickens, "New Deal," pp. 236-238, and Athearn, Coloradans, pp. 271-273.

5Wickens, "New Deal," pp. 235-236, and Athearn, Coloradans, pp. 273-275.

6Bonnifield, Dust, pp. 56-57 and Wickens, "New Deal," pp. 253-256.

7Athearn, Coloradans, pp. 275-278, and Wickens, "New Deal," pp. 214-216.

8W.D. McGinnis interview, vol. 352, CWA, CSHS, and Wickens, "New Deal," pp. 253-255.

9Oliver Knight, "Correcting Nature's Error: The Colorado-Big Thompson Project," in: A Colorado Reader, Carl Ubbelohde [ed] (Boulder: Pruett, 1962), p. 324, hereafter cited: Knight, "Big Thompson"; Wickens, "New Deal," pp. 44-46; Athearn, Coloradans, pp. 254-156, and McGinnis, CWA, CSHS.

10Bonnifield, Dust, pp. 15-18, 50-57, and Wickens, "New Deal," pp. 228-255.

11McGinnis, CWA, CSHS; Glen Bolander interview, vol. 352, CWA, CSHS; Frank Tanberg interview, vol. 341, CWA, CSHS., and Richard Goff and Robert H. McCaffree, Century in the Saddle, (Denver: Colorado Cattleman's Centennial Commission, 1967), pp. 160-167, hereafter cited: Goff and McCaffree, Century.

12"Early Arvada," vol. 354, CWA, CSHS; McGinnis, CWA, CSHS; and Lyle W. Dorsett, The Queen City, A History of Denver, (Boulder: Pruett., 1977), pp. 212-215, hereafter cited: Dorsett, Queen.

13"Early Arvada," vol. 354, CWA, CSHS; John Ross interview, vol. 354, CWA, CSHS, and Hearal, CWA, CSHS.

14Ross, CWA, CSHS; Athearn, Coloradans, pp. 260-265; and Dorsett, Queen, pp. 212-215.

15Dorsett, Queen, pp. 188-200.

16Athearn Coloradans, pp. 240-241, and James E. Wright, The Politics of Populism, Dissent In Colorado, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p. 268, hereafter cited: Wright, The Politics of Populism, Dissent in Colorado, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), p. 268, hereafter cited: Wright, Politics.

17See: James H. Davis, "Colorado Under the Klan," The Colorado Magazine 42 (Spring 1965): 93-108.

18Ibid and Athearn, Coloradans, pp. 245-248.

19Marshall Sprague, One Hundred Plus, A Centennial Story of Colorado Springs, (Colorado Springs: Colorado Springs Centennial, Inc., 1971), p. 48, hereafter cited: Sprague, 100+, and Dorsett, Queen, pp. 204-206.

20Sprague, 100+, pp. 48-49; Dorsett, Queen, pp. 204-205, and Athearn, Coloradans, pp. 246-247.

21Athearn, Coloradans, pp. 248-252, and Hearal, CWA, CSHS.

22Cornelius W. Hauck, Narrow Gauge to Central and Silver Plume, (Golden: Colorado Railroad Museum, 1972), pp. 173-175, hereafter cited: Hauck, Narrow, and Nore V. Winter, James S. Kane, Ellen Beasley, Kathy London and Liston E. Leyendecker, "Level I Historic Cultural Resource Survey of the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland," (Lakewood, Co.: United States Forest Service, n.d.), hereafter cited: USFS, "Level I."

23Dorsett, Queen, pp. 129-130, 154-155.

24Mr. Knox interview, vol. 354, CWA, CSHS, and Herbert M. Sommers, My Recollections of a Youngster's Life in Pioneer Colorado Springs, (Colorado Springs: Dentan & Berkeland Printing Co., 1966), pp. 47-49, hereafter cited: Sommers, Pioneer.

25Athearn, Coloradans, pp. 255-256, and USFS, "Level I," n. p.

26Robert G. Athearn, Rebel of the Rockies, A History of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962), pp. 263-272, hereafter cited: Athearn, Rebel.

27Ibid., pp. 272-279, 290-292.

28Hauck, Narrow, pp. 109, 166-179.

29Hearal CWA, CSHS, and Richard C. Overton, Burlington Route: A History of the Burlington Lines, (New York: Knopf, 1965), pp. 407-425.

30Propst, Forgotten, pp. 204-205; Hauck, Narrow, pp. 109 and 178; Athearn, Coloradans, pp. 259-261; Dorsett, Queen, pp. 242-244, and Hearal, CWA, CSHS.

31Athearn, Coloradans, pp. 274-275.

32See: H. Lee Scamehorn, "The Air Transport Industry in Colorado," in: A Colorado Reader, Carl Ubbelohde [ed], (Boulder: Pruett, 1962), and Dosett, Queen, pp. 206-208.

33Bolander, CWA, CSHS; Propst, Forgotten, pp. 208-210, and Wickens, "New Deal," pp. 47-55.

34Wickens, "New Deal," pp. 216-240.

35Ibid., pp. 269-271, and USFS, "Level I," n.p.

36USFS, "Level I," n.p., and Roy Robbins, Our Landed Heritage, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1976), pp. 421-422.

37Wickens, "New Deal," pp. 202-203, and see: Knight, "Big Thompson".

38Wickens, "New Deal," pp. 146-178.

39Ibid., pp. 27-30, 40-44, 50-62 and 70-74.

40Ibid., pp. 120-135, 170-206.

41Ibid., pp. 44-47, 94-100, and Athearn, Coloradans, pp. 278-280.

42Henry Wells interview, vol. 352, CWA, CSHS, and Wickens, "New Deal," pp. 280-281, 376-377.

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Last Updated: 20-Nov-2008