Sunday, November 3, 2013

Arkansas River Valley

A number of the tales as told by Uncle Jep and presented here are set in the Arkansas Valley of Southeastern Colorado.  It was in this region that I was born during the Dust Bowl days of the "Dirty Thirties."  I did not grow up in the area, yet I was never far from it, and there has always been an affinity between me and the land, the countryside and the small towns that dot the Valley.

I do not profess to have special knowledge of the area, but I grew up hearing stories of the old days along the river; dry-land farming, windstorms; irrigation and water wars.  And thus it is that while the tales being presented are strictly fictional, figments of my imagination, they contain elements that bear similarities to life as it was lived.  There is truth in fact, and there is truth in fiction.

The West may have been won with six-guns and carbines, but the prize without water is not worth the taking.  Ergo, water disputes, rights and acquisition thereof, have been part and parcel of much of the West since the beginning of the conquest.  The waters of the Arkansas rise in the high Rockies of Central Colorado and as the Spring melt of winter snows heads eastward, the great river carries potential for human  settlement and agriculture.  Where there is water, there are conflicting claims.  Disputes over water rights have jammed the court system from the beginning, and I daresay that if one were to pursue it, he would find that there are pending cases and cases in progress related to Arkansas Valley water rights to this very hour. Dry-land farming has been practiced with greater and lesser success from year to year in Southeastern Colorado since the first settlers arrived.  But near the river, irrigation has been practiced since the first ditch was dug to divert water onto farmland.

In the latter quarter of the nineteenth century, sugar beets were introduced into this country, and two areas of Colorado were found to be ideal for this crop when water was available.  According to The American Sugar Beet Growers' Association, the first sugar factory for processing beets  in the United States was erected in 1879.  By 1917 there were 91 such plants in 18 states from Michigan to California.  The Arkansas River Valley was prime land, and there was river water to be had.  Many little towns, including Holly, Swink, and Hartman where I was born, had mills pouring out sugar for the market by the carload.  "Dirty, ugly roots in one end, sparkling white crystalline sweetness out the other."  What a deal!  The beet growers were blessed, too, in that, unlike cane which required a "double processing," beet sugar could be obtained in a single process.


But there was the water issue.  By 1893 the Amity Canal Company had filed for water rights.  A few years later Holbrook was granted rights.  There arose a dispute in which Holbrook claimed that by taking full draw on their rights Amity was depriving Holbrook of its grant.

To Law!  Bring on the lawyers, get to court.  In 1920 or '21, Holbrook sued Amity in Circuit Court.  Amity successfully defended its position and in 1921 the court so declared.  But that is not the end of it.  It never is.  In 1929 Holbrook filed in District Court and the matter was heard yet again, and again Amity prevailed.  It went to Appellate Court in 1931.  Amity prevailed.*

Or should I say, the lawyers won.  They always do, no matter how the court rules.

*Information extracted from

Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. John 4:13,14 (KJV)


Vee said...

The water rights issue lives on in Colorado. Even local home owners are fined if caught collecting rain water for any use.

vanilla said...

Vee, the doctrine of prior appropriation makes perfect sense. That drop of water that falls on my roof rightfully belongs to Amity, or even to the city of Denver, or Wichita, according to the rights of the entity in question. For me to capture that drop of water in a rain barrel is to steal from the rightful owner. Such is the legal complexity of living in a semi-arid state whose water all eventually winds up out of state. The citation of the Holbrook-Amity case illustrates the lengths, and expense, to which an owner will go to defend his rights.

Shelly said...

Water is the ultimate spiritual and physical resource.

vanilla said...

Shelly, yes there is water that gives life, then there is Water that gives eternal life!

Sharkbytes said...

There are a lot of sugar beets in eastern Michigan. I've never lived where there wasn't plentiful water. Don't think I want to.

vanilla said...

Sharkey, by single area, Michigan is second-largest producer at about twelve percent; Red River Valley produces about 55% of the U.S. total. All Great Plains areas: 14%, the balance in the Northwest and California. (USDA)