History in Focus: Dreams of the future
December 13, 2018
Northwest Colorado appears to be entering a new and trying era. The old securities that built and developed Moffat County are giving way to an uncertain future, but a quick glimpse back into 1916 reveals Moffat County faced similar difficulties about its economy and future. But with boundless energy, the citizens of 1916 faced the future with optimism.
In 1916, Moffat County was only five years old, and Craig had been incorporated only eight years previous. While settlers and ranchers had been in the area for decades, it was still a vast and underdeveloped "empire." With the arrival of the railroad in 1913 and land still available under the Homestead Act, Moffat County was officially open for business.
To kick start development, the Craig Empire published a 58-page promotional publication Jan. 26, 1916, to advertise Northwest Colorado and entice individuals to come and build their dreams. In bold print, just above the paper's title, the publication made an open invitation: "There is plenty of room for you in Moffat County, Mr. Homeseeker."
With plenty of land and a rail line, the future was bright.
"During the year just closed, 60,854 acres were filed upon in Moffat County. During the following season this number will be quadrupled …"
With free land available, the ready-for-mailing publication extolled the opportunities available to anyone willing to work hard.
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The layout published articles by settlers from all parts of the vast empire: Great Divide, Lay Valley, Price Creek Basin, Maybell Valley, Breeze Basin, Axial Basin, Black Mountain, Cedar Mountain Section, Morapos, Four Mile District, Skull Creek, Bell Rock, Sand Springs, Big Gulch, and Sunbeam Valley. Today, most of us do not even know where these small communities were even located.
Rye, wheat, hay, and potato farming and potential fruit growing, along with cattle and sheep ranching, topped the list of possibilities. A new grain elevator had recently been constructed in Craig, however, 32-year Axial Basin resident state senator Tom Isles reminded newcomers, "Though you may not accomplish perfection, yet if you are industrious and persevere in your labors it is within your reach to make a home to be envied."
Herbert B. Gee, editor of the Craig Empire, detailed four developments vital to the future of the county: the extension of the Moffat railroad to Salt Lake City, a railroad spur built by the Union Pacific south from Wamsutter towards Craig, and construction of the Juniper Canon Dam.
The fourth, the Elk River Irrigation Project, was an ambitious goal to construct a winding irrigation ditch from the north side of Black Mountain all the way to Great Divide. All four projects fizzled out, and within a few decades the small homesteader farms withered away in the face of our unforgiving high desert climate.
A.G. Wallihan, famous early photographer of our area, wrote about possible gold, silver, lead and even copper and other dreams of mineral wealth. Eventually, it was the coal, natural gas, and oil deposits, already being exploited in 1916 by the Mid-Continental Oil Company, that became the spine of our economy.
However, buried on page 46, a tantalizing headline spoke to our present:
"Mother Nature Holds us Captive in the Throne Room of Her Flawless Beauty."
James Clauson described the breathtaking sites we all know and love: Cross Mountain Canyon, Black Mountain, Bear's Ears, and "Bear Canon" (Dinosaur National Monument). He predicted, "Beyond all doubt, within a few years, this section of the state will offer the tourist and scenery hunter resorts equal to the Garden of the Gods and Estes Park."
Today, there is still plenty of room for homeseekers in our "empire." Our open spaces beckon to urban dwellers yearning to escape the concrete and traffic jams of the Front Range. But it will take the same hope and energy of 1916 for us to reimagine and once again build Moffat County for the next generation.
Contact James Neton at firstname.lastname@example.org.