A Swallow Press Book

Written in Water
The Life of Benjamin Harrison Eaton

By Jane E. Norris

“The husband and wife team have set down a fast-moving biography about one of Colorado’s most interesting but lesser known governors.”

Liston E. Leyendecker, Colorado Historical Society

Much of the nineteenth-century western history comes to life in the retelling of the Benjamin Eaton story. The excitement of the 1859 Gold Rush, the ill-fated Baker expedition into the San Juans, the Civil War of the West at Valverde and Glorietta Pass, the 1864 Indian uprisings along the Platte River Trail, and the valiant struggles of the Union Colonist in 1870 are among the events interwoven in his memorable life.

Irrigation was the key to transforming much of the hostile Great American Desert into the fertile agricultural lands they are today. Ben Eaton was one of the leaders who, by trial and error and with enormous physical effort, used primitive tools, powered only be men, mules, and oxen, to bring into being that network of irrigation canals and storage reservoirs which reclaimed the arid land.

Ben Eaton’s vision, determination, and leadership were well founded. As a boy in the 1830s, he had known the enthusiastic canal building in Ohio which had opened a land-locked country; he surveyed road beds as the first railroads movd into Ohio and on west; he joined in the construction of ditches which brought water from distant mountain streams to the gold deposits he worked in Colorado; he learned the ancient Spanish traditions of irrigation working side by side with Mexican farmers on the Maxwell Land Grant. The Union Colonists, the Fort Collins Agricultural Colony, and those who farmed under the Larimer and Weld and the Highline Canal near Denver were among those blessed by his insight and his courage.

As a member of the Colorado Territorial Legislature, and later as the fourth governor of the state, his leadership was unmistakable as the foundations were laid for a strong and ever-growing agricultural industry and for a new body of water law which met the particular needs of the arid west. His accomplishments in prison reform and his convictions concerning environmental issues and women’s rights were far ahead of the conventional thinking of his day.

Many western states currently face critical problems in obtaining sufficient water to meet present and future needs, and proposed solutions are complex and expensive. Furthermore, the ecological effects of these propositions are widely debated and highly sensitive, and much publicized. Written in Water is a valuable contribution to this ongoing struggle. It offers a historical perspective and lends insight as the modern West considers the choices which must be made and the expenditures involved.

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