Bill Jackson column: $65 could have changed northern Colorado water history
Tell them I knew about water.
Those were among the last words W.D. Farr said to Dan Tyler, whose latest book, “W.D. Farr: Cowboy in the Boardroom,” was released this summer. It’s Tyler’s third book, and all have Greeley and Weld County ties. A professor emeritus of history at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Tyler’s first effort was a the history of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District – which was originally headquartered in the basement of the Greeley Tribune – and his second chronicled the life of Delphus Carpenter of Greeley, who had a hand in many of the river compacts that remain in effect today.
W.D. Farr, as he preferred to be called, was born in 1910 and spent the majority of his 97 years in Greeley. He was an icon not only in the area of water development, but in farming, ranching and livestock feeding, in addition to several business ventures over his 97 years.
With a foreword by former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown, Tyler’s latest book is as much a history of Greeley and Weld as it is of W.D. and the Farr family. Billy Farr, who was to become W.D.’s grandfather, was the first of the Farr family to find his way to Greeley.
Members of the Farr family were successful farmers and dairy producers in England. Stephan Farr Jr., at the tender age of 25 and newly married, was the first of the family to strike out to the new world, leaving for Canada in 1851. Billy Farr was the third of Stephan and Mary Farr’s children. At age 22, he headed west from Ontario. Canada, stopping first in Cheyenne, before eventually making his way to Loveland and then Greeley. He arrived in Greeley in 1877, a little more than a year after Colorado became a state and seven years after Nathan Meeker started the Union Colony, which was renamed Greeley.
But for the lack of $65, there may never have been a Farr family in Greeley.
An accomplished blacksmith, Billy saw a chance to make good money by leaving Greeley with Meeker, when Meeker left to become the agent for the Ute Indians in northwest Colorado. Billy made it as far as Rawlins with the group by train but didn’t have the $65 to buy a horse and saddle to continue the trip. So he returned to Greeley; Meeker and his party were killed by the Utes, who refused to adjust to his demands of schools, farms and other changes he intended to use to “civilize” the American Indians.
Soon after, Billy was joined by brothers Walter and Charles. They were to begin what would become a successful sheep operation, as well as helping to develop a railroad system serving the area.
Harry was the first child of Billy and Jennie and would become W.D.’s father. W.D. grew up in the success of his grandfather and father, but would become his own man and, with Warren Monfort, started what would make Weld County a center of the cattle industry.
W.D. early on also recognized the need for more water and, with Greeley Tribune publisher Charles Hansen as a mentor, would help develop the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, a trans-mountain diversion that brought Colorado River water to northern Colorado. Hansen was considered the “father” of the C-BT and W.D. its oldest son. W.D. was quoted in the book as saying, “Probably, Charlie Hansen contributed more to the city of Greeley than any other man I have ever known.” Farr always referred to the C-BT as a second Poudre River for northern Colorado. As a member of the Greeley Water Board, which he started, and a 40-year member of the board of directors of Northern Water, W.D. was instrumental in assuring a future water supply for the city and area.
By the 1970s, W.D. was recognized as a statesman, one who could work compromises in a variety of areas ranging from commodity groups, banking, water and other business ventures, always with the intent of doing what was best for the majority. In the 70s, he was an officer, director or board member with several local, regional, and national organizations.
He made friends from all walks of life, including environmentalists. While he rarely agreed with them, he always listened and learned – an ability that led W.D. to developing an uncanny vision of the future that was recognized by many early in his life. More importantly, he had the will and courage to see those visions come true, Tyler notes.
A major part of Farr’s life was his wife, Judy. They met when she came to Greeley to attend the Colorado State College of Education and were married in 1933. Together, they raised four sons, but they were partners in nearly every aspect of their nearly 65 years together. She died in 1997.
When W.D. died 10 years later, the Union Colony Civic Center was packed for the celebration of a remarkable life. There may well never be another W.D. Farr.
Retired Tribune reporter Bill Jackson covered agriculture throughout Weld County for more than 30 years.