‘Cowboy in the Boardroom’ shares the story of water legend W.D. Farr
September 14, 2011
At times it’s hard for Daniel Tyler to believe it.
However, he fully acknowledges the fact that some residents of Greeley and northern Colorado – especially the younger population and those who have moved to the area in recent decades – aren’t familiar with the name W.D. Farr or the many accomplishments the man achieved during his life.
“He’s somebody that everyone in the region should know. We’re all benefitting from his foresight,” said Tyler, a retired Colorado State University history professor.
Tyler’s newest book, “W.D. Farr: Cowboy in the Boardroom,” examines the Greeley resident who was a key figure in the development of large Colorado water projects, served as president of the National Cattlemen’s Association, was an adviser to the U.S. Department of Agriculture under three U.S. presidents and was appointed by President Richard Nixon to the Environmental Protection Agency.
At the same time, though, Tyler realizes his recently released 250-page analysis of the man may not be all that effective in educating those unfamiliar with Farr.
“People don’t sit down and read books anymore,” he said with a laugh. “As far as reaching a younger generation, I’m not too optimistic.”
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Regardless of whom Tyler enlightens with his new book, researching the pioneer, rancher, visionary, statesman, water expert and banker – and writing his biography – was a journey Tyler enjoyed, he said.
And it’s a story of leadership he feels needed to be told.
Tyler said he never knew Farr extremely well on a personal level, mostly just having interactions with him through their involvement with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Tyler had also known of Farr at a young age, as Tyler’s father had purchased Farr’s Crystal River Ranch near Carbondale.
While their personal interactions were limited, Tyler came to know Farr’s legacy very well through a career of examining history of the American West, particularly that of water development in the region – a topic which has fascinated Tyler since his youth.
W.D. Farr was a name came that up often.
But in piecing together Farr’s biography during the last three years, Tyler, who is retired and now lives in Steamboat Springs, became more familiar with the leadership qualities Farr possessed, characteristics that made his foresight – visions of bringing more water to residents of northern Colorado and improving standards and practices in the beef industry – a reality for himself and those who would reap the benefits.
“In writing this book, it further confirmed to me what an exceptional leader he was,” Tyler said. “So many characteristics contributed to that; his willingness to learn from others who knew more than him on a particular topic, his thinking ahead, his interactions with people.
“He’s just a great example of what can be accomplished with great leadership. I think that’s what this book highlights more than anything; how effective he was because of his leadership.”
While researching Farr and writing his story was an enjoyable experience for Tyler, he said it had its difficulties.
“History and history writing is based on written record … and sometimes the historian’s interpretation of the written record can differ from the recollections of family members,” said Tyler, who noted that the Farr family had approached him about writing W.D.’s biography not long after he died in August 2007 at the age of 97. “Especially if the subject is recently deceased, which was the case with me.
“However, the (Farr) family was very understanding. I was pretty lucky there.”
Tyler’s “interpretation” of W.D. Farr’s legacy can now be found in local bookstores, available for those who already know of the man’s accomplishments and want to learn more, or for those younger and newer residents in the area who have never heard of the name – apparently having never noticed it at Farr Park, or at Farr Library, or at the Farr Pumping Plant near Lake Granby.