Benjamin Harrison Eaton

  • Statehood Governor of Colorado from 1885-1887Photo of Benjamin Harrison Eaton
  • Party: Republican

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Biography 

Early Years

Political Career

Accomplishments

Bibliography

Scope and Content Note

Series Descriptions


Early Years

Benjamin Harrison Eaton was born in Coshocton, Ohio, on December 15, 1833. After graduating from West Bedford Academy, he joined the Ohio Line Railroad's engineering crew and began surveying westward. On May 1, 1856, Eaton married Delilah Wolfe. He spent the summers farming, while the winters found him teaching school. On May 31, 1857, Delilah died giving birth to a baby boy, Aaron James.

Aaron remained in West Bedford with Eaton's mother and three sisters, while Benjamin headed west to Louisa County, Iowa. There he purchased a large farm during the panic of 1857. It was here in the fertile Iowa River Valley that Benjamin Eaton decided to temporarily settle down to a life of farming. This pursuit lasted until April 30, 1859, when he joined the Columbus City, Iowa - Pikes Peak Expedition.

Thousands of '59ers from all over the country came to Colorado in search of gold. One particular group of Iowa farmers, including Benjamin Eaton, wandered Colorado from California Gulch into the uncharted wilderness of the San Juan country. Unsuccessful in their endeavor to strike it rich, everyone in the expedition returned to Iowa except for Eaton. He tenant farmed on the Maxwell land grant in New Mexico for the next two years where he also began experimenting with irrigation ditches.

In 1862, he joined the New Mexico Volunteers serving under Colonel Christopher "Kit" Carson. The Civil War campaign ended abruptly for the volunteers; and by 1864, Eaton went back to Ohio to visit his son, teach school and marry Rebecca J. Hill. This union would eventually bring two more children, Bruce G. and Jennie B. Eaton.

By 1866, the Eaton family resettled on a northeastern Colorado homestead in Weld County, Colorado. Eaton had realized years before the unnoticed value of barren soil if properly irrigated. At bargain prices, Eaton purchased 25,000 acres of subsidy lands from the Union Pacific Railroad. Laying claim to Cache la Poudre River waters, and taking advantage of tax exempting subsidies, he was able to create a share leasing irrigation system that brought him wealth and political influence.

Political Career

The political career of Benjamin Eaton began in 1866, when he was elected as Justice of the Peace. He maintained that office for nine years. Concurrently, he held the position of Weld County Commissioner for six of those years including four years as Chairman of the Board. The election of 1872 brought Eaton to the territorial legislature; and then in 1875 to the territorial senate. In 1884, a majority elected him governor of the State of Colorado; there he served from 1885-1887 as the tenth Governor.

The Eaton administration worked to improve farming and irrigation, especially along Colorado's Front Range. He was a pioneer of Colorado's reservoirs and irrigation ditches. Politically, Benjamin Eaton was a Republican, fraternally, a Knight Templar Mason, and religiously a Methodist. 

Accomplishments

Benjamin Harrison Eaton died in Greeley on October 29, 1904. Reminders of his accomplishments include: the Millpower Canal (1871); Plumb, Larimer and Weld Canal (1877); Highline Canal (1880); and the Windsor Reservoir (1882). Northeastern Colorado enjoyed a thriving sugar beet industry because of these irrigation systems. However, the most obvious reminder of our tenth governor is the town that bears his name, Eaton, Colorado. Because of his numerous accomplishments, his stained glass portrait is one of sixteen that adorns the state's capitol dome.

Bibliography

  • Baker, John H., and Le Roy R. Hafen (eds.). History of Colorado. Vol. 5. Denver, CO.: Linderman, 1927.
  • King, Clyde Lyndon (Ph.D.). The History of the Government of Denver. Denver, CO.: Fisher Book Company, 1911.
  • Norris, Jane E. and Lee G. Written in Water: the Life of Benjamin Harrison Eaton. Athens, OH.:Swallow Press/ Ohio University Press, 1990.
  • Portrait and Biographical Record of the State of Colorado. Chicago: Chapman Publishing Company, 1899.
  • Representative Men of Colorado: in the Nineteenth Century. Denver, CO.: The Rowell Art Publishing Company, 1902.
  • Shwayder, Carol Rein. Weld County - Old and New. Greeley, CO.: Unicorn Ventures, 1992.
  • Stone, Wilbur Fisk (ed.). History of Colorado. 4 Vols. Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1918.

Scope and Content Note

The Benjamin Eaton Collection is relatively small, comprising only 4 cubic feet of records and 1 microfilm roll. His official acts are documented in the Executive Record. Otherwise, the extraditions and requisitions as well as appointments to offices (especially the Commissioner of Deeds) are well documented.

Series Descriptions

  • Executive Record

The Executive Record contains: executive orders; appointments; legislative messages; pardons; letters of extradition and requisition; honorary citations; and proclamations that were issued by Governor Eaton.

  • Correspondence

Includes letters; telegrams; warrants; and the patent and diagrams for an air ship design by Charles H. Morgan, of Gunnison, Colorado. Subject matter comprises Indian Affairs; Colorado National Guard; North Central and South American Exposition hosted in New Orleans, Louisiana; and State Penitentiary Affairs messages, including prisoner insanity petitions.

  • Speeches and Messages

Herein contained is: Eaton's inaugural address (1/13/1885); governor's message; and biennial message to the Sixth General Assembly (1/1887).

  • Reports

Primarily this segment consists of reports filed by various state agencies. An investigative report concerning Warden Hoyt of the State Penitentiary; and a Railroad Commission report relating to the Denver South Park and Pacific Railroad accident of 1885 , are of special interest.

  • Extraditions and Requisitions

Documentation concerning the surrender of alleged criminals to other jurisdictions for trial. Possibly included are the applications for extradition; warrants for arrest; and correspondence from the Attorney General's office. Two file folders contain information concerning rewards offered for the capture of various murderers (1885-1889).

  • Applications and Appointments

This series includes records of politically appointed public officials that served office during Eaton's administration; a recommendation for quarantine against the State of Kentucky by the Colorado State Veterinary Surgeon (1886); resignations; and written instruments concerning the appointment of twenty-eight Commissioner of Deeds.


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