Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


The Union Colony of Greeley, Colorado, was one of the most successful irrigation-based settlements in the Great Plains. It was organized by Horace Greeley, who, following his own famous advice, traveled west in 1859 and included a visit to Colorado. Ten years later, he sent a colleague, Nathan Meeker, to search out a suitable site for a colony based on irrigated farming. A site near the junction of the Cache la Poudre and South Platte Rivers was chosen in 1870–a block of land purchased from the Denver Pacific Railroad–and by May colonists were arriving from Chicago, Buffalo, Boston, and New York.

Requirements for membership in the colony included a $155 fee and a good moral character. From the beginning, the success of the colony depended upon control of water. In exchange for their fee, colonists received a farming tract of five, ten, twenty, or forty acres, the size increasing with distance from the central hub of Greeley, as well as guaranteed water rights. Within a month, water was flowing through ditches to cultivated fields of wheat, corn, and vegetables. Within a year, thirty-six miles of main canals had been built, and a grid of lateral ditches brought a potential 60,000 acres within reach of irrigation. The largest canal was twenty-seven miles long, thirty feet wide, and four and one-half feet deep and carried water from the floodplain to the adjacent benchlands. The town of Greeley flourished, reaching a population of 1,500 in May of 1871. The growth was sustained, and by 1873 the colony structure was unable to accommodate the expansion and was disbanded. However, from this successful start, Greeley and the surrounding area have remained one of the most productive portions of the Colorado Piedmont and are still a center of irrigated farming.

David J. Wishart University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Willard, James F. The Union Colony at Greeley, Colorado, 1869–1871. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 1918.

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