could be Buffalo's crossing the platte

 Research Papers

Today is:

H. D. Watson

It all started with a request for information from Charlotte Graham, Mt. Sopris (Sō’ pris) Historical Society,
Carbondale, Colo.  That's in the Aspen, Rifle area on the western slope.

She had questions about H D Watson.  He was in Carbondale about 1920 organizing an agricultural colony.  All I knew about him was what he had done here in Kearney during the Boom, nothing before.  Then he just faded away after the turn of the century except for one incident in 1905.

So I started digging

1. What We Knew About Him
    a. A little background about the Boom Period
        Kearney Board of Trade organized in April 1881

            First project – Kearney Canal

                (a) water for city

                (b) power for milling & manufacture
        Kearney Canal & Supply Co. formed - $100,000 capital @ $20/share; 5,000 shares
            Had to be 2/3 subscribed, [$66,666}
            But 25% cash paid to come into existence ($25,000)
        City of Kearney – $30,000 bonds - Authorized in city election
        Total $55,000 to begin construction
        Began late summer 1882, ran out of $$$ in 1884
        1885 – George W. Frank bought 4/5 stock in Kearney Canal & Supply Co ($80,000)
                - probably invited to Kearney by cousin, Wm Patterson
                [After a while even George was stretched a little thin]

    b. Enter Henry D. Watson - 1888
        1888 – Arrived in Kearney with his wife, Harriet, and son Henry Oliver

                Don't know what brought him to Kearney

                Bought ½ of Frank holdings – Canal Co., power plant, & 2000 acres of land

        1889 – Had taken charge of the Watson Ranch on west side of Kearney
                        Former Capt. David Anderson & Keck ranches [unknown # of acres]
                  (city directory) prop Daily Enterprise [a daily paper] & All Nebraskan [a weekly paper],
                    Lived at Midway Hotel – Moved to ranch when he bought it.
                 Was making frequent trips East to bring potential investors to Kearney
                        Had many connections with people with money in the east


        Nov 1889 – Article in Hub headlined "Kearney Cotton Mill"

[interview by Omaha Evening Dispatch with cotton mill contingent from Kearney waiting at the Paxton Hotel for the train east. Listed the men from Kearney and their occupations.]

B D Smith – pres. Kearney Land & Investment
John Bartlett – pres. Kearney Nat. Bank
R. L Spencer – manager West Kearney Co
J T Keck – Midway Hotel
O S Mardan – capitalist
Mr. Watson – a leading real estate manipulator of Kearney

        1892-3 – (city directory) sec and manager of 3 land companies

        1895 – Boom was over 3 years – Frank & Watson separated their business interests
                – disagreements may have been going on almost from the time Watson bought in
                Frank got: [business property]
                    Frank Improvement Co. properties
                    Canal & Water Supply Co.
                    Electric Co.
                    Electric Street Railway Co.
                Watson got: [real estate]
                    Heavy holdings of city property [lots & houses]
                    West Kearney Improvement Co
                    Kearney Land & Investment Co
                    Watson Ranch
                    Various farmland from Kearney to Stevenson Station


    Where did he come from? Where did he go?

2. Where was He Before Coming to Kearney?

(1850 census) Born in 1847 in Amherst, Mass., son of Oliver & Sarah Watson

        Father had a business manufacturing a product made of wood
        Sometime before July 1870 – Married Harriet (Hattie)
        Father had died before then also

(1870 census) Household includes the young married couple (23 & 22 yrs old)
                        Henry’s mother, Sarah, and sisters Lizzie & Elsie
                    All the Watson’s have property valued at 7-9 thousand dollars each

                        [$9,000 1879 dollars had a value of $15,000 in 2009]
                    Henry was a farmer, had 3 farm hands & 1 domestic servant living with them

Sometime after about 1872 Henry & wife and son, Harry, left Amherst, Mass
Lived for a time in New York where a daughter, Genevive, was born in Jan. 1880

(1880 census) Then they moved to Montclair, New Jersey, where H D was pub manager
                [Pub as in pub or as abbreviation for publication?]

4. What Did He Do After the Boom?

Watson continued to manage the ranch but his empire fell apart

        1900 – (census) Living at the Ranch, occupation farmer
                Son, Henry and wife lived there also, Henry was assistant supervisor


        1903, July – Had plans to divide his 10,000 acres into 50 200-acre farms

        1904 – (city directory) Had moved into Kearney to at house at 2526 Ave A [on ½ block]
            Many, many trips out of town to Chicago, Omaha, Lincoln, occasionally west, for business

        1905 - Cultivated friendship of writer Gene Stratton Porter.

                She and her husband visited the Watsons in Kearney.  H D took her on a tour of his property.

                He showed her:

His best fields (Industrial School’s best fields)
His celery farm (Black’s celery farm)
The ranch home (Frank House)
The ranch manager’s home (Juan Boyle’s house – country club house)

                She took photos for article for Country Life in America magazine.  The story was published. 

                Letters were written, the magazine apologized but never printed a retraction.

        1910 – (census) In Kearney with wife and their adopted son, Joseph, 15, who was their grandson
                His son, Henry & wife also lived in Kearney

        1911, March – Auction at Watson Ranch
                Sold farm machinery, horses, mules and harness.
                Largest farm sale ever held in Buffalo County or central Nebraska

        1911, May 31 – [age 64] Put house up for sale

        1912, Oct – sheriff’s sale - 3 lots sold; house & 2 lots didn’t get high enough bid; re-advertise

        1913, May 28 – moved house from Kenwood to 26th & 9th Ave; remodeled into modern home

        1917, Aug 24 – [age 70] All the Watson land to be sold – houses, city lots, acreages
            Watson said he had an opportunity to sell to a syndicate but would rather sell it in small lots to small investors
        [May have moved to Omaha, not listed in the 1917 city directory]


        1924, Feb 8 – Col. H. D. Watson, 78, died in Omaha
                Survived by invalided widow
                son Ollie (Henry O) living in New Orleans
                grandson Joseph, living in Omaha

                Had been in failing health for past 2 years
                Despite his ailments and his advanced age he persisted in pursuing an active life.

5. The Carbondale Connection

    1919, May 2 – H. D. Watson left for the east yesterday on business connected with his Community Farm project.

      Charlotte Graham wrote: [in her local newspaper on Feb 3]

What do Missouri Heights [in Carbondale] and Greeley [Colo.] have in common?
Both had bold visionaries who came west to create their dream of a utopian society, one named Nathan Meeker, the other — Henry David Watson.

It all started with a French philosopher named Charles Fourier [\ˈfu̇r-ē-ˌā\] … who believed it was possible to create a cooperative agricultural community for the perfect kind of life, where people live in harmony and work together for common good ….

Here in Colorado in the late 1800s and early 1900s, plots of land were purchased both in Greeley and Missouri Heights, and communities were started à la Fourier

[So she started looking for information about Henry David Watson]

I was … guided to one of the commune’s great, great family members: our own Roaring Fork High School history teacher, Larry Williams.

“Somewhere around 1920, my great-grandparents, Walton and Anna Boyd … read an ad in the paper telling about a colony that was developing on Missouri Heights. The colony was led by a supposed millionaire named H.D. Watson. It was to be a communal living situation in which each family would get 22 acres of land to farm and live on, with all profits and expenses to be shared by everyone who joined the colony,” Larry said.
“After arriving with their five children, Walton and Anna found things to be a little sketchy,” he added.

Next thing I knew I was in Cornhusker country…..

6. Proof from this end that Watson was there

The Hub reported his comings and goings.  Usually his business trips took him to points east, but….

1920, June 17 – Went to Pueblo, Colo, on business

1921, April 15 – Went to Denver on business

        July 21 – returned to Carbondale, Colo. after taking care of some business here in Kearney


7.  Recognition in his Declining Years

Nov. 1915 – The Commercial Club went on record in favor of naming the seedling mile Watson Boulevard because of the trees he had planted [in 1893] along that road and cared for all these years.

Jan. 1922 – Resolution passed by City Council recognizing the contributions made by H. D. Watson –

        developing alfalfa,
        demonstrating fruit crops can be raised in Nebraska,
        laying out what is now called Watson Boulevard.

        At some later date some a suitable marker was to be erected as memorial to his accomplishments

        [The article also mentioned that at this time he was a guest of the city and seriously ill.]

Sept 1923 (historical edition of the Hub for Kearney's 50th anniversary) –
        A tribute of Watson for his achievements in Kearney, especially on the Watson Ranch
            winter wheat
            dairy farming.

“Had a magic touch with trees, forest trees, fruit trees, evergreens, shrubs, etc.

Watson’s boulevard, one mile in length adjoining the city
Double row of elms planted thirty years ago entirely at his own cost,
Now one of the most delightful drives on the Lincoln Highway between
the two coasts.”

8. H. D. Watson – the man

Appears to have been a charismatic man,
    Very persuasive,
    Able to convince people of financially successful prospects in Kearney
        Painted rosy pictures
    A salesman
    Apparently had many contacts with wealthy families in the East

A wheeler/dealer

“Watson's method of financing has been described as taking from Peter to pay Paul but never giving Paul as much as was taken from Peter.” [Holmgren in Nov 1979 Buffalo Tales]

A real estate agent

Would leverage one piece of property to buy another

Had many different partners in business, probably took the lead in most partnerships
        Kearney Land & Investment Company
        West Kearney Investment Company
        Miller Land Company
[This would be one reason for difficulty in knowing the number of acres he owned]

A farmer

Introduced practice of raising winter wheat
Used crop rotation – three year alfalfa, wheat, corn system

A man with spectacular ideas, did things in a big way
Not always real practical
Didn’t really think them through.

Take Alfalfa, for example

Alfalfa grew under drought conditions & was a valuable livestock feed

1893 – raised 15 acres of alfalfa, increased to 15,000 acres in following years

1896 – 3000 tons of alfalfa but could not sell it.

1897 – sold 1000 tons to sheep feeder for $3/ton & gave him all the old hay in the stacks.

Could not harvest 15,000 acres of alfalfa efficiently due to lack of equipment and men

Alfalfa grown for seed – better seed from alfalfa in hills than in the valley

Annual cherry picking day at Watson Ranch – announced in paper each year
        $1.50/bushel you pick, or $2.50 if picked for customer
        Children under 15 had to be accompanied by a parent who would discipline them (”paddle them if they got smart”)


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