Saturday, November 1, 2008

May never be rich, start digging a ditch


The important role that water has played and continues to play in our history and development was reinforced to me in a previous conversation with Tri-Lakes Fire Protection District chairman at the time and former Palmer Lake Historical Society board member Charlie Pocock, The conversation originated with history but as such things often do, it meanders all the way upriver to the source.
Regarding water, Pocock tabbed the historical character of Sam Hackett.
Sam Hackett was described in Marion Savage Sabin’s 1957 book, “Palmer Lake: A Historical Narrative,” as a young Scotch-Irishman looking for a way to get up in the world.
“There was a very odd thing about Sam Hackett, ” wrote Sabin. “His was an unmistakably Irish physiognomy and his rich, deep brogue matched his face — yet there was little or nothing of Irish in his inner makeup. The genial gift of gab had been left entirely out of his composition; he was taciturn and cautious, like a Scotchman. His humor—few guessed he had any — was the sly, self-contained sort and his habitual aspect was dour. He was frugal and a confirmed woman-hater. Yet, he was never a mean man and stories are told of his generosity to visitors and harvest hands in later years.”
Hackett worked and originally ate and slept at the railroad’s section house managed by Camillus Weiss. Among his early duties there, was pumping water from Palmer Lake for the engines. Because of his general standoffishness and other reasons related to economics, he eventually decided to reside elsewhere.
“ He went some distance away to the west of the railroad, nearer the mountains, and made himself a dug-out. It was just a hole in the ground, a low mound set in a hillside. The entrance which faced south, was held up by logs; and a few pine planks hewn in the woods, chipped out by himself and secured overhead in his cave, kept the roof from falling in…” according to Sabin.
At the time of her writing in the 1950s, the ruin of that abode could still be seen on the very edge of the field to west of the Little Log Church.
In order to augment the amount of water available in Palmer Lake to use to fill the 12 or so daily train engines that required water to push over the hump, Weiss, as the section boss for railroad, asked Hackett to dig a ditch. The ditch diverted water from Monument Creek by use of a small dam and reservoir and solved the water problem for the railroad at the time.
“On December 29, 1882, Samuel Hackett filed in the Office of Clerk and Recorder of El Paso County an affidavit describing his ditch and claiming water rights for domestic, mechanical and irrigation purposes,” wrote Lloyd McFarling in footnotes to Sabin’s book in December of 1956.
“He said the ditch was constructed about the year 1872. Two other ditches were also important in establishing water rights, which were later acquired by the Town of Palmer Lake. One was the Anchor Ditch, dug in 1867; and the other was the Monument Ditch dug in 1868 and enlarged in 1875. These ditches were down-stream from the Hackett Ditch. Their headgates were within the limits of the town as established at the time of incorporation in 1889,” wrote McFarling.
In time, Hackett eventually left the employ of the railroad, purchased Weiss’ property and turned to raising potatoes. His prowess at that activity helped create an industry —and a dominant one at that — in this area for several years and earned him the title “the potato king.” He became very prosperous. Much of his success in potato farming business, however, was heavily reliant on his ability to irrigate. His irrigation, of course, relied mostly on “Hackett’s Ditch. So here we are once again, right back here at the source.
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