I got to know John “Jack” Cleator at the Red Cliff Museum, one of my favorite places. This was strictly by accident in that I was examining a cased piece of wooden pipe with the following caption: “Part of the first Gilman water line; 3200 feet long, laid by John Cleator in 1884. It supplied Gilman with Rock Creek water for 29 years until the new line was laid in 1915.”
The use of wooden pipe is certainly nothing new. In Agricola’s De rerum metallica published in 1556, we have a lovely woodcut of a man auguring a log to create a pipe. [And, yes, I’ve handled a copy of the De rerum metallica in the Dibner collection of the Smithsonian…another story entirely.] Wooden pipes can also be made from smaller pieces of wood, bound together with wire, not unlike barrel making, where the water keeps the wooden pieces swollen tightly together, keeping the pipe or barrel intact and without leaks.
So, what could I find about Jack Cleator? Back to primary sources! The earliest Tax Assessment Rolls for Eagle County here in the archive begin at 1887 [earlier ones are extant, just not in our collection]. This would have been just after 1884 when the water line was laid. In 1887, Jack owned a cabin in Gilman and had made $100 in improvements on public lands. The value of the cabin was $40 from 1888 to 1893, and jumped in value to $50 in 1893 and 1894. By 1899, Jack owned the cabin, a small house, the Wolverton house, 1 horse, 1 cattle, 1 other animal, 1 clocks & watches, and 1 carriage & vehicles, for a tax assessment of $162. Times were good.
I turned next to the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection , a superb resource. I proceeded to find several interesting articles concerning Jack Cleator. In addition to managing the water line, he was very involved with mining:
“Jack Cleator of Gilman, has secured a lease on the Scorpion, another canon property near the Bleak House. The mine was a producer of high grade silver ore in the early days and was famous for many fine specimens of wire silver. The last operators on the property, Alex Alexanderson & Co., opened up a nice body of zinc ore, but that was several years ago when under the existing conditions, there was no profit in working the mine for that metal. Mr. Cleator, the new lessee, besides good financial backing, has energy and grit in plenty and will put the Scorpion on the list of shippers this summer.” [Eagle County Times April 19, 1902 p.1]
Back to the water line:
“J.C. Cleator had appeared before Justice of the Peace C. W. Linsley and lodged a complaint against M. Deegan, charging the latter with threatening his life and person, and minor offenses. Armed also with the warrant, the under sheriff visited the scene of tumult.
Mr. Cleator is the manager of the Gilman water works and Mr. Deegan is a consumer. Cleator had presented a bill for a month’s use of water of $3 for the hotel and $5 for the saloon conducted by Mr. Deegan. The latter considered the charge excessive and also declared the service inferior, and refused to pay the bill. Thereupon Cleator threatened to cut off the water, and Deegan ordered him not to do so, under severe penalties if he did. That is what brought Mr. Cleator before the justice. …
Cleator and a deputy, these men had started to dig down to the connection to cut off the water. When Mr. Deegan agreed to settle, Cleator and his deputy were called in. They left their tools in the hole they had dug, and while the settlement was going on these tools disappeared. … Cleator demanded the return of the tools. Mrs. Deegan was suspected … but was absolutely non-communicative when questioned. A little sleuthing, however, resulted in unearthing the tools where they had been secreted in the cellarway of the Deegan house.
The settlement was made with the understanding that Mr. Deegan will bring the matter of water service charges at Gilman before the board of county commissioners, as provided by law.” [Eagle County Blade, Nov. 21, 1907]
It was John Cleator’s obituary [Eagle Valley Enterprise, Aug. 1, 1924 p.8] that finally gives us more detail about the man.
“With the death here of John Cleator on July 30, of cancer of the stomach, Colorado loses another of the pioneer mining men who came here in the early days and helped to open up more than one mining camp.
Born on the Isle of Man October 14, 1841, he came to America seeking his fortune in 1865. He was at once attracted to the West and was among the first to go to Central City and Georgetown in this state and was one of the early comers to Gilman, where he was a respected citizen for many years. He will be buried at Glenwood Springs by the Odd Fellows, of which order he was a member.”