Straight shooter Ed Carpenter will be missed

Hayden rancher was outspoken but a gentleman

By Ellen Miller

GRAND JUNCTION — Ed Carpenter, cowboy poet and singer, and a crusty and outspoken advocate of water rights and ranching who served as the Republican state representative in House District 54 during the 1980s, has died at age 87.

Ed Carpenter

His funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 8, at the First Presbyterian Church in Grand Junction.

His passing evoked fond stories from his many legislative friends, including Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Scott McInnis, both of whom served with Carpenter in the Colorado Legislature before moving on to serve in the U.S. Congress, and Carpenter’s immediate successor in the House, Tim Foster, of Grand Junction.

“He was outspoken, even bellicose at times. But we got along well,” Campbell said from his Ignacio ranch. “It’s not like that today. Back then, it was not mean and not so partisan. With Ed, what you saw was what you got.”

Foster, who was elected to the state House in 1988 after Carpenter decided that four years in Denver was more than enough fun and resigned, said his friend, “was the kind of person who made watching politics fun.”

“You always knew exactly where Ed stood on everything,” said Foster, now president of Mesa State College. “He was a true gentleman — outspoken, but, nonetheless, a gentleman. He will be missed.”

Carpenter grew up on the family ranch near Hayden, a son of Farrington Carpenter, a man who spent a career ranching and in state politics and served as the first director of the U.S. Grazing Service, the precursor to today’s Bureau of Land Management.

At the time of grazing reform, young Ed was in his early teens and drove his father on a tour around the West to meet with cattle ranchers and sheep men who were angry about the regulation of the range. Ed Carpenter recounted those days in “America’s First Grazier, The Biography of Farrington R. Carpenter,” published in 2004.

The book tells of one meeting so tense that guns were checked at the door.

“By 1932, there were approximately two million head of cattle, seven million sheep, 150,000 head of horses and 175,000 goats grazing on about 142 million acres of federal land,” Ed Carpenter wrote in his book’s introduction. “Everyone knew that the vast range was badly overgrazed, but no one wanted to relinquish his own ability to use this resource in the face of competition from his neighbors. Plus, the quality of beef reaching the dinner table was tough and not too tasty. The livestock business teetered on the brink of extinction.”

It was Farrington Carpenter’s job to solve the dilemma.

“How he did this is one of the truly great conservation sagas of the 20th century, long before the terms ecology or renewable resources became well-known, and before professional environmental groups were born,” Carpenter wrote about his father. “He did it by inspiring the ranchers themselves to become the saviors of the West.”

Years later, Ed and his surviving siblings donated the family’s ranch near Hayden to the Nature Conservancy to prevent development on the property, which is hard by the Yampa River — where the family revolutionized the bull-breeding business with Herefords. The key condition of the donation was that the land be operated as a working ranch in perpetuity.

Carpenter, a graduate of Stanford University who spent most of a career in civil engineering in California before returning to his native state in the 1970s, embraced politics, becoming a respected Republican who represented Grand Junction’s House District 54 from 1984 to 1988.

He served with McInnis, who said upon Carpenter’s death that he’d lost a friend, longtime mentor and supporter.

“But we went at it about engineers and lawyers,” said McInnis, an attorney. “He thought the biggest impediment to the world was lawyers, so I told him at the microphone one day that he better be headed for heaven, and I was sure he would be, because the other place would be filled with lawyers.”

“Ed gets right up to the mic and said, ‘If I get there with the lawyers, I’ll make sure they have a tougher time than I will,’” McInnis said. “Ed was sharp, gruff, and he had the heart of a mountain.”

Former state Sen. Tillie Bishop, R-Grand Junction, recalled when Carpenter sponsored a rewrite and updating of state statutes governing surveys — “something that hadn’t been done since statehood. He had me carry it in the Senate and, boy, did that stir up a can of worms.

“But Ed got his way, and his civil engineering background was quite valuable,” Bishop said. “We were never in any doubt where Ed stood on any issue.”

Former state Sen. Dave Wattenberg, R-Walden, and Carpenter were notorious for their practical jokes, most pulled on each other. The two men had much in common.

“Ed came from a ranching background, and both of us had that heritage,” Wattenberg said. “With him in the House and me in the Senate, we got a lot done. When he got excited, it was full speed ahead.”

Wattenberg said the Carpenters developed purebred Herefords and most were sold at what had become a famous annual bull auction, but all along, “Ed didn’t want that ranch developed. And it won’t be.”

Former state Reps. Gayle Berry and Matt Smith, both Grand Junction Republicans whose tenure in the Legislature came later, credited Carpenter for mentoring both of them.

“He told it like it was, not politically correct, just straight,” Berry said. “He did what he thought was right, and he didn’t care who he took out after. I miss the straight style. We don’t see it anymore.”

“His understanding of water still amazes me today,” Smith said. “His engineering background served him well, and he was a wonderful storyteller. Ed was a very humble person with an extraordinary sense of humor.”

Carpenter is survived by his wife, Martha, of Grand Junction; sons Dan, of Salt Lake City, and John, of Washington; daughters Amy Sanford of Portland, Ore., Jan Bradford, of Golden, and Jean Butcher, of Colorado Springs; one brother, Willie Carpenter, of Denver; one sister, Roz Garcia, of Hayden; 12 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.