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Soule's Folly

In the fall of 1882, a couple of brothers from Spearville came up with a scheme to make drought-stricken southwest Kansas blossom. They proposed a vast irrigation system to divert the Arkansas River. And to finance the venture, they turned to a millionaire from their hometown of Rochester, New York.

Asa T. Soule, known worldwide as the Hops Bitter King, had made a fortune peddling a patent elixir made with bitters, hops, and alcohol, guaranteed to "cure what ails ya." Soule enthusiastically entered into the project, and into the free wheeling politics of the newly settled region. He founded the town of Ingalls and to insure it as the Gray County seat, he built a bogus railroad. His other exploits included arming men to raid the town of Cimarron and investing in Dodge City land to take advantage of the growth Soule was sure would come with successes of irrigation. His main interest lay in the profits to be made from the Eureka Irrigation Canal Company. It took two years to dig the 96-mile canal that snaked up the north side of the Arkansas River through Gray and Ford Counties. Soule paid farmers working during their off seasons $1.50 a day, $2.50 if they brought their own team. But problems beset the huge ditch shortly after it was completed. The diversion dam flooded out, and canal water seeped through the porous soil. The most plaguing was the erratic flow of the Arkansas River often left the ditch dry.

Within five years the grand dream became known as Soule's Folly, though by that time he had sold it to foreign investors. Over the years the canal changed hands a number of times but never became a profitable venture. Yet in the 1880s, the Eureka Irrigation Canal and miles of other ditches in southwest Kansas lured homesteaders who established enduring settlements. The scheme also began the common use of irrigation that still remains vital to the region.

Today, outlines of the canal zigzag along the Arkansas River serve as a lasting reminder of the Hops Bitter King, and his dream of making southwest Kansas "bloom like a rose."

Entry: Soule's Folly

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: November 2004

Date Modified: June 2011

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.