Colorado’s nineteenth Attorney General, Victor E. Keyes, was born on January 16, 1879 in Oneonta, New York. He came to Colorado in 1898 and attended preparatory school in Boulder. He then completed a two-year course of study at the Teachers College (now the University of Northern Colorado). He also received an A. B. and M. A. degree from Colorado College. He served as a principal in a school in Fairplay, Colorado for two years before receiving his juris doctorate from the University of Chicago.
Keyes was very active in the Colorado Republican party. He was also a vice grand chancellor of the Knights of Pythius, an Elk, and a member of the Odd Fellows Lodge, Woodmen of the World, and the Presbyterian Church. He married Dora Ladd on June 27, 1909 and had three children. Prior to his election as Attorney General in 1918, Keyes had been a Deputy District Attorney in the Eighth Judicial District under George Carlsen, who in 1915 was elected Colorado’s Governor.
Keyes served two terms as Attorney General under Governor Oliver Shoup. In his first term his legal staff consisted of one Deputy and six Assistants. Charles Roach remained the Deputy Attorney General. His staff also included five tax appraisers and investigators. Keyes’ attention was largely focused on the many interstate water cases which were pending. Nineteen-nineteen was also the year Colorado imposed a one cent per gallon sales tax on gasoline as a means of funding much needed highway construction. The Colorado Department of Transportation would be created two years later.
After Keyes won reelection in 1920, he began to focus considerable attention to controversies surrounding the Colorado River. The League of the Southwest had formulated a plan for the development of the Colorado River Basin and both the upper and lower basin states were concerned by what was transpiring. The Attorney General reported to Governor Shoup that the importance of full utilization of the Colorado River for irrigation purposes could not be too strongly emphasized and a comprehensive cooperative plan should be carefully considered. This led to the Colorado River Compact of 1922.
Keyes was also involved in a dispute with New Mexico involving the official boundary line between the states. New Mexico filed a suit alleging that a 1902 survey by Howard B. Carpenter was the true boundary line between the states and a considerable portion of southern Colorado actually belonged to New Mexico. Attorney General Keyes, on the basis of extensive research by his office, confidently predicted victory. He was right. Following oral argument in 1924, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously for Colorado.
The 1920 census indicated 940,000 people lived in Colorado. They were concerned about a variety of issues, not the least of which were transportation and prohibition. Keyes assisted the legislature in a matter of “great importance” providing for the creation of the Moffat Tunnel through the Continental Divide. Denver politicians had tried for years to secure funding for the project, only to lose because other cities in Colorado, including Pueblo, were opposed. But when Pueblo was flattened by a flood in the spring of 1922 and sustained $20 million in damage, Denver politicos said they would vote for emergency funds for Pueblo if legislators from Pueblo would vote to issue bonds for the tunnel. The tunnel would prove significant, not just because of the increased railroad traffic it brought to the Front Range, but because it also included construction of an aqueduct to supply water to Denver.
Keyes, like his predecessors, devoted considerable time reviewing prohibition related cases. There are also clear indications the Attorney General was beginning to get involved in the protection of consumers from various profiteering and fraud schemes. This would be an ever growing concern of his successors.
After completing four years as Attorney General, Victor Keyes divided his time between law practices in Greeley and Denver. Keyes died quite suddenly at his home in Greeley on June 14, 1927 from “acute penetration of the stomach caused by chronic ulcers.” He was only 48.