Intended as a way to irrigate nearby farmland, Two Buttes Dam was built in 1909–10 on Two Buttes Creek, about seventeen miles northeast of Springfield. The resulting reservoir did not irrigate much land and was better used as a site for hunting, fishing, boating, and swimming. In 1970 the reservoir was sold to the Game, Fish, and Parks Department (now Colorado Parks and Wildlife), which continues to administer it within the Two Buttes State Wildlife Area.
The idea of damming Two Buttes Creek in Baca County to irrigate the surrounding land was first floated by settlers to the area in the 1880s. Nothing was done at the time, but the idea persisted. In the early twentieth century, after the Federal Desert Land Act (or Carey Act) of 1894 promised subsidies to help irrigation projects in the arid West, engineer Fred Harris and the Two Buttes Irrigation and Reservoir Company made the idea a reality. A civil engineer named W. D. Purse did surveying work for a dam and reservoir in 1906–8, and in April 1909 the US Department of the Interior approved the plan. By that time the reservoir company had already convinced two Chicago firms to finance the dam.
In October 1909 contracts for construction were awarded to H. M. McDowell for the irrigation canals and to Dennis Gibbons for the dam. The dam was to be an earthen structure with a concrete core set on the bedrock and anchored to rock walls on both sides. The canal system was planned with a twenty-three-mile main canal crossed by laterals and branches that carried water to farmers willing to pay $35 per acre for water rights.
The project faced several delays. Gibbons was fired for not working quickly enough, causing the reservoir company to take over construction of the dam. Exceptionally hot weather during the summer of 1910 led to high turnover in the workforce, and torrential rains in August damaged the irrigation ditches. The dam and canal system were finally completed on November 26, 1910. Initially estimated at $268,200, the final cost of the project climbed to $695,000.
Meanwhile, the town of Two Buttes was established in 1909 as a trading center for the farms that would develop on land irrigated by the reservoir. It soon had a hotel, restaurant, bank, and newspaper, and was formally incorporated in 1911. At its height, the town’s population reached 2,000.
The reservoir never irrigated as much land as its backers hoped. They originally thought the reservoir would provide water for 22,000 acres. The amount of water proved inadequate, and that figure was reduced to 10,000 acres. Again the plan failed, and the irrigated acreage was reduced to 3,000 acres. Those who did use the water for irrigation grew wheat, corn, sorghum, and hay.
In 1970 the irrigation company sold the dam to the Colorado Department of Game, Fish, and Parks (now Colorado Parks and Wildlife) for $1.05 million. The reservoir no longer irrigates any land. The reservoir and the land around it are now part of the Two Buttes State Wildlife Area, offering hunting, boating, and fishing. In the early 2000s the reservoir was often dry, but as of 2015 it had 700 surface acres and was well stocked with channel catfish, rainbow trout, largemouth bass, crappie, and other fish. The reservoir attracts hunters, hikers, boaters, and anglers from Baca County and neighboring states.