Dude Ranches

Starting in the late 1870s, ranchers took in guests to supplement their income during hard times.

Dude Ranches Articles

Devil's Thumb Ranch
Devil's Thumb Ranch

According to local lore, Native Americans named Devil's Thumb, a rocky outcropping that towers high above the Ranch. As legend goes, after the warring Ute and Arapahoe tribes settled their differences in the Ranch Creek Valley, they buried the devil, but left his thumb exposed to remind them of the evils of war.

Before the Trans-Continental Railroad opened up the area in 1904, a stagecoach route from Idlewild (now
Winter Park) joined the Rollins Pass route. A state station was situated east of what is now our Ranch. The road extended transversely over the Ranch where it followed the course of the existing County Road 83. The land was rich agriculturally, and was used for cattle grazing in the early 1900s.

After the railroad was introduced, settlers began moving west in search of wealth and opportunity. Many ended their journeys in the
Rocky Mountains. During this time, there were more people living in the Fraser Valley than there are today. One favorite hangout of the railroad workers was a dance hall on Black Ranch, located immediately north of Devil's Thumb Ranch.

In the 1930s, Margaret Radcliff built the original Ranch homestead and operated it as a dairy. However, it was brothers Dan, Louis, and George Yager who started Devil's Thumb Ranch as a vacation property in 1946. The Yagers incorporated the Radcliff homestead in to the Ranch facilities and the original building exists today as the Ranch House Saloon.

The Yagers operated Devil's Thumb Ranch as both a working ranch and dude ranch until 1972. They introduced cross-country skiing in the winter of 1975-1976. Dick Taylor, a 1964 Olympic cross-country team member, designed 35 kilometers of the area's Nordic trails.

The Ranch was well known as a Nordic destination, but one without many amenities or niceties. The current owners purchased it in 2001, saving it from a group of developers who planned to fill the valley with residences and a golf course. They immediately began making improvements to the facilities, all the while impacting the land as little as possible.

Dude Ranches
Dude Ranches

Starting in the late 1870s, ranchers took in guests to supplement their income during hard times. Early adventure-seekers from the East made the long rail journey to the wilds of Middle Park in search of big game and unspoiled mountain scenery. With few accommodations available, travelers looked to frontier families for room and board. Ranchers soon discovered guests, or “dudes” as they came to be known, would pay to fix fences, ride horses, work cattle and sleep in tents....sometimes for an entire summer! Entertainment was eventually incorporated into the guest experience.

Located on the stage stop between Georgetown and Hot Sulphur Springs, William Z. Cozens was the first rancher in Grand County to provide room and board to travelers starting as early as 1874. The Lehman and Sheriff families also ran well-known turn of the century dude ranches. The years following World War I were the height of the dude ranch era. By the late 1950s, Granby had as many as ten guest ranches between Granby and Grand Lake with others scattered throughout the county. Today Grand County is still home to six dude ranches, which attract visitors from all over the world for their western charm, high-quality accommodations, horseback riding programs and superb fly fishing.

Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Western White House
Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Western White House

Dwight D. Eisenhower met and married Mamie Geneva Doud of Denver on July 1, 1916. Carl Norgren, a Doud family friend, had started spending time in the Fraser area and was enchanted by the beauty of the area and especially the Byers Peak Ranch for Boys.

By the late 1930s, Norgren partnered with Aksel Nielsen to purchase the Byers Peak Ranch.  During Eisenhower's presidency, the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver, the Byers Peak Ranch, and Lowry AFB were all known as "Western White Houses" or "Summer White Houses." There is a well known photo published in Life Magazine of Eisenhower fishing in the Fraser River with his grandson, David.

Eisenhower used his time at the Byers Peak Ranch to rest and recompose himself in the face of difficult political times. As President, Eisenhower dealt with the threats of the Cold War, a truce in Korea, the desegregation of public schools (Little Rock, AK), and the development of the "Eisenhower Doctrine" to bolster the Middle East against the threat of communism. On the domestic front, he was faced with the difficulties of dealing with the Republican Old Guard, including Senator Joseph McCarthy, who headed a subcommittee charged with the finding of communists within the government.  

Eisenhower enjoyed cooking for guests at the Ranch, fishing St. Louis Creek and having "brookies" (brook trout) for breakfast, painting, and playing golf.  On September 24, 1955 while at the Ranch, Eisenhower suffered a coronary thrombosis (heart attack) and was hospitalized at Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in Denver until November 11, 1955.  His hospital suite has now been restored and is open for limited tours.

The bulk of information about Eisenhower and the Byers Peak Ranch comes from the personal papers of Carl Norgren, which are housed at the Eisenhower Museum and Library in Abilene, KS.  The collection of correspondence from 1948-1964 covered a broad variety of topics: fishing, recreation, taxes, health matters, food, communism, reorganization of the Department of Defense, federal spending, etc. The Norgren collection valued for the details it provides concerning the hobbies and recreational pursuits of the President during his visits to Grand County between 1952 and 1957.

Squeaky Bob's Hotel de Hardscrabble
Squeaky Bob's Hotel de Hardscrabble

Robert L. "Squeaky Bob" Wheeler homesteaded the northern end of the Kawuneeche Valley in 1907, setting up his tent camp at the base of Shipler Mountain.  He called his accommodations Squeaky Bob's Hotel de Hardscrabble.  He was one of many guest lodge operators who catered to the leisure traveler seeking relaxation through recreation.  These vacations were quite rustic, especially by today's standards. At least two guests at a time were asked to share lumpy beds. The sheets were said to be "refreshed" with talcum powder rather than changed and laundered.  The outhouses were stocked with mail order catalogs rather than toilet paper.

Despite these conditions, Squeaky Bob was very successful and his hotel hosted famous travelers from all over, including President Theodore Roosevelt. Squeaky Bob was known for entertaining his visitors with amazing tales and witty yarns.

Articles to Browse

Topic: Biographies

Eduard Berthoud

Born in Geneva, Switzerland, Eduard Louis Berthoud (pronounced "Bare-too") came to the United States with his parents in 1830. His childhood was spent in New York State along the Mohawk River.
 

After completing a degree in engineering at Union College in Schenectady, he spent a lifetime supporting the great western movement. In 1860, Berthoud came to the Rocky Mountains with the Gold Rush. During the 40 years between 1850-1890, Berthoud contributed greatly to the expanding west through his experiences as a young surveyor on the Panama Railroad, the linking of Leavenworth, KS to the Rocky Mountains, and his survey and exploration of a transcontinental road through Colorado's Middle Park.

 

As a Coloradoan, Edward Berthoud (his name now "Americanized) also lead surveys for railroads to booming mining camps in Gilpin County, Georgetown, Leadville and San Juan County. Berthoud's legacy includes his pioneer survey of Berthoud Pass and  wagon road through Middle Park into Utah.  In addition to his work as a surveyor, Berthoud also helped create the School of Mines and often taught there.  He also was involved in various political positions from territorial legislator to Golden's Mayor. He collected natural history specimens for eastern museums that even today are considered extremely valuable. 

The Ute Legend of Grand Lake

A group of Utes were camping on the shores of Grand Lake when they were suddenly attacked by an enemy tribe of the Arapaho (and in some versions the Cheyenne as well).  As the brave Ute warriors began fighting, the women and children were hurried onto a large raft for safety and pushed to the middle of the lake.  As the battle continued, a treacherous wind overturned the raft and all the women and children were drowned. Many Ute warriors were also killed during the fighting. 

The legend holds that you can still see ghostly forms in the morning mist rising from the lake and hear the wailing of the lost women and children beneath the winter ice.  The Utes avoided the lake for many years because of these tragic events and evil spirits.

Topic: Water

Onahu Creek

Onahu Creek was called Fish Creek and is a tributary of the North Fork of the Colorado River. The name refers to one of the Indian race horses who came up to a campfire to warm himself, and the name means “warms himself“.  The horse ultimately died on Fish Creek and gave his name to the waterway.

Topic:

Irving Hale's Adventures in Grand County

Article contributed by Abbott Fay

At the age of 17, Irving Hale was the first graduate of the Denver Hugh School in 1878. That summer, he and his younger brother decided to go to Grand Lake to catch trout with the plan to sell the fish in Central City and make a tidy profit.

 

On July 5th, they camped atop of Berthoud Pass, building a "roaring fire to keep mosquitoes away".  The next day, they reached Cozens Ranch (stage stop in what is now Winter Park) but their jackass, carrying much of their supplies, had wandered off.  They feared that he had returned to Georgetown, where they had purchased him earlier in the week, but they found him grazing in a nearby pasture.

 

They almost drowned attempting to cross the Fraser River but finally found their way to Grand Lake on July 9th.  There, they camped and fished and collected enough trout for their return trip to Central City.  On the way back, the fish started to smell so they found some ice and started over the Continental Divide.  They realized they wouldn't make much money so were happy to sell their rotting trout for 25 cents per 10 pounds.  On July 25th they shot a deer and had a terrible time trying to skin it and cut up the meat.  Discouraged, they finally returned home to Central City.

 

Irving Hale was given an appointment to West Point and during his career he rose to the rank of Brigadier General. He was given command of troops in combat in the Philippines following the Spanish-American War. As Colorado's first combat general, he retired to Denver in 1906, and published his experiences as a youth in  "A Tramp Through Middle Park".

 

When the World War II cold weather camp was established near Leadville Colorado, it was named after Irving Hale. Many of the ski and mountaineering troops, the Tenth Mountain Division, became the founders of many of the modern ski areas of Colorado.  

 

Sources:

Rocky Mountain News, April 15, 1888

Sons of Colorado, Vol. I, 3&, 1906

Fay, Abbott; A History of Skiing in Colorado; Ouray, CO; 2002

 

Topic: Mining

Lulu City

A popular hiking trail in Rocky Mountain National Park leads to the site of the historic mining town of Lulu City.  When precious metals were discovered there in 1879, as many as 500 prospectors showed up.  When the mines played out four years later, they departed in haste for other promising boom towns.

Lulu City was named for the daughter of Benjamin Franklin Burnett, one of the town founders. At its height, the town had a hotel, post office, and a justice of the peace.  It was served three times a week by a state coach from Fort Collins, on the other side of the Continental Divide.

There were probably ten saloons which drew customers from various mines in the area, such as the Rustic, Friday Nite, Tiger, Carbonate and Southern Cross.  These yielded low grade gold, silver and lead but the remote location of the Lulu made the cost to process the metals so high that efforts were soon abandoned.  The closest smelters were probably well over 100 wagon miles away.

One of the more remarkable characters of Lulu was "Squeaky Bob" Wheeler.  His high pitched voice was unique.  He was subject to drinking bouts, but was usually a likeable, well-behaved citizen.

After working in the mines, Squeaky Bob saved enough money to purchase a ranch south of Lulu. There he established a guest house and became famous for his cooking skills and colorful hospitality.  The current Lulu City trail runs through the site of his property, which was named the Phantom Valley Ranch.  He sold the ranch in 1926, but it continued to be a popular tourist stop until it was included in the National Park boundaries. 

Topic: True Crime

Spider House Tragedy

Nestled on a quiet lane in Old Grand Lake City sits the intricately crafted home of Warren C. and Mary O’Brien Gregg, known today as the Spider House – a testament to a remarkable woodcraftsman and his tormented wife.

Warren (Watt to his friends) was a dreamer and in the 1870s he left his first wife and a young son in Wisconsin and headed for the Colorado Territory seeking his fortune in the mines of Gilpin County.  Upon returning to Wisconsin his first wife died of fever, leaving Warren a widower with a small son.  Holding tight to his dreams of the west, Warren eventually ended up in his native Indiana where he met and married 20 year-old Mary O’Brien, in 1884.   By 1888 Warren packed his new family into a prairie schooner and headed west.  Like so many other pioneer women before her, Mary bore a child along the trail, a second son whose short life would send Mary down a dark and tortured path. 

The family arrived in Middle Park late in the summer of 1888, built a small homestead on the eastern slope of the Stillwater drainage and the newborn died shortly thereafter.  Though the years would bring more children, Mary would never quite recover from the loss of her second son. They continued to scratch out a living in this harsh and isolated land, where winters were long and supplies were meager. 

Warren spent much of his time searching for game and exploring this new country. The Gregg’s moved numerous times, finally purchasing a plot of land from Old Judge Wescott on the west side of the lake.  Warren built his family an admirable house, with intricate detail and spider-like webs of wooden elements.  Despite the warmth and comfort of this new home, and the close proximity of neighbors, Mary’s depression deepened. 

Then on a sunny Sunday in 1904, while Warren was working in his woodshop and oldest son Lloyd was having Sunday dinner at Judge Westcott’s, Mary took a gun to her four remaining children and then turned the weapon on herself.  The children died instantly while Mary lingered on for four days.  The five victims of this tragedy, one girl, three boys and Mary herself are buried together in one grave in the Grand Lake Cemetery.

Warren lived in the Spider House for another 29 years. With his son Lloyd, he continued building homes and stone fireplaces.  He succumbed to heart failure in 1933.  Mary O’Brien Gregg finally found peace in the quiet grace of the little town cemetery surrounded by her children.  Almost a century later, as the tall pines whisper their mournful winter song, the Spider House still sits nestled on that quiet little lane.

Topic: Towns

Radium

The settlement of Radium, on the north bank of the Colorado River in Gore Canyon, was established in 1906, when railroad construction of the Denver and Salt Lake Railroad brought in foreign workers, typically Swedes, Greeks, and Italians. After the rail lines were built, livestock was shipped out and vegetables such as potatoes, peas, and lettuce were grown and picked at the last minute so they could be shipped while still fresh.

Originally the land was homesteaded by the Murgrage and Hoyt ranch families. Railroad passenger service during the winter months was scheduled only three times a week each way but even then, couldn’t always get through. Nonetheless, the “Try Weakly Railroad” service was better transportation than anything residents had ever had before.

The name of Radium was suggested by Harry S. Porter because of the radioactivity found in his mine. The nearby Radium Copper Mine was a large copper producer at one time.

Maintainance workers for Union Pacific, current owners of the railroad, are still based at Radium.

Topic: Biographies

Milton "Green" McQueary

"One Grand Essay" contest 2005 

It is a strange feeling one gets as you realize you are breathing your last breaths. You start to remember some of the wonderful and not so wonderful things that have happened in your life.  As I am lying on this cold ground in Phoenix, Arizona instead of my beloved land in Dexter Colorado, I start to think of my family. I miss my sweet and beautiful wife Anna whom I have had to live without for so long and realize suddenly that is has been 20 lonely years. We had an interesting life together: she and I and our 10 children.

I remember many years ago before I met Anna, when I was only 11 on the day of April 27, 1873. My family had decided to head out of Missouri with our covered wagon. It was pulled by mules and oxen and filled with all of our precious possessions, along with boxes of shot and black powder for muzzle-loading guns. Potatoes, flour, beans, coffee, salt pork, fish hooks, and of course my dog Ranger accompanied us. My father and mother, Walker Barron and Mary, my younger brothers John H., Walker Emery and my little sister Maud who was only 3 at the time were all ready as we started out early in the morning with my Uncle James Allen "Polk" and his family. We traveled until we met up with a train of about 100 other wagons heading west in search of a new home, and possibly some gold.

We had traversed across the country over the plains, streams and mountain ranges from Johnson Country Missouri to Denver, Colorado arriving on June 5th where we made camp the first night near Sloan's Lake. Then we continued moving west until my father and uncle found work at a sawmill between Golden and Idaho Springs in the town of Beaverbrook.

With the completion of the Berthoud Pass stagecoach road in 1874, my father and some friends went over the Gore Range to explore Middle Park. Then two years later on July 9, 1876, our family moved to Middle Park just two weeks after General Custer's defeat on the Little Bighorn River in Montana.

My father decided to claim squatter's rights by building a one room cabin on the bank of the Grand River near Kremmling a mere two years before we had the Ute Indian scare. After the scare my mother wanted to move to Hot Sulphur Springs where there was and established school and more people. It was there that my father purchased the Springs Hotel renaming it the McQueary House. Shortly after some success with the hotel, my father purchased a home along the Willow Creek near Windy Gap.

I remember the day I had met my love, Anna Rebecca Kemmerer. She was so sweet that we married quickly on May 6 1884. In February of 1885 my first son Frederick was born followed by Clayton Henry two year later, and Harry Senator two years after that. However, Harry was not to be with us long and we lost him in August of 1892. Nevertheless, life goes on we were blessed with another son Ralph Grant who was born in August of 1892, followed by Myrtle Grace in 1894 and Chester William in 1896.

With our ever-increasing family, Anna and I purchased the 160-acre Frank Adam's homestead adjoining my father's home on Willow Creek where we would have room to grow and my children could enjoy the company of my parents. Just before Chester was born, I applied for a coveted appointment as postmaster and wanted to locate a post office on Gold Run, naming it the "Willows Post Office." On September 25, 1896, the US postal department did let us open a post but decided but renamed it Dexter instead. We had expected a mining boom along the Willow Creek and thought a town would be built around our post office and homes.

I remember when Ike Alden had found gold along the creek and sent it down to Georgetown to have it assayed. He found out that it was estimated to be worth about $1,700.00 to the ton, which is where the name Gold Run came from. But our peaceful valley did not prosper as we had hoped and the town was never built so we turned to ranching instead. We had four more children Gertrude Mildred, Robert Melvin, Mary Frances and lastly Ada Rebecca who was born in 1904.

During those years in my blacksmiths shop, I made wagons, repaired some of my neighbor's equipment and farm machinery. We had thought that a stagecoach line would bring the mail on a regular basis but it was really just a freight line. Anyone who wanted to could ride it and some of the passengers who used it were welcome to stay for a meal at the Dexter Ranch. There were two cabins across the road, which used for guest or tourists, mostly fisherman, but a place for anyone to sleep.

In 1905, the first train reached Granby and many of the ranchers of North Park would travel to the depot via Dexter and stay, purchase hay and join us for some meals. I was somewhat handy with carpentry and had built a large round table, which was a little unusual but very practical. I had fashioned it with pegs around a lazy Susan. I remember now at supper one time a guest of ours was helping himself to some food from a dish when someone asked him what the matter was. He was holding the dish in his hand and looked befuddled. He answered, "I forgot where I got this," We all laughed at his little dilemma. It makes me smile now thinking how wonderful the food was and how lovely my Anna looked when she laughed.

We built a schoolhouse made out of log in Dexter. Using our horses we created a log skid trail, dragging log after log until we had enough for a 16, or was it 18 by 20 foot building. Years later the children would still climb the skid trail with their skis and ski down during their recess.

Sometimes we would have dances at the schoolhouse and we would push all of the desks back against the wall and play old-time pieces. I liked to play my fiddle with a few of my other friends. Roy Curtis, and Andy Eairheart and sometimes my cousin Dick would call out square dances.

I also remember what a great time everyone would have as they danced when we played at the Grand County Winter Sports Carnival Grand Ball. Although the Carnival was held in Hot Sulphur Springs the last two days of December, we all headed over to participate and watch the skating, tobogganing and skiing. One year my son Robert who was a member of the Commercial Club went to Denver to represent us in the National Ski Association meet there and the following year he went to Steamboat.

As time went, on my daughter, Myrtle Grace met and married Charles Everhart and I had my first granddaughter Violet. I remember that as Violet became older she loved to play in my Blacksmith shop. I told her "If you play with my tools put them back where you got them". She was an obedient child and did as I asked so I never minded her coming in and playing with the bellows. She would get some scrap iron and place it in the fire until it was red-hot and then put it into the tempering barrel. She just loved to hear that sizzling sound. It makes me smile to think about that now as I start to shiver in this darkness and evening begins to approach.

I am struggling to stay awake hoping someone will help me get out of this place as memories of my other granddaughter Gertrude Jane come to my mind. She did not like the name Gertrude Jane because her mothers name was Gertrude Mildred, and everyone called her mother Gertie. She did not want to be called Gertie too; she preferred to be called by her middle name Jane instead. She would tell me what an interesting man I was and that she loved my blue eyes.

My little Jane is 17 years old already. But I guess I won't be celebrating her eighteenth birthday or the birthdays of any of other grandchildren now. I feel myself falling deeper and deeper into darkness and know that my Anna is waiting for me. I see a light now and my blue eyes are starting to tear.  As I walk towards the light I see my Anna is holding out her had for me to grasp. How wonderful my life has been and how I have enjoyed my journey. Now it is time for us to go home.

Topic: Regions

The Muddy

The Muddy Creek Valley, on the western edge of Grand County, has a rich history, mostly based on ranching. It became something of a multi-cultural region, attracting French, Greek, Belgian, British, Dutch, Austrian, Swiss, German and Jewish settlers.  There were also dozens of homesteading families that came from eastern Colorado and Mid-West America.

The known prehistory of the Muddy Creek area extends back 10,000 years at a kill site for bison on Twin Peaks, which separates the Muddy from the Troublesome Creek drainages. 

Among the early settlers in the region were the Ed Pinney family who has a ranch near the summit of Gore Pass.  As the boundary between Grand and Routt County was not well defined, Ed paid his taxes to whichever county had the lowest rate in any given year.  After the railroad arrived at Kremmling, a stage coach route to Topanos, west of Gore Pass, was started.  At first the Pinney Ranch was designated a lunch stop, and then an overnight stop.  In 1906, the Pinneys' built a big house that could accommodate up to 40 people, two to a room.

One of the many notable ranches was that of Fred and Myrtle DeBerard.  Their Park Ranch included 20,000 acres, and they ran over 1600 registered Herefords.  Fred was instrumental in the creation of four reservoirs in the region.

Another prominent early rancher was Frenchman Alfred Argualer, who first came to hunt the region but returned to establish the May-Be-So Ranch.  He continued developing properties from 1880 until 1911 when he sold his ranch on the Muddy to Nick "Turk" Constantine.

A significant rancher of the 20th century was Walter "Wad" Hinnan, who served form 1966-7 as President of the Colorado Cattlemen's Association and as Director of the National Western Stock Show in Denver.  He was instrumental in breaking the barrier between cattlemen and sheep growers by showing that both enterprises could be complimentary and profitable.  Wad also represented Grand County in the Colorado Legislature from 1968 to 1982.

At one time in the early 1920's there was a sanatorium for World War I veterans who had been disabled by mustard gas.  The lower Muddy was the site of an ice house which supplied refrigeration for fruit shipments out of Grand Junction and Palisade, Colorado.  German prisoners of war were used to cut the ice during World War II.

A unique innovation resulted from the widespread ranching families.  In 1935, the schoolhouse was put on sled runners so that it could be taken to which ever ranch had the most children for that season.  It was moved in the winter as the school terms were held during the summer.  It was moved three times between 1931 and 1939 and was probably the only mobile schoolhouse of that era.  

Topic: Biographies

David Moffat and the Railroad Dream

David Moffat was a wealthy Denver businessman who saw the need for a rail link between Denver and Salt Lake City. His vision, a 6.2 mile long tunnel beneath the Continental Divide, made this link possible.

He was born in 1839, the youngest of 8 children. He ran away from home at age of 12, went to New York City and found work as a bank messenger.  He was an assistant teller by the age of 16 and  became a millionaire through real estate by the age of 21. 

Moffat was admired for his qualities of courage, adaptation to the “barbaric” West and his goodness of heart. He married his childhood sweetheart, Francis Buckhout, moved to Denver, and in 1860 opened a bookstore/stationary/drug store with C.C. & S.W. Woolworth on the corner of 11th and Larimer.  

Moffat and others formed the Denver Pacific Railroad to reach Cheyenne. The rail line to the Moffat Tunnel was the highest standard railroad ever built in the U.S. (11,660 ft). It went over the Continental Divide at Rollins Pass and came into the Fraser Valley in 1904. At the time, it was the most difficult railroad engineering and construction project ever undertaken. It involved boring numerous tunnels through solid granite, as well as constructing precarious timbered trestles that bridged deep mountain gorges. 

David Moffat was a multi-millionaire when he started the Moffat Line and was nearly broke when he died in 1911 trying to raise money for the tunnel that would eventually be built and bear his name. It was finally completed in 1928. The west portal of the Moffat Tunnel can be seen from the Winter Park Resort.

 

Dude Ranches