Ute Bill Thompson

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, Arkansas), 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:

Water/Lakes/Reservoirs

Grand County is home to the headwaters of the famed Colorado River - the river that brings water to five other arid Western states.  Water is the lifeblood of semi-arid Colorado and Grand County is one of the most water-rich areas of Colorado, and yet faces a shortage due to historical water agreements, written long before population pressures and the environmental awareness of the current age.  On average, the water diversion projects in the county move a whopping 305,000 acre-feet per year from the Fraser, Colorado and Williams Fork rivers - all headwaters of the Colorado's main stem.

60 percent of the water in Grand County is diverted elsewhere and there are plans underway, mostly from Front Range communities, to divert as much as 80 percent of the county's headwaters by the year 2010.  Two of the main water utilities, Denver Water and the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District face a quandary: how to take the water from Grand County without further damaging the delicate environment and the region's economy, which is fueled by tourists who expect to play in the very water the Front Range wants to take.


More on water issues in Grand County

Topic: Biographies

Redwood Fisher

Article contributed by Corinne Lively

There were two Redwood Fishers, grandfather and grandson, who made significant contributions to the development of the Grand Lake area. 

One of the earliest pioneers was the senior Redwood “Woody” Fisher, born in Urbana, IL in 1839.  He learned surveying skills in New Jersey, and received a degree in Civil Engineering in New York City, where he met his future wife, Louise Perrenoud.  He arrived in Denver in June 1860 and borrowed money to purchase his first surveying instruments.  His bride to be, her two sisters and widowed father arrived in Denver in July 1862 in a mule drawn ambulance. They had traveled for six weeks from Omaha to deliver the vehicle which was used as an ambulance and hearse.  The first marriage license in Denver was issued to Woody and Louise, and their wedding took place May 6, 1865. 

The day after his marriage to Louise, Woody joined General Hughes and E.L. Berthoud as Chief Surveyor in building the wagon road from Denver to Provo, Utah over Berthoud Pass.  The expedition followed a route laid out by Jim Bridger. 

Woody held the offices of Denver city and county surveyor and county commissioner.  He was foreman of Hook and Ladder Co. #1, and helped fight many Denver fires. 

In May 1870, Woody was killed attempting to stop a runaway team of horses at the corner of California and 14th Streets.  While trying to save the lives of several children, he fell and the wagon wheels ran over him.  Woody left his wife with three children, Louise, Charles and Ella.  He is buried in Riverside Cemetery.

Redwood must have spoken in glowing terms about his time in Grand County since his son Charles, only two when his father was killed, spent most of his life near Grand Lake, built a summer home on the North Inlet below the Rapids Lodge, purchased 160 acres on the east side of the Colorado River from the Fred Selak estate.  He died here in August 1945.  Charles and his wife Sara had a son in May 1907, whom they named Redwood.

The junior Redwood “Red” Fisher also spent most of his life in the Grand Lake area.  He was an early Park ranger and helped stock many of the high lakes on horseback.  After his marriage to Helen Schultz in 1928 he started ranching below the present Shadow Mountain dam on land purchased from Mrs. Cairns.  He later acquired the 7V/ on Stillwater Creek.  He was President of the Colorado Dude Ranch Association in 1947 and traveled to conventions in Chicago and elsewhere promoting Colorado’s guest ranches with displays of fancy roping and riding.  His own dude ranch, Fisherancho, was on the land below Shadow Mountain Dam and served guests until the 1950s.  The barn still stands, and is now part of the Arapahoe Recreation Area. 

Sources:
Lela McQueary, Widening Trails, World Press, 1962
Middle Park Times, August 12, 1945 and May 6, 1993
Colorado Families: A Territorial Heritage, CO Geneological Society, 1981
Brand Book, Middle Park Stock Growers Assn.
BLM General Land Office Records
Conversations with local decendant Toots Cherrington


Topic: Dude Ranches

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.

Topic: Towns

Kremmling

Kremmling started as a general mechandise store, owned by Rudolph (or Kare) Kremmling, on the ranch of Dr. Harris, located on the north bank of the Muddy River. In 1888, John and Aaron Kinsey had part of their ranch platted, calling the site Kinsey City. Kremmling moved his store across the river from the new site and the town that subsequently developed became known as Kremmling. There was a post office established at Kremmling as early as 1885 and the town was incorporated in 1904. 

The Middle Park Fair was established here in 1912. Famous Western Novelist Zane Grey spent time in Kremmling and, as a result, wrote "Mysterious Rider" in which the area is shown as a classic Western setting.

During World War II the town was the location of a prisoner of war camp where German prisoners cut ice that was shipped by rail to other locations.

The local ranching industry, the presence of the railroad and its strategic location at the confluence of the Colorado River, the Blue River, and Muddy Creek made Kremmling a natural location for a town, which still retains the “Old West“ atmosphere.

Topic: Water

Colorado-Big Thompson Project

The idea of diverting water from the Colorado River on the Western Slope of the Continental Divide to the productive farmlands of the eastern plains had been a dream of planners as early as 1929.  Subsequently,  a long period of drought and the sagging economy of the “Great Depression” whetted demands for what became the largest trans-mountain diversion project ever built.

The Colorado-Big Thompson Project takes water from Grand Lake on the western side of the Continental Divide to the Big Thompson River on the east.  The water flows through a 13 mile tunnel beneath Rocky Mountain National Park.  In order to supply the residential and farming needs of Northeastern Colorado, the project was begun in 1938 and continued through the years of World War II.  The first water flowed though the tunnel, named for Senator Alva B. Adams, on June 23, 1947.

In order to assure an adequate supply from Grand Lake, a dam was built creating Shadow Mountain Reservoir.  A larger lake, Granby Reservoir was then built below, with a unique pumping plant that forces water into Shadow Mountain.  The Farr Pumping Plant cost over $9 million and provides an additional 700,000 of irrigated land to northeastern Colorado.  Further reservoirs were added, both to supplement the diversion and to compensate the water needs of Western Colorado.  These include Willow Creek and Windy Gap Reservoirs in Grand County.

While most legislators were enthusiastic about the project, U.S. Representative Edward Taylor was vehemently opposed to the reduction of water flowing down the Colorado River.  A compromise was reached in the creation of Green Mountain Reservoir (on the Blue River), which reserves water to replenish the Colorado River.   The city of Denver later claimed upstream water on the Blue River for the massive diversion project of Dillon Reservoir

Claims on the water of the Colorado River range from the fruit and wine regions of the Grand Valley in Colorado all the way to Los Angeles and Mexico.  It can be said that every snowflake which falls in Western Colorado had already been over-appropriated, especially during drought periods in the arid West.

Topic:

Biographies

From Indians and explorers to doctors and developers, click on the drop-down menus to learn about some of the remarkable people who helped shape Grand County.

Topic: Towns

Fraser

The origin of Fraser was in 1905 and it was incorporated in 1953. It was formerly known as Eastom, for George Eastom, who laid out the town site in 1871. The spelling of Fraser was originally Frazier, after Reuben Frazier. The town came into being because it was the site of a large sawmill and was a railroad terminus for the lumbering operation.

While Fraser was generally considered to be an isolated mountain outpost, at one point there was enough cultural interest to support a local opera house.  Fraser was the location of a weather station for several years and during that time it was not uncommon for the winter temperatures to be 45 to 50 degrees below zero; one Fraserite remembers a morning when it was 60 degrees BELOW zero. Thus the town earned the nickname “Icebox of the Nation.” After a legal battle, that offical title went to a town in Minnesota.

A transcontinental motor route dubbed the Midland Trail came through Grand County and by 1913 a Ford sales agency was located outside of Fraser on the 4 Bar 4 Ranch. Avid fly fisherman President Eisenhower was a frequent visitor between 1948 and 1955.

Topic: Towns

Granby

Granby was settled in 1904 and incorporated the next year. The town was created along the railroad line being built by Denver, Northwestern & Pacific, and was a connection with the stage route to Grand Lake. The Granby site was also chosen because of the dry ground and and good view of the surrounding mountains.

The town was named in appreciation of the services of Denver attorney Granby Hillyer, who worked to lay out the town site. Its central location makes it a natural trade center for east Grand County. Specialty truck farming, principally lettuce, became a major crop for Granby. At the peak of the market, the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City proudly advertised Granby Head Lettuce on its menus. Later, after WW II, Granby was called the “Dude Ranch Capital of the World.” Today the town offers a mix of recreational amenities and residential charm.

Topic: Monarch

Monarch: Grand County's City of Atlantis

Monarch, now a picturesque lake for meandering around on a pleasant summer day, was once a bustling town, the home of the Monarch Consolidated Gold and Copper Mining and Smelting Company, and the rail head of the Rocky Mountain Railroad.  The life of this little company town and railroad was very short lived and now nearly forgotten. 

Boulder business men T.S. Waltemeyer, and Frank and Charles A. Wolcott heard about traces of gold, silver, and mostly copper at the junction of the Arapahoe Creek and the South Fork of the Colorado River.  In 1905 they established the Monarch Consolidated Gold and Copper Mining and Smelting Company and built their company on the assumption that a major belt of minerals extended east through the Continental Divide.  The Monarch Company consisted of several subsidiary companies including lumber companies, an "investment" company, an exploration company, and a development company.  The main objective of the company was to mine metal ores, but supplement it with timber and build a railway to benefit the whole corporation. 

The company had 1740 acres of placer and lode claims; the main mines were the Copper King, Copper Queen, Omaha, Ella C., and High Lonesome. The Monarch Company shipped heavy machinery by flatbed cars to Granby on the new Moffat Road.  They then put an ad in the paper asking for bids to haul heavy machinery 16 miles from Granby to Monarch.  The machinery included "5 boilers (eight and a quarter tons each), one engine (over eleven tons), one flywheel (6 tons), other machinery (from 1 to 5 tons), a carload of nails, and several hundred pounds of miscellaneous supplies."  The task of hauling the heavy equipment was made especially difficult by mud-holes and bridges not made for heavy loads.  Denver hauling companies refused to take on the job and one Swedish logging company from Wyoming abandoned the challenge after the first wagonload stuck in a mud-hole.

Finally Dick McQueary agreed to move the machinery.  To accomplish the job, McQueary purchased several hundred feet of hardwood planks in Denver, 3 inch thick, sixteen inches wide and twelve feet long.  Accompanying the heavy pieces up the mountain was a "4 horse team hauling hardwood plank, a 4 horse team pulling six inch pine poles, 10 feet long, and a four horse team pulling two ton large nails".   The crew built temporary bridges across mud-holes by laying pine poles 3 feet apart with hardwood planks laid across the poles.  2 light loads were driven across to test bridge followed by the heavy load pulled by 12 head horses.  Finally the planks and poles were pulled up to be used at the next mud-hole.  The heavy machinery was hauled in 2 weeks.

Construction on the Rocky Mountain Railway, a standard-gauge line from Granby to Monarch, began in 1907.  The 16 mile line was completed by Thanksgiving.  There were hopes of someday extending the line to Grand Lake for resort passengers and eventually a line to Walden in North Park.  The Denver and Northwest Railroad Company helped survey the line by lending J.J. Argo's services.  Dick McQueary was once again brought in to grade the road bed between the Monarch mill and Granby.  Most of the workers on the railroad were Japanese, Bulgarian, Hungarian, and Austrian day laborers from an employment agency in Denver.  The laborers were paid $2 a day, (plus a fifteen cent fee for their interpreter).

Once the railway was completed and in operation it issued passenger tickets.  However, the company never published a schedule.  Neither did the company hire a full train crew to run their single locomotive.  To meet regulations for switching service on Moffat tracks in Granby, the Rocky Mountain Railroad took on board a couple of interested bystanders.  At gates crossing ranch properties fireman Leo Algier would simply jump off the train to open the gate and close it after the train had crossed through before hopping back on the train.  Ranching families on the line were allowed to catch rides on the train when it passed through or to request package drop-offs. 

The Monarch Company created Monarch Lake by damming the valley, at the junction of Arapahoe Creek and South fork of the Colorado River, for use with the saw mill and the box factory. A 2800 foot long chute carried tree trunks down the hillside to the lake where they hit the water and could bounce up to 50 ft high.  Then a stern-wheel steamer pushed logs into a system of canals and flumes that led down to the saw mill and box factory. 

The town of Monarch included employee housing, business offices, a post office, and an assembly hall.  Dick McQueary helped haul sawlogs to mill and haul materials for building employee housing in Monarch.  Grand County's first hydro-electric generator was in Monarch.  The waterworks system was created by piping water from the falls at Mad Creek and had pressure up to 300 lbs per inch. 

Even thought the mining company never produced more than $150 a year, the owners continued to promote the business to stockholders and they were able to keep the business running by through their enthusiasm for the project.  During the summer, stockholders were invited to visit Monarch, tour the site, and hear lectures on the operation.  The tour often included a visit to a spruce tree named "Monarch" that was seven feet in diameter.  So, while business might not have been booming, enthusiasm and interest from stockholders was.  

The last piece of Monarch to be constructed was the box factory in 1907.  Unfortunately the factory only operated for 2 or 3 months before it suffered a fire and was totally destroyed.  Robert Black in Island in the Rockies stated that the questionable promotions of Monarch would have been forgiven if the box factory had developed into a solid operation. 

Soon after the fire, a disagreement between management and labor resulted in the entire work force being fired.  For several months the Rocky Mountain Railroad operated the train with one man who acted as engineer, fireman, brakeman and conductor. The company hired Dick McQueary as general manager until fall the fall of 1907 when stockholders discovered the true state of the company and declared bankruptcy.   Stockholders and the community were convinced that the whole company had been created as stock-selling scheme.

Although the Monarch Company and the Rocky Mountain Railroad were no longer in business, the railway continued to be used for a number of years.  For example, Ed McDonald, dude rancher, put a Cadillac touring car on flanged iron wheels to carry mail, supplies, and guests to his ranch.  The center of town was preserved and developed by the Dierks as a summer resort called Ka Rose, after Katherine Rose Dierks, after the owner's daughter.   In 1912 the rail line was used for transporting fisherman along the river by Ernest F. Behr, a former Colorado and Southern engineman.  Finally, in 1918 the rails were sold to a junk dealer in Denver to satisfy the World War I need for scrap metal. 

Currently, the town, mill site, and box factory lay under the waters of Lake Granby and are inaccessible, except in years of draught.  However, there are a couple of remaining pieces at Monarch Lake that are still visible.  On the south side of the lake, near the water's edge, is a boiler that was used to yard logs into a chute and shoots the logs into a holding pond.  Also, the flume still runs down the hillside into the lake.  The trail around Monarch Lake takes hikers directly under the flume.

Wheatley Family of the Troublesome

Forrest Wheatley was born in Chicago in 1875 and his brother George R. was born 6 years later.  Their parents were English immigrants, William and Mary.  The family moved to Denver in 1887 where William pursued his trade of upholstering carriages.

 After Forrest returned from service in the Spanish American War in 1900, he and George decided to establish homesteads of 160 acres each on the East Fork of Troublesome Creek. When the expansion of the National Forest land limited the growth of their holdings, they moved to Muddy Creek to the west and ran their operation there until 1929.  They continued to purchase additional homesteads on the Troublesome.

 The brothers had a disagreement so Forrest and his wife Ida remained on the Muddy while George moved back to the Troublesome.  He sold the original claims high on the East Fork.  Later he married his neighbor, Bessie Sampson, and they moved back to the Muddy Creek basin and had five children; George, Douglass, Kenneth, Maidie and Gene.  Gene drowned in an irrigation ditch while still a young child.

Through purchases and marriages, the Wheatley descendents eventually owned property throughout western Grand County and as far north as the Yampa River Valley.
 

Dude Ranches