The cowboy and ranching lifestyle enjoyed by owners at Wilder on the Taylor was woven into the Western fabric of Gunnison County by 1880, the year both Gunnison and Crested Butte were officially established. Today, most of the wide-open vistas along Highways 50 and 135 are thanks to hardworking ranch families who have continued the lands’ early uses over the generations. The only “traffic jams” on these roads are powder days during ski season and occasional cattle drives, which are a good excuse to take a breather, watch the skill of local cowboys and admire the livestock.
Southwest Colorado Storied History
The attraction of open and unused land, a theme that runs throughout the history of the American West, provided the stimulus for the development of ranching and agriculture in southwest Colorado during the last two decades of the nineteenth century, including the land now known as Wilder on the Taylor, which was homesteaded in 1897. Fields had to be cleared and leveled and irrigation systems built to divert water from the rivers and creeks to farm the area, primarily to produce hay for local horse and cattle feed.
Colorado Cattle Industry
The livestock industry in southwest Colorado began in 1869 with the establishment of the Los Pinos Indian Agency cow camp on Tomichi Creek, just outside present-day Gunnison. To supply the agency with beef, government agents drove Texas cattle, usually longhorns, north from New Mexico, through the San Luis Valleyand over Cochetopa Pass.
Jim Kelley and Alonzo Hartman, names synonomous with the later growth of the Gunnison country’s cattle raising industry and some of the area’s first cowboys, were in charge of the cow camp and grazed the agency’s stock in the Tomichi Creek east of Gunnison and Taylor Park areas near Wilder. Southwestern Colorado became shorthorn and Hereford cattle country as they adapted better to the environment of the Western Slope. The Wilder currently has a herd of 54 Hereford cows and calves.
The arrival of rail transportation was a major boost. Gunnison became a focal point for the west central Colorado cattle industry when the first shipment of marketable steers was made on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in 1882. Hartman expanded his ranching operation on Tomichi Creek by parlaying his original homestead into one of the great ranches of the Gunnison country by 1885.
Colorado Ranching Places & Names
The areas of Ohio Creek, Cranor Hill, Taylor Park, Quartz Creek, Tomichi Creek, Cochetopa, lower Gunnison (Iola) and Crested Butte as well as Powderhorn on down to Lake City are all steeped in the history of the cattle legacy. Family names like Moore, Veltri, Hartman, Sammons, McCabe, Trampe, Easterly, Buffington, Thorton, Spann, Vader, Mergleman, Outcalt, Howard, Phelps, Redden, Irby, Field, Piloni, Eilebrechts, Esty, Rouviere, Hildebrand, Hadley, Youmans and Hollenback are all recognizable as names that shaped the course of history in the cattle industry in Gunnison County.
Names associated with the land that is now Wilder are Roper, Redden, Wolfe, Elisnore Cattle Company, Brown and Jackson-Shaw. Don and Shelly Sabrowski have been ranch managers for the property for 17 years.
For more than a century, the Gunnison Valley has celebrated cowboys, cowgirls and the Western way of life with annual demonstrations of roping, racing and riding skills between spring calving and summer haying. The 112th annual Cattlemen’s Days, July 6 – 15 in Gunnison, has grown from an annual get-together of local cowboys and cowgirls to a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event that attracts the world’s top rodeo competitors and is one of the oldest of its kind in Colorado. The event also features a county fair, parade, live music and dancing, a horse show, cowboy poetry, cowboy church and horse races.
Museum Ranching Displays
Don’t miss stopping by the Pioneer Museum in Gunnison and Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum to find out more about the ranchers and cowboys who have helped create the spirit of Gunnison County.
Frontier in Transition: A History of Southwestern Colorado (Bureau of Land Management Cultural Resources Series (Colorado: No. 10),
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