13. The Beckwith Ranch

The Beckwith Ranch

Mile marker 64.1, Highway 69

 The impressive Beckwith Ranch, easily visible from State Highway 69 north of Westcliffe, was the largest cattle ranch and horse operation in southern Colorado at the turn of the century.

 Elton and Edwin Beckwith were sons of a wealthy shipbuilder in Maine who provided ships for the Union forces during the Civil War. In 1868 the brothers brought 2,000 head of cattle back from Texas with Charles Goodnight on The Goodnight –Loving Trail. They built a log cabin and homesteaded the land. They owned nearly 7,000 head of cattle and 200 horses. Many of the horses were racehorses with a national reputation.

 in 1875 Elton married a wealthy widow, Elsie Davis, who was owned a nearby ranch in Ula. They built their unusually styled home around the original log cabin. Elton was a one-term state senator and was asked to run for governor, but declined. During this period they also owned a mansion in Denver.  The Beckwiths often entertained their Denver friends at their “country home.”  These guests would arrive by rail-the tracts ran just behind the home. Musicians played on top of the porte-cochere, while guests strolled on the grounds below.

 At one time the Beckwith Ranch encompassed  60,000 acres. Today their name lives on. The massive rock monolith just east of the house is known as Beckwith Mountain. The ranch is listed on the National Historic Register and is under restoration by the Friends of Beckwith Ranch, Inc. The Beckwiths were just one of many ranching families in the Wet Mountain Valley. In 1880, there were over 13,800 head of cattle in the area. The ranchers let the animals roam over the grasslands until they rounded up and the calves branded between May and November.

Today many things are done differently. Most cattle graze on fenced land or on leased federal land, and longhorns are less popular than other breeds. As George Draper of Wetmore explains: “When I was a small boy, we used to leave the house early in the morning and ride all day checking the horses and cattle. Now we load a horse in the stock trailer and drive to our destination, do our work, and are back in two hours. Instead of driving cattle to and from the mountain pastures in the summer and fall, we order trucks and in a matter of a few hours a job is done.”

 On the other hand, some things haven't changed much in over 100 years. Many ranchers still fire brand their cattle. Ranchers have been recording brands in Colorado since 1863.

Another continuing tradition is that of the rodeo. Historians believe the first rodeo (in what would become the United States) took place in 1884 in Pecos Texas. It involved roping, riding and racing contests. The early cowboys of Pueblo and Custer Counties also enjoyed testing their skill in rodeos. The popularity of rodeos continues today at the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo and Westcliffe and towns across the region.