Independence Day has passed with the usual celebrations and festivities. Mountain highways were packed with natives and tourists heading to the many cool Rocky Mountain retreats. We all live in such a beautiful state and it behooves us to become familiar with so many unique attractions across the entire state.
July 4th is special for me, growing up on a very rural ranch in far Northwest Colorado. A place described in John Rolfe Burroughs’ book, “Where the Old West Stayed Young.”
I was born into a pioneer ranching family, with five uncles who were all cowboys, following in the footsteps of their father, Patrick Sweeney. He was an Irish immigrant from County Cork who arrived in America in 1865 and homesteaded in the Axial Basin west of Craig. He and his later arrival immigrant wife Mary, “proved-up” on their 160-acre homestead. Later they were fortunate to purchase a larger ranch 10 miles away along the Yampa River with abundant water and natural hay fields. The ranch was located along a wagon route from Wyoming, thru Meeker, to Rifle, where the first interstate train route was located.
The boys chased and roped wild horses that were the main source for transportation and ranch work. Larger “Perchen” teams were used for the heavy wagon hauling of lumber from nearby forests and hauling loads of summer hay.
As a tot, I would greet the hay crews in the summer as they wiped the blood off of the work horses’ bodies from the massive number of mosquitos that thrived and swarmed along the river and cattail slews and irrigation ditches. The mosquitos were a terrible pest and swarmed around ranch workers who irrigated the fields. Early pioneers had devised a water irrigation system of ditches devised from building a tunnel flowing large amounts of precious water to the hay meadows. The hay was harvested to feed the cattle through the long subzero winters and deep snow found in N.W. Colorado. My father always had a team of horses and a sled to plow through the deep snow to feed the rugged Hereford cattle. They could withstand the cold if they could receive the hay and have the ice cut from the river for drinking water.
My grandfather Patrick, who lived to be 100 years old, arrived in New York City when the city was draped in black in 1865 for the assassination of president Abraham Lincoln. He worked his way west driving teams of horses building railroads, eventually homesteading for the free government land Homestead Act. I have a copy of his original homestead somewhere in my boxes of family documents. He passed away in the 1930s so I never met him or Mary.
My cowboy father married the Maybell schoolteacher who was raised in Leadville and graduated from Greeley Teacher’s College. She received a teaching certificate and took her first job in 1916 as the sole teacher in Maybell, Colorado, 30 miles west of Craig where she taught all grade levels through the 8th grade to local ranch boys and girls. My father had just returned from World War l and swept the school marm off her feet. The five brothers loved to dance and would ride miles on horseback to attend dances and ride all night to return home. The river ranch was about 15 miles to the tiny Maybell community that had a dance hall. I learned at an early age that a horse can trot all day, but tires if galloped.
Four of the brothers married, one remained a bachelor, never leaving the home ranch. The Irish clan flourished and had large herds of cattle and horses. As a brother would marry the family would purchase another area ranch, eventually owning thousands of acres of land and large herds of livestock.
TO BE CONTINUED.