The re-release of City Slickers (the movie) as a collector’s edition DVD includes a 10 minute feature on Colorado Cattle Company in the extra features section titled “The Real City Slickers” which tells the story of a day in the life of our guests. Pick one up and watch the show!
Not counting pre-historic man or the Indians who roamed over this land, the history of this ranch begins in the mid 1800’s. In those days, a man named John Iliff ran cattle all over this area including what is now Colorado Cattle Company. He had cattle from the Colorado Mountains to Kansas, and from Wyoming to the South Platte River. In 1868 he set up a base camp just southwest of here and changed the direction of the cattle drives heading north. The drives came here for fresh horses and decent food. The Goodnight/Loving trail traveled right over the ranch for a time. Mr. Iliff set up a line camp shack just a few miles from our ranch homestead location and his cowboys took care of thousands of head of cattle from that location.
When the government decided to populate the west and started the Homestead Act, a family could get up to 320 acres of free land if they ‘proved’ their intent by tilling up a part of it, planting it to crops and building a house on it. This sounded pretty good to farmers starved out for space back east, and many came out here and tried to make a go of it. At one time on our ranch alone there were literally hundreds of homesteads, two towns a store and a school.
This didn’t sit too well with Mr. Iliff and he started fencing the public lands with Barbed Wire so that only his cattle could graze there. He also attempted to homestead all land around every known water source by having his employees homestead it and then purchasing it from them. When the government realized what was happening, a law was passed to force the cattle barons to take down the fencing around public lands and un-owned water sources. That was the beginning of the end of the days of the great cattle barons in Colorado and also the beginning of the end of the Iliff Cattle Company. The winter of 1886 – 87 was very tough. Thousands of head of cattle froze or starved to death, the cattle market in Chicago fell through, and many of the huge ranchers went broke – including John Iliff.
By then this here ranch was covered with homesteaders who were trying to grow crops and farm land with inadequate water while living in extremely primitive conditions. Many failed and moved on, but one named Leonard Biggs held on. He homesteaded on this ranch and built a house out of sod in the early 1880’s that we still use today for a mechanical room. A few years back we had a plumbing break and the sod started to grow inside as soon as it got wet! Leonard went up to Kimball NE in 1897 to purchase a load of logs from the train there to start adding on to the soddie. By then many of the homesteaders had folded up and traded their land to him for whatever they needed to get out of Colorado and move back east. His ranch was successful since he had good water and realized that farming was not the best way to go – this was cattle country! He began our guest business when he catered to the stagecoach when the route was directed through the ranch since he had horses to trade, food, water and a place to stay for the customers. We still use the original stagecoach bunkhouse for guests.
70008 CR 132
New Raymer, CO 80742