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The History of Bear Basin Ranch

Ute, Comanche, Arapaho, Pike, Fremont, Carson, Bent and Goodnight

rode our range

Some thirty-million years before the first migrating hunter clans passed through, the Laramide Orogeny began. The earth’s plate-stressed surface ruptured, slowly pushing skyward what was to become the Sange de Cristo and Wet mountains. Glaciers, erosion and weather eventually shaped the modern landscape.

Million of years later bands of Ute, Apache, Arapahos and others

discovered the region. Eventually, some returned to summer camp, hunt

and revere this magical land lying in the shadow of sacred Tawa, Pikes


A Spanish expedition led by second generation conquistador, Coronado

passed nearby seeking fabled cities of gold in 1541, ending in disaster

somewhere far to the east.

In 1779, Juan Batista de Anza, another Spanish colonial grandee led a detachment of militia, Pueblo warriors and Ute allies from the south, across

South Park and down Ute Pass to ambush troublesome Comanche.

A decisive battle was fought somewhere on the flats east of the Wet Mountains where the infamous war chief Cuerno Verde was killed.

Zeb Pike struggled up nearby frozen Grape Creek in the bitter winter of

1806, dispatched, allegedly, to survey newly acquired US territory by traitorous General Wilkinson, amigo of and co-conspirator with Aron Burr.

Pike’s expedition was unknown to President Jefferson.

William Bent’s compadres; mountain men, trappers and traders, likely

ventured through Bear Basin in the early 1800s rendezvousing with Ute

hunting parties and fire water drinking, renegade Taos traders.

Finally, shortly after Bear Basin became US territory, in 1848 Kit Carson,

Broken hand Smith and a determined group of tough others travelled up

Hardscrabble Pass with John Fremont in tow. His journals suggest that his

party probably camped on the ranch before moving onward to a later winter


The famous ‘pathfinder’ found his way to Taos while his expedition team

starved and froze to death in the severe winter snows of the San Juan


1860 to present: Bear Basin Ranch and Regional History.

Years after John Fremont's 1848 expedition up Hardscrabble Pass to Bear

Basin, the Wet Mountain Valley and on to the San Juan range, vast numbers

of elk, antelope and buffalo roamed the high, open, grass lands and

lush Valley bottoms. Flocks of reclusive turkeys fluttered and flitted through

ancient aspen grove colonies, perhaps older than human history itself in

post-glacial Colorado.

Summer bands of Ute, Apache, Comanche, Arapaho and others, continued

to camp and hunt, bringing large herds of horses with them. Brightly

colored paints and roman-nosed, short-tailed appaloosas grazed near sunrise-facing, hide covered lodges around Bear Basin’s geological volcanic

anomaly, Dry Lake. A number of lodge-placed stone rings, shaped, jasper

tool artifacts and other evidence can be seen still in place.

Generations of Ute had planted, nurtured, bent, peeled and otherwise

cared for specifically situated Ponderosa, Douglas Fir and Junipers on the

ridges and hills of the ranch lands. Spiritually vested medicine men and

vision quest seeking others must have absorbed inspiration and wisdom

while seated beneath these spirits of the natural world.

Meanwhile, reclusive traders and mountain men passed through, heading

south to Taos, the San Luis Valley, or northward to the headwaters of the

Arkansas River and on to South Park.

Pikes Peak or Bust 1859.

In 1859, before the start of the Civil War, gold was discovered on Cherry

Creek at what was later to become the State Capital, Denver. Caravans of

covered wagons bringing hopeful adventurers diverted from the southern

Santa Fe TraIl or came westward up the platte to seek fortune in the new

Colorado gold field. Others moved on around the territory, founding Colorado City on Fountain Creek below Pikes Peak and wandering southward through our area.

Rankin Scott Kelly, Colorado City and El Paso County’s first Sheriff cornered

and killed notorious outlaw, Filipe Espinosa nearby after he and his

brother, Vivian raided a sawmill on the Hardscrabble in 1863. Two years

later, Kelly hunted down and shot another deadly killer, ‘Big Tooth Jim’

somewhere south on the Huerfano.

It was the year of sixty-one - Kelly pinned a star

Big Tooth Jim, the Espinosa boys - others lurked not far

Rogue Cheyenne - Arapahoe would soon be run to ground.

El Paso's first Sheriff had just now come to town

The Ballad of Scott Kelly, G Ziegler 2016.

Down the hill at Pueblo and Wetmore, Charlie Goodnight, Oliver Loving

and a colorful assortment of Texas cowboys, Mexican vaqueros and more

than a few desperadoes, drove great herds of cattle across the wild southwest plains to feed the growing Colorado mining camps.

In 1870, Goodnight established a ranch near Pueblo, started a stockman’s bank and partnered in cattle in the Wet Mountain Valley west of Bear Basin with Edwin and Elton Beckwith.

A new wagon road and stage route was completed up Oak Creek from Florence on the Arkansas in 1870. The road followed an old Ute trail crossing

Bear Basin’s northern Bone Yard Park, continuing on across what came to

be called Dutch Flats above Querida to booming Rosita.

A stage station to change out fresh teams for the long, daily haul up from

Florence was establish at what we now call the Hay Meadow.

The foundations and spring are still there. The original homestead house

and current ranch headquarters was build nearby in the early 1880s.

The Ute had also earlier chosen the site. Nearby hills and ridges are dotted

with their modified trees, stone monuments and several mounds, many with

views of Pikes Peak or the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Another wagon road, followed Fremont’s path up Hardscrabble from

Wetmore, joining the Oak Creek road at Bear Basin. This was later to become much of what is currently State Highway 96 to Westcliffe.

Silver Park and Bear Basin Mining

It was on this road that a few hopeful prospectors and miners built a cluster

of cabins, barns and corrals that was to become Bear Basin’s main ranch

facility. The earliest mining discoveries were on the ranch and nearby lands

to the east and south which came to be called Silver Park.

The road up from Wetmore was partially constructed in 1863 when Si

Smith, Sheriff of Pueblo County and others from Pueblo located a showing

of gold and silver on upper Hardscrabble Creek. The Smith claims were

recorded at Canon City in July of that year.

Situated in the ancient metamorphic bed rock of the Wet Mountains, Silver

Park lacked the potential for the rich deposits found in geologically more

recent, hydrothermal enriched, Tertiary volcanics at Rosita and in the Wet

Mountain Valley’s Silver Cliff deposits. Only low grade ore was found in

narrow quartz veins along the upper Hardscrabble.

Undaunted, Bear Basin hopefuls dug numerous prospect holes in the erosional-exposed, mineralized, veins. Several produced enough free gold in

druzy quartz matrix and a bit of galena-amalgamated silver to warrant more

extensive tunneling and deeper shafts. Three; the Woodhull, Blue Bird and

Mac & Mac were granted claim patents; title to the land deeded by the federal government. A spec or two of gold in quartz can still be found among

the tailings scattered about the ranch.

1870 - Rosita; “gold in them east hills”.

Extensive deposits of silver with some associated gold were discovered

five miles southwest of Bear Basin in 1870. Local rancher, Daniel Baker

and several visiting friends located a rich outcrop which was to soon become

the productive Senator Mine. The Humboldt, Pocahontas, Leviathan,

Virginia and other properties followed two years later establishing the boom

town of Rosita. The town expanded to over a square mile in 1874 then

slowly died following the later discoveries at silver cliff.

The neighboring town of Querida, three miles southwest of Bear Basin, followed in 1877 with the location of the Bassick Mine in a breccia pipe lined

with gold on Mt. Tyndall. The Bassick became the only substantial producer

of gold in the county and one of the richest mines in the state.

Eventually, economic reality interceded at Bear Basin. A lack of high grade

ore and mining costs closed the diminutive mining operations there.

A few entrepreneurs drifted on to Leadville or another of the new Colorado

boom towns. Others, less motivated, moved over the hill to take a job shift

in the lucrative Senator, Pocahontas or another thriving mine at Rosita.

Salaries were low so dropping a few high grade ore pieces ‘accidentally’ in

the lunch box to achieve better compensation was not beyond the norm of

the times. Dance halls, saloons and a lively wild-west society at Rosita afforded an escape from grueling underground drudgery while assorted houses of worship salvaged and soothed lost souls.

Up north, the new state was coming together. The former mining camp,