Dave & Jean Gottenborg
History of the Eagle Rock Ranch
The history of the Eagle Rock Ranch is intertwined with the history and geography of South Park and the surrounding area.
When visitors get their first glimpse of South Park from any of the high mountain passes that provide access, it must seem to them as though the whole world has opened up and flattened out.
Spread out like a wonderful old quilt are wide expanses of open grasslands, ribboned by the South Platte River and tributary creeks. To some it may look open and barren, without a past worth mentioning, but in fact this region is steeped in the history of centuries.
For thousands of years, including up to not so very long ago, less than 200 years, nomadic Ute and Arapaho natives did great battle over what were once incredibly rich summer hunting grounds teeming with bison, elk, deer and pronghorn that thrived on the plentiful and nutritious native grasses. Like many residents today, the native americans spent their winters in the lower elevations – such as the famed Manitou Springs – and traveled up and over Ute Pass into South Park for the summer months. Indeed, ancient tipi rings are found on the Eagle Rock Ranch property together with ancient arrowheads and scrapers, etc.
The first reported white explorer in the region was James Purcell, a fur trapper, who entered the Park in 1805 and reported finding gold in Tarryall Creek. Famed frontiersmen such as Zebulon Pike, Kit Carson and John Fremont later crossed the region in their explorations seeking the headwaters of the Arkansas and South Platte Rivers.
In the 1840s, other Anglo visitors observed the healthy herds of bison, elk, deer, and antelope found throughout the park and identified the park and surrounding area as ideal for ranching and stockraising. However, the harsh climate and remote location discouraged earliest ranchers from settling in the park.
The subsequent discovery of gold and silver in nearby Leadville, Cripple Creek, Breckenridge and Central City soon changed everything. A gold strike along upper Tarryall Creek in 1859 brought hundreds of prospectors to the South Park. Seemingly overnight, large mining camps sprang up at Hamilton, Fairplay, Buckskin Joe, and other sites where gold had been found.
The influx of prospectors that flooded these rapidly growing communities needed food, creating a demand that encouraged the establishment of large cattle ranching operations in the wide open expanse of South Park. At the same time, the profitable gold claims were soon taken, leaving the late-comers empty-handed in terms of gold prospecting. Stockraising soon became a viable option to feed the growing population in the mining camps, etc.
Enterprising ranchers claimed land near reliable water sources and natural hay meadows, established their homesteads, and began raising cattle and growing hay.
The arrival of the railroad on the South Park encouraged the rapid growth of the hay and cattle industry in Park County after 1879. The new railroad provided fast, easy access to the Denver and Leadville markets, making cattle raising and hay production increasingly lucrative businesses for area ranchers.
Hay production played a highly significant role in the growth of the Jefferson area during the 1880s. In 1884, the Rocky Mountain News reported that: … the agricultural domain of Park County is chiefly in that most beautiful high valley known as South Park. . . . The chief product of this region is hay, the quality of which is unsurpassed by any known, if indeed it is not superior to any other. It is the native grass of the country, which runs to a bright green color. Horses and cattle will trample over the best timothy and clover to get this native hay of the parks.
Local legend has it that area hay became so renowned that it was sent by railroad to the East Coast where it was shipped to the Queen of England who fed it to her horses. It was against this backdrop that young Louis Holst stepped off the boat in Baltimore, Maryland in 1853. A single man, age twenty, from Germany with a listed occupation as goldsmith. With a brother already in the mining camp of Leadville, Louis headed west to join him. But with the best claims taken and the gold and silver mines playing out in Leadville, the opportunities were limited and Louis eventually headed over Mosquito Pass into South Park to seek his fortune there.
He might have found a similar situation as he passed through Buckskin Joe, Alma, Fairplay and Tarryall, but he trickled down Tarryall Creek where, in mid-August of 1868, he settled on approximately three acres of land that would ultimately become the Eagle Rock Ranch. A neighbor, Olney Borden, would later testify that Louis Holst then constructed numerous improvements upon the land, including a dwelling, a blacksmith shop, stable, corral and smokehouse and had plowed, fenced and cultivated about three acres of land.
Accordingly, in February of 1874, Louis Holst filed papers for a pre-emption claim to 160 acres of land encompassed by this ranch and paid $1.25 per acre to the U.S. Land Office in Fairplay. Holst received his Cash Entry patent in February of 1875. Holst reported cutting 50 tons of hay from twenty acres of meadow here in 1879. In that year, The Fairplay Flume described Holst as one of the gentlemen who owned “a valuable tract along the creek” and was “largely interested in cattle ranching in the park.” Holst’s ranch encompassed 320 acres in 1880. His name appears in the 1880 census listings for Park County, when he was identified as a 53-year-old single rancher born in Hanover, Germany.
About the turn of the century, John F. “Jack” Wallace purchased “the old Holt’s ranch.” Born in Canada in 1869 to Scottish parents, Wallace had married a local girl, May A. Barlow, in 1895 at the nearby Borden Ranch up Tarryall Creek. Wallace, who had been raised in Boston, had settled in Park County in the 1880’s and was described as “well and favorably known.” In 1897, the Wallaces adopted a son, Lee Ellsworth Clark Wallace, who was born in 1890 in Indiana and whose mother had died from childbirth complications. After becoming ill at the ranch, John F. Wallace died in Colorado Springs on July 1st, 1910 and his wife, May, inherited the property.
Mary “May” A. Barlow Wallace Paige, born in St. Louis, Missouri, on May 9th, 1873, was the daughter of Dr. Hiram A. Barlow and Mary G. Miller Barlow (1846-1923). In 1876, Dr. Barlow died in Vevay, Indiana, leaving his thirty-year-old wife with four small children. Mrs. Barlow moved her family to Park County, where her brothers, William, John, and Lot Miller, were ranching near Bordenville. May was seven years at the time and spent most of her life along the Tarryall. In March of 1880, John Miller died in a freighting accident, leaving his Willow Springs Ranch to his sister. In the same year, Mrs. Miller (whom historian Virginia Simmons described as “an aristocratic widow from St. Louis”) married local pioneer rancher Olney Borden (1831-1910) who had a large ranch about ten miles below Jefferson along Tarryall Creek and young May Wallace grew up on the Borden Ranch.
Olney Borden and his brother, Timothy, were prosperous ranchers who settled along the Tarryall in 1865, and who also operated a sawmill, mercantile, and post office. The area where they lived was known as “Bordenville,” a place with services for local ranching families that included a school and a cemetery. One account indicates the Borden’s children were given “first-class advantages. They were mainly educated in Colorado Springs and Denver.”
Following the death of John F. Wallace, May A. Wallace married Olney Borden Paige in Jefferson on May 29th, 1912. He was described as “one of the real pioneers of Park County.” Paige was born June 24th, 1866 in Golden, Colorado; his father was French and his mother was born in Canada. The family moved to Park County in the spring of 1870, living at Badger Mountain and later in Turner Gulch. The Fairplay Flume later commented, “He was a resident here when Indians still roamed the lush hunting ground of South Park, and was personally acquainted with Chief Colorow, Ute Chieftain.” The newspaper noted he grew up with the county and helped make it grow, working in a variety of positions, including wagon freighter, miner, timberman, sawmill operator, and rancher. It also judged him “a great sportsman.” The 1900 U.S. Census documented him in the vicinity of Jefferson, working as a farm laborer. In 1920 he identified himself as a stock farm owner, and by the early 1920’s the operation was known as the Wallace and Paige ranch. Fairplay Flumes during the 1910s and 1920s contain mentions of the family visiting towns in Park County, as well as acquiring, raising, and offering livestock and poultry for sale. Olney B. Paige filed a homestead entry for land adjacent to the Wallace and Paige Ranch on the south in 1918 and lived part of every year on that ranch with his wife and stepson. Reports on that property reveal information about the family’s operations. In 1920, 225 head of cattle and 14 horses were owned, while in 1922, 81 sheep, 4 horses, 24 chickens, and a small number of cattle were raised. In addition to cutting 12 tons of native hay, the family grew potatoes and oats or barley. In 1926 Wallace and Paige reported on the construction of the Eagle Rock Reservoir and Ditch. By 1930, the Paiges lived in Colorado Springs while continuing to own the ranch. Olney B. Paige died in Jefferson on June 5th, 1949 at the age of 83 and May Paige died at home, on the ranch, on November 20th, 1954 at the age of 81.
Their son, Lee Wallace, attended an automobile course in Kansas City and in 1915 became the assistant to Ed R. Marshall in operation of the Hartsel Garage. He served in France during World War I. In 1921 he married Elsie Kleinknecht (1899-1987), a Park County native whose father, Emil Kleinknecht, had been postmaster and mercantile owner at Tarryall City and operated a store and post office in Hartsel. Lee continued to be associated with the Wallace and Paige Ranch after Olney Paige’s death and he bought the Terhune Ranch after the death of Alma Terhune, putting up hay and pasturing cattle on the latter. The Wallace’s daughter, Margaret Alice Wallace, married World War II veteran Jack Wayne Eavenson in 1949, and the couple acquired the Terhune Ranch along the Tarryall Creek just below Tarryall Reservoir (built as a fish hatchery in 1929), which they owned during 1963-1994. Lee Wallace died in Park County in May of 1965, and Elsie Wallace then lived with her daughter’s family at the Terhune Ranch and passed away in 1987. Jan Williams, daughter of Jack and Margaret Eavenson, reports that her grandfather and father were members of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. Lee Wallace was involved in local politics and interested in the Forest Service. Margaret Wallace served on the school board and Fairplay Hospital board, and was a 4-H leader. She passed away in 1986. Jack Eavenson continued to operate the Terhune Ranch before moving to a lower altitude in Texas in 1994, where he died in 2008.
In 1965, Clayton Hill and Norman E. Wall of Park County purchased the Wallace and Paige Ranch. At some point during this period, the ranch ceased being known as the Paige Ranch and became known as the Eagle Rock Ranch – after the prominent geographic feature towering over the western side of the ranch. USGS maps of the area to this day, however, still use the label “Paige Ranch.”
Subsequent owners included Blair, Inc. and the William M. and Robert M. Blaik family trusts of Colorado Springs, who sold to Larry L. Lounsberry of Beresford, South Dakota in the late 1980’s. Lawler Wakem, a Canadian, acquired the property in 1995 and held it until 2012 when he sold the property – now consisting of approximately 710 acres of bottom land along Tarryall Creek in a north parcel, and a separate southern parcel consisting of approximately 2,100 acres – to Dave and Jean O’Day Gottenborg from Littleton, Colorado. Dave and Jean Gottenborg currently make their home at the Eagle Rock Ranch where they run a cow/calf and haying operation.
The Eagle Rock Ranch is included within the South Park National Heritage Area, a U.S National Heritage Area, and the Tarryall Road (County Road 77) has been designated a National Rural Historic Landscape District. The Eagle Rock Ranch has been assigned a Smithsonian Institute identification number of 5PA.4467.