Bender ranch

The site of Kester in a 1953 photo, looking toward Sugar Loaf Mountain. The Bender Ranch is to the upper right. (Photo courtesy of the Park County Local History Archives)

Back on Currant Creek, wedding bells are ringing. Bill Hammond, Annie Bender’s brother, married Mary “May” Dell Feb. 9, 1881, in Kester, with William B. White serving as the Justice of the Peace.

After all, the upper Currant Creek area was not only known for its floods, but for its pretty girls as well, said Epperson. The couple went on to have two daughters, Della May, 1882, and Bertha Ann “Babe,” 1884. One child was born and died in 1888.

May Dell was born in Michigan in 1862, the first of six children born to Benjamin Reuben Dell (born 1842, in Michigan, died 1914, in Guffey) and Mary Campbell (born 1843, in Canada, died 1915, in Teller County), who came to Currant Creek via Kansas in the mid-to-late 1870s.

The Dells were a prominent family in the area, and some relatives still live in the area today, but that’s another chapter.

The Kester post office moved again in 1880 downstream to Dell’s store, which became Nathan Munn’s Country Store at Kester in 1881. A January 1881 Flume article from the “Current Talk on Currant Creek” column said, “Nathan Munn’s store is progressing quite rapidly in trade, everything being had there that is needed in a country store.”

With the influx of people, there was a lot of activity in the Currant Creek area. The same Flume article mentions James B. Murford, of 31-Mile Creek, hosting a Christmas party.

“A good supper was furnished and games played.”

Henry White, son of Captain William White, W.B. Davids and Mrs. B.R. Dell provided music for the event, and Bill Hammond was probably the dance caller.

At the party, Henry White received a silver watch from his mother. Mrs. Aaron C. Davis received an “elegant chromo,” and the Dell boys, Alford and Calvin, each got a new hat. Chromolithography,  a unique method for making multicolored prints, was developed in the 1800s. Chromolithography became the most successful of several methods of printing.

O.P. Clark of South Park, probably Howbert, hosted a ball at his hall there. Those attending from Kester were Bill Hammond, R.J. Munn, A.C. Davis, Live Longfellow and their ladies. From Kester, that is about a 12-mile wagon trip, one way.

Hospitality in those days did include overnight stays for guests and visitors coming from a distance.

Miss Bertha Dell, May’s sister, was going to spend the winter at the Salt Works Ranch near Antero Junction. William Beery was buying and selling beef to an extensive amount, B.R. Dell was cutting ties for the South Park railroad near Chubb’s Ranch, and Sunday school and the spelling school were most likely held at the schoolhouse in Kester.

Robert Bass Newett, or “Chubb,” from Illinois, settled in the area just west of Trout Creek Pass in 1867. Chubb built a hotel, established a ranch and platted a town called Newett, which was a small camp located at the south end of Chubb Park with a limestone quarry. The Midland Railroad ran through Chubb Park until about 1918.

About a month after his wedding, Bill Hammond was out cutting wood and cut his foot quite badly, reported a Flume article. The cut was about three inches deep, but Bill would be all right and up and around soon.

1881 also saw Bill Hammond, William Beery, Ed Mulock and J. Eddy witnessing William White’s homestead proof.

The cattlemen were restless. Sometime before 1881, the South Park Cattle Growers Association was formed, and a regular annual meeting was held May 1881 at Capt. White’s in Kester.

An executive committee was appointed, consisting of Sam Hartsel, Henry Beckham and J.L. Sweet. The SPCGA roundup was to start June 1, eight miles south of Canon City, and the next SPCGA meeting would be held at Kester.

The SPCGA later merged with the Fremont County cattlemen to become the largest cattle association in the state.

December 1881, a petition from cattlemen of Fremont and adjoining counties was sent to the Honorable Town Board of Canon protesting a Canon City ordinance “authorizing the taking up, fining and selling of stock running at large in the city limit. Stock passing from the plains to the mountains had to pass through Canon,” the petition read.

“Enforcement of the ordinance has caused seizure, fining and sale of stock that run and belong in the area surrounding Canon causing the stockmen an injustice.”

The group proposed that the law be amended so as not to interfere with stock that do not usually run in town.

Among the 54 stockmen signing the petition from the Currant Creek area were John Sweet, Levi Longfellow, Henry White, Bill Hammond, T. Witcher, the Eddy brothers (the VVN ranch), Ira Mulock (IM Ranch), Jim Simms, John Bender, R. Munn, J.R. Witcher and C.E. Mulock. They are all very familiar names.

I don’t know if the petition helped the stockmen’s cause, but by August 1883, 18 Fremont and adjacent county stockmen ran an advertisement in Salida’s Mountain Mail.

The stockmen were offering a $500 reward for “arrest and conviction of each and every party stealing cattle or horses belonging to any of the parties whose names appear below.” There was a picture of a cow for each rancher listed, picturing and explaining their brands.

Among the 18 cattlemen with brands pictured were the Eddy brothers, Henry Beckham, branding the half circle with a six underneath, Mulock & Co., W.R. Smith, John Bender, branding the JG and JCJ, J.R. Witcher, branding the 76, Bill Hammond, branding a half circle with an A underneath and a 44, and Billy Beery, branding the JI.

By 1883 South Park had 50,000 head of cattle, 5,000 horses and 10,000 sheep grazing on the lush grasses. Ranchers in South Park and Fremont and Teller counties co-operated in semi-annual roundups on the open range to gather and separate their cattle.

John Bender is listed in the 1883 roundup along with J.R. Witcher, T. Witcher and H. Beckham. In 1883 the largest cattle ranchers in the area were John Bender, JR and T Witcher, John Sweet, H. Beckham, Freeman Waugh (Waugh Mountain), the Mulocks and the Eddy brothers.

In 1885 Annie’s brother Hank returned to Currant Creek after his mining adventures near Gothic with his cousins Henry and George.

Hank is listed in the Colorado 1885 census as living on Currant Creek. A November 1885 Flume article reported that Hank Hammond was erecting a new residence. Hank said that he would have to “batch it” there, but it was rumored that a young Canon City lady has an interest in the plans and specifics. This residence was probably built on his homestead land that he proofed up in 1894.

The rumor about the young lady must have been true, because Dec. 17, 1885, Hank Hammond married Fannie S. Hahenkratt at the home of Frederick D. Hahenkratt, the Castle Rock Ranch, just north of Florence.

The couple had five children: Annie Pearl 1886-89, Grace 1888-1957, Maude 1890-1921, Blanche Ruby 1892-1951 and Frederick Henry 1894-1917.

The Castle Rock Ranch was probably first owned by JR Witcher in 1863 and is now all federal prison property.

The 1885 census also lists John Bender, a cattleman, on Currant Creek, with wife Annie, 44, son Martin, 15, and daughters Mary, 14, and Hannah, 11.

November 1885 found John Bender moving into his newly finished eight-room ranch house. It was one of the best in that entire section, the paper reported, and it is still inhabited today. Bender was also selling beef to William Beery.

According to Epperson, John Bender was tight with his money. Bender also had a habit of putting his hands in his pockets, a habit Annie tried to discourage. Everyone wanted to be Annie Bender’s cat.

First-generation homestead cabins were usually rough-hewn logs, not built that well. Surprisingly, barns were better constructed and usually built first. A homesteader’s livestock was very important to them.

The second-generation homestead dwelling was generally larger, more refined, probably had window glass and was usually built from milled lumber.

In late 1885, Annie’s brother Bill had been running a meat market in Salida, but sold out, returning to Currant Creek. Also late in 1885, Bill became the constable of London Junction (Alma). Bill was also listed on the delinquent 1884 personal tax list, along with J. Beckham, Levi Longfellow, and T.H. Stratton, of west Four-Mile.

1888 saw Bill running a herd of half circle A cows, a slaughterhouse and butcher shop in Park County. A March 1888 Flume said that William Hammond of Kester was feeding 40 head of cattle at Ludlow H. Pruden’s ranch, located near Howbert. Howbert, by the way, is now under Eleven Mile reservoir. Pruden homesteaded 160 acres in 1880 and 160 acres in 1882 there.

In the meantime, Annie’s brother Hank was busy starting and raising his family and getting his 44 Ranch going. His brand was 44 as the 1890s approached.

To be continued …

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