Soon to become a library

Buffalo Peaks Ranchhouse. (Photo by Marianne Mogon/The Flume)

In 1850, Adolphe and Marie Guiraud (pronounced Garo) immigrated to the United States from France. They began their journey in New Orleans, La. and then moved on to Cincinnati, Ohio. There they joined a wagon train that was headed west and came to Denver, Colo.; Colorado was known as Jefferson Territory at that time. Mining in Colorado was in full swing and the Guirauds set off for the mountains with a wagon load of goods they planned to sell. The Guirauds opened a store in Hamilton. in 1860 along the Tarryall Creek in Park County. 

When the prospectors abandoned Hamilton and its neighbor Tarryall, the Guirauds followed them to the Fairplay area, moving their family and store. Through the Homestead Act of 1862, Adolphe claimed 160 acres approximately 10 miles south of Fairplay on what is Colorado Highway 9 today. They grew oats, wheat, rye, potatoes, and other vegetables. He sold hay in Leadville for $80 per ton. Not long after their first year, Henry, their ten-year-old son, was killed in an accident and the store was failing due to Guiraud’s leniency in extending credit to his customers. The Guirauds moved to Denver, but returned to the ranch the following year.

On July 25, 1864, Jim Reynolds came to Guiraud’s ranch. Some say Reynolds was an old acquaintance of Guiraud’s, while other accounts indicate the two men did not know each other. Reynolds was with a group of Confederates from Company A of Wells’ Battalion, whose official orders were to disrupt Union supply trains and gather Confederate recruits from the mining camps. 

One account says Reynolds claimed he had written some letters and inquired as to the stagecoach schedule from Buckskin Joe. Reynolds claimed he wanted to mail the letters. Adolphe was accommodating and helpful by telling Reynolds that the stage would be stopping near what is now Como the next day. 

Another account says that the gang attacked the Guiraud Ranch, stole horses, cash, and molested Mrs. Guiraud. The gang then headed to Dan McLaughlin’s stage station and robbed the stage, stealing about $3,000 cash, a gold watch, and the horses. They then headed over Kenosha Pass toward Denver, robbing the Michigan House stage stop, taking more horses. But that is a story of its own.

Guiraud built a mercantile store and worked running the store while his wife and children worked the ranch. The remnant of the store can still be found on Highway 9 at what is known today as Garo. Adolph died at age 53 in 1875, and ranch was at 640 acres with exclusive use of Trout Creek as a source of water for the ranch. They had ten children, but three had predeceased Adolphe in death. The remaining seven children ranged in age from 2 to 25.

Marie Guiraud, at age 45, was left to manage the cattle and hay operation, the store, and care for her children. She did, and became one of the most successful ranchers in the area. She was strong and tenacious, allowing no one to take advantage of her as a widow. The Flume archives has a number of stories of lawsuits she brought against her neighboring ranchers including the highly influential Sam Hartsel. There were many hardships she lived through, including the death of another son, Louis, who was struck by lightning at age 38 in 1888, a fire that destroyed her original homestead in 1906, and daughter Eugenia Spurlock died in 1908 at age 42 following a lengthy illness.

Marie did not give up, but continued working. She replaced the homestead with what The Flume referred to as a large and substantial house. She raised cattle and reports say her steers averaged 1,200 pounds and some weighed in at 1,800 pounds. She also raised horses and in 1892 she shipped two carloads of horses by train to Chicago.

When she got word the railroad was coming, she began to lay out a town on part of her property. She was aware that the railroad preferred short four-to-five letter names for their stations, so she dubbed the town with phonetic of her last name, calling it Garo. The railroad did establish a station in her little town and in 1880, the population was a whopping 80 people.

When Marie Guiraud passed away, June 5, 1909, due to paralysis and a possible stroke, the six heirs divided $60,000 in cash, which would equate to more than a million and half by today’s standard from the proceeds of four ranches and the water rights. There was no mention in the probate of any gold holdings, but it is rumored that over $80,000 in gold was found in the fruit cellar.

Not long after her death, some of the children moved to other states. Daughter Louise stayed and started a slaughterhouse and son Ernest took over running the ranch until his death Feb. 5, 1936. Ernest’s daughter, Mildred and her husband, Harry Johns, kept the ranch until Mildred died. Harry sold it in 1942 to James T. McDowell, a very successful construction contractor. McDowell’s son, James Jr. returned after serving in the second world war and he and his father built the ranch even larger and added the adjoining Santa Maria Ranch. Most of the buildings on the property today were built by them, including a magnificent concrete barn. They also refurbished Marie Giuraud’s large, hip-roofed house in the latest style of the 1960s. The Guiraud ranch then served as the headquarters of the combined ranches, including a bunkhouse, cook’s house, granary and shops.

James McDowell Jr. sold the ranch and much of its valuable water rights in 1976. He parted it out to a number of different buyers. It was about that time that the city of Aurora was building Spinney Reservoir to provide water for their city east of Denver. The reservoir was going to flood valuable fishing stream property, so to appease, Aurora also purchased the 1840 acres of the ranch surrounding the headquarters, and dedicated six miles of the Middle Fork of the South Platte River to public fishing. The city of Aurora owns the beautiful ranch and leases it out to various ranchers in the area for grazing.

In 2005, Aurora and Park County began discussions to decide how to best use and preserve the historically important ranch. Jeff Lee and Ann Martin, employees of the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver, had a remarkable vision that the ranch could become a world class model for education, research and tourism. After many years of negotiations, an agreement was signed between the city of Aurora and Lee and Martin. Their brainchild, the Rocky Mountain Land Library, was born and was envisioned as a facility in which people could conduct research in over 50,000 volumes of books relating to the history, natural resources, geology, culture and recreational opportunities of the Rocky Mountains.

The ranch will eventually serve as lodging for researchers, a venue for performances and lectures, a representation of ranching on the high mountain ranchland, and a massive library. Work continues as the rehabilitation of the buildings increases the capability of the ranch to become an iconic destination in the very heart of the Rocky Mountains.

In the spring of 2017, 1,000 plus supporters from around the world helped to successfully fund the Kickstarter Campaign to complete the first major interior restoration at Buffalo Peaks Ranch with the Cook’s House restoration.

“We are currently working with Park County on updating the ranch’s zoning to allow construction to begin, and anticipate completing the restoration of the Cook’s House in the summer of 2021, allowing us to host our first overnight guests and dramatically expand our programs and operations soon thereafter,” explained Jeff Lee, director.

The Rocky Mountain Land Library does not currently have regular open hours, but the hope is to increase open-house and volunteer days in 2021 to allow more visits and to begin circulating books from their collection before full operations begin.

With the completion of the Cook’s House restoration anticipated in the summer of 2021, it will begin acting as a residential library and hosting overnight guests and day-visitors soon thereafter. The first overnight stays will be experienced by their Kickstarter backers and Founding Members before opening to the public.

More information about the Land Library can be found on their website or join the email list to receive program schedules, volunteer day invitations and special event notifications. Their Facebook community has the most up-to-date information, regular book-focused blog updates and partner happenings.

“It has been a long process, but we are anxious to have our gates open, to take a class, or take out a book and finally be able to share the books and Buffalo Peaks Ranch,” concluded Lee.

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