Press "Enter" to skip to content

Remembering the Four Mile Ranch

Article by Jim Ludwig

Local History – October 1999 – Colorado Central Magazine

THE OTHER DAY I was scrounging through a box of odds and ends, Dad’s jewels, the kids call them, and I found an old chert Indian scraper. It fit comfortably in the palm of my hand, the scraping edge sharpened by careful chipping of the chert.

I recognized it immediately. We had found it in the early sixties on the sunny side of a rock cliff up on the Four-Mile Ranch. The kids and I had gone up there to spend a bright, warm March day looking for Indian artifacts, and this was probably our best find. It brought back a flood of memories of that place and those times.

So let me tell you a tale.

I believe the year was 1959. I know it was a long time ago.

We lived in Buena Vista on James Street in the little house. Gary was a baby then, with Steve and Mark, Deb and Linda, Mom and I, we filled the place.

Next door was Mrs. Cyr. That lovely lady watched us carefully to be sure that we would get along and feel welcome in her town.

The house north of us was empty, an old house. Once I looked in through an open door; the plaster had pulled from the lath in spots and lay scattered on the floor. An old white clapboard house, known as “The Brown House,” it looked barely livable.

And then one day a family moved in.

One look at him, and I knew he was no farmer just blown in from Oklahoma to give the mine at Climax a good try.

He wore a sweat-stained Stetson squarely on his head; the right-hand roll of the brim showed signs of sweat and grease — the kind of dirt you get from jamming it back on when working on a baler or tying up a calf.

A long sleeved shirt, three snaps held it snugly at each wrist. Tightly fitted Levis, a wide leather belt, boots rolled slightly out and worse for wear.

The wind had burned the wrinkles on his face. His beard was grizzled gray, although he wasn’t an old man.

Had I never known a real cowboy, I would have guessed, this must be one.

We waved a hand of recognition, and walked toward each other, trailing kids behind. We met at the fence in perfect timing and each reached out a hand.

“Ray Sailor,” he said firmly, offering a solid grip from a worn and callused hand.

“Jim Ludwig,” I replied. “Welcome to the neighborhood.” Steve tugged at my leg, “and this is Steve, and Mark. and Linda. Say hello to Mr. Sailor, please.” Very solemnly, they did.

“This big girl here is Joyce,” Ray said. “And Ruth, and Randy. Say hi, kids. Looks like Randy must be Linda’s age. How about it, son?”

“I’m six and a half,” Randy announced.

“Me too,” said Linda, quite defiantly.

A pair to draw to, that was evident immediately.

“I’m a miner up at Climax,” I explained. “Just moved in last summer. Moved down here after eight up on the hill.”

“We just bought the Chicago Ranch,” Ray said. “Sold my place in Kansas a while back. It was too small to make a living, but too big to pay the taxes every year.”

“You got a lot of guts,” I said. “This ranching business can be tough. Let me wish you luck. How come you moved in here?”

“The old Chicago Ranch house is a shambles. We need to build it over. Needs a bathroom and a kitchen and lots more.

“Bring the Missus over,” he continued. “Meet Inez, my wife. Since we’re neighbors, might as well be friends.”

And we were. Immediately. There was something about Ray — his grip, his friendly, honest eyes — that made you want to have him on your side.

WE WERE BUSY, both of us, with raising families and working long day jobs, but we got acquainted anyway.

One Friday night we had a beer and Ray said, “Why don’t you ride up to the Four Mile Ranch with me? I’ve got to irrigate. I’ll head out about daybreak. You’re going to like that place.”

I had only seen it from the piñons up above, since a “No trespassing” sign meant what it said. I couldn’t wait.

The light of dawn was barely peeking through the ponderosas on the Jordan place when I heard the pickup’s horn. The truck had seen its best miles years ago. It banged and rattled on the washboard road.

Ray told me how the Four Mile, and Pyle’s pasture just across the hump, controlled the grazing rights on the east side of the Arkansas. He told me how the ranchers could protect a herd from winter winds, and how the cows would calve in comfort and seclusion as the winter waned.

We crossed the river and as the Midland Tunnels came in view, we took a hard right up the hill, and bounced around the rocks and piñons, past the woodsy fire pit where now and then kids from Buena Vista would tap a keg.

“This trail to the right,” he said, “goes down to the arrastra by the creek, where old-time miners ground the ore to look for gold. If you wander far enough, you’ll find the Goddard homestead and the Seven Mile Pass, which Indians used to come into this valley from South Park.

“Since ancient times the Indians met to trade in this part of the upper Arkansas that we call the banana belt,” he continued. “Pueblos and Navajos came through the valley of San Luis into this, the homeland of the Utes. Arapaho and Cheyenne came from the eastern plains. Many must have camped on Four Mile; there are arrow heads and flint chips scattered all about. Yet that rock isn’t native to this valley. It was carried in from God knows where.”

A lower road was washed out, so we headed up a ridge. A switchback and a curve or two, and we cleared the piñons for a bit.

The valley of the Four Mile on our right was still partly hidden by the gloom of the not fully risen sun. The ancient rocks beyond, in sculptured beauty, cast lengthy shadows on the valley floor. To the north, the twin peaks of the Buffalo glowed brightly in the sun, the white of winter snow now nearly gone.

We turned off to the right. The road reduced to double tire tracks, and we drove down to a padlocked gate. As I recall it wasn’t long before Ray threw that lock away.

NOW THE MEADOW lay before us. A thin line of willows followed the life-giving stream. Some Hereford lowed across the way, content to feel the warmth of the rising sun. The green of irrigated grass was bright. Above the ditch, the gray-brown of the desert land was dull.

We crossed the creek, drove through a grove of cottonwoods, and parked above the ditch where a pair of canvas dams kicked out the lifeblood of the land.

As Ray rearranged the dams, I stared in absolute delight at the beauty of the place. My back was to the rising sun. Before me stretched the valley of a drugstore cowboy’s dreams.

I could barely see a cabin to the left before the rocks cut off the view. Lifting my eyes above those rocks, I looked across the valley to the peaks along the great divide, white and bright with snow, and I recalled another traveler, years before, who had looked upon another valley, in another state, and exclaimed, “This is the place!”

But to call this place a ranch was stretching the term quite a bit.

The little cabin smelled of pack rats, and a porcupine in endless search for salt had chewed a hole through the rough sawn floor. Only a window pane or two remained.

“Someday I’m going to fix it up,” Ray said. “Enough that we can camp here when we push the herd on up the valley, through the pass into the meadows near Rough and Tumbling Creek. I have grazing rights for eighty pairs up there.”

A fallen leanto sagged against the rocks. Nearby was a barn of monstrous hand-hewn logs, with the chinking weathered out and the slabwood gone to decorate a city den.

The old corral had been repaired enough to hold some stock. But the creek was nearly dry, its water stolen to make green the meadow up above.

Not a ranch really, just a place to dream.

We worked our way back through the meadow; with practiced eye, Ray checked the cattle carefully.

“You’re welcome any time,” said Ray. “It is such a peaceful place. Soon we’ll move the cattle out and up the hill, then you can have the run of things.”

We took him at his word, and for the next few years we camped and picnicked and searched those hills for arrow heads.

The cabin was repaired. The fences and the corral were put into use again. When the road washed out, it was fixed. Sometimes the ditches ran full, but sometimes they filled with sand.

The Sailors moved to the remodeled house at the Chicago Ranch on Rodeo Road. We moved across the street into the Jordan House and raised our family there.

And the kids grew up.

Now and then, Ray and I would have a beer down at the hotel bar and we’d catch up on our families, then straighten out the problems of the world a bit. We had a close and casual friendship; we didn’t need to talk to keep it lit.

He was a friend like no other.

One Saturday, not long before we moved away, I drove up to the Four Mile and found a big new lock and a “NO TRESPASSING” sign. Now what the hell?

I came back down to Main Street, and saw Ray’s pickup at the old hotel.

Inside, I looked down through the crowd and hazy smoke, and saw him sitting at the bar, all alone, with an empty shot glass and empty beer glass nearby. Another half-filled beer was the object of his stare.

I MOTIONED TO THE BARKEEP, she filled the shot glass, and set me up a beer as I straddled the stool next to him, “Hello Ray. Long time, no see.”

“Hello Jimmy,” he replied. He raised the shot glass to my beer, “In your eye!” he said, then tossed the whiskey down.

“You sell the Four Mile Ranch?” I asked.


I took a slow drink of my beer. “Who to?”

“Some guy from Chicago.” His eyes were squinted, almost closed, still looking at the beer glass in his hand.

I raised a thumb to the bartender. “Better fill them up, again.”

I looked back at Ray, “Now why the hell did you do that?” I asked. “He’ll probably fill it full of summer homes for city slickers from back east.”

“I know, I know.” His voice broke just a bit, “I had to, Jimmy. It was either sell that place or lose the whole Chicago Ranch. It was the only way that I could raise the money that I had to have.” He downed the shot.

I caught the bar girl’s eye, “Better give me a shot of that stuff,” I said as she filled them up again. I threw a twenty on the bar. “Thanks.”

There was nothing else to say. We sat silently, staring at our beer. “This one’s on me,” she said.

I slid off the stool and extended my hand. His hard and callused hand squeezed my now office-softened palm.

“Oh, Crap!” I said, choking as I turned and left the bar — and left Ray staring at his beer. I dared not wipe my eyes until I was out of sight.

That was the last time I saw my friend.


Some years later in my office at Amax headquarters in Golden, my chief Engineer, Max, and I were meeting with some land men from the U. S. Forest service. We had a large scale map of the State of Colorado spread across the desk. The National Forest lands were in bright green, the Bureau of Land Management land was in yellow and the privately held land was in tan.

We had just agreed to see if we could buy some isolated homesteads near Cochetopa Pass in the Rio Grande National Forest northwest of Saguache. They were near the old Ute Indian agency and were owned by the Coleman ranches. Like ranchers everywhere in the late seventies, the Colemans were having trouble making ends meet and the Forest Service wanted to return those lands to the forest in exchange for land we needed at our developing mines.

Our discussion of the plight of ranchers reminded me of Ray Sailor. I pointed my pencil at a spot on the map just outside Buena Vista in the San Isabel National Forest, a tan thumb surrounded by green.

“Would you be interested in this?” I asked.

The Land Man squinted a bit, “Hell, yes,” he said, “That’s the old Four Mile Ranch. About thirteen hundred acres, used to be part of the Chicago Ranch. Heard some guy from back East is going to develop it. Don’t believe it’s for sale.”

“We’ll see,” I replied.

After they left, I told Max, “You buy that land. Whatever it takes.”

And Max was able to do just that. The Four Mile was exchanged back to the National Forest as a minor part of a larger exchange.

I retired back to Buena Vista in the early eighties, and never did drive up to the Four Mile because I wanted to remember it like it was twenty years before. Then finally, about 1986, I took my llama, Thistle, for a walk up there.

There was no trace of the barn, corral or cabin. All the fences and ditches that defined the meadow were gone. The grove of cottonwood was nearly dead from lack of water. Campers had built rock firepits along the creek where it wasn’t completely overgrown by willows.

With the exception of some ATV trails, everyone had done their best to return the Four Mile to the forest.

I liked it a lot better when water ran in the irrigation ditches, when the grass was green and Herefords lazed on the hillsides.

Ray died suddenly in 1971, not long after I talked to him in the hotel bar. I see Inez now and then; she lives by herself right near our driveway. She doesn’t go back to the Four Mile because the last time she did it made her cry.

Randy has developed a little place on what Ray called Pyle’s Pasture over the hill east of Buena Vista that we call the Sleeping Indian. Randy runs a few cows and I believe he still holds some of the old grazing rights. Joyce has a home on the quarter-section Ray was able to hold on to, south of the Four Mile near the Arkansas River, and she tends what is left of the old Chicago Ranch.

And I sentimentally write of old times, old places and old friends. I shared this tale with Joyce, Ruth, and Inez the other night, and Joyce commented, “I always knew Dad felt very deeply about you, but never understood why. I didn’t realize you felt the same way.”

He was truly a friend like no other.

Jim Ludwig lives in Buena Vista, where he helps tend the Pleasant Avenue Nursery.