By Mike Rosso
Some old-time Salidans still refer to it as the Clifton Ranch. It was Clarence Clifton who sold the vast ranch on the eastern end of Salida to Harold Vandaveer in 1957.
Chaffee County records indicate that Clifton had purchased some or all of the ranch from Theodore and May Driggers in 1948, but records before that grow cold. It was in 1947 that the new “interstate” highway, U.S. Hwy. 50, split the ranch in half in an effort to create a direct route from Maryland to California.
Harold raised beef and dairy cows northwest of Mosca in the San Luis Valley before moving to the Upper Arkansas Valley. Previous to that, he had moved from Oklahoma to the Durango, Colorado area in 1934, where he ranched throughout the 1930s and 40s, according to his son Glen. Harold, whose wife Opal worked at the Salida Hospital, started out by working for the U.S. Forest Service and growing vegetables for the railroad. He then began to raise cows – from 70 to 120 head, mostly beef cattle – but they also kept some dairy cows and sold milk to a creamery in Pueblo to supplement the family income. When Glen took over the family ranch, he purchased additional land from the Martillaro and Swallow families. The Martillaro family had also farmed the land to supply the railroads.
The Tenassee Ditch, which originates from the South Arkansas River, runs through the ranch, named after “Old Man Tenassee” who lived on the property in the 1850s and 60s and likely dug the ditch that bears his name, according to Glen Vandaveer. The ditch was appropriated in 1878.
Doyle Burgett, who owns property adjacent to the Vandaveer Ranch, recalls Harold walking the ditch with a holstered pistol. “He was very protective of that ditch,” said Burgett. His wife Joan remembers Harold as “a good neighbor. He was very good to me. He let me graze my horses on his property.” Joan also recalls how lush the property was when it was still a ranch. “You’d drive into Salida from the east and see this beautiful sea of thick, green grass. It’s a shame it doesn’t look like that anymore.”
Brenda and Billy Warren, who lived for a while in the old Vandaveer Ranch house on C.R. 105 until relocating to Tennessee, remembered Glen bailing alfalfa and grass on the ranch with his two huge draft horses, Ted and Tom, using a flatbed trailer he hitched up to them.
An old cabin still sits just beyond the south end of the property that was built by the Waters family and later owned by the Spencer family, from which came Hollis Spencer, Salida’s police chief in the late 1800s. The cabin was known to have been last occupied in the 1950s by George Kutsar, who moved out after the well was supposedly poisoned in 1956. The cabin is currently owned by Jon and Terré Terrell of the Tudor Rose Bed and Breakfast, who hope to eventually move it up the hill closer to the B&B and restore it.
Glen continued ranching on the property until 2003, with as many as 200 head of cattle at its peak, until he sold it to the city of Salida, who took possession of the 340 acre/feet of water. He relocated to Missouri for “health, politics and money,” and continues to raise cattle, or as he puts it, “still raising black hamburgers,” referring to his preferred breed, the Angus. “I was satisfied with the settlement (with the city). The Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District wanted it (the ranch) as well, as my rights were senior to theirs,” he said. When the city was in negotiations with the developer Courageaux, who wanted to build an 18-hole golf course and subdivision, Glen still owned the note on the property and said he had no intention of signing off on it for that project. When asked if he had any regrets about selling the ranch, he replied “I regret having dug all those fenceposts.”
Above: The Old Vandaveer barn today. Photo by Mike Rosso. Right: Glen Vandaveer employing his draft horses, Ted and Tom at the ranch.
Below right: Glen standing at the back door of the old farm house. Photos by Brenda Warren.