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A Brief History of Chico Basin Ranch


Like all American history, Chico Basin Ranch’s history begins with Native Americans. Prior to the Homestead Act of 1862, the land the Chico Basin Ranch now occupies was a popular route and hunting ground for many Native tribes, including the Ute, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Sioux, and Comanche. In 1865 Charles Goodnight started trailing cattle from Texas into Southeastern Colorado near Chico, along the Goodnight-Loving Trail. The Goodnight-Loving Trail was a cattle trail that stretched from Texas to Wyoming. It was named after Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, close friends and cattlemen. The title characters in Larry McMurtry’s ubiquitous western novel, Lonesome Dove, are based on Goodnight and Loving.


The Tolle family briefly homesteaded on the Chico after Lincoln implemented the Homestead Act in 1862, which provided settlers with 160 acres of land to encourage westward expansion, and eventual ownership after five years. In 1871 HOP livestock – named after William Hurd, John Plummer and William Holmes – acquired the Chico. Hurd and Plummer were prominent businessmen and Holmes was a veteran seaman and mate who sailed clipper ships around the world. It was Holmes who raised his family and ranched at Chico for forty years while Hurd and Plummer helped manage the cattle business from afar.

This photo was taken after a roundup in the summer of 1887.


The famous potter, Artus Van Briggle, befriended Holmes and spent the summers of 1899-1901 at the Chico. He had tuberculosis, and many people believed the dry climate of southeastern Colorado could help aid recovery.

Here’s a photo of Artus at the Holmes house working on a cup.

This is what the Holmes house, where several Ranchlands staff members live, looks like today.


In 1878, the Bar JH Ranch was built on the southern end of Chico. The renovated homestead and corrals still stand today and occasionally we hold brandings and/or camp there.


The Lonestar Schoolhouse was built in the 1890’s and local students attended school until the 1940’s, when it was abandoned. The Ranchlands Education Program renovated the schoolhouse, but it burned down in 2013.


In the 1920s Drinkard and Emmert Consolidations, a large livestock commission firm out of Denver, bought several large ranches in the Chico Basin Area. In 1945, Drinkard and Emmert sold a 150,000-acre consolidation to Texas cattlemen, Oscar Appelt Sr. At that point it was the largest ranch east of the Rockies in Colorado.

Some cowboys taking a lunch break.


The Apelts owned the ranch until the 1970’s when they sold it to the Arizona-Colorado Cattle Company. It was renamed Box T Ranch. Eventually, 80,000 acres were leased to the US government and parcels on the west side were sold off. In 1992 the state of Colorado consolidated the land purchases to create the current Chico Basin Ranch.



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