Large Octavo Bifolium (ca. 23 x 20cm). 4 pp. Brown ink on yellowish lined watermarked laid paper. Fold marks, glue residue along the back page margin, closed tear on one edge of the back two pages, very light toning of the last page, but overall a content-rich letter, written in a legible hand.
A historically interesting letter from the pioneer days of West Las Animas (incorporated in 1886; Bent County), offering a fascinating insight into the negotiations in Colorado’s early cattle industry.
Dated 21 August 1878, the letter was written by Charles Henry Ripley (1842-1887), a pioneer stockman of Bent County, Colorado, and the owner of one of the largest cattle ranches in West Las Animas. Ripley was a son of a wealthy marble quarry owner and banker from Vermont. After serving in the Civil War and running a family business for a few years, Charles decided to head West. In 1870, “Ripley purchased a ranch in Bent County, Colorado Territory and some of Vermont’s and New York’s finest shorthorn cattle and Merino sheep to breed for the beef and wool trades. The Ripley spread, known as “The Meadows,” was not large; from the federal government, he bought 160 acres south of the Arkansas River, a few miles before Fort Lyon. His stone house became the post office – and Captain Ripley the postmaster – for the rapidly populating valley. With the coming of the railroad, he shipped stock in and out, but by the late 1870s he was in financial trouble.” In 1879, Ripley gave up the business and moved to Tokyo. On his way back to Japan after visiting India and Siam in December 1887, Charles drowned in the South China Sea when the ship he was on struck a rock off the southeast coast of Hainan Island. His body was never recovered.
The author wrote the letter at the height of his financial struggles and just months before selling his Colorado property. The addressee, Amos Prescott Baker (1844-1933), was a prominent realtor and son-in-law of Alfred Smith, at the time the largest real estate owner in New Port, Rhode Island. For more information see: Newport Mercury. 15 Dec. 1933. P. 3.
In the text, Ripley offers A. Prescott Baker to purchase his West Las Animas Ranch for $35,000 and passionately describes the property, discussing the ranch’s location, livestock (1200 head of cattle, 450 calves, 23 bulls, 22 horses, 40 mares & young stock) and their breeds, the superb quality of hay and water, climate, grass, local wild animals, etc. In the other passages, the author compares his ranch to that of his neighbors and asserts that the water in his well “is pronounced to be unsurpassed,” while his steer brings “from two or four dollars in market” than those of others. Ripley also declares that his range is unparalleled in the vicinity and clarifies that his reason for selling the property is purely due to a lack of time, concealing his financial struggles. Near the letter’s close, the author urges the addressee to act quickly, warning of competing parties interested in his valuable property. Overall, a historically interesting content-rich letter from the early days of cattle ranching in Colorado.
The text of the letter:
“I rec’d you letter in due time but it came just at a time when our work commences & really have had no time to answer it. At that time I had no thought of selling out but I find I cannot devote sufficient time to the business here & at the same time do business in the east & I have decided if I can get a fair price for the property to let it go – although it is with great reluctance I think of giving it up. I have been at the home ranch nearly all the bottom for 2 ¾ miles – all secured except my own homestead right which the house & stables stand. Four miles above I have 1 mile river front & extending to the bluffs. These claims will year in and year out cut 125 tons of excellent hay. My range south is not surpassed by any range in this territory. Well watered for stock, there has never been a year during the eight I have been here when the grass has not been good, while upon every other range there have been years when stock came out “spring poor” from lack of grass. I have upon the range about 1200 head of cattle not including 450 calves of this year’s tally. These cattle are of all classes – that is – steers 3 & 4 yrs old – cows – 2 year olds & yearlings in the usual proportion. The original stock was Texas (very few of the old stock remaining) bred up by crossing in them thoroughbred short horn bulls which came from Vermont. You can judge something of the quality of the stock when I tell you that my steers have always bro’t form two or four dollars in market than those of my neighbors. I have this summer brought from VT 10 bulls, one by 19th Duke of Andine & some of the rest by Monarch Geoyanne all out of thoroughbred cows & all registered in hand book, There are in all I think 23 bulls, 17 of which are hand book. I have a proper compliment of horse kind – 22 saddle horses, most of which I purchased in Kansas City last season & which are larger than the average cow pony & better. The rest are mares & young stock – in all 40 head. The mares are of excellent quality & there are enough to breed all your horses without additional purchases. There is everything here to make one quite comfortable. The climate for 40 miles either side up & down the river seems to be near equable than any part I know. In winter if we have a storm it is certain to extend all over the country, but often times storms prevail all about us when we have clear & delightful Spring weather. The water in my well is pronounced to be unsurpassed in the river. Every day we hear the exclamation from travelers (pilgrims we call them) on the road “that’s the best water we’ve struck yet.” The house itself needs some repairs to make it properly comfortable but the cook house & cellar & ice house, stables &c are in first class condition & as good as the country affords. The stable accommodates 14 horses & has grain & harness room with chicken house attached. I will sell my mark & brand – that is my claim to all stock in the 70 (called the Seventy Bar) brand – horses, cattle &c – seven claims of 1120 acres with warranty deed of all but the homestead – in fact all my property except of course my own private traps in the ranch & my saddles & bridles for the … sum of $35,000. I would not sell at any price if I could attend to this business & also my business east. This is the first summer I have been able to be here at all for three seasons & I ought not to be here now. There is fine sport – plenty of deer (white-tailed) & antelope here & 50 miles south there are buffalo in the winter. In the fall there is also good duck shooting. We have … no grouse or quail altho’ efforts are being made to plant them here. I have written up this hurriedly as my time is short. Answer as soon as possible would be desirable as some parties are negotiating for the property.”