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The First Round-up

by Judy Buffington Sammons
Gunnison, Colo.
Alonzo Hartman, center front, surrounded by his family on the steps of the "Hartman Castle" around the turn of the century. Photo courtesy of the"Ranching Heritage Project" at Savage Library - Western State College.

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One of the Western Slope’s very first cattle drives, at least one of any significance, took place in the summer of 1875 when a herd of 800 catte were moved from the Ute Agency’s cattle camp located near Gunnison, to a site near the Uncompahgre River in Montrose.

These cattle were the property of the Los Pinos Indian Agency which was then located southeast of Gunnison in the Cochetopa basin. The agency was placed in a wide park and situated at around 9,000 feet elevation. The Ute Indians had been moved to this agency after being forced off their lands by treaty. The Los Pinos Agency, established in 1869, was quite isolated, located some 300 miles southwest of Denver and 165 miles from Ft. Garland, the nearest military post. Its first and most immediate order of business was to provide food for the Indians.

Beef on the hoof provided the Utes with what would now be a large part of their diets. The agency needed a great number of cattle as well as many pounds of flour, coffee, bacon, and sugar, to provide for the needs of the Indians. Several bands of Utes and sometimes some stray Apaches got supplies from Los Pinos.

The Indians were expected to perform the kill of the beef themselves and they accomplished this in their traditional way, falling upon the terrified cattle at full speed as they bolted out of a corral. After the kill, the squaws would split the slain animals’ heads open with hatchets to access the brain matter, which was used for tanning. The pancreas was eaten raw, the rest of meat cut and dried, as was the Ute custom.

To provide additional needed grazing lands for the Ute beef, a cow camp was established in 1872 near Gunnison, and some twenty-five miles from the agency. It was manned by a square jawed and rugged young man named Alonzo Hartman. Hartman had recently come riding into the Gunnison Country across Cochetopa Pass and was destined to become the Gunnison Country’s very first cattleman. He had fallen in love with the country he saw as he crossed the divide ” big handsome skies, gentle hills covered with pure white snow, and off in the distance, superb high peaks reaching into the blue. Bent on staying, he hired on immediately at the Indian Agency, initially as a cook. But it wasn’t long before his services were needed elsewhere and Hartman was directed to assist with the care of the cattle at the Ute cow camp located near Gunnison. He rode to this camp in the dead of winter on a government mule, arriving in a blinding snow storm, soaking wet. He was hardly the picture of the dapper cowboy hero of the old West.

Soon Hartman and a couple of side-kicks ” Sidney Jocknick and James P. Kelley ” found themselves in charge of the government beef herd. Not long after, these three relatively young men and a few green horn assistants were called upon to trail the Ute’s live beef supply to the Montrose area. A herd of 800 cattle were moved from the Gunnison cow camp to the Uncompahgre River where the tribe would soon be relocated on orders from Washington. The cattle were to be trailed through some exceedingly rough terrain. They must cross the hills between Montrose and Gunnison where there were no roads ” only Indian trails ” and with a crew that were admittedly novices at trail drives. Sidney Jocknick recalled in later years in his writing, that the trip was ” plagued by difficulty from the very beginning.”

Foremost among their problems was the decision to transport the provisions of the trip aboard a “prairie schooner” loaded to the gun wales and requiring three yoke of cattle to pull it. The overloaded wagon soon proved to be a hindrance which was solved by throwing all unneeded items overboard. Progress was slow, not only because of the cumbersome schooner, but the little calves ” unaccustomed to travel ” soon became footsore and fell behind, their mothers staying back with them. Ten miles a day was average progress.

As cattle and riders reached exhaustion, grass became short and water nearly nonexistent. The result was a restless, thirsty and unmanageable herd. The outfit moved through an all pervading alkali dust cloud and conditions soon became ripe for a stampede. The miserable thirst of the cowboys apparently overrode the thoughts of an impending catastrophe and it was decided by the crew that emergency measures must be taken. They determined that the situation could best be dealt with by breaking into a keg of “good old Gukenheimer” carried aboard the schooner.

Alonzo Hartman, “trail boss,” seemed to feel that his position required of him that he act as bartender for this occasion and he preceded by serving liberal drinks. Drinking of the straight liquor on empty stomachs and with no water to wash it down inspired a round of melodramatic toasts by the crew. Perhaps they should not have let down their guard for the cattle had in the meantime smelled water and were making a wild stampede for the Uncompahgre River.

Sidney Jocknick summed up the trip in later years with this comment, “when the trail wasn’t up a mountain it went down into a bog . . . slow, but sure mileage and distinctively western, and taken as a whole, it was anything but the snap that such trips are usually cracked up to be.”

Hartman’s early cowboying days at the agency, along with the cattle drive, apparently served to whet his appetite for the cattle business and when the Utes were finally moved, he stayed on at the lonesome cow camp. The empty cabins and corrals of the cow camp had been given to him by the government. He and Jim Kelly decided to capitalize on their location near the confluence of two rivers and freighted in some supplies and set up a store. Then they brought more cattle in from the San Luis Valley. Hartman took up the cow camp land as a homestead where the Tomichi and Gunnison joined and called it the Dos Rios Ranch. Where two rivers meet is always a good location; it would be near the center of the growing activity that was starting up in the Gunnison Country. It wouldn’t be too long before the creak of freight wagon wheels, the rumble of the stage coach and the whistle of the train would drown out the wail of the lonesome coyote at the Dos Rios.

Hartman, seeing the changes coming, began capitalizing on his assets to advance his ranching business and to branch into various other occupations. But he remained essentially a rancher and eventually assembled one of the largest and most prosperous ranchers on the Western Slope, building on it a home for his wife Annie, that was called Hartman Castle ” by far the fanciest of the early ranch houses in the area. The castle at Dos Rios boasted a tower with ascending arched windows, a white oak staircase, parquet floors, stained glass windows, and fancy wood filigree everywhere. The castle that Alonzo built for his Annie still stands ” testimony to how far a man can go, even if he starts his ride on a government mule.

Sources: Gas Lights & Gingerbread by Sandra Dallas, Early Days on the Western Slope of Colorado by Sidney Jocknick, Early Days in the Gunnison Valley by Alonzo Hartman. Tall Grass and Good Cattle ” A Century of Ranching in the Gunnison Country by Judy Buffington Sammons.


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