Priscilla MangnallTHE WAY WE WEREGrand Junction Free Press History Columnist

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April 4, 2013
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THE WAY WE WERE: Plateau Valley once known for its cattle & butter production

Scott Walck and his wife, Betty, lived most of their lives in Plateau Valley where his family were ranchers and farmers at a time when the Plateau Valley, out of necessity, was its own self-sufficient community. Mr. Walck is a prolific and published writer with book upon homemade book of photos and writings of his memories of every aspect of his life spent in mostly muddy boots. I want to share with you what he has shared with me. This is part one.

From the time the first settlers arrived to a beautiful valley in 1881 there were no cleared fields, or means to irrigate the fertile soil. Without roads or trade centers, the valley was still a place of bountiful harvest. Within 10 years of untiring toil and hardships, the Plateau Valley became a very highly productive and diversified agriculture community and home to 4,000 citizens. The crude and impassable Indian trails the settlers used to enter the valley were developed. Irrigation systems and reservoirs had been built and more were in the construction and planning stages. Large tracts of land had been cleared of brush and rocks, plowed and planted with alfalfa, grasses for hay, small grains, corn, pasture and large orchards with many varieties of fruits, apples, peaches pears, plums and apricots. Large gardens had to be planted in order to survive in this new land and they produced a bountiful supply of produce.Little cash was made from the sale of the crops, dairy products or produce that was raised. There was a lot of bartering between neighbors but little money changed hands. Selling deer hides and men leaving in the winter to work in the mines helped to raise some cash. In the cooler months, beef, hogs and poultry would be butchered and delivered to the Grand Junction area over very bad roads but this market was limited. A better road to DeBeque (not good but better) and the railroad coming from the east in 1882, opened a market for the products raised and produced in the Plateau Valley.By 1903 there were a lot of livestock, produce and dairy products being shipped. DeBeque was a major player as a supply and shipping point for the Plateau Valley. This changed by 1911 when the road was improved in Plateau Canyon. 1892 was the magic year for the area when the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad came from the east and went on to Utah. This opened up a wide area for marketing products. Thousands of head of cattle were shipped to markets in the east and yearling cattle were shipped in to graze on the lush grass in the valley and on Forest Service land then shipped out in the fall or in many cases absentee owners would buy excess hay and winter these cattle here, creating a market for the hay.In 1914 the Double XX Ranch branded 1,200 head of yearlings and put them in the feedlot of the Buckhorn Ranch, another way to sell hay. There were a large number of horses raised, both for the local market and to be shipped east for the US Army Calvary mounts and to the south for draft animals. Tom McKelvie shipped at least one car of horses a month to the Denver Horse Barn market. Charlie Lable had a horse auction of fine driving and saddle horses at his ranch south of Collbran. Ervin Coalley raised fine Percheron draft horses and held an annual auction at his ranch south of Collbran.In 1903 the YT Ranch shipped ten railroad cars of cattle to Denver. Three men in Mesa shipped 776 crates of dewberries and another shipped 200 crates of strawberries by rail. In 1904 the YT had one shipment of 16 cars of cattle and the Platt Ranch at Molina shipped nine cars of cattle. This is just a sampling of the stock being raised and sold out of Plateau Valley by 1903.To give the reader an idea of the number of cattle shipped by the larger ranches in the early years, Buckhorn shipped 18 cars of cattle in one shipment in 1911. Bunger sold 75 milk cows to auction. He had a milk camp on Forest Service land and sold $1,900 of butter every three months under the Columbine Creamery brand. By 1914, YT shipped 23 cars of cattle. The smaller ranchers would pool their cattle to ship them. In 1914, B.F. Pitts and Gilliland drove 200 fat hogs to DeBeque and shipped them to Denver on the railroad. Movement of livestock by rail continued until the late 1950's and then trucks took over.In 1904 the Creamery was up and this opened up a market for the cream produced and tons of butter was shipped annually. Before this, the cream was home churned and sold to stores and individual homes. Cheese was homemade and also marketed this way.The pioneers that lived in Vega year around made many pounds of cheese. It would be stored in cellars and sold when the roads and weather permitted them to come to town. In 1905, a merchant in Pueblo contracted to buy 600 of butter a week. The Mesa Creamery had a successful year and paid dividends to patrons. In 1913 the creamery made 72,073 pounds of butter and paid patrons $16,482. The creamery hired four men to wrap butter. Each man wrapped 1,300 pounds of butter a day. In 1926, the creamery made 148,119 pounds of butter and paid the patrons $30,994. In today's economy this doesn't sound like a lot of money but at that time a silver dollar was as big around as a wagon wheel.The Creamery continued to ship large amounts of butter until after WWII. Besides the Plateau and Mesa Creameries, there were several businesses that bought cream independently and shipped it to creameries outside the valley. Some dairymen shipped their cream as far as Omaha and Beatrice, Neb., and one neighbor was still shipping cream to Beatrice in the 1970s. By 1950, most dairymen began changing their operations to produce and sell Grade A milk. This market provided more revenue that just selling cream. The size of the dairies ranged from 12 cows to 80 for the larger dairies. The milk was shipped to Grand Junction in 10-gallon cans to different processing plants. The Plateau Valley Stage hauled the milk and returned the empty cans to the producers. They ran two big van trucks, six days a week at the peak of this cycle of dairying and there were between 45 and 50 dairies operating in the Collbran and Mesa areas.Government regulations with the new loans made it too expensive for small dairies to comply and the end result was all but one dairy went out of business. They stayed into the 1990s. As of 2013 there may be a few cows milked for family use but very few. The dairy cow was a vital part of the economy for 100 years from feeding the family to bringing in cash. A good way to turn grass and labor into cash.To comment on Walck's historical record, call Priscilla at 970-260-5226, or email priscilla.mangnall@gmail.com.


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The Post Independent Updated Apr 4, 2013 03:32PM Published Apr 4, 2013 03:29PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.