Cayton Guard Station holds a legacy of Forest Service history
The Cayton Guard Station lies on the edge of the White River National Forest in the Divide Creek area near Silt. It is one of the oldest ranger stations in the United States. It was the administrative post for James Cayton, one of the original forest rangers. By Leah SilvieusSpecial to the Post Independent Within rough spruce cabin walls lie the legacies of early forest ranger James Cayton, the young national forest he sought to protect and the people he served.The Cayton Guard Station lies on the edge of the White River National Forest in the Divide Creek area near Silt. It is one of the oldest ranger stations in the United States. It was the administrative post for James Cayton, one of the original forest rangers. The story of the guard station is “just begging to be shared,” said Forest Service archaeologist Andrea Brogan. The guard station symbolizes the history of the Forest Service, Colorado and the westward movement, said Dave Cayton, grand-nephew of James Cayton. James and Adelaide “Birdie” Cayton finished building the log cabin by hand in 1910. The station was named the Johnson Spring Guard Station until it was later named in James Cayton’s honor. Birdie was a teacher at Fairview School near Silt and a daughter of a local rancher.”They had no big machinery, no big crews,” Dave Cayton said. “They lived in a tent and worked together, shoulder to shoulder, to build the three-room log cabin.”As an early forest ranger, James administered grazing permits, distributed fish and game licenses and fought wildfires among his duties on what was then the Battlement National Forest.”He would head out on his horse and [with] his tent,” Dave Cayton said. “Wherever he was at nightfall, he camped. He’d often be gone for several days.” His pencil-and-ink cursive trailing along the pages of his journals tells of interactions with ranching families, some of whose descendants are still in the area. Frank M. Starbuck is a rancher whose roots are intertwined with the Cayton story. Frank’s father homesteaded on Divide Creek, about three miles from the guard station. He received one of the first permits to graze cattle and horses on the White River National Forest.Frank rode with James, stayed at the guard station and had meals with the Caytons. James was friendly, “but Jim was firm, he didn’t talk much,” Frank said.In 1919, James and Birdie moved to California. When they returned to Colorado in 1921, James became the district ranger on the Rico District of the San Juan National Forest. A campground there is named in his honor. James retired from the Forest Service in 1939 and moved from Rico to Rifle. When James and Birdie moved to Rifle, they lived in the building that is now Karylett’s Country Store on East Avenue and James became the justice of the peace. James lived in Rifle until his death in 1956. Fast forward nearly five decades to June 2004. After more than 10 years of research and seeking funds, the Forest Service completed a historical assessment through an architectural contract. The structural integrity of the guard station and critically needed repairs were described, including stabilizing the foundation. Approximately $25,000 will cover the costs of critical repairs. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to do some of the critical repairs next July,” Brogan said. Other repairs will be completed as they are funded. “Restoration’s going to be done in stages,” said Rifle District Ranger Dave Silvieus. The Forest Service is nominating the Cayton Guard Station for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Listing on the Register means that a site is eligible for federal funds and recognition of its historical significance to the nation, state or community. The site is an excellent candidate for the historic register because of its incredible shape, its original setting and its construction during a critical era of Forest Service history under President Theodore Roosevelt, according to Brogan. The Forest Service will learn if the site is accepted for listing on the National Historic Register by February 2005, the same year the Forest Service and the town of Rifle will celebrate their centennial years.The Cayton Guard Station restoration project also will be a significant part of the White River National Forest’s year-long centennial celebration, “New Century of Service.” “The Cayton Guard Station will be the New Century of Service centerpiece because it embodies Forest Service history,” Silvieus said. “Cayton was the first ranger on one of the first national forests.” Once the building is restored, user opportunities abound. “It’s really critical that a building is lived in,” Brogan said. “It keeps it alive.” There are several trails near the station, including the Sunlight-to-Powderhorn trail, a groomed snowmobile trail. Cross-country skiing potential lies in the surrounding area and the cabin could be rented to horseback riders or hunters. The station could also be a meeting center or a place to get away from busy city life. “There’s a ton of potential for the station,” Dave Silvieus said. Dave Cayton said the cabin should not be an untouched relic behind a chain link fence, but an interactive historic legacy that makes “you feel like you’re at a ranger station in 1910.” The Forest Service has several partners in the Cayton project. The Colorado Historical Society and Silt Historical Society helped fund the project, and Dave Cayton wrote grants as well as contributed family history. “Dave was responsible for instigating the project and pulling it together,” Brogan said.Birdie Cayton donated her personal collection of documents and photographs spanning 1908 to 1968. The collection includes historical photos, letters, diaries, newspaper clippings and maps which relate to the Forest Service, the Cayton and Miller families and Colorado and U.S. history. These records are part of the National Historic Register application and some may be displayed in the restored cabin. For now, they are being kept at the Rifle District Ranger Office.The White River Interpretive Association or WRIA will handle donations for the project. “We are well on our way to celebrating this place and sharing it with the community,” Brogan said. “We are well on our way to celebrating this place and sharing it with the community,” Brogan said.
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