History of Bledsoe Ranch
William E. Bledsoe was one of the first white men on the Texas high plains, gathering mustangs in the heart of Indian Country. He and his wife, Lillie, had seven boys and two girls. Robert, May, Irma, Carl, Frank, Henry, Ed, and Jim grew to adulthood, but Roy passed away at 16. William and Lillie ran a boarding house in Fort Griffith while it was a trail-drive town. Carl was born there, and Lillie was said to have cooked dinner for all the boarders the day he was born.
Shortly after Carl was born, the family homesteaded around Abernathy, Texas, and William was honored as a founding father of Lubbock County. They ran sheep and cattle over a large area in northwest Texas and just over the border into New Mexico. In 1918, the entire land on which they operated was faced with the third year of a drought that left William scrambling for relief. William sold 1,000 cows and had 1,000 left. He was going to sell the remaining cows to another gentleman, but while on his way to take delivery of them, the buyer was hit and killed by a train. George Wright, a good friend and real estate agent from Kansas City, then sold William two pieces of land, originally homesteaded by Brett Grey and Clark Wright, in the northwest corner of Cheyenne County, Colorado. William then shipped the cows by rail up Aroya, Colorado along with his son, Carl, his son’s wife, Josie, and their daughter, Mary Jo, to take care of the cattle.
The winter of 1918-1919 was very brutal, and they lost 100 head of cattle due to the storms and the deep snow that covered the pastures. At a very high price, Carl shipped some hay in from the mountains on the railroad, which was then hauled to the ranch by horse and wagon. They paid $60/ton for the hay (which is $1,080 by today’s standards).
In 1918, economic times were good and the price of cattle was about $100/head. William Bledsoe’s corporation owed about $40/head on the cattle, putting him in strong financial position. Three years later, in 1921, hard times hit and cows were selling for $18/head. William dissolved his corporation, and Josie and Carl were forced to continue on their own. Carl always said if he ever made any money he would return to Texas, but obviously he never did.
In 1920, Carl’s brother, Ed, joined him in Aroya for a year or so, but then left to partner with their other brother, Henry, on a ranch around Haswell, Colorado. Ed and Henry eventually went on their separate ways, but both became prominent Colorado livestock producers.
Carl was regarded as a windmill expert. At a very young age, he became the foreman for Finch Bros., a large ranch east of Dalhart, Texas with many large windmills. He once said he saw the wind blow hard there for 40 days straight. Once in Colorado, he constructed a wind charger with a battery set-up, giving them electricity in their home in 1927. Carl also put a double-cylinder pump on a windmill, pumping the water uphill to a homemade water storage tank and then piping the water downhill to their home. The Bledsoes had indoor electricity and plumbing decades before most of America.
To make a living in the 1920s and 1930s, Carl was forced to run some sheep. He received financing to buy 1,000 ewes and went down to Texas with his neighbor, Brett Grey, to look at some sheep to buy. Carl thought the sheep were so good he bought 2,000 ewes. He gave $8/head for the sheep, but a year later The Great Depression hit and they were worth $3/head. For the next few years The Depression, blizzards, and droughts were devastating and much livestock and land was lost. Also, during that time, the wind charger broke down and it was over two years before they were able to afford the repairs. They considered it disgusting to go from lights back to kerosene lanterns. Years later, Carl spent weeks driving around Cheyenne County signing-up citizens for the Rural Electric Association. Cheyenne County was able to join with Kit Carson County and, in 1954, dependable electricity was a brought to the region.
In the 1940s, Carl repurchased the land he had lost during The Depression. This area included the “high spots” in Cheyenne County (5,250 feet) and adjoining Kit Carson County (5,290 feet). As dumb luck would have it, nearly a century later, this high ground is now the location to many wind turbines powering electricity to the Colorado Front Range.
Carl and Josie had three children. Daughter Mary Jo, who was born in Texas, and sons William II (Bill) and Beverly, who were born on the ranch in Colorado. All three children attended a one-room schoolhouse on the south end of the ranch for primary school and graduated from Kit Carson High School. After graduating from high school, Mary Jo went on to attend the University of Colorado, then went to Salt Lake City where she was married. Bill went on to attend Colorado State University where he studied Animal Science, then returned home to the ranch to continue the operation. Beverly joined the Army and fought in World War II before attending Colorado State University, then joined his brother back on the ranch. Both boys worked hard alongside their dad to grow the operation and establish sound infrastructure. In 1960, due to growing families, Bill and Beverly decided to split the land that was left to them by Carl. Beverly’s operation became what is known as Bledsoe Livestock, and Bill’s operation remained known as Bledsoe Ranch.
In 1952, at the age of 33, Bill ran as a State Representative for Colorado and won the seat by only a few votes. In 1954, Bill ran for State Senate and again narrowly defeated his Democratic challenger. From that point on, he won elections by landslides. After 12 years as a Senator, Bill returned to Eastern Colorado full time to focus on his family and growing the ranch operation, but his passion for helping others persisted. Bill remained a public servant for the community. He was always willing to sit on a board, go to a meeting, help fundraise, or do whatever else he could to better a cause or a person’s life.
Bill and his wife, Helen, had four children who were raised in a home a mere 85 feet from where Bill was born. Following in his father’s footsteps, Bill’s son, William III (Bill Jr.) returned to the ranch following graduation from Colorado State University. In college, he had learned of Gelbvieh cattle, a breed originated in Germany. The next spring, Bledsoe Ranch had the first Gelbvieh calves in the United States. Bill Jr. and his wife, Hilary, bred the Gelbvieh herd progressively until the late 1980s when, looking for some changes in genetics, Bill Jr. bought his first Red Angus bulls.
Bill Jr. and Hilary had three children – Helyna, William IV (Wil), and James (Jim). Just as the two prior generations, Wil and Jim both attended Colorado State University and returned home to work alongside their father and grandfather. The many years having the three generations as active leaders of the operation made the ranch’s longevity possible. In June of this year, Bill passed away after almost 99 years on the ranch. He is greatly missed and was looking forward to celebrating this milestone with everyone.
Bill, Wil, Jim, and their families live every day with passion for the ranch and the cattleman lifestyle. They cherish greatly the relationships and the community that has made Bledsoe Ranch what it is today. It is truly an honor to be a part of the Eastern Colorado community.
The Bledsoe Family