Learning about the past | SteamboatToday.com

Learning about the past

Carpenter's legacy carries with it the story of the Yampa Valley

Autumn Phillips

After you die, your story is only as good as the people left behind to tell it.

As Barbara Carpenter sorted through boxes of photographs and newspaper articles, the story of one man’s life — her father-in-law, Farrington Carpenter — rested in her hands.

It took her six months to choose the right photographs for an exhibit called “Sense of Place” that tells the story of Carpenter Ranch and the man who built it.

The end result of her work is on display at the Depot Art Center today through May 16.

The story, as Barbara Carpenter tells it, begins in New Mexico when Farrington was a teenage farmhand on Dawson Ranch.

In 1905, Carpenter left Dawson Ranch to study at Princeton.

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While he was in New Jersey, Dawson decided to leave New Mexico for a 2,000-acre ranch in Routt County.

He wrote a letter to Carpenter inviting him back to the West.

“Colorado is new country,” he wrote, “and the place for a young man to go. The public domain is all open and unfenced. Any citizen over 21 years of age can file on a homestead and, by living on it seven months a year for five years, can get title to 160 acres of free land. The hills out there are full of deer and elk and antelope and the streams are full of trout.” *

Dawson offered Carpenter a summer job on the new ranch.

Carpenter would study at Princeton in the winter and work in Colorado in the summer. After graduation, he continued his studies at Harvard Law School and filed on his own land in 1907 on his 21st birthday.

According to the Homestead Act, a person must live on their land for seven months out of the year. Carpenter would have friends put ashes in the woodstove and leave footprints around his cabin while he was away at school so it would appear that he was living there year-round, said Betsy Blakeslee, outreach coordinator for Carpenter Ranch, now owned by The Nature Conservancy.

In the exhibit, there’s a photograph of Farrington Carpenter on horseback in the middle of “downtown” Hayden. Instead of the asphalt street that lies there today, there’s a field of prairie grass in front of the restaurant.

“It think this photo gives the flavor of Hayden back then,” Barbara Carpenter said.

Carpenter was a cattle rancher, but he also was Hayden’s first attorney.

He wrote in his autobiography, “Confessions of a Maverick,” “Hayden had never had a lawyer and, to my mind, did not need one — but I decided to make it need one.

“Hayden was a little bit of a town in 1912. … I nevertheless regarded its setting in the fertile valley of the Yampa River as one of the most beautiful spots on earth — an I continued to think so all my life.” Hayden had 410 residents, two hotels, three livery stables, three blacksmith shops, a newspaper, a barbershop, two banks and a church.

Its one physician, Dr. Solandt, doubled as a veterinarian.

As a Hayden resident, Carpenter was a driving force behind the founding of the Solandt Hospital and the founding of the Elk Head School.

“(With the exhibit) I tried to give a flavor of how he evolved in the valley and how the ranch evolved in the valley,” Barbara Carpenter said. “But he was also a national figure.”

As the first director of grazing for the Department of the Interior, Farrington Carpenter was instrumental in drafting the legislation known at the Taylor Grazing Act

Farrington Carpenter was a charismatic man who entertained clients and friends in a way that sticks in the minds of those who knew him.

“He was the most incredible storyteller,” Barbara Carpenter said. “I went to a dinner with my husband (Willis Carpenter) and my cousin, who had never met Willis before, told him that he remembered meeting Farrington on a train when he was a teenager 50 years ago.”

Her cousin even remembered the story Farrington had told him at the time.

“That’s why he could get things done,” Barbara Carpenter said. “People loved him. He was a great intellectual, but he was also an incredible human.

“As a photographer, I feel so fortunate that the family has saved these photographs and that I could go through them and tell a story, a true story.”

Years ago, the Carpenter family chose to keep their father’s legacy alive by selling the ranch to the Nature Conservancy.

“We can freeze a point in history and share that with people,” Blakeslee said. “The Carpenter Ranch will remain a working cattle ranch that is innovative and cutting edge, just as Farrington was in his politics, his animal science and his service to the community.”

  • Information for this article was taken from “Confessions of a Maverick: An Autobiography” by Farrington R. Carpenter.

If you go What: Opening reception for “Sense of Place,” an exhibit of historic photographs depicting the evolution of Carpenter Ranch from 1888 to 1958 When: 5 to 7 tonight. Gallery talk with Barbara Carpenter from 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday Where: Depot Art Center, 1001 13th St. Courtesy photos If you go What: Opening reception for “Sense of Place,” an exhibit of historic photographs depicting the evolution of Carpenter Ranch from 1888 to 1958 When: 5 to 7 tonight. Gallery talk with Barbara Carpenter from 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday Where: Depot Art Center, 1001 13th St.