Colorado History – Part 3 of 3
By Maggie Magoffin
My grandparents were Henry A. and Vina S. Ramstetter. My Grandfather Henry’s parents homesteaded the Guy Hill Ranch, and what follows are some of my most treasured memories.
Our spring times were filled with activity; castrating and branding calves, breaking wild horses, planting, weeding, and cutting hay. In the summer time, we picked peas and I once found a silver dollar under a pea vine down at the old Buckman place. We fished in high country where I caught my first and only fish with a willowy branch, string and a hook with a wiggly worm. There is nothing like fresh trout fried with a dab of butter and a little salt and pepper over a campfire. We brewed coffee in our big, silver coffee pot by boiling cold water then dropping in a clean white cloth filled with coffee grounds and broken egg shells with a pinch of salt and tied off at the top—best coffee ever.
Grandma was given a pressure cooker for speaking to the Columbine Club and we used the cooker to can vegetable, fruit, and almost everything. The thing whistled and spit steam out the sides and it terrified me. We also canned venison, elk, and an occasional chicken. Grandma twisted the chicken’s necks, which was almost as bad as when Grandpa chopped their heads off and they ran all over the yard headless. Thanks to that pressure cooker, we always had a pantry full of canned food to get us through the winter. There was always a basket or two of apples in the basement that lasted most of the winter, too.
Grandma made cottage cheese in pillowcases. I know she hung them from the clothesline to drain. I’m not sure how it all worked, but the result was great. We made homemade ice cream and churned butter—yum! After we churned the butter, we put the leftover milk in jars and stored them in the icebox. The guys loved a big glass of cold buttermilk with salt! We got malt from Coors brewery. While we waited for the malt to be dumped into the bed of our truck, the guys got free beer, and I liked to taste the foam.
We had a truck we named Brownie. That truck had character. I remember the guys repairing a broken hose with one of Grandma’s old nylon stockings and a hairpin. Brownie would take us to the field to mow hay. The guys threw the hay into the air to get rid of the shaft then loaded it on Brownie to take back to the barn. We laid on top of the hay to keep it from blowing off as we traveled home—it was itchy but smelled good. We’d look up at the sky and giggle as we bounced over the bumpy road. The hay was unloaded into a big haystack behind the barn. Later, we’d put the hay into the loft, but in the meantime it was fun jumping from the loft into that big stack of hay. Covered in hay, we looked like scarecrows.
I loved going up into the hayloft. Once, my cousin, Jimmy climbed up the ladder ahead of me, but when he got to the top he let out a holler and hurried back down—knocking me off the ladder in the process because I was right behind him. I looked up to see a very upset bobcat staring back. The cat jumped over Jimmy and me and ran out the door. We both hollered at the top of our lungs. Grandpa heard us and witnessed the bobcat hightailing it out of the barn. He ran in and was laughing so hard he couldn’t hear a word we said.
Walking home from school was quite a challenge. I had to climb over a cattle guard on our property, and there was this horse named Queenie who always chased me—she was mean and only my dad could ride her. I’d climb up the tallest rock I could find and wait her out. There were two big rocks and I used the one off the main road where Bertha’s land began. It looks like a howling coyote. The other rock is just before you go into the trees toward our house. It always had a bunny living in it, and it still does. Dad called it the butt hole rock because it looked like one, but I called it the bunny rock. When Queenie wasn’t chasing me, Bertha’s Guernsey bull would come after me. He was ornery, had a nasty attitude, and liked romancing our Herford cows. Finally, we had to put up an electric fence to keep him away from them. When I walked home from school in the snow, my eyebrows and eyelashes crusted with snow, and when I got home, I’d take off my shoes and socks and warm my feet with the oven. Then, there were chores and homework to do by the light of kerosene lamps. At night, we used lanterns for milking and going to the outhouse.
Ernst Ramstetter lived above the Baughman Ranch up by the old Jully homestead. We always called Ernst “Ants” though I don’t know why. He lived in a little shack, but he was just fine with his situation and liked being alone. They said he became a loner many years before due to a very emotional upset with a lady he cared about. She liked music and played the piano, so he bought her a piano. Evidently, the caring was not part of her future. One day, she packed up everything, including the piano, and took off for “Never Never Land.” This ordeal made him swear off women, and he decided to become a loner from then on. He walked to town or caught a ride to get supplies. Sometimes, when he walked back home from Golden Gate Canyon on Guy Hill, I ran to meet him when I saw him come over the hill behind Grams house. I helped carry things or just walked him home to keep him company. I really liked him and he tolerated me. We’d talk a bit and he’d give me a snack before I went home.
Uncle Ernest (Ern) had a big sheep ranch on Rocky Flats between Golden and Boulder. They herded their sheep up Golden Gate Canyon to high country for the summer. It was quite a sight. Sometimes we went to their ranch and Dad helped shear the sheep. They went in fat and fluffy and came out bare-naked! Uncle Ern had a great sheep dog, and he was poetry in motion when he was working. If sheep tried to leave the herd, that dog was right on them. I’m talking about a huge herd of sheep! I once asked Uncle Ern how the dog controlled all those sheep when they were everywhere and a long ways off from the herd since he was only one dog. Uncle Ern whistled and gave a command and the dog responded immediately. He took off, jumped on the backs of the nearest sheep, and in a twinkling of an eye, he ran across the carpet of sheep backs and proceeded to bring some wayward sheep back into the fold. I was amazed! That dog was so smart. Aunt Gladys usually had a meal ready and their house was huge. She hooked huge, beautiful rugs for the whole house that covered the entire floor. Their son, Donald, later took over the ranch. A hired sheepherder shot and killed him when Donald confronted the man about being drunk while working the sheep.
For entertainment at night, we read, drew, or colored. I made paper dolls out of catalog people. I cut them out and pasted them onto cardboard. I used homemade paste made of flour and water, and I had to make the paste smooth or the people would be lumpy. I drew clothes or cut out fashions from catalogs with tabs to hold them onto the paper dolls. We listened to radio programs, but that was quite an undertaking as we had to take the battery out of the truck and hook it up to the radio. When we were done, the battery went back into the truck. We listened to shows like: The Creaking Door; Fibber McGee and Molly; Sgt. Preston and His Dog King; the Arthur Godfrey Show; Jack Benny and Dennis; Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour; I Love Lucy; Amos and Andy; the Ed Sullivan Show; Jimmy Durante; Hollywood Squares; Art Linkletter; I Love a Mystery; Groucho Marx; and The Grande Ol Opry.
Every Fourth of July the whole mountain held a celebration on Guy Hill. We didn’t need fireworks. We played softball, had sack races and three-legged races, and played all kinds of games. People from the Strangs’ dude ranch up Crawford Gulch played horse polo with brooms. There was lots of good food, cold drinks, and kids. After the picnic, the Strangs held a dance at their ranch. The kids slept in the bunkhouses while the grownups frolicked through the night. We fell asleep hearing the fiddles playing their bouncy tunes.
Every Christmas, we cut a real tree from the ranch, brought it inside and decorated it. There was good food and special surprises. Christmas Eve arrived with snow and a crackling fire. Grandma gathered everyone together, and she lit real candles held in special silver slips on the tree. They could only burn long enough for us to sing a carol or two as Grandma played the piano. Grandpa made Tom & Jerry drinks for the grownups and served apple cider to the kids. We sampled goodies and listened to our grandparents stories. Here are a few I remember:
They found a lot of creative ways to fool the revenuers and hide the old still: They cut feet off deer or elk carcasses, fastened them to branches and used them to cover their tracks in the snow to the still. They kept a bottle of moonshine under the kitchen sink. The boys found it and took a nip or two then they filled the bottle back up with water. Grandma knew about the bottle and always worried about the revs finding it—which they eventually did. They took it to be tested and thanks to the boys, they only found mostly water.
One time Ralph and Jim were late for school, and their story to the teacher was they were awakened in the dark of night by a ruckus out by the chicken coop. Grandpa made the boys come out in their long undies and put shoes on. In his long johns as well, Grandpa grabbed his rifle, and they all trekked outside to find coyotes trying to get to the chickens. Grandpa bent over to survey the situation when old Duke came up and put his cold, wet nose against Grandpa’s behind, which was partially exposed by the back flap of his long johns. Gramps let out a holler, the gun went off, the chickens squawked with feathers flying and the coyotes ran off. After all the commotion and securing the coop, Ralph and Jim told their teacher didn’t get enough sleep.
One time, while Grams and Gramps were shopping in town; Walt, Karl, Ralph and Jim brought a big wild cat into the house. Their sister, Ruthie, watched them bring in the cat. Growling and hissing, it climbed the curtains. In a panic, Ralph told Ruthie to pray. She cried, “I don’t know how!” Then she hid her head under the covers. The boys thought it was funny. Ruthie did not!
When Gramps’ folks first homesteaded in Colorado, Indians came to trade for sugar, flour, and other supplies, and they once tried to trade a dark-haired papoose for a light-haired child.
When Gramps’ folks previously lived in Pennsylvania, they lived in a log cabin that had no door. At night, they used their big, heavy, wood table to cover the doorway for warmth and protection. Gramps found this table in a barn many years later. We were told the story of this big table as being the only protection at night from wolves, and were told the burn marks around the edges of the table were from the family poking hot pokers out to keep the wolves at bay.
When they first moved to Crawford Gulch, Gramps went to town for supplies while Grams stayed at home. Ralph and Jim found a hornets’ nest in a dark corner of the barn and decided they would get rid of it. They got a long rope, tied it to the nest, and set the rope on fire. It burned quickly, and the barn caught on fire. Ralph ran to the house crying. Grams ran out, but they couldn’t get the fire out. Grams sent Ralph to get help, but by the time help arrived, it was too late. The barn was history and so was the hornets’ nest. Later, the neighbors got together and helped build another barn.
Gramps said that a long time ago, there was an old sawmill on the hill somewhere behind the summer pasture. He said they cut most of the area and there are no stumps because they pulled them all out. They used burrows to pull on ropes they tied around the stumps.
Grams taught in one-room schoolhouses and occasionally she and the students were snowed in and the kids couldn’t go home.
Just for fun on Halloween, they upset outhouses and threw dynamite into Clear Creek. They did the same on the Fourth of July.
Then there was the time when Grams needed firewood, so the boys Ralph and Jim decided to cut down a big, dead tree from the back of the house. Gramps had gone into town, and the boys didn’t have the strength to saw the tree down. Remembering how they had helped Gramps dynamite trees, they decided that would be the best way to bring the old, dead tree down. Since Grams was home, they were unsure how they would explain the big bang. They told their sister to wait for their signal and then drop the big family Bible on the floor. They lit the fuse, signaled Sis, and at just the right moment, Sis dropped the Bible. Grams came running and asked what the big bang was. Sis told her she dropped the Bible. Sis got spanked. Gramps came home and found a lot of firewood. He knew what happened, but he kept quiet. Grams never questioned how they got the firewood. Poor Sis!
Ralph and Jim were once speeding and the cops stopped them. Unnoticed by the officers, one of the boys got out of the car while they talked to the one who was driving. While the conversation went on, the sneaky brother siphoned the gas out of the police car parked behind their car. When the police officers let them go with a warning, the sneaky brother got back in the car, and they sped away, speeding again. The police took off after them, but they didn’t get far.
These were only a few of the stories Grams and Gramps shared on Christmas Eve. When heads began to nod and Grams warmed the sheet blanket on the beds with hot bricks, we were tucked into bed. To me, Christmas Eve was the best time ever.
Many thanks to Edrie Jeanne Hostetler (Ramstetter) for graciously sharing her memoires.