The Cayton Ranger Station (also known as the Cayton Guard Station) sits just inside the White River National Forest, about eighteen miles south of Silt, Colorado. Built between 1909 and 1910 by James Grimshaw Cayton, one of the nation’s first rangers, the station originally consisted of an L-shaped, three-room log cabin, several corrals, a barn, and an outhouse. Cayton used Colorado blue spruce in the station’s construction, and the complex is surrounded by idyllic groves of aspen, spruce, and pine. Though the outhouse, corrals, and barn no longer stand on the property, Cayton’s 650-square-foot cabin has been well-maintained and occasionally hosts visiting US Forest Service employees. The cabin’s enduring presence stands as a reminder of the role the federal government plays in managing Colorado’s natural resources.
Life and Work on the Frontier
Jim Cayton was born in Dodge County, Nebraska, on October 8, 1878 and worked as a rancher, miner, and even helped build the Gunnison Tunnel. These jobs gave Cayton a great deal of experience working on the land, and helped him develop skills that would make him a valuable public servant.
Cayton joined the US Forest Service in 1905, shortly after the agency’s creation. Previously, America’s forests were managed as forest reserves by the Department of the Interior. But President Theodore Roosevelt’s administration brought about sweeping reforms to the way the nation’s natural resources were governed and managed. As a part of these reforms, President Roosevelt transferred responsibility for managing America’s forests from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture, created the US Forest Service, and appointed Gifford Pinchot to oversee the new agency as America’s first chief forester.
As chief, Pinchot was instrumental in professionalizing forest management. Part of this process was appointing rangers to live in the forests and oversee the protection, management, and health of the nation’s timber supply. Jim Cayton was one of only seventy-one rangers in the entire nation in 1905, and near the end of that year his appointment brought him to Mesa County.
Cayton’s responsibilities included counting and examining cattle, issuing permits for grazing, constructing hay derricks, and distributing hunting licenses. Cayton’s work regularly took him on week-long outings, during which he traveled and camped in what was then known as the Battlement National Forest, developing relationships with local ranchers. In 1909 Cayton married Adelaide D. “Birdie” Miller. The couple moved to the ranger station, where they lived in an incomplete barn that Cayton had been building with another ranger. Cayton finished the barn and built the station’s cabin in 1910, and the couple moved in to the three-room dwelling shortly thereafter.
Building a Home
The cabin featured a kitchen, living room, and a bedroom. Though the cabin was small and remote, the Cayton family enjoyed a cook stove and other comforts of home.
At the time, Forest Service cabins were designed and built by the individual rangers who lived and worked in them. But even among these rather unique buildings, Jim Cayton’s cabin stood out. The crooked fireplace and chimney reflected Cayton’s status as an inexperienced homebuilder. Remarking on the hearth’s unusual design, Forest Supervisor John W. Lowell Jr. remarked that the smoke coming out of Cayton’s chimney curled around nicely because of the “artistic curves” Jim had built into the fireplace.
Cayton’s dedication to his work led to a promotion to Forest Ranger for Battlement National Forest at Colbran in 1914, as well as an appointment to the position of Special Game Warden for the State of Colorado in 1917. In this time, the Caytons continued to improve their home, planting strawberries, radishes, and potatoes around the cabin.
The Cayton family left their home at the ranger station in 1919 due to Birdie’s declining health. But the cabin continued to serve the needs of Forest Service employees working in what became the White River National Forest. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) helped maintain the property through the great depression, and continues to house Forest Service employees seasonally to this day.