Trout Creek Ranch has its origin in lands consolidated by English investors Edward Arthur and David Chalmers along Trout Creek in the 1870s. The ranch, which stretches for about four miles in the valley between Red Hill and Reinecker Ridge southeast of Fairplay, later became part of some of the largest sheep, hay, and cattle operations in South Park. The present-day ranchstead, located in the west-central part of the property, was started in the 1920s by Edward Arthur’s son Harold and expanded after World War II by James Settele.
Settlement along Trout Creek in northwest South Park started in the early 1860s, when Adolphe and Marie Guiraud homesteaded 160 acres near where Trout Creek flowed into the Middle Fork of the South Platte River. Soon James M. and Augusta Sigafus also settled in the area and built a ditch to funnel water across Red Hill from the Middle Fork of the South Platte to Trout Creek. South Park’s growing season was too short for most crops, but it was perfect for hay and livestock because it was relatively flat and had lots of water flowing through the Platte and Tarryall drainages.
In 1874 an Englishman named Edward P. Arthur started to buy land along Trout Creek, including the Sigafus’s ranch. Arthur was part of a wave of Englishmen who invested in Colorado cattle ranches in the 1870s—but unlike most of them, he had prior agricultural experience on ranches in Australia and Scotland. In 1877 he gained a partner when a distant relative, David Chalmers, visited the ranch and bought an interest in it. Chalmers soon returned to England, but his son Harold moved to Colorado to learn the ranching business.
By the 1880s, the Arthur-Chalmers property was known as Trout Creek Ranch and had grown into the largest hay farm near Fairplay, producing as much as 2,000 tons per year. The ranch shipped its hay and brought in supplies via the Denver, South Park & Pacific Railroad, which had laid tracks through the Trout Creek Valley in 1879. Trout Creek Ranch had its own siding, called Burrows Spur, where a hay barn was erected in 1881.
In 1885 David Chalmers died in England, and he left his Colorado property—including his interest in Trout Creek Ranch—to his son Harold. Soon Harold Chalmers allowed Arthur to regain full control of the ranch, where he planned to focus his energy. But in 1893 Arthur was drawn into the Cripple Creek gold boom.
Distracted and absent from his ranch, in 1900 Arthur sold the property to Charles H. Wadley for $9,000. Wadley made the ranch part of his larger Wadley Livestock Company, which he had established four years earlier. The company had its headquarters about eight miles north of Trout Creek Ranch. The northern portion of the former Arthur property—the heart of the present-day ranch—became known as Annex Ranch, while the southern portion (which Wadley also owned) retained the name Trout Creek Ranch.
In the early 1900s, South Park experienced a small flurry of oil exploration. Wadley joined the nearby Galloway and Chalmers families to form the South Park Oil, Gas, and Coal Company, to which he then sold several placer claims. In 1904 the company drilled a well and erected an oil derrick on Annex Ranch, but soon it ran into trouble and abandoned the derrick the next year.
In November 1906, Wadley continued his partnership with the Galloway and Chalmers families by combining his holdings with the Chalmers & Galloway Live Stock Company, a merger that was prompted by proximity and interfamilial marriages. The new arrangement was formalized in 1908 with the creation of a company called Chalmers, Galloway, and Wadley. With 9,000 acres of land, 8,000 sheep, and 700 head of cattle, the company was the largest land and livestock operation in Park County. The company’s headquarters and other facilities were concentrated on properties it owned to the north and south of Annex Ranch, leaving Annex Ranch itself largely undeveloped other than a barn, corrals, and a small house. The land was used primarily for growing hay and grazing livestock.
After Wadley died in 1910 and the company broke up in 1914, Annex Ranch became the property of his widow, Ada Wadley, and her son Herbert. For the next two decades, the Wadleys served as absentee landlords who hired managers to raise cattle, sheep, and hay at the ranch. One of their first ranch managers was Tom Arthur—a son of Edward P. Arthur, the ranch’s former owner.
In 1920 another of Arthur’s sons, Harold J. Arthur, filed a homestead on 160 acres of land on the west side of Annex Ranch and settled there with his new wife, Marie. Over the next decade, the Arthurs built up the ranchstead that remains the heart of the present-day ranch headquarters. The priority was a ranch house, which Arthur completed by the end of 1920. The two-story frame house faced west and had lapboard siding, a wood-shingle roof, and an orange brick chimney.
Arthur later added a bunkhouse, a barn, two sheds, a granary, a scale house, and a blacksmith shop to the ranchstead. Buildings for animals and crops were grouped northwest of the main house, while other dwellings and garages lay to the southeast. Arthur grazed sixty head of cattle on his land and had eighteen acres in hay, producing about fifteen tons per year. In addition, the Wadleys may have hired him to manage their adjacent ranch at some point in the 1920s.
Around 1930 the Wadleys bought Arthur’s homestead, bringing most of the present-day ranch under a single owner. But as the Great Depression deepened, they found that their acquisitions had stretched their resources too thin. As loans and mortgages taken out in the 1920s started to come due, the Wadleys could not pay them back. In June 1932, they lost their property to the Denver Joint Stock Land Bank.
In April 1934, the bank sold 1,700 acres of the Wadley ranch—including the ranchstead built by Harold Arthur—to James L. Settele of Laramie, Wyoming. Settele arrived at the ranch with just a car, some clothes, a rifle, and some shells, but over the next few decades, he worked to expand the ranch into one of the largest sheep operations in Park County and became prominent in local affairs.
On the ranch, Settele focused his efforts on both cattle and sheep. Because sheep tended to be grazed on private land rather than open range in South Park, the area never experienced the deep animosity between cattle ranchers and sheepherders that existed in other parts of Colorado. To manage the sheep, Settele hired Hispano herders from New Mexico, who took the sheep high into the nearby Mosquito Range for summer grazing. At its height, Settele Ranch had about 2,200 sheep and 500 head of cattle, as well as some dairy cows, pigs, and chickens. Settele’s wife, Helen, raised a vegetable garden at the ranchstead. Settele fed his livestock with hay grown on the ranch, which produced about 1,100 tons per year. Each August the hay harvest took more than a dozen hired workers about six weeks to complete.
The success of the ranch allowed Settele to improve and expand his property. At first the improvements were simple: after the Colorado & Southern Railroad stopped service through the area in 1937, he used the old railroad ties to build snow fences. After World War II, he bought a Jeep and installed a telephone line. In 1948 he enlarged his property by acquiring the southern portion of the original Trout Creek Ranch, which was then known as Arthur’s Ranch because Harold Arthur had settled there after moving away from Annex Ranch. In 1955 Settele doubled the size of the ranch house, adding a new living room, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms. Around that time he also brought electricity and running water to the ranch buildings. Throughout these years, he added several new buildings to Arthur’s original ranchstead, including a cookhouse, a meat house, a lambing barn, and a small house for a hired worker named Tom Palmer.
Finally, the ranch’s success gave Settele a platform to become active in local politics and statewide ranching organizations. Like James T. McDowell Jr. at nearby Buffalo Peaks Ranch, Settele served as president of the Central Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and was a member of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association. He was also a member of the Wool Growers Association. In 1955 he helped start the Upper South Platte Water Conservancy District, for which he served as president, and in the 1960s he was chosen as a Park County Commissioner.
By 1970 Settele could tell that ranching in South Park would only become more difficult in the future, as farm labor grew scarce and conflicts over water rights brewed. Some ranchers were selling their land—and, more important, their water rights—to thirsty Front Range cities looking to secure additional supplies. But Settele sold to a Florida man named Morris Burk. Burk split off the southern part of the property, which was formerly known as Trout Creek Ranch or Arthur’s Ranch, and renamed it Running Elk Ranch. He kept the northern part—formerly known as the Annex—which now took on the name Trout Creek Ranch. He added a porch and greenhouse to the main house at the ranchstead and built a new guesthouse, garage, scale house, and shed.
After Burk died in the late 1990s, his family sold Trout Creek Ranch to a couple from Minnesota, who then sold the ranch in 2007 to Charles and Margo Harding of Norman, Oklahoma. The Hardings planned to lease the grazing land to a cattle operation and preserve the historic ranch buildings. In 2008 they got the 2,112-acre ranch site and its seventeen historic buildings and structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places.