Brandenburg Ranch

Brandenburg Ranch, Custer County Colorado

Moritz Brandenburg, my grandfather, arrived in America from Germany in May, 1880. He homesteaded his 160 acres in Custer County the same year, acquiring a patent to the land November 20, 1884. There were three requirements for homesteading: “fence, plow and construct”, all to be completed and pass inspection within five years time from application.

For fencing the perimeter of his homestead, Moritz used cedar posts and four strands of barbed wire. He had to clear and remove rocks, willows and trees and then plow at least 5 acres of unbroken ground and plant crops. There had to be a building (cabin) erected that measured at least 16’ x 20’. Moritz met all of these requirements and more.

He started ranching with a few hardy Galloway beef cattle, five work horses and one saddle horse. Some milk cows, a few goats, hogs, chickens and geese helped provide food for the larder. About a third of the ranch was overgrown with willows, trees and beaver dams and had to be cleared, leveled and drained, then plowed or seeded for hay or grain crops: rye, wheat, oats and barley. Some of the wheat and rye were ground into flour to be used for baking. Some of the oats were rolled for breakfast cereal. Wheat was fed to the chickens. Barley and oats were ground into “chop” to be fed to the horses and hogs.

Each year, Moritz planted two potato patches plus several gardens. The winter vegetables were harvested and stored in the root cellar which was constructed with rocks cleared from the hay meadows, plowed patches and prairie pastures. Hiltman Creek (now Alvarado) flowed through the back yard and was the principal source of domestic water. Both my grandmother’s and my mother’s “refrigerator” was a large low box made of heavy planks and covered with tin which was placed in the creek in such a way that the water flowed through this “creek cooler” keeping the food cool during the warmer months.

In 1899, Moritz Brandenburg married Mathilde Diekman whose German immigrant family had also arrived in the Wet Mountain Valley in about 1880 and settled in the Macy Creek area. Their first born, my father, Waldemar, was born in January of 1900. In August, 1925, my grandfather was killed in a run-a-way team accident while raking hay. He was 72 years old. That same year, my father acquired the ranch in an estate settlement. In 1929, he married my mother, Marie Ireland.

My folks produced the traditional crops of native hay, grain and cattle. Up until 1939 when the railroad pulled out of Westcliffe, truck gardening was also popular. Many folk, including my family raised vegetables, mostly peas, lettuce and carrots. During this time, about 1930, my father built a small cabin to house the field workers. To date, what is left of it is referred to as the “pea pickers” cabin. The workers cooked and ate their meals there. During the depression, several families at different intervals would occupy the cabin and were willing to work just for a roof over their heads and something to eat.

In 1962, my folks sold their cattle as my father’s health was declining. The highlight of their years together had to be when the major part of the movie, Cat Ballou, starring Lee Marvin and Jane Fonda was filmed on the ranch in 1964. They operated the ranch for 50 years and then sold it to me, their only child, and my wife Sally when they moved into Westcliffe.

Since Sally and I purchased the ranch in 1979, we have leased the land to other ranchers for hay crops and pasture. We reserve the ranch house and other buildings for our personal use. In 1984, the state of Colorado awarded “Centennial Ranch” status to us, recognizing the fact that this ranch has been in the same family for over 100 years. Hopefully our two sons and future generations of Brandenburg heirs will be able to carry forward this one family ownership. Placing my grandfather’s homestead ranch into a conservation easement at least guarantees that it will never be “chopped up” for development.

History of the Brandenburg Ranch – by John Brandenburg

  • “Because San Isabel is pro-agriculture, we were able to work closely with them to craft the contract we felt comfortable with. It allows us to capture revenue off the land while still living on it and maintaining full autonomy of ownership.”

    – Elin Parker Ganschow, Music Meadows Ranch and Sangres Best