Basalt History Tour
Settlers Found Basalt had Rich Soil and Good GrassWhile mining and railroads provided stimulus to the Basalt economy, the ranchers and farmers of the Valley have provided the consistent backbone of our culture and economy.
Arriving in the Valley in 1880, settlers found rich soil and good grass. By 1881 twenty families had acquired land, intending to settle and create their lives as farmers and ranchers and live from the land. More arrived through the 1880s, and soon they were producing food and crops not only for their own use, but cattle, vegetables and hay for the miners who began to flood the valley in their quest for minerals.From the 1880s to the 1910s, hay was the gasoline of its day. Horses and mules carried everything from people to mail to supplies and performed most of the heavy work from pulling ore cars to plowing fields. Horses and mules need “fuel” year round, thus hay was a major cash crop for the Basalt ranchers through the mining era.
As the construction crews for the railroad arrived in the late 1880s, those workers added to the demand for products. As the railroads were completed, ranchers could sell to buyers as far away as Colorado Springs and Grand Junction. The week-long wagon trips to those markets now took one day. Crops stayed fresh, cattle could be inexpensively transported and the agriculture community thrived. At that time, cattle became the premium cash generator, mostly because of inexpensive grazing rights.Over 90 percent of the land from the rivers to the mountain tops was, and is, owned by the Federal government. In those early days, ranchers would drive their cattle and sheep herds to the lush grasses of the high country for the summer, fatten them and return in the fall. This access to extensive grazing allowed ranchers to have much larger herds than their private lands could carry and was key to the success of the local cattle industry. Prominent ranching families included Hyrup, Arbaney, Luchsinger, Stockman, Cerise, Letey and Willits.
Ranching continues to the present day, waning as lands are taken by development. Cattle production and grazing in the high country is still an important and honored part of Basalt’s culture.