Colorado’s Ouray County Ranch History Museum preserves and protects the area’s ranching history, with a focus on the 1880’s, when Ouray boomed as a mining town and ranches grew to serve the residents, who flocked to the area to work in the mines. The museum is located in the historic Ridgway Depot, where it shares space with the Ridgway Railroad Museum.
Exhibits feature the stories of real-life ranch families, and many of the museum’s artifacts have been donated by the families whose life stories are on display. Exhibits on ranch life include displays of a typical turn of the century ranch kitchen, with cooking and home-making artifacts, old stoves and ice chests. A display of a typical ranch bedroom and living room include old photographs, documents, clothing and furnishings, and Western art. One display is dedicated entirely to the tools of the trade, and includes an old gas pump, farming equipment and horse-drawn buggy.
Guests learn about daily ranch life, from spring calving to fall roundups, and about the communities that sprang up to serve ranch families, such as the local one-room schoolhouse, the nearby Colona School, which was also the museum’s previous home. In addition, the museum explores the early history of rodeo as a sport, which took shape when local ranchers would meet to show off their roping and riding skills.
An exhibit on branding displays 60 of Ouray County’s oldest cattle brands, from the 1880’s through 1944 and includes historic branding irons and saddles. The Blood, Sweat and Rhinestones exhibit focuses on the achievements of women in the sport of rodeo. Big names such as Reine Hafley Shelton, Mamie Fancis Hafley and Anna Lee Aldred all had ties to the Ouray area. The three were famous for their stunt riding and sharpshooting in Wild West shows between 1901 and 1940. Anna Aldred was the first woman in the United States to receive a jockey’s license, in 1939. A wall of fame honors local ranchers who have contributed to the ranching community in Ouray. The first class of four was inducted in 2014. Each year, the wall of fame dedicates an exhibit area to the accomplishments of the inductees.
The museum’s gift shop sells books on the history of Ouray County ranches, gift items, and photographs of local ranches by area artists, including Kathryn R. Burke.
History: Ranching in Ouray began in the 1880’s and still plays a significant role in the area’s economy. The silver and gold mine boom, the arrival of a local railway, and the opening of the area for homesteading in the late 1800’s all contributed to the growth of ranching in Ouray.
The Ouray County Ranch History Museum is a non-profit organization managed by a small board of directors and advisory board. After operating out of the first floor of the historic Colona School, the museum moved to the Ridgway Rail Depot in 2017.
The Railway Depot served as the home of the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad from 1891 through the 1960’s when the last train ran. It had been a private residence until 2015 when several local donors raised funds to purchase it for use as a museum. The Railway Depot occupies a 17-acre campus, and includes a ½ mile track on which historical train equipment will offer daily rides. Both the Ranch History Museum and the Ridgway Railroad Museum share the new facility. The organizations have similar missions, and will be expanding the offerings on the campus over the next several years. To combine the history of ranching and railroading under one roof is fitting, since these two industries historically grew side by side; the success of one would not have been possible without the other.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Events at the Ouray County Ranch History Museum include an annual ranch tour, which has been taking place each July since 2016. 2018’s third annual tour will take guests on a coach bus to two Ouray area ranches, with a catered lunch and live music at the mid-day stop. A Holiday Bazaar takes place each year in November at the Ouray County Fairgrounds. The Ranch History Museum is among the non-profits who sell books, photographs and gifts at the fair to raise money for programs and operations. Past events include “If Aprons Could Talk.” The afternoon tea program displayed old cooking aprons, served tea and included a live harpist.
321 Sherman St, Ridgway, CO 81432, Phone: 970-316-1085
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