Homestead: Swanson Ranch

Editor’s note: The following is a reprint of an article by Kevin Duke that first appeared in the Sangre de Cristo Chronicle’s Spring 2011 Land & Home magazine. 

The original house that was moved from Black Lake to the property in 1911. (All photos courtesy Judy Piper and family)

The Bar Y C (a.k.a. Swanson) Ranch has been in Judy Piper’s family since her grandfather purchased it in 1910.

It will stay that way for many years to come.

“As long as I’m alive it will never be sold,” Piper said. “My cousins, who mostly live in Arizona, Utah and Nevada, have been coming home and telling tales about how they helped with the farming when they were young, so it’s got lots of tight family ties.”

Those family ties began in 1910, when E. A. Swanson purchased the 610 acres with a down payment of $75, beginning the legacy that has now lasted 101 years. Judy and her husband Burke still work the ranch, Burke acts as the manager.

Ernest Albert Swanson and Ada Olson were both from Sweden, and after Swanson’s third trip to the United States, he sent for Ada and they were married in La Junta, Colorado.

“He worked his way over three times on a steamship before sending for her,” Piper said. “The reason I know this is I still have grandma’s trunk, which has her name on it and says La Junta, U.S.A.”

Approximately seven years later they moved to the Moreno Valley and Swanson purchased the ranch.

“They came down and they farmed,” Piper said. “They did a little bit of everything. They raised lettuce, potatoes, wheat and oats and had a dairy farm.”

The Swansons had brown swiss dairy cows on the farm at that time, using the dairy cows to start a co-op cheese factory with three other families in the area.

“Grandpa furnished the cream and the milk and the Heck’s had the factory, so they co-oped and had a cheese factory there,” Piper said.

Cream and milk were also shipped out of the valley to Trinidad, Colo.

“They put it in these big metal containers and shipped it by mail to Trinidad,” Piper said. “One of the cousins had a freight wagon, so they also freighted it down to Mora and across to Embudo.”

That operation ran until approximately 1930, when the focus was shifted back to farming and one good year of potato farming gave the Swansons the money to build a barn on the farm.

“They had a big crop of potatoes and had to decide whether to build a house or a barn, so that’s when the barn was built,” Piper said.

The barn was built with wood from the local area. The tin for the roof was purchased from Montgomery Ward’s and shipped into Ute Park by train.

“It had three tiers to it. The bottom tier was pigs, chickens and calves. The second story was where they milked the cows and kept the teams of horses, and the third tier was where they kept the hay,” Piper said.

Hay baling had yet to be invented, so the Swansons had a special way to get the hay up to the top level of the barn.

“It’s hard to describe that, but it was a sling,” Piper said. “The horses would be at one end of the barn and the sling on the other. The horses would pull it up to the top and there was a rail. When it reached the top and they located the hay where they wanted it stacked, they yanked a catch and the hay fell in the loft.”

“I’ve seen the loft full of hay. Daddy had all the equipment to get the hay up there.”

That was when Piper was very young and now things have come full circle as they once again are growing hay at the ranch.

“We’re to the point where we’re trying to raise hay again, and we do a garden out there when we have the time,” she said. “We purchase steers when we can, but the last time we purchased steers we made about $200.”

The half-acre garden provides vegetables which they use for canning and store in a cellar on the property.

“We can, and we do all those things they used to do,” Piper said. “The cellar is just south of the barn and that was built in the ’30s too.”

“There was a family that didn’t have any place to stay back then and grandpa let them stay in the bunkhouse. That man helped build the cellar.”

The house on the property also has some history, having been brought up from Black Lake and placed on the farm.”

“There are two stories on that,” Piper said. “Uncle Harold said it was a dance hall, and dad said it was a sheep herder’s shack. We eventually found out that it could have been both.”

“They brought it out and put it up and then they added the front building to it with a barn-raising thing and a dance afterwards.”

Piper spent most of her childhood in that house on the ranch. Although no one lives in it now, it is still standing on the ranch.

“It’s still there, I don’t know how it’s made it this long,” Piper said, “It’s sinking a little on one side.”

The ranch is now officially 588 acres, running from Highway 64 north about a mile to the Piper’s current home, and west to the Ash Mountain development, just outside of Angel Fire.

“Grandpa gave up some acreage when they built the highway,” Piper said.

The farm is currently in a trust, with Piper’s daughter and sons to inherit the property in the future.

“My daughter and her girls will probably end up doing the majority of the work on the farm,” Piper said. “Hopefully they’ll find something they can do with it.”

“It’s awfully hard to make a living on the farm right now. That’s why we work outside the farm.”

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