Longform

OUR TOWN

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1876: A twenty-acre town plat is drawn up, to include nearly one hundred building sites. Saloons and a blacksmith shop are already in place to service several large ranches in the area.

1877: A large red draft-horse barn is built for the Greenland Breeding Farm. Struck by lightning in the 1920s, it burns and is rebuilt to look almost exactly the same.

1880-something: Novelist Helen Hunt Jackson, the Barbara Cartland of her day, passes through Pinedale on the train and, entranced with the lush colors of the pastures, renames it Greenland.

1884: The New Year's Hop at Greenland attracts eleven gentlemen and six ladies.

1885: The Greenland School opens, serving first through eighth grades in one room.

1888: Pioneer John William Higby opens his first Higby Mercantile store at Monument.

1895: Pioneer cattleman I.J. Noe is reported to be shipping "some fine cattle to the Denver market. Greenland is becoming one of the most important shipping points in the Divide," the Denver Post notes.

1906: Higby Mercantile opens a branch at Greenland.
1909: John William Higby and his wife, Marie, having amassed more than 10,000 acres of failed homesteads and outright land purchases, consolidate as the Greenland Land and Cattle Company, henceforth known by the catch-all title of Greenland Ranch. Their daughter Kate has already married I.J. Noe's only son, Charles, in what was generally regarded as the social event of the 1905 season. The Greenland School now has a total student body of twelve students, many of them Higbys or Noes or both.

Louis Higby Jr., known as Dick for most of his life, is the grandson of John William Higby and the oldest son of Louis Higby Sr., who ended up with controlling interest in Greenland Ranch. Dick was born in 1920 and lived at Greenland Ranch until 1981, when he moved to Redwing, Colorado, where he continues to grow hay and run cattle.

"Pretty much just general ranch work is what I've always done," he says. "Cutting hay, running cattle, putting up corn. I guess I liked it. To tell you the truth, I didn't know anything else."

Dick dates the beginning of Greenland's decline to 1927, the year the Denver-Colorado Springs highway, which had run right through the town, was moved one mile west to its present location. "They thought it was going to be a better highway," Dick says. "Well, they found out it was a bad highway, particularly in the winter time--and it still is."

Dick was seven years old the day the highway moved. He was visiting relatives in Manitou Springs, he remembers, and came back to find his hometown strangely quiet. "Matter of fact, it changed altogether," he says. "There had been at least two grocery stores, a garage for automobile repair and the store that my uncles and father ran. After that, the stores that stayed kept going down, down, down."

But the Higbys stayed on, continuing to acquire land, even after the potato blight came through and decimated their crops. At its height in the 1930s, Greenland Ranch comprised 22,000 acres. Three of John William Higby's four sons (the youngest, Jack, died early) lived and worked on the place.

"We had fun," Dick recalls. "In the winter we used to have ice-skating parties, and when I got old enough to drive, we would go to Colorado Springs to the movies and the country dances. And there were card parties at the schoolhouse. It was a good childhood, I think."

Still, Dick had dreams of leaving it behind. "My plans were to be a doctor, and there would have been no chance out at the ranch," he says. "I'd have had to move to the city. But this was during the war, so I stayed on, working on the ranch and letting my folks influence me. I stayed away from school, one, two, then three years, and after that my mind kind of changed, and I decided that the wide open spaces were for me."

By then, Dick had married his first wife and had begun raising a family. "She was from Denver," he says, "and for many years, I thought she liked it out here, but right around 1969 it turned out she wanted to go back to Denver, and I was so involved with the ranch that I just couldn't get up and leave."

Dick's father had died in 1966; by 1970 Dick's divorce was final. A newly single man, he suddenly saw Greenland as the remote place it was becoming. By that time, practically no one passed through unless they were in some kind of distress.

"I went out and changed tires many a time and gave away water and gasoline," Dick recalls. "We were always pretty free about letting folks use the telephone." Most stranded travelers were friendly, if helpless, but there were times when he was glad to have firearms around the place.

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Robin Chotzinoff
Contact: Robin Chotzinoff