Longform

OUR TOWN

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"She never had much good to say about him," Ida May says of her sister's father-in-law, Louis Higby Sr. "He was always good to me, but I wouldn't have wanted to live with him or work for him. He'd bring his help out from the Salvation Army and have them stacking hay, cleaning out stalls...I'll never forget one day when I was riding the bus out to Greenland from Denver, and a woman asked me if we were passing the Greenland Ranch. And she told me her father had worked there for a while during the Depression and what a nasty place it was."

Ida May had had no preparation for small-town life, but she soon adjusted, helping John with his father's cattle and attending meetings of the Friendly Larks Home Demonstration Club, an organization she helped found in the mid-Forties.

"We finally shut it down last year," she says sadly, "because no one has time for that sort of thing anymore." Ida May kept some of the programs and minutes, though. One, from the late Forties, lists the following meeting topics:

A Valentine I Once Received
Best Use of a Rainy Day
Common Mistakes in English and Their Corrections

"It was all we had to do," Ida May says. "We enjoyed each other's company very much."

This is clear in the pictures she's saved of the Noe Family Thanksgiving, circa 1945, in which all the women wear voluminous aprons and many have babies. On the next page of the notebook is the Noe family reunion of 1992, held to commemorate the designation of the original Noe place as a Colorado Centennial farm. Nearly a hundred Noes gathered for the event; many of the babies of 1945 are already gray. Further on in the book are fifth- and sixth-grade reading certificates awarded to Ida May's husband when he attended the Greenland School. Back then, everyone, even his teacher, called him Buster.

Ladis Higby lives in Castle Rock, where he has spent most of his 78 years. "Years ago, I did live at Greenland," he admits, "but my part of the family sort of branched away, if you want to know."

Ladis is a grandson of John William Higby. His father, Carl, who once watched over the Higby Mercantile at Greenland, died during the flu epidemic of 1918. "He was 28, and I was something over one year old," Ladis says. "My mother and my brother and I stayed out there for a while, and then my mother inherited some land and we moved away, and then she remarried. My stepfather was a carpenter, and that's what I ended up doing."

Ladis and his family were still invited to Greenland Ranch for family dinners and picnics, but there was always a slight chill between Ladis's branch and the mainline Higbys. "For one thing," Ladis says, "my mother and I sold out our shares to old Louis in 1948, and we got $15,000 a share, and we felt lucky to get it. Nobody knew nothing about how much they were really worth except old Louis, and he ended up a millionaire. But you know how families fight over money and land," he adds. "I can't explain all that. That's a lawyer's and a court's game."

Ladis may not be able to explain everything, but he knows plenty of stories about Greenland. On his visits to the ranch, he'd eschew horseback riding and drive around the place in his pickup truck instead, "hunting antelope and deer from the South Lake Gulch Road clear to the county line. It was beautiful country, and it probably still is," he says.

"Old Louis didn't have what you call cowboys on that place, he had hired men," Ladis remembers, "and they were mostly transients. He was a rough old character, and I imagine he was awful rough on the men. They sure didn't stick around long.

"And after he died, his two sons split the ranch. They're friendly guys, as far as I know," he says, "but how they got along with each other was not well at all."

Like everyone else in Douglas Country, Ladis has heard rumblings that Greenland Ranch may again change hands. Since Castle Rock is experiencing its own growing pains, Ladis contemplates the possibilities with a certain muffled glee.

"Oh, I used to like it here, when it was a little town," he says. "You could go out and have a little pepper-upper or a toddy, whatever you want to call it. You dasn't even go downtown anymore and have a beer these days. In Castle Rock, they'd sooner pick you up for a DUI than murder."

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Robin Chotzinoff
Contact: Robin Chotzinoff