Ranching in western Colorado covered a short but important period between the late 1850’s and the late 1880’s. As the Colorado territory opened up, cowboys moved in, coming from Texas with herds of cattle. The open range was vital to ranchers, who viewed it as perfect land for livestock to roam freely. Ranchers relied on public lands to provide feed for their herds. It was common to have multiple companies working the same land at the same time. Brands were used to tell which cattle belonged to which company. Brands became an important symbol of the American West. As ranchers began to settle in Colorado, they laid claim to huge pieces of land, which housed thousands of cattle, making the owners very wealthy. They became known as “Cattle Barons.” Fighting over public lands became more and more common because large companies needed more and more land to feed their herds.
Not only were cattle companies fighting over pasture, but they were also fighting against the competing sheep market. Known as the Range Wars, sheep herders and cowboys alike fought for grazing land, often with deadly consequences. Anglo-American cattlemen disliked the notion of sheepherding. The highly romanticized life of the cowboy did not extend to herders. Many woolgrowers, therefor, hired Mexican-Americans or Mexican nationals to tend their flocks. The racial prejudices made the tensions between cattlemen and sheep herders worse. In 1884, the Western Stockgrower’s Association was formed by cattlemen around Grand Junction with the purpose of stopping sheep herders from accessing the area. In 1886, between Whitewater and Delta, a flock of sheep and its herder were killed by cowboys. In 1894, 50 hired gunslingers rimrocked (drove over a cliff) 4,000 head of sheep. In 1915, Mrs. Nancy Irwing’s herd of Angora goats were driven over a cliff, a Mexican herder was killed and Mrs. Irwing’s cabin was set on fire. Violence continued well into the 20th century. In the 1930’s, Fruita folk-hero Charlie Glass, an African-American cowboy, was killed by sheep herders in retaliation for Glass’s shooting of sheep herder Felix Jesui ten years earlier. In 1934, the Taylor Grazing Act was passed, changing grazing rights on public lands. The bill set up the Grazing Bureau who ran the range lands. The grazing service and the General Land Office merged in 1946 to form the Bureau of Land Management.