4UR Ranch History
Recently a professional historian wrote, “It’s rare to find properties within the State of Colorado with this many layers of history.”
The layers are indeed many, and began twenty-six million years ago during the Oligocene Epoch. The Oligocene Epoch is the largest volcanic eruption in the earth’s history, and it left behind the 45-mile-wide La Garita Caldera and the San Juan and LaGarita Mountain Ranges of Southwestern Colorado. It also created the natural hot springs of the Wagon Wheel Gap. By the 1700’s the Ute Indian Tribes were well established in this area and used these hot springs as a sacred campsite, holding Sun Ceremonies and guarding its location as fiercely as they did their hunting grounds.
By 1872 the Federal Government signed a treaty with the Ute and moved them north nearer to Gunnison, Colorado. Soon Homesteaders arrived in the Goose Creek Valley, a bathhouse structure was erected over the hot springs, and patrons began frequenting the “baths.” In 1873 silver was discovered in a nearby mine and the boomtown of Creede was born, boasting residents such as Bat Masterson and Bob Ford, and solidifying its place in the “Wild” west.
Photos from left to right: Silver Medal certificate from 1904 St. Louis Worlds Fair, historic photo of The Wagon Wheel Hot Springs Hotel, Thomas MacLaren, General William Palmer
By 1906, ownership of this property, now long known as the Wagon Wheel Gap Hot Springs Hotel, had been consolidated into the hands of General William Jackson Palmer, a decorated hero of the Civil War and creator of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. Palmer hired Thomas MacLaren, an architect from the Royal Academy of Architects in England, to design a luxury health resort rivaling the European Spas during this Golden Spa Age. At completion, Wagon Wheel Gap Hot Springs Resort was unveiled with a “Palatial Bathhouse,” three long Adirondack-style sleeping cabins, a new hotel, and livery stable.
By the 1940’s, antibiotics had been discovered and Americans no longer relied on “healing waters” for their curative properties. The resort’s clientele remained loyal, however, and now brought their families to vacation and enjoy fly-fishing, horseback riding, and hunting. The “Palatial Bathhouse” was abandoned and as Guest Ranch vacations were becoming popular, the Wagon Wheel Hot Springs Resort became the Wagon Wheel Ranch.
With a small herd of cattle on the property mid century, a brand was registered in 1946 as 4UR, constructed from the 2 double U’s (W W’s) of the name Wagon Wheel which equaled 4 U’s. Due to a disagreement with a neighbor on the rights to the name “Wagon Wheel,” the ranch was renamed once again, this time after the brand, 4UR.
Since 1972 the 4UR has been owned by the Leavell family, now in their third generation of ownership, and is still welcoming guests, some whose families have been coming since early in the 20th century. Past guests have included Walt Disney, John Wayne, Dwight Eisenhower, Julia Child, Supreme Court Justice Byron White, Nolan Ryan, Stephanie March of television’s “Law and Order,” and most recently the award-winning actress Ruth Wilson of “The Lone Ranger.”
Photos from left to right: Walt Disney at the 4UR Ranch, 1906 photo of Wagon Wheel Hot Springs Resort, Charles Holland Leavell fishing in 1920, carriage leaving Wagon Wheel Hot Springs Resort