A surprising turn of events – surrounding a small cabin on a historic ranch just outside the Beulah Valley – is generating excitement and enthusiasm for the tenacious pioneers and ranchers of the area; at the same time finding momentum for a modern day collaborative preservation effort. But first, a little background...
The vast area of land, now known as the 3R Ranch is beloved by many because of its location, size and long, storied history. The history of the ranch begins with a petition for a vast 48,000 acre (most of Pueblo County) area to the Mexican government in 1821 by Gervacio Nolan. The land grant was finalized in 1843 and in 1868 the Nolan family sold the land grant to Anne E. Blake, who sub-divided the land grant into three parcels. Equal thirds belonged to Anne and Charles Blake, Peter and Emily Dotson, and Charles Goodnight. This settlement, however, was not deemed legitimate by the U.S. Government as the Congress had not passed permission for the land grant to be sold. Peter and Emily Dotson finally got clear title to their land in 1872.
Peter and Emily Dotson moved their family to the ranch in 1865, and settled into a modest log home that is prominently featured in a 1879 Harpers Weekly Magazine article. The article entitled, “The Cattle Ranches of Colorado’ written by A. A. Hayes offers a detailed account of life in southern Colorado, specifically along the St. Charles River. Exceptional sketches by an artist named ‘Rogers’, who accompanied Hayes on the trip, includes three beautiful perspectives of the interior and exterior of the log home, dubbed ‘Uncle Pete’s Cabin’.
In 1981, Reeves and Betsy Brown purchased the historic 9,000 acre 3R ranch, established in 1860, relocating their cattle ranch from central Texas. The 16th owners of a historic ‘grand old lady’ of Colorado ranches, and the newest curators for the richly written (and scattered) and oral history of the ranch. The Browns poured through three boxes of deeds and original abstracts to better understand the story of the ranch. With the help of family friend, Sherrie Howey, they pieced together a five page fact sheet that gives life to the Dotson family and their progeny. Betsy describes the journey of discovery, and research as good entertainment in the slower days of winter.
In 1976, the Beulah Historical Society offered insight with a chapter called Dotson in the book called, Mace's Hole, the Way It Was, to Beulah the Way It Is: A comprehensive History of Beulah, CO.
Avid historian, and local author James Campbell has been researching and writing the extended story of the Dotson family for the past seven years, piecing together the complex, colorful and ever intriguing character and adventures of Emily and Peter Dotson. The Dotsons is Campbells simple working title, but the emerging story is far from simple and much more than a regional history of Pueblo County founding ranchers. The lives of the Dotsons reach to the depths of the American story claiming a central role in the tumultuous time known as the Utah War. Beyond Utah, Campbell underscores the significance of Dotson’s contributions into the new territory of Colorado. Within six months of arriving in Colorado, Peter Dotson was running (unsuccessfully) for a seat in the first Colorado Territorial Legislature. Campbell notes, “when Peter Dotson died, a Denver newspaper referred to him as a founding father of Colorado.” The Dotson’s contributions to the development of Pueblo and Pueblo County were substantial, including Peter Dotson being a founding board member of the Pueblo-Salt Lake Railroad.
At the same time, the Dotson 3R ranch had progressed beyond its growing cattle operation, offering a private mercantile, post office, school, grist mill, lumber company, and even a copper mine. Their sturdy cabin, was located at the center of the Dotson Settlement, a place reported to have 30 people living in dwellings that supported the ranch that was a stop on the military road from Fort Union to Denver. as well, the area was a destination for the newly emerging excursionists, who journeyed out to the railroads end.
Campbell, drawing from extensive research that included the Harper’s magazine article shared his enthusiasm for the significant Dotson history with friends. That's when he was told that the Dotson cabin still exists – camouflaged in plain site – safely confined within a telescoping home, located directly behind the original ranch home. Intrigued, Jim starts a conversation with the Browns, and shortly thereafter, the community organization kicked into high gear, discussions were facilitated for visions of the future, official paperwork was filed, and plans were made for preservation of not only the remarkable cabin, but left room for protecting future sites of significant consequence to the preservation of our local heritage.
Local restoration specialist and Beulah resident, Joe Arrigo confirms the premium condition of the logs, as well as the craftsmanship that went into the construction of the home. “This home was not built in haste, it was constructed by a skilled craftsman, someone who put tremendous care and thought into the home; you can see it in the joinery, and the finish details found on the timbers.” Expansive logs chinked with straw and mud were protected first by primitive siding, and then further sealed by 1950’s remodeling project that saw the original cabin fully encased by a modern home!
This economical building decision also served as an ideal means of preservation for over 60 years. Recently, the upkeep of the aging patchwork ranch home was becoming tedious, facilitating the Brown’s plans to raze the building.
In order to qualify and facilitate future funding and grants, a 501c3 is being applied for under the name “Beulah Heritage Preservation League”. The collaborative effort was aided by Beulah residents Joni Smith, Linda and Dave Overlin, Marilyn Brehe, Kris Allen, Jon Broome, and Sherrie Howey. The Beulah Historic Preservation League strongly encourages the cooperation of the community to respect the privacy of the 3R ranch with regard to the cabin’s emergence, pending move, and ultimate preservation.
Verifying the provenance of the Dotson cabin requires the services of archaeologists to render the needed documentation. Prof. Scott Ingram of Colorado College did the initial survey of the Dotson cabin in late October 2018; colleague, Prof. Ronald Towner of the University of Arizona visited in November and extracted dozens of core samples from the cabin to analyze in his tree ring laboratory. Results are due in early 2019.
Follow the journey of the Dotson cabin in the January issue of this paper. We will delve into the process involved in unwrapping this gift, what was found when the paneled walls were pulled away, how the Beulah Preservation League plans to facilitate funding to ultimately move the building, and researching the best location for the Beulah community as a whole.
With a focused effort by the wide talents of the local community, the result will be enjoyed for generations; a monument to a loving community – proud of their pioneer roots. This cabin is the story of so many families throughout Beulah, and the United States. And let’s be honest, cabins built in the 1860’s are no longer standing today. The Dotson cabin is special, and the story is begging to be told, and treasured.
Printed with Permission of The Beulah Newspaper, December 2018 Cover Article by Greta Hanson Maurer
The history of the 3R’s Dotson cabin was conveyed in the December issue of this paper, imparting the architectural significance of the cabin, as well as the fascinating history of the U.S. Marshal ‘Uncle’ Peter K. Dotson, who lived at the cabin with his wife Emily, and their children.
The cabin’s story continues with the next steps made by a small group of Beulah residents who found themselves in the middle of dissecting modern home in search of a 150+ year old cabin, with the hope of fully preserving this historic treasure for years to come.
Taking on a preservation and disentangling project was not on Beulah resident and home restoration specialist, Joe Arrigo’s mind when he agreed to meet historian Jim Campbell at the 3R Ranch in September 2018. Campbell valued Arrigo’s background, and knew he would be able to expertly assess home materials from different eras, and Arrigo thought he’d take a look.
Joe Arrigo started his construction and restoration business 40 years ago after attending CU-Boulder. While studying, he worked in the maintenance department for the dormitories. Each day he would work with a different tradesman, a plumber, an electrician, a woodworker – shaping his future in ways he never anticipated. Today, he specializes in building restoration, asbestos removal, and building fireproofing. He’s even moved a couple local historic homes, one for a basement install, the other up the road a few miles!
Arrigo, Campbell and archaeologist Sherrie Howey were ushered in by 3R Ranch owners Betsy and Reeves Brown, and led into a large stucco home that was to be torn down. In one of the large rooms – where ranch hands once enjoyed a meal and rested – the Browns indicated an area to begin their search. Arrigo remarked that it was easy to zero in on the cabin walls once he sized up the thickness of the walls, they were no ordinary interior walls made of 2 x 4’s, these were thick! They located the west wall first, then quickly identified the four walls that would make up a small cabin, approximately 18’ x 18’.
After obtaining permission to open up a portion of the wall, they began to remove layers. The first layer to remove was that of an exterior stucco wall, which then revealed wood lath, which holds the stucco in place. Next came a layer of vertical siding with battens (each carefully chamfered for a more refined exterior finish). And then lo, and behold they saw chinking made of medium-brown mud and bright yellow straw, and finally clean wood logs, hand hewn, with hatchet marks.
Joe's next visit to the cabin was with Beulah resident, Dave Overlin where they planned to further investigate and assess whether the cabin could be removed from the modern site without major damage. Their second visit resulted in finding the boundaries for a second room – a floor plan called a Saddlebag cabin.
Arrigo noted that the large logs were hewed by a skilled craftsman, the axe marks easy to see, the top and bottom of each log were kept rounded to better hold in the chinking. “The machinery that was utilized on the siding was more than just a rough sawn, this was milled work.” Rough sawn on one side, and smooth on the other (inside).
Exceptional dovetail joinery was found on all exterior corners, but also found at the junction of the middle wall that bisects the cabin, meaning the two rooms were built at the same time. The dovetail technique required more skill, and the results meant that every cut angles down and away from the cabin, which is where any water would run, too – practical and an artistic marvel. Craftsman today say to recreate the exceptional tight fit of these joints would be hard to do even using modern tools.
Whoever built the cabin (Did the structure already exist and the Dotson family moved in? Or was the home built by the Dotsons?) had access to lumber, milling that lumber, expert craftsmen, and took the time to build a home that would last. It was special.
Arrigo started making frequent visits to the 3R, slowly uncovering the encased cabin with his constant helper, James Butzin. The careful extraction made quick pace with the help of 3R ranch hands Chad Helvey and Travis Martin, both headquartered at the ranch. Skilled in operating a wide range of machinery, Arrigo describes the pair as "exceptionally hardworking; they always arrived at the site an hour and a half ahead of me!” The 3R ranch has given their employees time, as well as the use of the ranches’ equipment to help in the painstaking process.
Arrigo guided the process of uncovering the confined cabin from all utilities like gas, water, plumbing and electricity had to be carefully approached to prevent any damage to the original cabin. The process took approximately 40 days to detach, and remove unnecessary pipes, vents, wires, wood, insulation and other materials. Taking their time, they successfully detached all modern elements from the original structure with minor impact.
The cabin itself is approximately 18’ x 45’ long, and likely weighs 70,000 - 80,000 pounds. The roof is multiple layers of modern metal, asphalt shingles, tin, old rolled asphalt and the original milled cedar shingles, which were oiled and painted red at one time.
The architectural treasures include the pristine logs, extraordinary joinery, exterior walls that angled in hold up under the pressure of trusses over the years; unusual 10' tall ceilings; logs and vigas artfully placed across the ceiling; and the distinct outline of two stucco fireplaces (the living room fireplace perfectly aligns to the drawing in the 1879 Harpers Weekly publication). They found square nails.
When asked why Arrigo would invest so much of his personal time, at no cost to the project, Joe replied "The joy is in the process – I like getting dirty and grubby! I can foresee a destination where families can visit and for a moment in time stop and appreciate where we come from, and how just a few generations ago, how we lived." Indeed, there are few pristine examples of a cabin built in 1860's, and when layered with a remarkable historical figure like Pete Dotson, who shaped American history, it becomes fascinating.
The next move is a big one. Before that can happen a host of issues including financing the project needs to be addressed.
Reprinted with permission from The Beulah Newspaper, January 2019, written by Greta Hanson Maurer