View of Rifle Falls Ranch

View of Zerbe’s Ranch Hotel (The Rifle Falls Ranch), near Rifle (Garfield County), Colorado; men and women sit on the porch by a hammock, lawn, antlers, a United States flag, and a sprinkler. A horse drawn spring wagon is to the side. Taken between 1905 and 1910. Colorado Historical Society.

Born and reared on a farm, with only the school advantages common to country boys who have to work for their living, either at home or elsewhere, and without favoring circumstances at any period of his career, Allen L. Zerbe has, by his own thrift, enterprise and business capacity, won a comfortable estate from hard conditions and established himself in the lasting esteem and good will of his fellow men by his sterling integrity, industry, interest in the common welfare of his community and his upright and independent citizenship. He was born in Stark county, Ohio, on November 24, 1857, the son of John and Maria (Smith) Zerbe, also natives of that state. In 1878 they moved to Michigan and he, being then twenty-one years of age, located in Chicago and for four years and a half was engaged in various occupations of usefulness and profit for his own benefit, he having up to that time worked at home on the farm in the interest of his parents. At the end of the period mentioned he joined them in Michigan and again worked for them on the farm until 1886. In March of that year he came to Colorado and located at Central City, where he mined for wages until the next spring, then made a trip over the mountains at Rollins Pass to the head of Middle Creek Park in the hope of finding a suitable location for further enterprise and a permanent home. He moved on to Steamboat Springs, and after a short stay there proceeded by way of Dillon and Red Cliff to Rifle. Here he located mining property in the fall of 1877 which did not prove of much value, and he took up the ranch he now conducts as a pre-emption claim in 1890. It comprises eighty acres, thirty of which are tinder cultivation. Before doing this, however, in 1888 he went to Aspen, and during the next two years he was employed in the mines there for wages. The years 1894 and 1895 were spent by him in contracting and mining in the interest of a stamp mill at Breckenridge. Then he returned to his ranch, and ever since he has been developing and improving that until he has made it a choice place for a large body of patrons and one of the successful institutions of its kind in this part of the country.

What is Pre-emption?

Pre-emption was a term used in the nineteenth century United States to refer to a settler’s right to purchase public land at a federally set minimum price; it was a right of first refusal. Usually this was conferred to male heads of households who developed the property into a farm. If he was a citizen or was taking steps to become one and he and his family developed the land (buildings, fields, fences) he had the right to then buy that land for the minimum price. Land was otherwise sold through auction, typically at a price too high for these settlers. Preemption is similar to squatter’s rights and mining claims.

Ritchie, James S. (1858).Wisconsin and Its Resources; With Lake Superior, Its Commerce and Navigation. Chicago: W. B. Keen. pp. 162–168.

View of Zerbe's Ranch Hotel

View of Zerbe’s Ranch Hotel (The Rifle Falls Ranch), near Rifle (Garfield County), Colorado. A man, boy, and dog are on the covered porch. Taken June 12 1903. Colorado Historical Society.

The ranch house stands upon a rise of ground on the east side of the valley of Rifle creek. This stream, taking its waters from never-failing springs in the canons above, carries a large flow of perfectly clear water. It simply swarms with trout. The owner of Rifle Falls ranch absolutely controls, by ownership or lease, more than two miles of the best fishing on the stream, all directly adjoining the ranch house. This magnificent trout stream flows through scenes which for grandeur or beauty can hardly be surpassed within the borders of Colorado. The sides of the valley are of red and orange and buff sandstone whose vivid colors are seen through a thick mantle of evergreen pinons and cedars. The bottom of the valley is green with hay-meadows, tule grass and groves of trees, through which flows Rifle creek, in an infinite division of small, clear rills. From spring to fall the meadows and hillsides are covered with wild flowers. The groves are full of song birds. The hillsides are fringed with wild fruits and berries. Overhead are the constant sun and the blue sky that make the Colorado climate glorious. The air is cool and dry and bracing, while instead of the aridity which is so painful to Eastern eyes in most of Colorado, the landscape is as green as any in Vermont.

Although surrounded by the wilderness, and remote from the dust and noise of the busy world, Rifle Falls ranch is easily reached and whoever wants to can still keep in close touch with all his affairs. A good road follows the creek twelve miles to Rifle, a bustling little town with almost metropolitan stores, being the trading point for an immense area of country. Rifle is on the main lines of the Colorado Midland and Denver & Rio Grande roads, and eight transcontinental trains pass through every day, with connections from the Atlantic to the Pacific. A good stage service between Rifle Falls and the railway affords almost daily mail service. Rifle Falls ranch is connected by telephone with the post office, telegraph station and the business houses of Rifle, and has connections to most of the principal towns of the valley of the Grand river also.

Rifle Falls ranch caters to the patronage of those who value cleanliness, comfort and good cooking. It is no longer necessary to put up with discomfort, lack of privacy, bad cooking, dirt and disorder in order to get into the edge of the wild. The guests’ rooms are nicely finished, well furnished, well lighted and ventilated. Beds and bedding are clean, and mattresses and springs are of highest quality. Wide porches, abundant shade and large living rooms add to the comforts of the place. The lower valley of Rifle creek is full of orchards and gardens, producing the best of Colorado fruits and vegetables which, added to what can be grown on the place and can be brought from the town, with fresh meats from the abundant ranges and fish and game from the streams and hills, afford a menu of wide range. The cooking has the best home quality. The service is dainty and appetizing.

In political affiliation Mr. Zerbe is an earnest and strong Democrat, but he has never sought public office or a position of influence in the councils of his party. His mother died on December 5, 1878, and his father is still living, a well-to-do farmer in Michigan. Seven children were born in the family, two of whom died some years ago, William Zerbe and Frank Zerbe. Five are living: Margaret, wife of George Dow, of Chicago; Amanda, wife of Frank Hunt, of Akron, Ohio; Allen L. Zerbe, of this state; Jacob Zerbe, of Breckenridge, Colorado, and Gertrude, wife of W. S. Park, of Silt.

Allen Zerbe sitting on his ranch porch with friends and family

Allen Zerbe sitting on his ranch porch with friends and family. Allen is the man on the right side of the porch, sitting among the women.

Source: Bowen, A. W. Progressive Men of Western Colorado. Chicago: A. W. Bowen & Co., Publishers. 1905.