Vermejo Park Ranch occupies the south-central portion of the Park Plateau between the headwaters of the Arkansas and Canadian Rivers and served as a natural passageway between the Southwest and the Great Plains. The first real settlement began between 600 and 700 A.D. and persisted until the Great Drought (1276 to 1299), during which time native tribes left the Park Plateau in search of water for their beans and maize.
Athapaskans (better known as the Apache and Navajo) migrated into northern New Mexico in the late 15th century, and Jicarilla Apache established rancherías along the eastern edge of the plateau where perennial streams and rivers flowed from canyon mouths down onto the plains. Mounting pressure from Comanche and Ute raiders caused the Jicarilla Apache to abandon the plateau in the 19th century.
Carlos Beaubien and Guadalupe Miranda petitioned the Mexican government for the entire southern half of the plateau, including what is now the Vermejo Park Ranch, in 1841. Beaubien and Miranda were officially awarded the territory in 1843, but they never developed the land: Miranda fled New Mexico in 1846 as war broke out between Mexico and the United States while Beaubien ceded his portion to son-in-law and frontiersman Lucien B. Maxwell in 1842.
Maxwell built a house at Rayado in 1849 then relocated to Cimarron. He encouraged Anglo families to move onto the property, and they formed small groups of dispersed homesteads. Over the next 15 years, Maxwell purchased grant shares from other Miranda and Beaubien heirs, and in 1865, Maxwell became the sole owner of more than 1.7 million acres. Perhaps as a result of concerns over its legality (but more likely owing to financial misfortunes), Maxwell sold the land to an English syndicate called the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company in 1870.
When the company deemed the Anglo homesteaders as squatters and tried to remove them from the property violent clashes (known as the Colfax County War) broke out, escalating throughout the 1870s until the United States Supreme Court affirmed the grant's legitimacy in 1887. Once the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company had legal right to the land, most of the settlers abandoned their homes, though a few stragglers remained on the property into the early 20th century.
Chicago businessman William H. Bartlett purchased the present-day Vermejo Park Ranch – some 205,000 acres of land – from the Maxwell Land Grant Company in 1902. Bartlett and his two sons reintroduced elk (which had been hunted to extinction in the 19th century) and developed most of the lakes above Vermejo Park’s headquarters. The Bartletts built Casa Grande and Casa Minor in the main complex and later built the original Costilla Lodge for high-mountain fishing and hunting excursions. Bartlett and his two sons died between 1918 and 1920, leaving the estate to his younger son's widow, Virginia Bartlett.
Virginia Bartlett sold the Ranch to a consortium of individuals led by Los Angeles Times Mirror owner Harry Chandler in 1926. Chandler formed the Vermejo Club, and members such as Herbert Hoover, Harvey Firestone, Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford used the Ranch as a private haven for several years. Many built homes on the property before the Great Depression forced the club to disband; during the 1930s the buildings were shuttered and the land was leased to cattle ranchers.
Texas industrialist W. J. Gourley purchased Vermejo Park in 1948, expanding the Ranch’s livestock operations. After years spent remodeling the Ranch’s elegant stone structures into guest accommodations and restocking Bartlett’s lakes, Vermejo reopened as a fishing and hunting retreat in 1952. Gourley believed big game hunting was the Ranch’s main attraction, so he purchased several hundred head of elk from Yellowstone National Park in the late 1950s. Gourley died in 1970, and his widow sold the Ranch to the Pennzoil Corporation in 1973.
Under Pennzoil’s 23-year ownership, the Ranch maintained its cattle operations and continued to serve as a sportsmen’s resort. Pennzoil deeded more than 150 contiguous square miles of the Ranch to the U.S. Forest Service in 1982. Much of this parcel is now known as the Valle Vidal, a wildlife management unit located in the Carson National Forest.
Ted Turner’s company, Vermejo Park, LLC, purchased Vermejo Park Ranch from the Pennzoil Corporation in 1996, and a variety of forestry and wildlife management programs were started and remain ongoing. Though cattle operations were phased out to restore the Ranch’s original ecology, Vermejo’s exclusive guest operations continue to flourish, and we warmly welcome our long-time and new guests.