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The Shaffers and the Formation of Ken-Caryl Ranch

The Shaffers and the Formation of Ken-Caryl Ranch (1914-1938)

John Charles Shaffer (1852 – 1943) was born in Baltimore. He arrived in Chicago in 1874 where he worked as a grain commission trader. A few years later he purchased his first street railway company, in Richmond, Indiana. From there he purchased street car lines in Indianapolis and Chicago. In 1901 he purchased the Chicago Evening Post newspaper and from there went on to acquire a string of newspapers in the Midwest. After visiting his son, Kent, who was living in Denver, in 1913 Shaffer expanded his empire with the purchase of the Rocky Mountain News, the Denver Times, and the Denver Republican newspapers.

Shaffer Family

Shaffer Family

On October 17, 1914, Shaffer purchased the first 2,660 acres of what would become Ken-Caryl Ranch for $100,000. He and his wife, Virginia Conser Shaffer (1850 – 1932), named it Ken-Caryl after their sons, Kent and Carroll.

The Shaffers had friends in high places. Shaffer supported Theodore Roosevelts’ Bull Moose party, and was friends with presidents William Taft, and Warren Harding. Indiana Senator Albert Beveridge was one of his closest and oldest friends. President Theodore Roosevelt was a luncheon guest at the Manor House on October 24, 1916. Shaffer’s relationship with Roosevelt was so close in 1917 that he carried a letter granting him immediate admittance to the president.

John was a founding patron of the Chicago Civic Opera and helped establish the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The Shaffers awarded cash prizes annually to aspiring painters and sculptors in Chicago. In 1922, the French Government conferred upon John C. Shaffer the Medal of “The Legion of Honor” for services to humanity.

Viriginia, Kent, and Carroll each possessed talents in music and literature. Virginia was a teacher before she married John, and was a published author. Kent was a talented composer of music. His ballad, “I Am Thinking, Dear, Of You,” was presented in a concert in City Park in 1917 and all proceeds went to the Red Cross for the purchase of Liberty Bonds. Kent’s wife, Helen, was an accomplished violinist. It was their mutual interest in music that had attracted them and led to their marriage. Carroll brought his buddies from the Banjo Club of the University Club of Chicago to the Ranch in 1924.

The Manor House
The Denver Times reported that “Mr. Shaffer gave instructions for the drawing of plans for a summer home modeled on the colonial style, to cost approximately $100,000. This building will be situated on the highest portion of the estate and is prophesied to become the nucleus of a colony of summer retreats for millionaires.”

The Manor House

The Manor House

The Manor House included 8,000 square feet of living area, with 20 rooms and six baths. The living room was 80 feet long, with fireplaces at the western and eastern ends. The dining room featured an enormous picture window overlooking a view so spectacular it was treated as a painting. Special draperies were designed to frame the view without obscuring it.

Sunrooms at either end of the house completed the floor plan and the housekeeper insisted that she counted 512 window panes on the main floor alone. The veranda was deep and cool, with columns two stories high.

Robert L. Perkin, in The First Hundred Years, a History of the Rocky Mountain News, reported that “one room in the house was fitted out with news tickers and a direct wire to the Chicago grain pit.” Neither of Shaffer’s granddaughters, Mrs. Charles Tutt or Mrs. Carolyn Allers, remembered this room. However, they admitted that the grandchildren weren’t allowed in the house except for Sunday dinner and the weekly lesson in manners. “And that was a command performance.” Mrs. Tutt remembered that her grandfather was driven into town almost every day. He was driven, she says, because “although he had a passion for automobiles and owned 17 of the finest at one time, he never learned to drive.”

As time went on Shaffer added other buildings, including separate homes for his sons and their families. Mrs. Allers recalled that Shaffer built all the houses of wood and some of them were pretty insubstantial. Except for the Manor House and Carroll’s House, all had grass mats tacked to the floor and they smelled marvelous. Carroll’s House (formerly the Shearn’s summer home) is gone now, but Mrs. Allers remembered that it was a beautiful two-story building with a gazebo. The Carroll house was used primarily as a guest house while Carroll and his wife, Pauline, lived in a frame house behind it. Beyond that was the “Cheerful Cherubs’ Inn” where their four children, Carolyn, Barbara, John C. II and Robert, lived with their Swiss nurse.

Kent’s House, a bungalow-style one-story building, is still standing to the west of the Manor House. Kent once lived there with his wife Helen and their daughters Virginia and Marjorie. It was later occupied by ranch foreman Jim Fickel and his wife.

Shaffer built new barns and a corral almost immediately and four years later added the huge Dutch style barn that is still central to the Ranch complex. The barn was built to stall the purebred cattle that were to come. There were burros for all the children to ride, and new calves were named after the family and their friends.

At the foot of the hill below the big house there was a garage with a bunk house over it that slept six men. Below the garage was a house for the Ranch manager and one for the cowboy who rode the fences.

On the south side of the big house, near the brook, were servants’ quarters and across the stream there was a large laundry and pump house. West of the big house, in the foothills, atop Beacon Hill, Shaffer built a log chalet. It had dormitories at each end, one for women and one for men and a shared living room. Two large fireplaces warmed the chalet. There was a kitchen behind the men’s quarters, and a maid’s room behind the women’s. Shaffer could signal to the Manor House for the replenishing of supplies. The chalet burned not long after it was built and only a chimney remains today, which is protected by fencing put up by local Boy Scouts and the ranger staff and signage was installed by the Historical Society. It is now referred to as “Little John’s Cabin.”

Shaffer’s Award-Winning Cattle
An undated news story by-lined by William Simms tells that Shaffer “sent his money streaming into the breeding world. He bought generously of recommended Hereford sires and dams. Among them was the Fairfax strain that is said to have come to Ken-Caryl through the influence of W. T. McCray.” McCray was a Hereford breeder and later governor of Indiana. Shaffer explained that he chose to raise Herefords “because the best beef is Hereford. And I decided to develop the best.” Fairfax was considered to be the most important strain in the Hereford world in the decade between 1910 and 1920.

Shaffer and His Hereford Cattle

Shaffer and His Hereford Cattle

In 1917 Shaffer hired Frank Jay Smith, just out of school in Fort Collins, to manage his livestock operation. Smith, who had his own ideas about cattle breeding, was given a free hand and managed well. Ken-Caryl began making a name for itself in 1918 and after that reaped more than its share of ribbons and trophies.

In 1924 Deacon, an 11-month-old Hereford calf, walked away as the Grand Champion of the International Livestock Show in Chicago. According to a news service story, this win was remarkable because it was a Hereford that triumphed, while most grand championships were won by the Angus breed. President and Mrs. Coolidge attended that show and sent personal congratulations to Shaffer. In an interview about the victory, Shaffer said, “I had bought the Ranch ten years ago. It was three years ago that I started with purebreds. We started with 50. Now we have about 250 purebreds, besides some grade cattle. So far as our herd showing is concerned, we have been beaten only once in our three years of raising purebreds.” Deacon ended his career as roast beef in the Book-Cadillac Hotel in Detroit. He sold, all 950 pounds of him, for $1.50 per pound on the hoof.

Ken-Caryl Ranch acquired a half interest in Prince Domino in 1924; the other half interest was owned by Otto Fulscher, noted rancher and breeder. He was declared “the best living Hereford bull” by a vote of Hereford Journal readers. The half interest cost $10,000, a staggering sum for a bull that age. Donald R. Ornduff, in his history The Hereford in America, observed:

Under the guidance of Frank J. Smith was thus made a master stroke in the fortunes of the Shaffer Hereford herd. Ken-Caryl leaped at once to a top flight rank in the national Hereford picture, and its showing representatives, predominately of Prince Domino extraction, from 1925 on performed sensationally until the herd’s dissolution some eight or nine years later.

Although Prince Domino himself was never exhibited, his offspring won top prizes in county fairs and national shows from the very beginning. Ken-Caryl brought back trophies and ribbons from Denver’s National Western every year through 1933 and almost as consistently from the International, American Royal, Southwestern and Great Western Livestock shows. At the American Royal 50th Anniversary Show in 1932, Ken-Caryl cattle received five first, seven second and one third place awards. When Prince Domino died he was accorded the honors and tributes of a senator. He was buried in Cheyenne on the Wyoming Hereford Ranch under a monument inscribed: “He lived and died and won a lasting name.”

The Equestrian Center, which includes nine historic buildings from the ranching era, was listed as a County Landmark in 2006 by the Jefferson County Historical Commission.

Lavish Entertainment at the Manor House
Shaffer was an avowed prohibitionist. He supported the cause both publicly and privately and Carolyn Allers, his granddaughter, remembered hearing that during elaborate dinner parties at their winter home in Evanston, Illinois, he would tap his glass for attention and say, “Isn’t this a lovely party – and no liquor served.” However Paul Pattridge, who managed the neighboring Willow Springs Ranch for Arthur Ponsford, recalled that he was invited to parties at Ken-Caryl and bootleg booze was available. Mrs. Tutt recalled about her grandmother, “Teetotaler that she was, Virgie always asked Sadie, our Swedish nurse, to make chokecherry wine to take back to our friends in Evanston.”

Shaffer was almost as opposed to smoking, especially by women. Mrs. Allers quoted him, “Every bad woman smokes, though maybe every woman who smokes is not bad.” Lelah Smith, wife of the Ranch manager, was sure there was a cache of cigarettes in the guest house, and probably elsewhere on the Ranch: “There was a lot of traffic between the big house and some of the other buildings.”

Otherwise, Shaffer entertained with a lavish hand. He truly enjoyed spending money and was described as a great gift-giver by family, friends and guests. Mrs. Shaffer was the daughter of a fundamentalist Methodist preacher, and she may well have thought that extravagance was immoral as well as distasteful. Some said she wore a wool union suit under her elegant gowns so that the finery would not touch her skin. “As to that,” says Mrs. Allers, “she probably wore the union suit to keep her warm, but it did actually hurt her to spend money needlessly.”

The End of the Shaffer Era
In 1926, Shaffer sold his Denver newspapers to the Scripps-Howard news chain. In the early 1930s, he retired as publisher of the Chicago Evening News, and Ken-Caryl Ranch was taken over by the banks. The $150,000 home in Evanston, Illinois was deeded to Northwestern University with the agreement he could live there until his death.

Ownership Under the Allens, Minissales, and McDannalds (1938-1972)

A.T. "Cap" McDannald

A.T. “Cap” McDannald

William L. Allen, a metallurgist who founded the Sheffield Steel Company of Kansas City, bought the Ranch from the banks in 1938. He tried to rebuild the property to its former grandeur, evicting some of the tenant farmers, including a family living with their pigs in the old Bradford house. Allen made no money raising cattle, and then World War II forced him to focus most of his attention on the steel business.

In 1944 real estate tycoon Joseph Minissale purchased the Ranch to give his children the experience of living on an American ranch. Minissale was a self-made man, who was born in Sicily and was a quarry laborer before immigrating to Philadelphia. During Minissale’s ownership turkeys joined the cattle as live stock. Minissale lived in a mansion in Denver and never lived on the Ranch itself.

A.T. “Cap” McDannald, an oil man and cattleman from Texas, bought the Ranch in 1949. He also had large ranches in Mexico, New Mexico, and elsewhere in Colorado. His grandchildren Milly and John J. Holmes, Jr., spent their summers here on the Ranch. After his death in 1963 the family maintained the Ranch until 1971 when it was sold.

Ken-Caryl Ranch