The Evolving History of Woodbine
The history of the land now known as Woodbine is a long, complex and interwoven one. The original peoples of the region were primarily the Nunt'z/Nooche ("the people"), commonly referred to today as the Utes.1 Arrowheads and other projectile points, at least 10,000 years old, have been found in the region.2 Woodbine was an important part of the eastern area of the Utes (see map), and begins a territorial intersection between a number of indigenous peoples, including the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche and Lakota. Although the latter indigenous nations' territories converged with the Utes on the plains east of Woodbine, a reasonable assumption can be made that various indigenous peoples entered the canyon to hunt (deer, elk, buffalo) and camp.
With pressure from the invasion of the area, first by the Spanish, the French, and ultimately the United States, tensions between the region's indigenous peoples also increased. Competition over food resources, and the salt flats (Bayou Salade, as the French explorers named it) in South Park, west of Woodbine, caused the Utes to guard their access routes into the mountains (Waterton Canyon, Jarre Canyon, Roxborough Park, Perry Park, and Indian Creek) quite protectively. The Utes camped throughout the region, including along what is now Indian Creek and Jarre Creek, where Woodbine is located.
Although both the Spanish and French claimed the indigenous territories where Woodbine is located, there is little evidence of their presence in the canyon. The U.S. purported to acquire the area, as part of the Louisiana Purchase, from France in 1803. The first U.S. explorer in the region was Zebulon Pike in 1806, although his expedition did not actually come as far north as the Woodbine area. The first serious U.S. incursion into the region was in 1820, by Major S.H. Long, camping in Waterton Canyon, and documenting Roxborough Park and the South Platte River. General John C. Fremont led another U.S. expedition into the area in 1843. During this period, a variety of trappers and mountain men of various nationalities traveled and lived in the area, among them Jim Bridger and Kit Carson, who are known to have utilized the canyon to access the South Platte River and South Park.
Throughout this entire time, the mountain territory was undoubtedly under the physical and political control of the Utes, who came and went at will, and who controlled access to the hunting and trapping areas of the region. There are several accounts of Colorow (leader of the Yamparicas/White River Utes) running off trappers, miners, and settlers, saying, "This is Ute territory. You can sleep here one or two nights, then go!"
Treaty with Utes
In 1849, the U.S. signed its first treaty with the Utes. Unfortunately, the U.S. treaty negotiators had little understanding of the decentralized nature of Ute social and political structure and assumed that a treaty with one sector of the Ute Nation (the Muache) was binding on all of the others, which it was not. The treaty was especially vague concerning the mutually agreed borders between the U.S. and Ute nations. This ambiguity led to increased incursions into Ute territory by U.S. settlers, miners and trappers, including into the canyon where Woodbine is now located. The situation finally erupted on Christmas Day, 1854, with a battle in Pueblo, resulting in the Ute War of 1854-55. The war concluded in a stalemate, after a battle near present-day Salida, with the root conditions that led to the conflict left unresolved.
In 1859, gold was discovered on Cherry Creek and the South Platte River, precipitating a gold rush in the region. Although no broad-based mining took place near Woodbine, the gold rush created increased traffic and settlement in Denver, along the Platte, and south to Cripple Creek. By 1861, Colorado had become a territory, and the increased aggressiveness of new settlers led to escalating tensions with the Utes, and with the indigenous nations of the plains. Rations that had been promised by the U.S. government to the Utes under the 1849 treaty, which were often distributed in Sedalia, were cut off. Some violence followed, and it was during this time, that Colorow was reported to have traveled to Sedalia, where he attempted to trade a horse and some beads for the baby of the Manhart family, one of the founders of Sedalia. Colorow, Captain Jack and other White Mountain Utes continued to travel, live and trade in the region, until anti-Indian animosity and increased violence resulted in the forced removal of the White Mountain and other northern Utes to Utah in the late 1870s. Despite being confined, Colorow and other Utes continued to secretly return to hunt in their beloved homeland in Colorado until about 1882, when the leaders Colorow and Captain Jack were killed by posses, sent to return them to the Utah reservation.
Jarre Creek Ranch
European settlement of the region began in earnest with the establishment in 1870 of the Jarre family ranch, after whom the canyon and the creek where Woodbine is located, are named. Jarre Creek Ranch, located at the mouth of Jarre Canyon, continues to operate today as a training facility for champion jumping horses. An 1882 tour of the Jarre Ranch indicated that it was not a good hay farm, but instead had its "forte more in small grains, corn, and potatoes."3 Just above, and west, of the Jarre Ranch, is Wildcat Mountain, a landmark for Indians and white settlers alike, and "deriving its name from the powerful mountain lions that roamed down from the rocky clefts in the mountains; these mountains measured seven and eight feet long, and weighed nearly two hundred pounds...."4
Woodbine Ranch was built and owned by Joseph B. (J.B.) and Minnie Bucknam in the early 1900s. They built Woodbine Lodge in approximately 1915, and by the early 1920s the location was known as a brothel and "speakeasy." During the Prohibition era, when the manufacture and consumption of alcohol was a federal crime, Woodbine flourished as an illegal casino, bar, and brothel. The location apparently operated with the knowledge of local and county officials and became a vacation destination for notorious gangsters of the day.
One of the most colorful gangsters to frequent Woodbine between 1924 and 1935 was Louis "Diamond Jack" Altire (aka Leland Varain). Altire was an enforcer for Dion O'Bannion of the Bugs Moran gang, one of the main competitors of Al Capone's Chicago bootlegging syndicate.5 After O'Bannion was gunned down in a Chicago flower shop in 1924, Altire headed to Colorado to lay low. During a poker game at the Woodbine casino, Diamond Jack won a half interest in the Roundup Ranch, approximately three miles west of Woodbine, on State Highway 67. Eventually, Altire, who regularly sported dual pearl-handled .45 caliber handguns, bought over 4,000 acres in Jarre Canyon. He sponsored rodeos at Woodbine, at Roundup, and in Denver, and he hosted deer hunting parties utilizing Thompson sub-machine guns as the hunting weapon of the day.
Eventually, Altire was convicted of a brutal aggravated assault in Glenwood Springs, and, in 1933, was ordered out of Colorado for five years. He never made it back to Woodbine. On July 18, 1935, Diamond Jack was cut down in a gangland ambush on the north side streets of Chicago.
Even without the color and the celebrity of Diamond Jack, and even after Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Woodbine Lodge continued its operation as a bar and a casino. In an August 10, 1936, investigative report, the Rocky Mountain News declared Woodbine to be "the hottest gambling spot between Kansas City and Reno."6 The original builder and owner of Woodbine, J.B. Bucknam died in November, 1936,7 but apparently Bucknam's widow, Minnie, continued the operation - assisted by her eventual new husband, Ray Smith. Minnie also died a few years after J.B., but Smith continued to run the place.
Woodbine Lodge is reported to have burned down twice, the latest time on July 26, 1945. Eventually, the gambling subsided, but Woodbine's reputation for fine chicken dinners survived, and the Lodge became a favorite dining destination, especially on the weekends. The fire, reportedly begun by a cigarette thrown under the wood floor, consumed the entire lodge in a little over an hour. An extensive collection of Navajo rugs, Bucknam's lifelong collection of minerals and ores, and a variety of slot machines were lost in the conflagration.8 Sometime later, the lodge closed, but re-opened as "Woodbine Country Club."9
In the 1950s, Woodbine was sold to the Rocky Mountain Conservative Baptist Association, which ran the facility as a Christian youth camp and family retreat center, until 2002.
An Evolving History
The history of Woodbine Ranch is something that we continue to investigate and uncover and we will expand upon over time. If you have any specific documents, stories, photos, or graphics from the history of Woodbine and the surrounding area please contact us.
1. The origin of the term “Ute” is unclear, but it is probably a Spanish variation (“Yuta”) of the Tewa or Dineh indigenous words for “the mountain people,” reflecting the predominant Nooche environment in the Colorado and Utah mountains. [Return to text]
8. “Woodbine Lodge Burned Down Sunday Night,” Castle Rock Journal, Castle Rock, CO, July 27, 1945, 1; “Woodbine Lodge, Famed Mountain Resort, Is Burned,” Denver Post, July 27, 1945, 1. [Return to text]