Our HistoriCorps team just finished up work at Rourke Ranch, and what a week it was! From April 25 to May 1, more than twenty volunteers camped out in the National Comanche Grasslands and restored the historic Rourke Ranch. Last summer, strong winds blew the roof off a storage building and another structure, a log stable with adobe daub, required stabilization. HistoriCorps volunteers replaced the storage building roof, completed adobe stabilization in the stables, and repaired several wooden corrals and gates. The group battled rain, snow and hail at some points, but were able to get their work done and left the site happy and successful. Here’s what they learned:
Rourke Ranch was built in 1871 by Eugene Rourke near La Junta, Colorado. Originally used as a cattle and horse ranch, the ranch was operated by three generations over a span of one hundred years. Built up over the years from 40 acres to a whopping 52,000 acres, the property was considered one of the most successful enterprises in southeast Colorado. A century after it opened, Rourke Ranch was sold and is now a National Historic Site within the Comanche National Grasslands.
As a special treat to volunteers, Ed and Tony Rourke both stopped by to tell their story of the ranch. Born and raised at Rourke Ranch, Ed and Tony knew the site like the backs of their hands and were more than happy to talk with the HistoriCorps team about their experience there. Volunteer Brent Martin considered talking with the brothers “priceless” and loved hearing about the history of the buildings he was working on. Terry Oakley was particularly impressed by “hearing his story about getting shot by his brother in the house where we were sitting.” What a tale that must have been!
Not only did volunteers learn about the century-old ranch site, but they encountered some even older sites nearby. Comanche National Grasslands and the Picketwire Canyonlands are known for the Dinosaur Tracks that were left behind an incredible 150 million years ago. No, it’s not some ploy that the grasslands is using to attract more visitors – these footprints were actually made by Brontosaurs and Allosaurs, who would have plodded through the shallow lake that had been there millions of years ago. Volunteer Doug Turner commented that his “greatest joy was seeing the dinosaur tracks in their natural setting….blew me away.” With over 1300 dino footprints, the Canyonlands Tracksite is the largest in North America! You’d be pretty awestruck too if you happened upon some monstrous dino tracks in the middle of the park.
Every HistoriCorps project has some great stories to tell – at Rourke Ranch, volunteers came home telling tales of historic house restoration under strong winds and heavy rains, with a little bit of dinosaur and ranch-hand history thrown in. Join a HistoriCorps project and tell your own story!