A diamond in the rough

Moffat County ranch grows during 100-year history into a family-run farm

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When Claude Wakeland was a young boy in Denver in 1900, his father read an ad in the newspaper about a ranch in Northwest Colorado that needed a foreman. The ad sought a husband-and-wife team, so that the wife could cook and the husband could run the ranch.

The Wakeland family left Denver on March 15, 1900, according to records at the Museum of Northwest Colorado.

The K-Diamond Ranch headquarters was just east of Government Bridge on the Yampa River, a few miles south of Lay, and the family spent three days on horseback, riding from the end of the rail line in Rifle to the ranch owned by William Church.

The couple was hired at $40 a month, plus transportation costs from Denver, and room and board at the ranch.

John Phelon filed an original homestead on part of the ranch in January 1888.

Church acquired that land, along with other property in that section homesteaded by Herbert and John Chapman and Clover Ward.

In the 1900 census, Church lists himself as a "capitalist." He was also an early cattle baron with ranches in Sterling and Northwest Colorado. He held interests in mining, including a lucrative copper mine in Arizona.

He expanded the K-Diamond Ranch to 600 acres by 1900, according to museum records.

K-Diamond was a fair-sized operation around the turn of the 20th century. They ran from one to two thousand head of cattle, as did the Pothook, Sevens, Keystone, L7 and Two-Circle Bar ranches.

The only bigger ranching operation in the county was the Two-Bar Ranch in Browns Park, which boasted 40,000 head of cattle.

One of the earlier homesteads in the county, K-Diamond was big enough to need a manager by 1890, and Ed Hodges was hired for the job.

When the Wakeland family arrived at the ranch in 1900, the K-Diamond consisted of the main ranch house with its logs and dirt roof, along with a small stable, blacksmith shop and a bunkhouse.

Wakeland's father raised the region's first crop of oats, along with potatoes. His mother baked breads and pies early in the morning to feed the hungry ranch hands, according to the museum. The nearest school was in Maybell, 12 miles downriver.

After the Wakelands moved on, the ranching operations went to foreman Clarence Barber, the son of Ole Barber, of Steamboat Springs.

Clarence Barber and Elizabeth Farrell married in Sunbeam on Dec. 4, 1908, and lived on the K-Diamond Ranch. Their son, Ole C. Barber, was born on the ranch in 1910.

For a period of time, Frank Sweeney owned K-Diamond, with his brothers Patrick and Henry each having neighboring ranches.

Dave Seely also was an owner of the ranch, and Glendon Coverwell was an owner who added more land to K-Diamond, creating the larger ranch known today.

His son Gerald sold to current owners Tom and Donna Deakins in 1992.

Today, the ranch is a family operation, with daughter Shandy involved, and son Cody taking on jobs that the foremen have had in years gone by.

"Cody is responsible for the irrigation, haying and calving now," Donna Deakins said. "We have the goosenecks (bends in the river) planted in alfalfa, and irrigation makes it possible to get a second cutting."

Deakins said the family gets great pleasure from the ranch and that they enjoy having their nephews come out to camp and fish by the river.

The ranch now includes Iles Mountain, but Colowyo Coal Co. purchased Duffy Mountain and some of the Sweeny Ranches.

The acreage is in the thousands, and the cattle likely is, too, but as Donna Deakins said, "We don't talk about that kind of thing out here in the country."

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