Community Agriculture Alliance: History of the Kuntz Ranch |

Community Agriculture Alliance: History of the Kuntz Ranch

Dale Mize
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Located about 15 miles south of Steamboat Springs, the combined Kuntz and Gay families have owned and operated the Kuntz Ranch for over 100 years. Like most ranching operations in the area, the Kuntz family raised cattle and other livestock, grew hay and contributed to the local Routt County economy and the state’s agricultural industry. They have also contributed to the work of the American Quarter Horse Association.


Joseph “Emile” Gay and his brother Alfred emigrated to the United States in late 1887 from Switzerland. Like many younger sons of European families, they were not eligible to inherit their family’s land, a right reserved for the oldest male son. The younger brothers migrated to Leadville to work in the area’s lumber industry as did many French-Swiss. In the late 1800s, Leadville was one of the most bustling, economically viable places in the United States, hosting the Delaware Hotel, the Tabor Opera and other noted establishments. This was until the price of silver crashed in 1892. With a falling-out of its economy, Emile began to look elsewhere for opportunities.

Emile arrived in Routt County in Pleasant Valley in the mid-1890s, an area he liked to tell people was reminiscent of Switzerland but with better soil. Then considered a French-Swiss colony, Emile filed a homestead claim and purchased a pre-emption of an additional 160 acres with water rights and lush hay meadow from William Nickels.

Emile made the three-day horseback journey during the summer months to improve the homestead while his wife, Percide, remained in the Leadville for several years. Emile and Percide permanently moved to Pleasant Valley in 1898. Emile drove a herd of cattle to their new residence while his wife drove a wagon along his side with their first-born daughter, Amelia, in her arms.

Emile completed the main ranch house in the early 1900s, the signature building on the Kuntz ranch. It is an astonishing two stories high, with six bedrooms, a kitchen and a living room. The house had plumbing by way of a water feed and a percolator system. Within the concrete patio was even a well pump so that Percide never had to trek through mud or even leave her front door to get water. The only amenity not near the house was the bathroom, an outhouse down by the corrals.

Their family grew to include five total children, Ameila, Robert “Bob”, Emma, Meda and Louie. In 1918, Louie (18 years old) and Meda (16 years old) died three days apart during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, leaving the family with only three children.  

Means of Income

The Gay family diversified their income. They had water rights in the Yampa River, which made irrigation possible and facilitated hay production. In addition, before train transportation arrived in Routt County, Emile made business deals with the lumber and mining camps to exchange steer meat every couple of weeks. Owning his own private slaughterhouse gave the Gay family a continual source income, whereas most ranchers throughout the region had to ship livestock seasonally from remote train depots.

In addition to the slaughterhouse, Percide opened their large home to boarding visitors. Its location, approximately halfway between the lumber mill in Steamboat Springs and the lumber camps near Pleasant Valley at the headwaters of Sarvis Creek, was ideal for traveling lumbermen. The house became known as the “The Halfway House” for its location. Family would later call it the Yellow House for its bright yellow paint.

These revenue streams between the slaughterhouse and the room-and-board for the family allowed them to remain on their land through tough times as many surrounding homesteaders sold-out or foreclosed and lost their properties. This was typical during the early 1900s for those living off the land without good water rights and hay meadows. The Great Depression of the 1930s would further amplify such issues like their farming counterparts. These continual sources of income helped the Gay family purchase additional land and raise more crops and cattle, expanding the family operation for their three remaining children: Amelia, Emma and Robert.

This photo is of a Quarterhorse owned by Neilen Kuntz. The Gay’s were once instrumental in the breeding of Quarterhorses in Colorado.
Dale Mize/Courtesy photo

Changing Hands

Emile and Percide’s oldest daughter, Amelia, married Val More in 1917 and would ranch the lower part of Pleasant Valley on the More Ranch, which settled right below what is now Lake Catamount. Her grandson, Norton ‘Gonk’ Jacobs would eventually take-over the ranch while daughter, Ella, and son, Jerry, would ranch nearby, including the well-known More Barn captured in images with the Mount Werner ski mountain in the background.

On July 17, 1938, Robert married Emily Elaine Becker, and the couple moved to the family ranch in Pleasant Valley. In 1948, their expanding family that included three children — Roberta, Margaret and Bill — moved across the river to a place they purchased from the Lugon brothers to build the Green Creek Ranch. Besides the cattle the family raised, Robert became well known for the outstanding quality of the Quarter Horses he bred. His horses garnered big wins in shows and competitions, and his bloodlines quickly spread throughout the county. 

This left Robert’s sister Emma and his brother-in-law Paul Kuntz to take care of their mother, Percede, and the home ranch across the river. In 1926, Emma married Paul J. Kuntz. Born to John Henry Kuntz and Mary Elizabeth Dorr in 1900, Paul was raised on his parents’ homestead ranch in Cow Creek, located in the beautiful rolling hills between Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek. Mary Elizabeth Dorr was the daughter of one the region’s earlier settlers, Michael Dorr, who had fought alongside General Grant in the Civil War and later joined the U.S. Cavalry in the Apache Wars before homesteading along the Elk River in northern Routt County.

Like Emile and Percede, John Henry Kuntz encountered tough times. He lost his wife, Elizabeth, in 1916 to complications associated with vericose veins. She was only 41 years old. As adolescence, Paul and his older brother, Michael, were motherless. Once considered a prominent cattlemen, John Henry would later loose his ranch during the Great Depression.

Born in 1932 to Paul and Emma Kuntz as the third generation on the family ranch in Pleasant Valley, Lloyd “Sonny” Kuntz perpetuated the family’s traditional ranching practices and made innovations of his own. In this rural area a dozen miles south of Steamboat Springs, wildlife, particularly elk, are an integral part of the environment. Sonny, a lifelong hunter, worked with hunters and the state to improve elk habitat on his ranch. In 1985, the Colorado Division of Wildlife honored Kuntz as first runner-up, the first person to be so honored on the West Slope, in its Landowner of the Year contest. Sonny also permitted fishing and camping on his ranch in addition to hunting. 


A photo showing a view of “The Yellow House” moving eastbound on the road. The shot is pointing Northeast.
Dale Mize/Courtesy photo

By the late 1900s, the cost of ranching and the value of land for development in Routt County prompted many ranchers to sell their properties and pay off their increasing debts. Many ranchers own hundreds or thousands of acres of land, but until it is borrowed against or sold, land does not equate to cash. It is merely a platform on which to engage in activities that generate income. For families either growing or in greater debt than they could pay off year to year, selling their land, paying off their debt and relocating somewhere potentially more profitable proved lucrative.

Many ranchers in Routt County flocked to places like Nebraska, Oklahoma and Wyoming. For other families, the high value of their land was the wealth they could pass on to their children, but only if it was subdivided equally. Subdividing these properties, however, could make it more difficult for their children to continue the ranching operations.

Sonny and his wife Dolores had four children and to be fair, they decided that because of the value of the ranch, they would divide the property among them. However, as an active ranch, there was only enough land to support two families. This meant that in order to continue ranching, the four children had to either scale back ranch operations or relocate somewhere less expensive.

In 1993, Sonny sold one of the hay meadows originally homesteaded in Pleasant Valley by Percide’s brother-in-law and sister, Sam and Forsetene Trentez, to help finance another ranch for his son, David Kuntz. David, a veterinarian, sold his home and medical practice in Steamboat Springs to pursue ranching on a larger scale in Hotchkiss, where he and his two sons, Derek and Tyler, now run a cow-calf operation and recently expanded their business model to include chickens on a large scale for the wholesale of eggs.

Present Day

The Kuntz ranch in Pleasant Valley continues to run cattle for pasture through the summer months. Until recently, this included some of David’s cattle that were hauled in from Hotchkiss. Sonny and Dolores’ oldest son, Dennis, has a haying operation and leases out his share of the ranch to his son-in-law and daughter, Joe and Kristi Schalnus, of Toponas for pasture.

Lloyd “Sonny” Kuntz passed away on July 28, 2019. His oldest grandson, Neilan Kuntz, who grew up on the ranch and left to attend college and pursue a degree in biology returned to the ranch to help manage its operation. In addition to summer pasture, hunting and fishing provides additional income along with the remaining hay meadow for his grandmother, Dolores, and mother Darlene and Aunt Deanna.

Deanna ranches in Yakima, Wahsington, with her husband, Mark, and is still involved with her biggest passion: quarter horses. While the Kuntz family no longer run their cattle on the property managed by Neilan, they do lease the land to keep the ranch in operation along with the haying. Neilan continues the work of his grandfather, Sonny, permitting fishermen on the property and keeping the fish habitat healthy and thriving. Neilan also continues to maintain the buildings on the ranch, which include the original 1900s house, so that future generations can experience the ranch’s history.

Dale Mize, CSU History M.A. Student, Art of Ranching Researcher 2022-2023

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.