The Taylor Ranch consists of approximately 77,000 acres of mountain land and constitutes part of the Cielo Vista Ranch. The rights of the Costilla County landowners date back to 1844, when most of southern Colorado was part of Mexico. In that year, as part of the Mexican government’s efforts to settle what is now the southwestern U.S., the governor of New Mexico, Manuel Armijo, awarded more than one million acres of land located primarily in present-day southern Colorado to two Mexican nationals, Narciso Beaubien and Stephen Luis Lee, under what became known as the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant. Settlement was interrupted by the Mexican-American War, which was concluded in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Under that Treaty, Mexico agreed to cede land to the U.S., including California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, most of Arizona and Colorado, and parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Wyoming, specifically including the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant. In exchange, the U.S. agreed to honor the existing property rights of Mexican nationals in the ceded territory.
Narciso Beaubien and Stephen Lee were killed in the war, and Carlos Beaubien, Narciso’s father, succeeded to the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant. After the war, Carlos Beaubien began settlement in earnest. To induce settlers to come, he promised that the mountain areas with timber and pasture, including the Taylor Ranch, would remain available and accessible to the settlers for common use, including livestock grazing, timber harvesting, firewood gathering, subsistence fishing and hunting, and recreation. He formalized this in a written and recorded document in 1863.
The settlers and their descendants enjoyed these rights until 1960 when Jack Taylor, a North Carolina lumberman, bought the Taylor Ranch, closed off access and excluded the people. After much strife, this lead to filing of the Lobato v. Taylor case in 1981.
The case was brought to confirm the rights of landowners to access the Taylor Ranch for livestock grazing, firewood gathering and timbering under the Sangre de Cristo Land Grant. The Colorado Supreme Court confirmed those rights in the landmark case of Lobato v. Taylor, 70 P.3d 1152 (Colo. 2003), subject to ongoing proceedings to identify those specific individuals with access rights. So far, more than 750 people have been granted access and provided keys to various gates onto the Ranch. In addition, 3,000-4,000 more people may have their rights confirmed in the ongoing proceedings.
Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the owner of the Taylor Ranch opened numerous gates to provide access, but he refused to open the Torcido Gate located toward the southwestern boundary of the Ranch. Moreover, the Torcido Gate could only be accessed up the Torcido Creek Road that ran through the Mountain Lake Ranch Subdivision, which had not been included in the Lobato litigation. The Torcido Creek Road was eventually barricaded with large boulders last fall. Believing they had a right to access the Taylor Ranch up the Torcido Creek Road and through the Torcido Gate, a group of Costilla County landowners brought suit on behalf of themselves and a class of people to establish their rights. That suit, known as the Torcido Creek Road litigation, was filed in Costilla County District Court on April 8, 2011. It is this case that the parties have agreed to settle.
The settlement, which still must be approved by the court, grants road and gate access to all people with rights to the Taylor Ranch portion of the Cielo Vista Ranch. It does not cover people with rights only to the Salazar Estate portion of Cielo Vista. Lawrence W. Treece, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said the parties are working on papers to file with the court to obtain its approval of the settlement. He said he expects those papers to be filed within a month to six weeks, and that final approval will likely be obtained by no later than the end of this year. In the mean time, Treece says the road will remain closed, and will not be physically opened until court approval of the settlement.
The Land Rights Council has supported the Torcido Creek Road litigation from the beginning, as it has continuously supported the Lobato litigation. The Plaintiffs in the Torcido Creek Road case are being represented on a pro-bono basis by a team of lawyers at the law firm of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a well-known and respected regional law firm, with a substantial litigation and real estate practice. The team is headed by Lawrence W. Treece, a litigator and trial lawyer who has practiced in Denver for more than 40 years. The case has also been supported by the Colorado Lawyers Committee, an organization of lawyers devoted to providing high-quality legal assistance on a pro-bono basis in large cases of significant public importance, and which has been involved in providing assistance in the Taylor Ranch litigation for many years.
Read what the Valley Courier
has to say about the Taylor Ranch case.