Waterfall Ranch History, 100 years of Zink family

By Howard E. Zink (written 22 Nov, 2014, with additions by Anne Zink Putnam)

1875 – 1917

The fight over water and the shooting is in the book on the history of the valley.

  • Pioneers of the San Juan Country, Vol 1.   49  In her essay Pioneering on the Hermosa, Mrs. Martha A Roberts lists those residing in the Animas Valley in 1875 including, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Lambert, and their sons, who owned the Waterfall Ranch.  Mrs. Lambert was the first white woman to settle in the valley.’
  1. 52- 53 contains the story of the water rights shooting. Of interest in the Waterfall Ranch history it states, ….’in the Valley in 1875, the Lamberts were residing on the “Waterfall Ranch” which 160 acres they had homesteaded. The falls were a part of the homestead, and their absolute water right to them was beyond question.’  The story of the 1876 shooting continues, Mr. Lambert was arrested a few weeks later, tried and sent to prison….. After Mr. Lambert was released from prison, they sold the ranch to Mr. Thomas H Wigglesworth and left the Valley.  Mr. Wigglesworth was construction engineer with D&RG Railroad …………..

1917 -1930

May 31, 1917 Deed to Waterfall Ranch Wigglesworth heirs sold to John James and Ida Mae Zink.

The John J Zink family moved to the frame ranch house near the waterfall, on the west side of Highway 550 and north of Falls Creek.  When John J and Ida moved, there must have been six kids at home—soon to be another, Ernest. “No wonder that dad wanted a bigger house” explains Howard.

The horse barn roof raising is of interest.  A large horse barn and hay shed sat in a cottonwood grove about where the stone house now is.  The horse barn was never cleaned.  Straw and horse apples built up until it was too high for horses to come in.  So the problem was solved by raising the roof.  A great volume of fertilizer was the result.   I think the horse fertilizer was spread on the field E of the tracks and N of the lane that produced the great spud crop that Dad sold at a high price because of the war shortages, some of that money helped build the stone house.

My brother, John W, fell into the Animas Ditch above where it crosses the road north of the creek.  He caught the boards of the wooden culvert and stood up so his head extended thru a hole in the culvert.  A passing motorist would have seen a head sticking up in the middle of the road.  Another John W story was his late weaning.  He would come to Mom for lunch well after 1 year old.  Mom painted a face on her breast to scare John W, but he just wiped the lipstick off and resumed his feasting.

My sister Ruth related to me that Mom would take all the kids big enough to hoe and as she started down the row she would start telling a story.  The kids would have to hoe fast so as not to miss any of the story.  This recollection of Ruth’s may also extend backward in time to the years in Nebraska before coming to Durango in 1910.

Ernest P Zink and Howard E Zink were born at Waterfall.  The family lived in the frame house N of Falls Creek.

Dad built the stone house in 1921.  The family moved into it.  When about 1 year old Howard dropped his glass bottle, looked for it, and fell from his chair and cut a gash in his head.  Sister Ruth related that Howard would scream when his parents tried to tend to the wound, but would let Ruth take care of him.  The stone house must have been about the first in the valley to have electric lights and indoor plumbing.  The lady who lived in the next place north wanted to take a bath in a bathtub.  Mom agreed.

The electricity came from a small electric turbine utilizing water from the Falls Creek. Howard recalls that the Undershot and Pelton turbine  and generator were purchased from some little town that was installing a larger plant. ((Howard thought perhaps it was Arboles.) The first reservoir storing water for the plant was quite small and often the water failed before bedtime.  I can remember an enlargement which required rerouting the creek a bit.  The plant produced direct current which was not useable by AC motors.   John J also built a large cellar, across and to the south from the stone house, on the west side of the old highway 550.)

Ida Mae Zink (5 Sep 1880 – 2 Jan 1926);  James W Zink (17 Aug 1846 – 1 Apr 1926).   So John J lost his wife and 2 months later his father!  The 1920s were not very good times for farmers.  Dad, ever the optimist, was overextended when the Great Depression hit in 1929.

John J remarried to provide a mother for his 4 youngest.  That marriage ended in just a few months.  “I don’t have any memories of her,” Howard recalls.

In about 1930 John J nearly died from bleeding ulcers.  He wouldn’t let Dr. Oschner operate, but was able to get well with careful diet, etc. (Editor’s note: At this time the four oldest were gone from home and Bert sometimes served as a foreman, being particularly good with sheep, sheep dogs, and horses.)

1930 – 1943

In the summer of 1932 Ernest and Howard herded the Waterfall Ranch sheep where the Dalton Ranch Golf Course now is.  In the fall of 1932 Earnest ran away from home and spent the next 6 years in school at Bresee College in Hutchison Kansas.  The depression deepened, John J lost his herd of sheep, but some milk cows provided a little steady income.  (Editor’s note: Sister Blanche graduated from Durango High School in 1932.  Her high school annual carries a quote from Blanche saying, “ I haven’t much use for men.”  One can understand the young girl’s feelings as she had been the cook and housekeeper since her mother Ida’s death in 1926, and was laundress for her father John J, and brothers John W, Ernest, and Howard.)

John J married a Mrs. Dolan, about 1932.  She had lost her oldest son, Justin, in a train accident near Oxford.  She was paid some money by the D&RG.  She bought some nice furniture, and a fine big phonograph.  Howard remembers playing the music by the hour.  The marriage was off as well as on some of the time.  Son John W graduated from Durango High School in 1934.

During the summer of 1934, Mrs Dolan was living in Durango.  In August Mrs Dolan agreed to again live with John J if he and Howard would live in Durango also.  Just before school started John J and Howard moved into Durango and lived in a rented house about two blocks east of where the railroad crosses Main Street.  Howard attended the 7th grade in the school about two blocks east of Durango High School.  Then, about November John J and Howard returned to the ranch and moved into the old frame house.  The LaLondes, parents of Arleene who was married to Bert, were in the stone house.   In 1936-37 school year, Howard joined Ernest in Hutchison.  Howard returned to CO in 1937 and lived with Bert and Arleene at the place with the stone wall, at that time the second place south of Trimble.  John J was living in Durango.  In 1938, Howard recalls, Bert and Arleene moved to the Hermosa Bottom Farm.  The Durango school bus didn’t go that far, so Howard moved in with John J in Durango.

The four youngest Zink children—Blanche, John, Ernest, and Howard—attended the Waterfall School.  According to photographs, it was situated at the northwest corner of the Home Ranch, just south of the Waterfall Ranch property line.  Sometime around 1938-40 the school was closed and the school building was subsequently removed.

The LaLondes lived in the stone house several years.  Arleene LaLonde Zink lived with them while Bert and John W went to California to work—and probably for a time after that.  Mr. LaLonde was at times a hired man and at times a renter. (Peggy Zink Hererra says she was born in the original house in 1934 and that sisters Nita (later drown) and Sara were born in the stone house.  Part of the time at least, Albert and Arleene must have lived at Waterfall Ranch where Bert served as his Dad’s – John J’s – foreman and worked with the sheep.)  Howard continues, “I don’t know when they moved out, nor when the Logans moved in.  I wasn’t paying much attention to that.”

Howard says, “I graduated from DHS in 1940, just past my 17th birthday – probably about the youngest member of the class.  When Blanche, John W and Ernest were in school (this likely refers to the Waterfall School), Dad had to ‘baby sit’ Howard which interfered with his work, so he sent me (Howard) to school a year early. At first Howard would run all the way home after school, so John J scolded the older three for lingering after school.”  Howard went to Idaho in 1940 so doesn’t have much detailed knowledge of the Waterfall Ranch after that. Both Ernest and Howard served in the military during World War II.

1940 – 1943

John J lived mostly in the town of Durango, where he had properties, and the ranch was operated by family members, or in-laws.  John J had deeded the Waterfall Ranch to the 8 Zink kids in _______.

Ruth, Blanche, Ernest and Howard had migrated to the northwest.  John W worked for oldest brother, Leonard, at Leonard and Laura’s Hermosa Nurseries, before also spending a couple of years in Idaho and Oregon. Brother Bert and sister Zelma Zink Logan also lived with their families and farmed in the Animas Valley.

Editor’s note: Waterfall Ranch history continued, by Anne Ruth Zink Putnam, December 1, 2014:

My parents, John W Zink and Ruby Nelson Zink returned to the Valley and to the Waterfall Ranch in the winter of 1943-44,  just after I turned five years old and my sister, Ida Mae was not quite three.   We lived in a single bedroom at the top of the stairs in the stone house.  We had a small stove with a chimney piped out the south window.  Our packaged frozen meat was stored in a cardboard box on the roof of the porch.  When meat was needed from this handy ‘freezer’ Dad would open the window and I would crawl out to grab a package while he held my feet.  (There were four bedrooms on the second floor. Coming full circle, I stayed in this southeast bedroom for my last summer at home in 1958.)     The Kennith Logan family was living in the house and farming the property.  I was delighted to have three older boy cousins available in the downstairs living quarters.  They moved to their own farm in the spring.


Dad (John W) and Mom (Ruby N) set about purchasing the other 7/8ths of the ranch from John W’s siblings. He also began to make changes to the farming operation.  Very early on he took out an old apple orchard and began using this areage for growing potatoes and corn.  This field was southeast of the present lane and where the current condos of Waterfall Village are now located.

The first year or so we milked a few cows, but primarily raised sheep and potatoes.  The perimeters of the ranch property expanded or contracted as John W found opportunities to buy other farms or sell off marginal farm land for building sites.  We had a big garden which included raspberries and strawberries, a small greenhouse, and an orchard of apricots, peachcots, apples, pears and pie cherries.  We raised a few hogs for family pork and kept a milk cow.  John W, being a hunter, added venison and elk meat to the freezer.

We kids helped with herding sheep, picking fruit, canning and freezing vegetables, driving tractor, feeding chickens, gathering eggs, sorting spuds, spring lambing, and helping in the farm harvesting of potatoes, hay, and corn.  John W had a team of horses and bought his first small Fergeson tractor which I drove for cultivating spuds and corn in the summer of 1948 when I was ten.  Ida helped mom butcher and freeze fryer chickens.  The team of horses died from eating poisonous water hemlock weed.  From then on the farm quickly became mechanized.  From 1945 to 1950 our Waterfall Ranch family added three brothers – Nelson John, Edwin Albert, and Gerald Paul.

(B.J. Ochsner, a well-known photographer, found the waterfall to be a favorite subject in the spring around 1945-50.  Fruit tree blossoms, lambs, and the two Zink girls were also often included in the photos.  Twice, once a frozen waterfall and once a spring waterfall scene, were featured on the Rotogravure Section of the Denver Post.  The Ochsner photo collection is at Fort Lewis College at the Southwest Center.  Professional photographer, Jerry Jacka, also did an autumn scene of the waterfall for a post card.)

The years from 1943 to about 1963 saw the most intense farming and ranching. Growing, selling, and distributing potatoes was a large part of the operation.  John W phased out the sheep and added a feeder cattle operation and a herd of Angus mother cows.  Sometime about 1953 or 1954 the original house, which was rented to a family with three kids, burned.  Then at Christmas, 1960, the stone house burned when the family was away for the evening.  Immediately John W and Ruby began rebuilding.  Then the extended farming operation began to phase out for two reasons.  We five Zink children were moving on and into our own lives.  Hired hands and farm laborers became much harder to find.  But more critical was the development of the new Highway 550 which ran along beside the railroad right of way, through the middle of the Valley ranch land.  John and Ruby, with typical energy and vision, began embarking on the next phase for the Waterfall Ranch, along with parallel enterprises by son Ed and his young family.

1963 to _____________

Waterfall Ranch History, continues

The next voice will be that of Ed Zink, fourth of the five children of John W and Ruby N Zink.