Tweet Kimball: Larger than life
Part one of three
By Joe Gschwendtner; photo courtesy of John Lake and Meg Anderson
Were there a Colorado Mt. Rushmore, Tweet Kimball’s profile might well be chiseled there. Born in 1914 Tennessee, where women wielded limited political power, Bryn Mawr-educated Mildred Genevieve Montague “Tweet” Kimball never got the message. After acquiring Charlford Castle in 1954 which had been built by Denver real estate developer Charles Johnson 30 years prior, Tweet was in full charge of her destiny.
As a daughter of wealthy West Point graduate Richard Huntington Kimball, Tweet was a belle of Chattanooga, and her life swirled in currents of privilege and power. She married wealthy Merritt Ruddock, OSS/CIA executive and diplomat. When later posted to the U.S. Embassy in London, the Ruddock’s social position opened early channels to monarchs and heads of state. By then, Merritt and Tweet had adopted two sons, Kirk and Richard. It is said that the boys often enjoyed time with Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace, but were never permitted to share their candy.
The Ruddock marriage fell apart on return from England, and it was amicably agreed that the Mississippi River would be a line of physical separation. Tweet had a dear classmate from Bryn Mawr living in Colorado and thus favored our state, happening across Charlford’s availability in 1954.
Tweet always knew what she wanted. First, she renamed Charlford, calling it Cherokee Ranch out of respect for Indians of Tennessee. Seeing the ranch as insufficiently large for her vision, Tweet acquired more land from the Ray Blunt estate, bringing her landholdings to well over 4,000 acres.
Growing up on a Tennessee estate, Tweet was no rookie to livestock breeding and became convinced that her high-country Colorado ranch land would be ideal for Santa Gertrudis cattle. This did not go over well among the locals and cattle breeders nationwide. After all, who was this upstart daring boldly to challenge conventional thinking?
For these reasons and the claim that Santa Gertrudis could not survive Colorado winters, Tweet was initially turned away by Texas ranchers and stockists specializing in the breed.
Tweet being Tweet, she persisted, eventually making her compelling case to a cattleman who, on the merits, sold her the necessary stock. Even after the purchase, she contended with ranch hands who were still less than open-minded. Similar narrow-mindedness prevailed early in National Western Stock Show hierarchy, but she knocked all the walls down with blue ribbon after blue ribbon. One of her finest Santa Gertrudis, “Minotaur” is celebrated with a monument at the ranch today; he sired 42 calves in one season. As to the Santa Gertrudis breed, they are now routinely ranched worldwide, including in Russia and Canada.
Tweet Kimball thought outside the box before we even knew it existed. Some called her eccentric. Her critics were likely either jealous or could not comprehend future trends with the vision she enjoyed. When environmentalism was in its infancy, Tweet was already in the batter’s box on issues like water planning, wildlife habitats and migration patterns and served in private and public capacities to ensure proper stewardship of her landholdings, her stock and those of Douglas County.
Next month: “Tweet: A woman for all seasons.”