Living on a prayer: Samuel Riker Ditmars
By Joe Gschwendtner; photos courtesy of “Our Heritage: People of Douglas County”
Our early Douglas County pioneers knew well the meaning of the “Wild, Wild West.” They lived its hardships, pain and unpredictability. Whether from Europe or the East Coast, the life left behind was more urbane. Quiet. Civilized. So was it for Samuel (Sam) Riker Ditmars, born in 1864 in Brooklyn, New York.
A restless, daring fellow, Ditmars ran away from home at 15. He didn’t stop running until he hit Montana, finding work as a cowboy on a cattle ranch in Helena. Long on ambition, he would serve as an assistant Indian agent, San Quentin prison guard, Cattlemen’s Association detective and a Deputy U.S. Marshal. So it was then, that on arrival to Denver in 1886, he did a stint as deputy sheriff in Arapahoe County.
Seeing opportunity elsewhere, he founded both a butcher business and transportation service in Globeville (near today’s I-25/I-70 “Mousetrap”). Curiously, having escaped the dangers of law enforcement, a commercial accident crushed his left arm. Rejecting a Denver physician’s recommendation to amputate, he returned home to New York for his surgery, which resulted in a permanently stiff arm.
Still only 28 years old in 1892 and partially disabled, Ditmars realized he had to tailor his livery business and other interests to his new condition. To better accommodate and expand his transportation business, Ditmars needed land. Jumping on a 500-acre opportunity for sale in Seller’s Gulch in Castle Rock, Ditmars named his purchase Evergreen Ranch. He and another livery employee then moved into a log house on the ranch. Using his own dray horses for breeding, Evergreen Ranch began raising draft horses still essential on farms and ranches before the coming days of tractors.
For the next eight years, Ditmars worked on improving the ranch and fields to support his expanding business. This included a horse barn and a farmhouse, which in expanded fashion, still stands today.
In getting to know his neighbors, Ditmars met Annie Josephine Linklater from a small farm to the east. They married in 1900 and would bring three children into the world, Thelma, Mary Ann and Edward Samuel. Thelma would not live through her first year.
Now with a life partner, Sam became more active in land acquisition and would amass almost 3,000 acres, including a full county school section. At the same time, he transitioned the ranch to become substantially cattle oriented, raising and breeding Herefords.
Unbeknownst to him, Ditmars had one final deadly hardship awaiting him. Well past his own law enforcement days, he ironically became ensnared in what would be a modern-day posse. While driving into Denver in 1924, a policeman stopped him, jumped on the running board of his car and directed Ditmars to begin hot pursuit of prisoners fleeing the Denver City Jail.
His grandson, Don Ditmars, recounted, “The story, as I remember my dad telling it was, they were pursuing the bad guy down the road with the deputy on the running board when the bad guy jumped off the road into the ditch. As you don’t stop a Model T on a dime, the car went some distance beyond, and the bad guy came out of the ditch shooting. One of the bullets went through the back of the car, striking my granddad,” leaving him with no feeling in his lower body.
Though Sam and Annie would celebrate their silver wedding anniversary at the Clark Hotel in Castle Rock in 1925, his partial paralysis prevented him from feeling the pain from a bout of appendicitis in 1927 until it was too late. He now resides in Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery.