OUT: Cattle rustler made last stand on Cold Spring Mountain
A quiet grave in a grove of aspen on the east side of Cold Spring Mountain is the only physical reminder of Isom Dart.
Oh, there is a photograph, always the same one of the former gunslinger, rustler and rancher, with him staring
straight at the camera, two pearl-handled revolvers prominent at his waist.
But Dart and his story rarely are known by most of the hunters today roaming this whale-shaped mountain in northwest Colorado.
Dart was born Ned Huddleston in 1849 in Arkansas, although that is in doubt, as some stories that say it was in 1855 in Texas. Born a slave, he left Arkansas after Emancipation and went to Texas, where Mexican bandits taught him how to steal horses and swim them across the Rio Grande to be sold.
By 1875, Huddleston had made his way to northwest Colorado where he had several encounters with the law and bit of cattle rustling with the Tip Gault Gang. He eluded death once when, while he stayed behind burying a friend, the rest of the gang was ambushed and killed by a rancher and his men.
Deciding to go straight, Huddleston changed his named to Isom Dart and purchased a small ranch on Cold Spring Mountain in northwest Colorado. But he couldn’t stay out of the ongoing range wars where big ranchers fought little ranchers over control of the open grasslands in and around Browns Park.
In 1899 Dart joined with rancher Ann Basset, a known cattle rustler once involved romantically with Butch Cassidy. About that time, the Two-Bar Ranch, the largest cattle operation in the area, hired Tom Horn, a fearless, athletic man talented with horse and gun, as a “detective” to run off cattle thieves and scare the smaller cattle operations.
Several of the small ranchers, Dart among them, began receiving threatening notes, telling them to leave the area.
One of the ranchers and a friend of Dart’s named Matt Rash was shot dead in his cabin after receiving one of the notes.
Dart refused to leave, saying this was his home.
On the morning of Oct. 3, 1900, as Dart was leaving his cabin and walking toward the corral, he was shot in the chest. He died at once.
No one ever pinned Tom Horn with the murder, but it’s common knowledge he was guilty.
Dart was buried amidst the aspen on Oct. 4, 1900. The isolated plot, protected by a wood fence, hears only the wind whispering through the trees.
The Two-Bar Ranch now is part of the Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge.