When Dan Casement visited his father's newly acquired ranch in Unaweep Canyon in 1883 he was just 15 years old. Even so, it was the beginning of an important lifelong relationship to the western Colorado ranch.
"Here I spent my most formative years and obtained the most important part of my education in the business of living," he wrote years later.
Additionally, at the Unaweep ranch Casement began his love affair with horses. "Complete dependence on the horse for every economic and social function … gave me an invaluable appreciation of equine nature and (its) not infrequent nobility," he said.
Decades later, that appreciation of horses — especially one type of horse — led Casement to help found the American Quarter Horse Association. In 1986, he was posthumously inducted into the AQHA Hall of Fame.
Two stallions he brought to the Unaweep ranch from Texas — Concho Colonel and Concho's son, Balleymooney — helped establish a standard for early quarter horses.
The Unaweep was still wild country when Casement first visited the ranch. Only two years before Casement's father and a partner acquired the Unaweep ranch, the Ute Indians had been removed from most of western Colorado and their reservation opened to homesteaders.
Casement's father, Gen. Jack Casement, had earned his military rank while serving with an Ohio regiment in the Civil War. But he earned his fortune building railroads, most notably, laying tracks for the Union Pacific Railroad as it pushed westward in the 1860s.
In addition to the Unaweep ranch, Gen. Casement had a large home in Ohio and a ranch near what is now Manhattan, Kansas, known as Juniata. Dan Casement made that ranch his home most of his adult life, even as he remained involved with the Unaweep ranch.
Following his teenage visit to the Unaweep, Casement returned east to complete his education, graduating from Princeton and obtaining a master's degree from Columbia University.
He and a friend moved to the ranch in the summer of 1891 to take over ranch management.
Casement's autobiography is filled with stories of bear hunts, cattle roundups, hard work in winter and summer, and socializing in Grand Junction.
In the small community, Casement was "warmly welcomed in the Windsor, The Senate, The Board of Trade, The Bucket of Blood and similar convivial institutions, wherein the entire business and social life of the town centered," he reported.
Those early ranch years also taught Casement the value of small, stocky, quick-footed horses, which already were known as quarter horses even though there wasn't yet a formal breed organization.
"The best of these horses were small and had a strong strain of Spanish blood," he said. His first year on the ranch he bought a small bay horse named Jack Paw, who "could turn on a dime and give you a nickel in change," Casement said. "His wisdom and skill won my admiration and affection to a degree equaled by few horses I have since owned."
Horses weren't the only creatures on the ranch, of course. Cattle were the primary revenue producers. Early on, Casement brought Hereford cattle to the Unaweep to begin replacing the long-horn range cattle that originally dominated the West.
As with quarter horses, Herefords became a lifelong passion for Casement. For nearly 40 years, he won awards around the country for his cattle, and he was deeply involved in various stockmen's associations.
He also became involved with what is now Kansas State University, allowing the school's Agriculture Department to conduct research on his ranch land. Many of his personal papers are now archived at K-State.
Casement lived on the Unaweep ranch until 1897, making regular trips back east to visit family and attend the Princeton-Yale football game. But two things changed that year.
First, when he married Mary Olivia Thornburgh, the daughter of Major Thomas T. Thornburgh, who had been killed by Utes at the Milk Creek battle near present-day Meeker in 1879.
Also in 1897, Casement and his wife joined Casement's father in Costa Rica to build a government-funded railroad, a project that lasted six years. When it was completed, Casement and his young family moved to Colorado Springs because the town was roughly halfway between Casement's Kansas farm and his Unaweep ranch. Although he made many extended visits to the Colorado ranch, Casement would never again make the Unaweep ranch his permanent home.
In 1931, he deeded the ranch to his son, Jack, who raised cattle and horses until he sold it in 1941.
Long before then, in 1911, Dan Casement acquired Concho Colonel from a horseman in Texas and began raising top stock horses.
He bought the Colonel sight unseen, but was not disappointed when he finally laid eyes on him. Concho Colonel was "a beautiful dappled chestnut, compactly built, smooth and well balanced in shape," Casement said. Not long afterward he acquired Balleymooney.
Both were descendants of Steel Dust, a legendary Texas horse from the middle of the 19th century. Steel Dust is considered one of the primary ancestors of modern quarter horses.
When he wrote his autobiography in 1944, Casement described his 30-year association with Concho Colonel and three generations of his descendants: "In their callow years they have made me ride and have broken some of my bones," he wrote. "In maturity they have, I hope, imparted to me and my children some measure of their wisdom and courage."
In 1927, Casement wrote an article about Steel Dust horses, which attracted the attention of others interested in creating a registry for such horses and an organization to promote the breed.
In 1940 in Fort Worth, Texas, Casement was part of the organizational meeting for the American Quarter Horse Association, and he was elected as one of the AQHA's founding directors.
According to an AQHA biography on Casement, "Ranchers from all over the Southwest traveled to Casement's ranch to buy horses," quarter horses descended from Concho Colonel.
Casement died in 1953 at his farm in Kansas. But he remained deeply connected to his Unaweep ranch throughout his life.
"Nearly sixty years of my life are closely linked with this locality," he wrote nine years before his death. "Here I learned the dignity and delight of hard manual labor … the deep satisfaction that accrues from finishing tasks involving hazard and hardship."
And he remained confident about the future of his favorite type of horse, which he believed was particularly suited to places like the Unaweep range.
"Cattle will always range in rough country that no machine can invade," he said. "And no horse can work them there so efficiently as can the Quarter Horse."
Sources: "The Abbreviated Autobiography of a Joyous Pagan," by Dan Dillon Casement; "Casement of Juniata," by Donald R. Ornduff; "Dan Casement Inducted into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame in 1986," aqha.com.
Bob Silbernagel's email is firstname.lastname@example.org.