Area ranching originated in the 1880's and still plays a strong role in Ouray’s economy.
The U.S. Army opened the first Indian Agency in Conejos, New Mexico in 1869 called Los Pinos. This agency was established to integrate the Ute Indians and the westward Pioneers. Six years later, the agency moved into the Uncompahgre Valley, north of what would eventually have become Colona, Colorado. The Ute Indians camped and hunted in the area beside the Uncompahgre River, but as soon as the settlers arrived and farming came into practice, their game started to dwindle. Businesses in the Ouray County started to boom with the arrival of the railroad in the late 1880s – running approximately where Highway 550, running between Ouray and Montrose, is located today – and the establishments of the silver mines above Ouray and Telluride. What initially started as mining camps blossomed into civilized, thriving towns. Ores were shipped out to provide the miners with food and beef, which was in high demand in the area, and was plentiful starting from the foot of the San Juan Mountains. As a result, government cattle had to be brought in from Gunnison to ensure that the agency was provided with food. Soon after, the land was open to legal homesteading and the needs for farming and ranching prospered.
More ranchers came along to settle in the area. At first, ranching for them was challenging, especially with the high altitude, which created long, extended winters. Due to the desert high country landscape, much of the land consisted of dry and rocky soils, which was one of the reasons ranching was so difficult. The Ouray County ranch history demonstrates that close-knit communities were essential through helping each other out with ranching activities such as fall roundups and spring calving.
Ranch rodeos were the among the favorite social acitivites in the area. They demonstrated cowboy activities like roping and riding, and they started off as spectator sports, with little to no barriers between the audience and the participants.
Ranching still remains a core part of the valley's economic history, and the Ouray Country Ranch History Museum aims to preserve that history and protect its legacy.