Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

The Country Life: A slice of Scotland in Colorado

By Bill Radford Updated: February 4, 2014 at 7:51 am 0

Visit the Bonny Burn Ranch near Calhan and you'll soon notice a theme.

First of all, there's the name, which is Gaelic for "pretty stream." Then there are the dogs: two West Highland white terriers and two black Scotties. The more than a dozen cats, among them Scottish Folds, known for ears that fold forward and downward. The horses: Clydesdales, a breed developed in Scotland. Terry and Heather Galbreath, owners of the ranch, also used to raise Highland cattle, a long-horned Scottish breed.

Inside the Galbreaths' home, you'll find tea towels from Scotland. A map of old Scotland. A ... well, you get the idea.

The couple's families are from Scotland - Terry and Heather are from the same Scottish clan and met at a clan gathering in Colorado. They've visited Scotland a half-dozen times or so. Their ranch is a tribute to that heritage.

They're not the first to bring a touch of Scotland to the American West, however, Terry says. Scottish immigrants were key in the development of the West, particularly in the cattle industry. (The Smithsonian, in fact, had a symposium last summer on "Scots in the American West.") The tune of the cowboy song "The Streets of Laredo" is from an old Irish ballad that came to the U.S. via Scots, Galbreath says.

"Almost all of the cattle trails and things like that were named after Scots," he says.

My wife and I visited the Galbreaths' Scottish oasis in eastern El Paso County on a sunny but brisk Saturday. They bought the land about 20 years ago after looking at property across the state. It had trees, 21/2 miles of creek bottom and a small lake they would come to name Bonny Wee Loch ("pretty little lake").

"I will forever want to shoot myself," Terry says, "for not having a tape recorder for when my wife said to me, 'Honey, if you buy me this land, I will never ask you for another thing.'"

The country life was not new to Terry, who grew up in DeKalb, Ill., where his family raised horses. Heather, though, grew up as a city girl in Pittsburgh. "I never even wore jeans," she says.

But she had always dreamed of life on a ranch. "When I was 4 or 5, I always was dressed like a cowboy. I had little holsters with guns, a hat, the whole thing."

The ranching life came with challenges, though - most notably health challenges. Heather was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis not long after they bought the property. And Terry had spent three years in and out of Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Denver and was medically retired from the Air Force after crashing in a hand-built airplane in 1989; he was a major stationed at Air Force Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base at the time of the crash. He's had more than 70 surgeries and lost 4 1/2 inches in height, locked in a perpetual hunch. A computer/pump system implanted in his torso delivers morphine straight into his spine and was the tool, he says, that got him out of a wheelchair.

Their 320 acres had been Kiowa Indian hunting land and a dairy pasture; they now have 240 acres after selling two parcels. From their back deck, you can see other chapters from the area's past - an old settler's cabin and the remains of a one-room schoolhouse.

The Galbreaths had 14 Clydesdales at their peak; they're down to five and no longer breed them. Over the years, they've also owned a Shetland pony (a breed that originated in the Shetland Islands of Scotland), a few Welsh ponies, a miniature mule and any number of dogs, including a couple of huge malamutes and several wolves and wolf hybrids. (They were working with a couple of overpopulated wolf rescues and do not recommend them as pets, Terry cautions.) On their land they've seen weasels, coyotes, badgers, deer and a 6-foot-long bull snake that followed Heather around.

In 2001, the Galbreaths and Robinson Brick Co., an upstream neighbor, received a land reclamation award from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources for work remediating and enhancing the small lake and wildlife habitat on the property; the lake had become choked with clay from runoff. "We're quite proud of the little marble plaque they gave us," Terry says. (The lake has "the tiniest of islands" that they call Inch Galbraith - which in Gaelic would be Galbreath Island.)

Terry is a storyteller. During our visit, we learned about everything from the sexual habits of bonobos (a type of ape) to how he ended up on the cover of Scooter World magazine to why the names of towns from Colorado Springs to Limon have six letters or less (it has to do with the number of spots on the railroad schedule.) He called our conversation a "blether," defined as "a long-winded talk with no real substance."

Near the end of our visit, Terry gave us a piece of coprolite - aka dinosaur dung.

"We have it all over the place," he said. As he had first contacted me about an article I had written on horse poop, I found the gift to be a fitting one.

He told us we would be welcome to visit any time, and we're planning to take him up on his offer. The land was impressive enough in the winter; we figure it must be spectacular in the summer.

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Bill Radford and his wife live in the east of Colorado Springs with a menagerie that includes one horse, one mule, two goats, two dogs, two cats, a half-dozen chickens, two rabbits, two guinea pigs and two parrots. Contact him: Twitter @billradfordiii, gazettebillradford on Facebook. Follow his blog at blogs.gazette.com/thecountrylife.

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