Twenty miles west of Laramie lies an authentic western ranch with a colorful past.
Like most Western ranches that turned to dude (now the preferred term is “guest”) ranching, the Vee Bar Guest Ranch began as an authentic cattle and horse operation. The main lodge was built by the Englishman Lionel Sartoris in 1891, on land he bought from Arthur W. Phillips in 1886. Over the years, there have been many owners of the picturesque land along the Little Laramie River.
Usually the ranch was named for the owners, starting with homesteader Theodore Brubeck. After Sartoris’ ownership, it became known as the Fillmore Place. With successive changes in ownership, it became the Wright Ranch, Hein Ranch and Crouse Ranch.
Many of the original 100 year old buildings on the ranch are still in use. It was named to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1986.
Sartoris’ original 1891 lodge was a one-story, ten-room house. Sartoris and partners Douglas and Willan ran an extensive cattle and horse operation northeast of the Centennial Valley. They owned approximately 21,000 acres of deeded land, part of which is the present Vee Bar. The corporation imported Hereford cattle, Shire (draft horses) and Thoroughbred horses from England. However, the partners lost money on the operation and only owned it for six years, when they sold to Civil War veteran Luther (and wife Susan) Fillmore.
Gordon Wright began leasing the ranch in 1903 and bought it in 1911. He was lured to Wyoming from Colorado by gold and the need for stagecoach transportation. The ranch served as a stagecoach stop, post office and freight line to area mines and timber camps, as well as a livestock operation. Gordon’s wife, Myra, served as postmistress for 25 years. Gordon Wright operated the freight line himself. It was said that there was an instance when he hauled two-thousand pounds of Copenhagen snuff for workers at the Keystone Mine in the Medicine Bow Mountains.
The freight line was discontinued in 1908 due to the arrival of the railroad to Centennial in 1907. After that, the Wright family turned to the guest ranch business. In 1912 the second story of the lodge was added to increase visitor capacity.
The Wrights owned the ranch until 1934 when L.W. Trumbull purchased it. Leonard and Lillian Hein bought the ranch from Trumbull in 1938 and continued running the guest ranch along with a cattle operation for 19 years. Guests were given the opportunity to help with ranch duties, such as haying and gathering cattle.
Charles and Ina Schindler were owners and operators of the guest ranch until 1965 when they sold it to George and Roberta Crouse. The Crouses started the Mountain States Ranch School, a government training school for boys from low income families. It was a 45 week course in ranching that operated for two years.
The Vee Bar was the brand used on livestock on the ranch starting in 1910. However, it has only been the name of the ranch since 1957 when it was purchased by the Schindlers.
Now owned by the Cole Family, the Vee Bar operates year round as a guest ranch, bed and breakfast, and restaurant. New accommodations have been added, but the original 1891 main lodge still welcomes visitors. Guests come from all over the US and Europe looking for an “off the beaten path” adventure or quiet getaway.
A partial history of the Vee Bar is contained in Laramie—Gem City of the Plains, (1987), available in the Wyoming Room of the Albany County Public Library, and the Hebard Room of UW’s Coe Library.
By Judy Knight. Kari Cole Kilmer, Shirley Lilley and Dicksie Knight May contributed to this story. The Vee Bar will be part of the Albany County Ranch History Project that Lilley and May are coordinating.
Caption: Wright Ranch and Stage Station c. 1908, located about 20 miles west of Laramie on Highway 130 near Centennial. People in the photo are unidentified. The house, originally built by Lionel Sartoris, has been greatly expanded but is still in use as the main lodge of the Vee Bar Guest Ranch. Photo courtesy of Agnes Wright Spring Collection of the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming.