Undoubtedly the most impressive visitor to Estes Park in the 19th century was Windham Thomas Wyndham-Quinn, who succeeded to the title of 4th Earl of Dunraven and Mountearl in 1871.
Although on his first trip to the United States on his honeymoon in 1869 he got no further west than New York and Richmond, his urge to visit the “wild west” was fueled by stories of Sir George Gore’s monumental hunting expeditions to the west in the 1850s.
In 1872 he acquired guides and hunted for “sport” on the plains of eastern Colorado, arriving in Denver barely in time to celebrate Christmas. There, so the story goes, at a party at the Corkscrew Club he heard of the fabulous hunting in Estes Park, so though the weather was bitterly cold, he picked up his gear and arrived in Estes Park on December 27, 1872. And he found the hunting fantastic.
He returned in 1873 and 1874 at which time he decided to acquire all of Estes Park, by legal – and sometimes questionable – means by inducing itinerants to establish homestead claims, which they promptly sold to him. The land was very strategically chosen along stream courses radiating out from the Estes Park valley so that, though he owned only 8,000 acres, in effect he controlled nearly 15,000 acres.
His motive is unclear even today: it appears he intended to raise cattle – at a time when the English were investing heavily in western land and cattle companies – but some believe he was simply acquiring land as a feudal hunting preserve for himself and his friends.
There is no doubt that “sport,” the hunting of big game, was a compulsion of his life, though he had around the Sorbonne acquired an appreciation of fine wines and pretty girls and, at Oxford, some skill in horse racing and polo. In 1874, he traveled to the Yellowstone country for hunting and wrote a perceptive book, “The Great Divide,” covering not only his hunting experiences but also a description of the geology, the Indians, and the gold mining towns of the area.
An amusing incident of this trip was the loss of the whisky flask from his pocket. When, retracing his route he found not only the flask but also his wallet containing a considerable amount of money, he swore never to join a temperance society – though, considering his lifestyle, it is unlikely he had considered such a possibility prior to this event.
On the ninth of January of 1877, the Rocky Mountain News reported a visit to Denver by Lord Dunraven, accompanied by his good friend, Albert Bierstadt, the pre-eminent artist of the west. So this lends credence to the frequently-reported story that it was Bierstadt who selected the site for his hotel so as to maximize the view of the mountains from its veranda. The hotel was built and opened for guests in July of 1877. The Estes Park Hotel – or the “English” hotel, as it was known to local residents - was an instant success.
Soon the Earl of Dunraven began to lose interest in Estes Park, and it appears his last visit was in the mid 1880s. Perhaps it was because of the controversies regarding his illegal acquisition of land, perhaps because of published reports (some of which appear to be true) of his “wild living,” or perhaps simply because the area became less attractive because of the increasing number of tourists – sometimes 200 a summer!! – invading his enclave of privacy. Or perhaps it may have been due to his increasing responsibilities to Queen Victoria as a result of his appointment as Undersecretary for the Colonies in 1885.
Since he was wealthy beyond belief, the abandonment of his Estes Park venture had no effect upon his English lifestyle, though he retained ownership of the land until sold to F. O. Stanley and B. D. Sanborn in 1908.
Many honors came to the Earl of Dunraven before his death in 1926 at the age of 85. He wrote six books and, as a journalist, covered both the Franco-Prussian War and the British expedition against Abyssinia for the London Daily Telegraph. He served in various capacities in the military, most notably the Boer War in South Africa, received many medals and honors capped by investiture into the Order of the British Empire.
Even today, we hear contemporary echoes of the Fourth Earl of Dunraven. When you see the young, gifted violinist Anne-Sophia Mutter in concert, in person or on television, she plays the “Lord Dunraven” Stradivarius which was purchased by Lord Dunraven in 1890. The recent superb biography of Winston Churchill by Roy Jenkins tells us that when Lady Randolph, the mother of Churchill, became estranged from Lord Randolph, the Earl of Dunraven became one of her closest and dearest friends. Recently when there was a challenge to the outcome of the America Cup yacht race, newsmen wrote that “America’s Cup icons have squabbled in grand style,” noting that such disputes went back to 1896 when Lord Dunraven claimed the New Yorkers had cheated and was expelled from the New York Yacht Club.
D. Ferrel Atkins, Retired Ranger-Naturalist