by Kerry Hoffschneider
There are cattle back on the Windler Homestead and the sixth generation holds the keys. This is all because of the vision of Kathryn Windler whose refusal to give up has inspired her husband Donald; their children, Mason (age seven) and Aubrey (age four); her parents, Carl and Laurie, and her sister, Lindsay, to do all they can to enjoy the land that has been in the family since the early 1880s.
The Windler’s story has been one of hardships, hard work, loss and rebirth of a dream. The farm is located near Aurora, Colorado in Adams County, about three miles as a crow flies from the Denver International Airport. Carl’s father, Karl, faced an Eminent Domain lawsuit when E-470 was built in the early 1990s through the eastern portion of the Denver-Aurora metropolitan area. Urban sprawl and a plan called the Colorado Aerotropolis Visioning nearly eliminated any hope of building dreams from the land that helped support their family for generations.
The history of the Windler family in the United States began when Heinrich (Henry Sr.) Windler and Anna Catharine (Dreyer) Windler, immigrated from Germany to the U.S. in 1882. The family first stayed with Herman and Catherine Dreyer, who had a dairy farm on Sand Creek. Henry Sr.’s first purchased land was 80 acres that included grazing lands just a few miles north of the line of the Kansas Pacific Railroad. He also filed an application under the Timber Culture Act of 1878 that required the farmer to put 10 acres of land in trees to obtain 160 acres.
“Most of the trees did not make it. It was like planting trees in a desert,” Carl Windler, Henry Sr.’s great grandson, said about the dryland acres his ancestors had settled upon.
Henry Sr. and Catharine had six children and Henry purchased a farm for each of his three surviving sons. Karl Windler inherited the land the family still owns from his Uncle Henry Jr. in 1971 after farming with him since the 1950s. The homestead was awarded a Colorado Centennial farm certificate in 1986. Carl and Karl farmed the land until around 1999. By this time, there had been no one living on the property since the 1970s. However, many of the historic buildings were still in place.
An Unfortunate Split…
“The Eminent Domain for E-470 split the farm and ranch in two,” Carl said emotionally. “It was devastating to dad who told me at the time, ‘I am not going to be the one that loses the farm.’ He made it all but six months out of a five-year lawsuit. The highway was put in by big developers and by then, we knew the airport was going in. We got a letter that said we had 30 days to get the cows off the property.”
“When they put the highway through, they put in two overpasses including one for future development. We could get farm equipment from one side to the other, but we could not run cows over the overpass. With infrastructure going in, we couldn’t keep the cows on the property at that time,” Laurie explained.
Trespassing and vandalism issues arose as urban sprawl grew up around the ranch.
“Every time we went out, something else was broken, stolen or covered with graffiti,” Carl recounted. “There would be busted out glass on the buildings or siphoned glass, a host of things.
“Then, on Halloween about 15 years ago, we received a call that the house was on fire. Lindsay and I rushed to the farm to watch the fire department struggle to save the historic buildings. They were able to save all but the house through a terrible snowstorm and night for the family. The investigation proved arson,” Carl said.
“Dad just wouldn’t let us go out there as much anymore,” Kathryn said about the farm that had held so many positive memories for the family through the years.
Time To Move Forward…
However, after Kathryn moved away for a time and then returned to the area with her husband and growing family, she had different plans.
“I went out there and started cleaning up the homestead against my dad’s wishes,” she said.
“Kathryn looked at me and said, ‘Dad, we have to start putting some love back into that place’,” Carl said with tears welling in his eyes.
“Yes, Dad was pretty emotional about it, but I still kept sneaking out there just about every weekend with the kids and my husband and we started cleaning up. The kids helped too, as small as they were, and never complained. My goal was for them to know how blessed they were and what it was like to have no running water. I wanted them to see the way our family used to live compared to now,” Kathryn said.
Through time, and witnessing his daughter’s tireless efforts, Carl’s heart began to heal after all the painful transitions he had went through by his father’s side.
“I told Dad, ‘I want cows back and you want cows, too.’ Then one day, Dad brought Aubrey and Mason out to the farm. Dad had hidden a key in Mason’s pocket. I had never even had a key – we had jumped the gate to start the clean-up efforts. Dad told Mason to open the gate and to look in his pocket. The key worked on the milk house, too,” Kathryn recalled.
Cows and All…
The same day the key was presented, Carl showed the family a few cows he had purchased and shared the plan to add more registered Black Angus from his dear friend, Gene Dubas of Dubas Cattle Company. Dubas also believed in the family’s dream and was instrumental in helping to make the revival a success.
“Gene saw the vision, too,” Carl said. “He is the best thing that ever happened to my family.”
“Some people would ask us why we didn’t just sell it and move on. You can’t explain to people the emotional aspect of it being in your family for that long,” Kathryn said. “But Gene, he totally understood that.”
“It’s about more than money,” Carl said. “So much more.”
“We have grandchildren now and it’s in their heart, too,” Laurie added. “The day was coming when we wouldn’t be able to do this anymore. It was so important to us to make sure the kids saw this.”
While Dubas was contending with flooding at his own ranch near Fullerton, Nebraska, he and his wife brought the registered Black Angus cattle to the Windler farm. The heifers were artificially inseminated in Fullerton and Dubas later came out to pick up the calves and took them back to Fullerton to wean them. Dubas will keep the calves there and the that make the cut bulls will be offered at auction in March. Bred heifers will return to the Windler operation in May.
Carl and Laurie said the handshake partnership they have with Dubas is symbolic of the values that were strong during the times they are trying to help the next generation remember and understand. Last year, at the National Western Stock Show in Denver, Mason had his debut as a Mutton Buster and Dubas had a jacket made for him, making him an “official cattleman.” It was a fitting gesture at the stock show, since that is where the Windlers originally met Dubas. Mason was all set from that point on with the key to the farm in his pocket and a true friend’s tribute around his shoulders.
“We know we cannot do what we are doing right now forever,” Laurie admitted. “But we want to keep it alive somewhere for our family. If we have to sell out at some point, we just want some land where we can continue the family legacy for the generations to come.”
Kathryn said the efforts of the entire family has paid eternal dividends.
“The memories we are making are priceless. That’s what matters.”BACK