In 1938, Morley B. “Tommy” Thompson and three of his friends came from Ohio to Piceance Creek, Colorado to hunt deer. They hunted in the West Stewart Gulch on the western slope, and made an old homesteader’s cabin their headquarters. The Stewart Gulch is on the ranch of the Oldland Brothers. Much of the territory south of the Piceance Creek in this area was the original Redd Ranch, part of which was acquired by the Oldland’s.
For the next several years up through 1942, a few more hunters joined Tommy and his original group, and continued hunting in this same area. Until that time there were not more than 7 hunters each year. In 1943 there were 15. In 1944 there were 22. The next two years there were 25 and in 1947 there were 35. This was the largest group until 1951 at which time there were 36 hunters. The number of hunters varied between this and 45 hunters for most of the time thereafter, until the Grand Hotel Hunt Club officially limited the attendance to a maximum of 20 hunters in each of two groups.
In 1952, at the invitation of Lloyd Shields, Clay Henry and Zeph Hollenbeck joined the hunt. For the next several years we enjoyed the hunting in the West Stewart Canyon. In time, some “friendly” Texans outbid us with the Oldland brothers and picked up our hunting lease at considerably more money than we felt we could afford. Morley had sensed this problem coming on and had made friends with many of the people up and down the Piceance Creek Valley, but especially with Pat and Mary Lou Johnson. It seems that there was a little cow camp cabin in a remote area of their ranch. Tommy suggested that we build another room on the front of this and put it under one roof and make a second Grand Hotel (Hunt Club). This was acceptable to the Johnson’s, and during the summer of 1957 many of the hunters from Colorado and Kansas worked on the new Grand Hotel Hunt Club Cabin. It was ready in time for the hunt, and we have been hunting in this area since that time. During these years, Pat and Mary Lou used the cabin during the summer months as their home because it was closer to their work, and also, at higher altitude, was a bit cooler than living down in the valley. The old Piceance Creek road was not paved at that time, and there is no question about the fact that it was probably less dusty up in the hills.
Each fall Pat and Mary Lou had to move their furniture out to make room for us. As time went, on this got to be more and more of a chore and a problem. Finally they said they could tolerate it no longer, and they were moving for the last time. So, in the fall of 1964 we began to make plans for our own Lodge elsewhere. After considerable discussion, it was finally decided in 1965 to build the Lodge where it is now, not more than 200 yards from the original Grand Hotel Cabin that we had used for many years.
In 1959 one Verdo Hibler came to the camp at the request of Morley Thompson to act as helper for the cook. It was not very long after that that Verdo became matre d’ hotel of the camp, and he was no longer really the cook’s helper but the cook’s boss. Verdo acquired knowledge about the camp and hunting as has no one else. As time went on he brought many different cooks to the camp, some good, some not so good, and in addition to that he added some assistants. One, Curtis Cato was a Verdo trainee and he worked with Verdo from 1963 to 1981 when he became Grand Chef of the Hunt and subsequent matre d’. Curtis maintained the old traditions and instituted his own new traditions in his reign from 1981 to 2015, when, after 52 years, Curtis turned over the reins to Charles Cox, who has been with us as Curtis’ assistant for over 30 years.
In 1963 we celebrated Tommy Thompson’s silver anniversary as Chairman of the Grand Hotel Hunt Club. That was the 25th year of the annual deer hunt. Tommy returned as Chairman of the camp the following year, but told us that was his last year. Rather than let the whole thing fall apart, Jesse Hackstaff agreed to take over until more permanent arrangements could be made. Jesse ran one of the finest hunts we ever had the following year. At that time he told us that was all he was going to do in that regard, and the suggestion was made that we form a Club and carry on. Accordingly, in 1964, the Grand Hotel Hunt Club was officially formed as a nonprofit and non–incorporated Association of Good Fellows for the purpose of promoting good sportsmanship and primarily hunting deer in Colorado. At that time a Board of Directors was elected consisting of Larry House, Chairman; Allan Hackstaff, Jesse Hackstaff, Zeph Hollenbeck, Wayne Lewis, Lee Pray and Lloyd Shields. Wayne Lewis agreed to act as treasurer and comptroller of funds, food and fun (he served as Chief Pornagrapher and card dealer for many years). He planned all the menus, purchased all of the supplies, either personally or through Verdo, and acted as Top Cat (Chief Guide) during the actual camp. The secretary, Zeph Hollenbeck (U-NO-HOO – the OBGYN that delivered Jim Galloway as a new born—blame him) was granted nearly limitless powers by the Board of Directors and, as all good dictators do, he also took over those powers not granted in the organization bylaws, with approval of and best wishes of Founder Morley “Tommy” Thompson. The club’s government continues to function as the “most democratic dictatorship” you’ll ever see.
From 1962 until 1982 the Grand Hotel Hunt club was a deer hunting camp. The person charged with the responsibility of running the individual hunts (the Top Cats) which served during that period were Wayne Lewis, Zeph Hollenbeck (U-NO-WHO), Richard Miling, and Dick Ireton. They maintained the strong traditions of safety, fun and hunting established by Tommy Thompson. Pat Johnson and Mary Lou came as our guests to Ohio several times for the annual hunt club dinner in Columbus. Pat and Mary Lou had a daughter, Sally Lou, and she and husband Tim Schultz raised a son, Ty, who has taken over the hunting administration of the Ranch. Over the years Pat improved the access to the BLM land. When ranching was a tough business in the 70’s and early 80’s, the energy crunch brought big oil companies to the region to surface mine oil shale. The shale boom lasted only a few years but significantly improved the access to the Puddin’s hunting area, where we experienced great successes. Oil and natural gas exploration has since overcome the shale business, and we continue to see new trails every year. Over this period the deer hunting was excellent and the camp had a waiting list for new members. Often the camp filled their licenses within the first two days of the hunt and either scouted for monster bucks or closed camp early.
In 1978 and 1979 Colorado experienced two severe winters, which decimated 2/3 of the mule deer population. Concurrently, the state enacted additional seasons, which pushed the third and forth hunts (the Grand Hotel hunts) into November rather than mid October. Throughout the early 80’s, mule deer became scarcer and Elk became more plentiful during the November hunts. Eventually, the state of Colorado placed a very limited season on mule deer in sections 22 and 31, but expanded the licenses for cow elk. After 1983 the Grand Hotel Hunt Club was essentially an elk hunting camp, but membership had declined due to the poor hunting conditions.
Dick Ireton assumed the role of Top Cat of both hunts from 1980 until 1995 and continued the strong traditions of the club and the organization of the original deer hunt. Dick helped transcend the deer camp into an elk hunting camp with the help of two restless young Jeep Captains, Jim Galloway and Jim Hillhouse, that kept paying fines to hunt “Elk Style”. Elk hunting is distinct from deer hunting, and gradually we changed the time- tested methods of deer hunting to increase our chances of success with elk. The size of the hunting area increased in 1989 when, following several seasons of GHHC members (primarily the “Jims”) trespassing on the East Willow camp leased by a Texaco corporate group, the Texacans cancelled their lease, and it became a permanent part of the Grand Hotel hunting area. The club membership also evolved in that timeframe to reflect the teamwork and labor required to conduct a successful elk hunt. We have far surpassed the annual success ratio of the State of Colorado for many years, including an 86% kill ratio in 2007 that could have been over a hundred percent (thanks to the State of Colorado Left Over Licenses) except that enough meat had been harvested, and as a testament to the sportsmanship of the GHHC members, we refrained from bagging any more elk.
Andy Anderson took over from Carl Swanson as Chairman of the GHHC in 1993, after serving as treasurer for 7 years prior to that. At that time, the equipment (only 2 owned jeeps) was in sore need of replacement and repairs, and the club had only a few hundred dollars in the treasury. Andy restructured the dues and initiated the “jeep fund” as the evening meeting fine repository. These two changes, along with stricter accounting procedures and members’ additional donations, resulted in a healthy cash balance to run the hunt. With the additional funds, a walk-in cooler, donated by member Brent Watson, was installed in the kitchen so we didn’t have to haul up 1600 pounds of ice each hunt; a jeep garage was built in 1995 to house the by then club-owned 8 jeeps; the miserable outhouse was replaced with a lighted/heated state of the art “two-holer” unit, and the bunkhouse was updated. The Club now owns its own cargo trailer for food/supply transport and a separate pickup with snow plow, lovingly called the “meat wagon” because we often use it to haul our kills back to camp. Andy also sponsored Ed Glass (who eventually became a board member) to the hunt. Ed became one of the most ardent supporters of the club, and many members continue to benefit from his initiation of the nightly door prizes.
Throughout the 90’s and into the early 2000’s the club saw many changes. Club icon, Dick Ireton passed away. Mary Lou Johnson, a staunch supporter of the legacy of the GHHC passed away after a debilitating fight with Alzheimer’s. Pat, at 86 years old, effectively turned the ranch over to his grandson, Ty Schultz, who runs the Hunter Creek Outfitters on this property alongside the Grand Hotel Hunt Club. Sadly, Pat passed away in 2011. Geographical membership of the Grand Hotel Hunt Club broadened beyond the initial Ohio, Kansas and Colorado borders. Today it represents members from coast to coast and border to border all over the United States. Dick Ireton’s health began failing, so he appointed Jim Hillhouse as Top Cat In Training in 1993. Following Dick’s resignation due to health reasons , Jim Hillhouse assumed the position of Permanent Top Cat Of The First Hunt in 1995. The Top Cats who filled in for the second hunt during Dick Ireton’s gallant battle for life were Tim Boyles, Andy Anderson and Clint Murphy. Since 2001 Jim Hillhouse and Jim Galloway have served as the official Top Cats, alternating hunts every other year. Because of Andy Anderson’s failing health in 2005, and following the tradition of the current Chairman appointing his successor, Andy selected Jim Hillhouse, who trained under Andy until he assumed the role of Chairman in 2007. Andy and Mary Anderson served as Chairman and Secretary for nearly 15 years. Jim and Pam Hillhouse now hold those positions, and truly understand the magnitude of work required, and are proud to serve the membership of the Greatest Hunt Club in America.
The Board of Directors of the Club was expanded to 6 members, and was legally incorporated in 2011. At that time, Jim Hillhouse and Ty Schultz began planning for the perpetuation of the Club into the foreseeable future, structured a multi-year lease extension, and agreed to cooperate in improving and updating the old facilities. Architect member Jim Hillhouse worked with the Ranch administration, thru Sally Lou and Ty, to add a large meeting room, indoor shower room complete with urinal (no more porch pissing fines), and a dressing area. Volunteer member crews assisted in the construction during the summers of 2013 and 2014, and all hunters have benefited from this fantastic upgrade.