In 1866, the settlement of Hartsel was established on the South Fork of the South Platte River by cattleman Samuel Hartsel, who had come to the mining camp of Hamilton from Pennsylvania in 1860. Having no luck in prospecting for wealth, Hartsel decided to become a rancher in South Park and sell meat to the mining camps. As gold production dwindled in the area, Hartsel lived practically alone in the Park, visited by Ute Indians with whom he traded and remained on friendly terms. In 1860 and 1861, Hartsel purchased exhausted oxen from miners and freighters arriving from the East. The rancher reinvigorated the animals with rest and native grasses on his lands. Hartsel is credited with being one of the first, perhaps the first, ranchers to raise Shorthorn cattle in Colorado.
Hartsel established a homestead and operated a stopping place on what was then a strategic spot on the Colorado Springs route to the Park, Lake, and Summit county mines, as well as to the San Juan region. He homesteaded 160 acres which became the nucleus of the Hartsel Ranch. In the early 1860s, there was no one else around to dispute his claim. As the years passed, Hartsel accumulated large amounts of land in the area. A story told at the time quoted Hartsel as saying, “I’m only buying the land that tetches onto mine.” In 1864-1866, Hartsel completed a long and dangerous journey to Clay County, Missouri, where he acquired the first herd of pure bred cattle to be introduced in Colorado, all Durhams (Shorthorns).
The cattleman established a trading post, blacksmith shop, and other businesses on the land he claimed. In the area were hot springs that were used by the Utes for bathing and for medicinal purposes. In the mid-1870s, Hartsel capitalized on the therapeutic nature of the springs by erecting a bathhouse that included three bath rooms and a waiting room. In 1875, he erected a hotel because his ranch could not accommodate all of the travelers seeking the healing properties of the spring. Hartsel’s accommodations at the hot springs were very popular with travelers and profits from the enterprise helped him enlarge his ranch holdings and buy cattle. The post office at Hartsel was established on 16 March 1875.
Hartsel eventually became the most important Colorado Midland railroad station in South Park, with a large frame station/freight house, a section house, a bunk house, and other facilities, including large stock pens. The Midland became known as the “stockmen’s railroad” since shipping livestock constituted an important sector of its business. Like many communities in South Park, Hartsel declined after the departure of the railroad. The once-popular hotel burned in 1972 and the hot springs were closed. Today, few businesses remain in the community but Hartsel continues to be an important center for South Park ranching.