Welcome back. Last week as Loretta and I headed west for the holidays, the roads across the panhandle of Oklahoma and beyond were lined with ten foot snow drifts on either side. Travelers who had been stranded a day earlier throughout the region were now being treated to some of the best snow northern New Mexico had seen in years. The Red River ski area had a forty foot base and hotels were mostly sold out for December 27th. Fun was had by all as Santa would say. In addition to their excellent skiing facilities and plentiful restaurants and lodging establishments, this area also offers a wide variety of warm weather activities and I hope to be able to visit again this summer to bring you a full report.
And now for both new readers and old, “Winter time on the Philmont Ranch” is a true Christmas story. As I sit in the spot where Waite Phillips himself once sat, looking across acres of tent sites in the snow, the morning sun reflecting off their aluminum frames, I can only imagine his happiness. The year was 1941 and looking out from his home just outside Cimarron, New Mexico where he had put together a ranch of over three hundred thousand acres, Waite’s thoughts were clear. After his initial donation to their organization a few years earlier, the Boy Scouts had proved to be worthy stewards of his gift and what he had seen impressed him.
After summoning Dr. Elbert Fretwell, the CEO of the Boy Scouts, and Walter Head, President, to a meeting at the ranch a few months later Waite would change the lives of thousands of boy scouts and millions of people associated with the scouts. Facing health problems, Waite planned to stay on the ranch as long as possible and then spend the rest of his life in California. Within days of this meeting he gave the rest of the ranch to the Boy Scouts. Gazing out over this inspiring view a person can feel the spirits of Waite and the boys whose lives have been molded by their experiences here. The army style bed frames are covered with drifts one day and the next are swept clean by the howling winds and at this time of year hundreds of deer and elk roam between the tent sites. From this spot Waite could also see the mountain he called “the tooth of time” which he rode on horseback many times, frequently staying in a rustic cabin he built on the mountain.
His son Elliott, known as Chope, spent most of his childhood on the ranch they named the UUBar, rubbing shoulders with the prominent people who came to visit including Presidents, actors, diplomats and royals. Everyone shared the feeling that Philmont was a special place and today the ranch is much the same as it was when Waite purchased it from George Webster. Surrounded by other large ranches owned by legendary businessmen Ted Turner, and Bob Funk, Philmont provides a pristine and limitless natural environment for the boys who camp here every year. When Chope was a guest at Elder Care’s The Good, The Bad and The Barbeque last year I had the chance to visit with him about his life on the ranch and hear some great stories about that era.
Waite’s gift to the Boy Scouts began when he deeded 35,857 acres on the northern end of the ranch to them. Over the next three years he frequently visited the area anonymously, keeping an eye on their use of the land. Then in 1941 he gave the scouts the ranch headquarters, 91,538 acres on the mountainous western side of the ranch and his home, Villa Philamonte. I can only imagine how speechless Fretwell and Head must have been when they learned of his intentions and found out that he was also donating his twenty-three story Philtower office building as a source of income to support the new scout camp along with an outright gift of a million dollars.
As Waite once wrote “The only things we keep permanently are those we give away.” and he lived according to that belief.
After all the paperwork was completed Waite and his wife Genevieve would stay on at the ranch for three more winters until his health finally forced them to move to California. Oil man, husband, father, rancher and one of the most generous philanthropists to ever live in Oklahoma, Waite Phillips died on January 27, 1964 after several heart attacks. He was 81 years old.
In his will Waite left millions of dollars to dozens of charities and Genevieve continued to give away millions more until her death in June 19, 1979. Always devoted to each other they lie in Westwood Memorial Park Cemetery in west Los Angeles side by side in a mausoleum. Between their graves is a statue of two playful cupids in a foundation that once stood in their breakfast room, a beautiful reminder of their love.
Waite would be happy to know that today all the trails up to the tooth of time remain open to the scouts, thanks to the friendship between his son Chope and Bob Funk who work together to fulfill Waite’s great vision of a perfect place for kids to build character and citizenship through camping on the largest land grant ever awarded in the United States. During a typical seventy-two day summer season, twenty two thousand scouts camp here, coming from every state in the country and several foreign countries. More than 700,000 scouts have taken to the hills here and around 18,000 more visitors tour Villa Philamonte every year.
If you plan a visit here’s a tip: the haunted St. James Hotel is just a few miles down the road in Cimarron. The rooms are comfortable, the food is very good and the rates are practically the same as when Buffalo Bill stayed here. Less than an hour from both Angel Fire and Red River, centrally located for skiing, hiking and other mountain activities, as much a museum as a hotel, its kind of a secret. With that I’ll leave you with another of Waite’s epigrams:
“Real philanthropy consists of helping others outside our own family circle, from whom no thanks is expected or required.”
Till next time I’ll see ya down the road….
Note: This is such an inspirational part of the country for artists and I have had the opportunity to do some writing myself here. Most recently I’ve been asked to organize a photography/writing workshop this summer at the UUBar Ranch. Send me an email if you think you might be interested.