John B. Outcalt and his brother William were from Brunswick, New Jersey. John Burdette Outcalt was born November 18, 1845 and was the eldest of six children. When he grew up he initially worked as a shipbuilder and carpenter in the East, but in 1870 decided to succumb to the lure of the West. He arrived in Denver with his tool chest in hand and twenty-seven cents in his pocket. John worked as a carpenter until joining the Richardson settlement in Gunnison Valley in 1875.
In 1875, John Outcalt and his brother homesteaded land three miles north of Gunnison along the southeast bank of the Gunnison river. John built an irrigation system and was soon raising fine crops of mountain meadow hay and various grains. Outcalt continued to expand his land holdings. In 1880, he filed the legal forms necessary to officially obtain title to the properties. In 1881, he convinced the Denver & Rio Grande railroad, which ran through his land, to build a loading spur on the northeast corner of his ranch. John paid for the rails and built the spur. He called it Hay Spur. Over 800 carloads of hay were shipped from Hay Spur each year, along with carloads of potatoes and other vegetables from ranches in the area, primarily to feed the mules and the miners in the Crested Butte area.
Due to his many accomplishments, John Outcalt became a legend in the Gunnison area. When John first arrived in Gunnison, he worked as a carpenter on the Los Pinos Indian reservation. The Indians recognized John as the most trusted white man of all who worked with the Ute Indians. Family legend indicates that his Ute friends saved his life several times. John may also have been good friends with the great Ute leader, Chief Ouray.
John’s daughter, Vevarelle, was fond of saying that her father was one of the carpenters who built the famous spiral staircase in the upscale Brown Palace Hotel in Denver.
He was instrumental in the building of the Paragon School, which stands today on the grounds of the Gunnison Pioneer Society Museum on the east end of the town of Gunnison. In building the school, he used his shipbuilding skills to design an elaborate structure, complete with a room designed like a ship’s wheelhouse. The school typically served fifteen to twenty students from local ranches, and originally stood on the east side of the Gunnison river a mile and a half northeast of the Outcalt homestead.
John married Florence A. Johnson (Flora) on Christmas Day in 1888 and together they raised four girls on the ranch. The girls were Ramona, born January 1, 1890; Fernzelle, born December 15, 1894; Delsie, born Oct 20, 1896; and Vevarelle, born September 16, 1902. Ramona was a victim of a flu epidemic and passed away in 1919. John passed away in 1927. When Flora passed away in 1936 during the Great Depression, the Outcalt ranch was divided among the surviving children.