Life in early Ouray County could either gain you notoriety for the ages, as was the case with the celebrated Otto Mears, or it could gently fade with the years, as was the case with Simeon Noel.
This is the story of an ordinary, average guy, who began his multi-layered life in Ouray County in the 1880s raising cattle, mining for metals and cutting hay. It ended with him buying the most iconic hotel in Ridgway at the time, and being charged with arson.
“Sim” Noel was born in New York City in 1849. The youngest of six siblings, he enlisted with the Union forces in the New York 9th Regiment Calvary at age 16 in 1865, and was injured in the Civil War.
He married Almira Abare (whose parents were from Quebec, her last name probably being a phonetic translation of Hebert), and they settled near Lake Lenore just north of Ouray.
“For Sale!” read the headline on the small ad in The Solid Muldoon, July 8, 1887. “Four milch cows. Apply to Sim Noel.”
“Sim Noel and Powell of Ouray,” the news blurb read in The Solid Muldoon, May 4, 1888, “have a bond and lease on the City of Montreal in Humboldt basin and will begin operations as soon as supplies can be put in.”
“A consignment of brook trout from the Leadville hatcheries for Sim Noel will arrive this afternoon and will be placed in Lake Lenore,” read the account in the Ouray Herald, June 1, 1899.
“Sim Noel, John Gardner and others have discovered eight feet of carbonates,” the news note began in The Solid Muldoon, Sept. 12, 1890, “over at the head of Leopard Creek. An assay of the vein gave them twenty ounces in silver.”
And, as if mining, running cattle and raising a family wasn’t enough, Sim found other ways to make a buck in early Ouray County.
“Sim Noel went over to his 400-acre ranch on Dallas Divide Tuesday,” according to the Ouray Herald, March 27, 1903. “Sim used to run the stage station there before the advent of a railroad into the San Juan and made a barrel of money.”
Sim was busy cultivating hay, and that spring had twenty tons of it that he expected “to sell at the top price” from his ranch.
During his spare time, he made more “hay” at his Lake Lenore property. “Sim Noel has let a contract for the erection of a thousand-ton capacity ice-house at Lake Lenore,” The Ouray Herald reported, Aug.16, 1900.
A few years later, however, Sim leased his property at Lake Lenore. “We learn that George Wettingill and A. Capehart have perfected a lease from Sim Noel,” The Plaindealer reported, Aug. 8, 1902, “for Lake Lenore and the grounds surrounding it for a period of ten years. It is the intention of the leasers to erect a dancing pavilion and have floats placed on the lake for the pleasure of visitors.”
Not all was ideal in Sim Noel’s life, however.
The Dec. 30, 1904 edition of The Ouray Herald reported on his son’s trouble in town. “Sim Noel, Jr.,” read the J.P. and Police Court report, “for beating Gertie LeBlanche in the Gold Belt hall, $15 and costs.”
A week later, the Herald opined: “The Justice Police case in last week’s issue in which it was stated that Sim Noel, Jr. was found guilty of assault, should have read Sim Noel … deceased.”
In 1907, Sim Noel purchased the iconic Mentone Hotel in Ridgway. “Colonel Nix sold the Mentone hotel at Ridgway Wednesday to Sim Noel,” reported The Plaindealer, March 29, 1907, “the consideration being $14,000.” In April that year, he also purchased the “stock and fixtures of the Nichols and Gale saloon” located inside the Mentone, according to the April 12, 1907 edition of The Plaindealer.
Sim bought the hotel as an investment, and hired “Mr. and Mrs. C. T. Rogers, who had first managed the Delmonico (in Ouray) and then the new Western Hotel in Ouray for a number of years,” according to Doris Gregory in her book The Town That Refused To Die: Ridgway, Colorado.
Sim sold the bar in August of 1907, then had trouble at his Lake Lenore property the following year when a two-story building burned to the ground, according to The Ouray Herald, Dec. 18, 1908. The cause of the fire was an “unsolved question,” and Sim collected $2,000 insurance.
In 1909, the post office at Dallas Divide was abandoned and a “new office to be known as Noel, in honor of Sim Noel, the pioneer of that section, will be established about a mile west and down Leopard Creek from the old office,” according to The Ouray Herald, July 9, 1909, “at the point where the wagon road from Hastings Mesa intersects the county road running along the creek.”
Sim had it all: commerce and traffic at his Leopard Creek ranch, a premier hotel in Ridgway and property along Lake Lenore near Ouray. But in 1921, he was arrested for arson, bringing into question the fire at his Lake Lenore property nearly 15 years prior.
“Sim Noel is Arrested on Very Serious Charge,” blared The Ouray Herald headline, June 23, 1921. “Wednesday, Sim Noel of Ridgway, and Walter Kramer, of Montrose, were arrested under an information charging that Mr. Noel paid Kramer to burn certain ranch buildings on the former’s ranch in San Miguel County.”
Kramer confessed to the charge, and said Noel paid him $50 to burn the buildings which were insured for $5,000. Noel was charged with “intention of defrauding an insurance company,” according to Telluride’s The Daily Journal, Nov. 17, 1921 edition.
An insurance investigator for the Springfield insurance company tracked down Kramer in Montrose, and with help from the Montrose district attorney and sheriff, secured a confession from Kramer “in which he stated he had been hired by Noel to burn the buildings, being given instructions to wait until a time when the wind was favorable to carry the flames from one building to another,” according the The Telluride Journal, June 30, 1921.
Noel had a good attorney, however, and was acquitted of all charges in November 1921. The Daily Journal reported on Nov. 22, 1921 that it was “very probable that Walter Kramer, who is alleged to have confessed that he was hired by Noel to set fire to the buildings, will be released and will not be brought to trial.”
On Nov. 18, 1935, the Mentone hotel burned to the ground in a raging blaze. The fire started on the second floor of the hotel from unknown origin. “The hotel was not covered by insurance,” according to Gregory’s book.
Sim Noel could not be blamed this time. He had passed away 11 years prior and was buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Ouray County.
Alan Todd is a 35-year newspaper veteran who lives in Ouray County. He can be reached at email@example.com.