What the White River Valley and Bel Air, Calif., have in common

The Buford school house was donated by Minewa Bell Roosevelt (wife of Elliott Roosevelt) to the White River community in 1953, in memory of her father, Alfonso Bell. Bell not only owned a significant amount of land in the White River valley, he founded the prestigious Bel Air community in California. Today the school house is used by the White River Community Association for their annual fish fry. Photo by Bobby Gutierrez

MEEKER I Taking time to listen often reveals unexpected information, as is the case with Rex Ross and his family history.
Ross is the son of Minnewa Bell. Bell was the daughter of Alfonzo Sr. and Minnewa Bell. Alfonzo Bell Sr., was farming his Sante Fe Springs land in 1921 when oil was discovered on his property. Almost instantaneously wealthy, he started buying real estate in California, as well as helping establish the Union Oil Company. In 1923, Bell founded a residential community 12 miles west of downtown Los Angeles,  Calif. He named the affluent community Bel Air.
After living in California for a couple years, he heard about ranches in the White River valley in Colorado. On his first trip to Colorado the roads weren’t in good condition and his Rolls Royce broke down in an Arizona river wash. He had to get a mechanic from California to come fix the car, creating a substantial delay.
When he arrived on the South Fork of the White River, Bell loved the area’s hunting and ranching opportunities. He purchased a tract of land now owned by Elk Creek Ranch as well as the Westlands Ranch. He owned the majority of the land along the South Fork except for the parcels belonging to Al White and the Dorch property. He also owned the mountain between the north and south forks of the river all the way  down to the North Fork that is currently owned by Westlands.
Alfonzo’s wife, Minnewa (Shoemaker), was originally from Kansas. She didn’t like her given name — Mary — so she changed it to Minnewa. The couple had a son and daughter the named Alfonzo Jr. and Minnewa. The children enjoyed spending time on their father’s ranch and later built themselves a lodge about four miles past Buford on the North Fork. The lodge is still used by Westlands ranch today.
The ranch was called the Bar Bell and it was more then just a getaway for the Bell family. It was a working ranch and a great place for friends to gather and enjoy the outdoors. Eventually, Minnewa bought out her brother and he bought a ranch on the square S on Piceance Creek.
In 1950, Minnewa married Elliot Roosevelt, son of  former President Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Following their marriage, the name of the ranch was changed from the Bar Bell to the Rolling R ranch. Minnewa became very good friends with Eleanor, even traveling with her to Japan. In one book about Eleanor Roosevelt, there are pictures of her at the Rolling R and she talks about the time she spent there. Eleanor Roosevelt was present for the dedication of the school house, which was donated by the ranch.
The major attraction to the White River area was the hunting, and friends and family of Elliot and Minnewa had many gatherings on the ranch, as they spent their summers here. They wanted to have a working ranch as well and hired ranch hands for the work.
June and Oma Graham were the first to work the ranch for them, they were there about a year and a half, followed by Claude and Adriane Lamb who also worked for them for about a year. When Dallas and Anna Collins started work at the ranch, Minnewa knew she had found the perfect match. The Collins family lived on the ranch full-time with their three children: Joe, Dick and Patty.
Rex Ross, Minnewa’s son, was the same age as Dick Collins and remembers the Collins being as much a family as anyone to him. He would ride and work with the kids, and he truly enjoyed the time he had on the ranch. Dallas managed the ranch, Anna took care of the grounds and ranch hands. She would cook for people and help when Minnewa and Elliot had guests to entertain. Dick and Joe both worked the ranch from a young age, helping their father, and Patty would help wherever necessary.  The Roosevelts did a great deal of entertaining, from horseback riding excursions to evening parties. Their social gatherings were known for being a lot of fun. Meeker locals were eager to participate, and did so on occasion. The ranch’s guest book is filled with a wonderful variety of names, from the former first lady, to well-known businessmen, to local friends.
Rex said, “Being a cowboy is hard, everything else seemed easy after that.” He spent summers with the Collins family from the time he was seven until he was 19 years old. “I liked it here, we all had fun and life was good,” he said, adding, “The White River and this area is the best, especially this time of year.”
Minnewa and Elliot divorced after 11 years of marriage when Rex was 18. The ranch once again became the Bar Bell. Rex still visits from time to time. He takes time to talk to the members of the Collins family  and has a great deal of appreciation for the time he spent growing up on the Bar Bell Ranch as “one of the kids.”
His memories encompass fame, fortune, and a second family in an area far from the big city, but close to his heart.
The Bel-Aire State Wildlife Area was a donation from Minnewa Bell, however a technicality demanded that a $1 charge be paid by the Division of Wildlife for the property. It was a fish hatchery until the mid-1970s. Many have questioned the correlation between the names of this area and the prestigious California neighborhood. Established by the same family, carrying the same name, and perhaps equally valued by the Bell family, albeit for different reasons.


  1. Hi Hallie,

    I found the above article that your wrote very interesting and informative. I am researching a painting by Frank Tenney Johnson that probably depicts the area around Alfonzo Bell’s Colorado ranch which the artist visited in the summer of 1929. The two were friends. I’m trying to figure out where in Colorado it is — the northwest part of the state? Would it have been on or near a National Forest?

    Thank you for your help with this.

  2. Niki Turner says:

    Hi Melissa,
    Alphonzo Bell’s ranch was in the northwest corner of Colorado, in Rio Blanco County, in or near the White River National Forest. You might email the White River Museum here in Meeker, as they have quite a bit of history related to Mr. Bell. (wrmuseum@rioblancocounty.org) You can also check out this link, which has a map for Mr. Bell’s land patent: https://thelandpatents.com/owners/336343
    Good luck!

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