Gottlieb Fluhmann

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Gottlieb Fluhmann

(Reclusive rancher whose disappearane and death was not resolved for fifty years)

Born c. 1837
Died c. 1892 (aged c. 55)
Park County, Colorado, USA

Resting place:
Skeletal remains found, 1944; unknown burial site

Occupation Rancher
Spouse Unmarried

Gottlieb Fluhmann (c. 1837 - c. 1892) was a reclusive cattle rancher in Park County, Colorado, whose mysterious disappearance was not resolved until 1944. Even then it was impossible more than a half-century later to determine what had caused his death.

In 1944, a hunter found Fluhmann's remains. His mysterious disappearance was not resolved until 1944. Even then it was impossible more than a half-century later to determine what had caused his death. Fluhmann was declared dead in 1894, probably one or two year

Ranching background

A native of Switzerland, Fluhmann was 5'4" in stature and spoke in broken English. He came to the United States in the early 1860s. Making his way west to Colorado to seek gold, he instead settled in the Puma Hills north of Lake George in Park County. He built "a beautiful log cabin at the edge of a lush, spring-fed meadow." Five large windows offered a scenic view. The floor of his cabin was made of planks. Sanded boards lined the inside walls. There were built-in cabinets and molding around the ceiling.[1]

After his death. His remains had not yet been found, but Fluhmann's estate was probated.[1] He left behind "a fine ranch and a thousand head of cattle."[2] The administrator of the estate reported having sold 166 head of cattle in the spring of 1893. There was no explanation for the other cattle.[3]

Finding the body

In 1944, a hunter on military leave, United States Army Master Sgt. Francis V. Brahler (1907-2001),[4][5] then at Peterson Field, accidentally found Fluhmann's long-forgotten cave-cabin. Brahler entered through a window and found Fluhmann's possessions undisturbed and in excellent condition. The body was near the center of the cabin, as were remains of the dog. The Marlin rifle, ready for firing, was also there. The burial site of the skeleton is unknown. The mystery of what happened to the rancher continues.[1]

The Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph reported that Brahler:

spotted the old window frame on the ledge and upon investigating, found the cave entrance. The big dishpan was still suspended with the letters, pipes, and other items, including two gold inlaid flintlocks. He took many of the items back with him to his campsite and returned the next day. This time he found a human skull and the bones of what appeared to be the skull of a dog.[6]

There were reports of suicide. A newspaper article in 1893 in The Flume in the county seat of Fairplay, Colorado, reported that Fluhmann had "remarked to different parties that he would kill himself [and] when he did disappear, they would never be able to find him."[7]

Fluhmann had reportedly quarreled with Benjamin Ratcliff, a rancher who lived thirty miles away in the Tarryall Valley. Author Midge Harbour in her 1982 book The Tarryall Mountains and the Puma Hills: A History, espouses the view that Ratcliff hunted down Fluhmann until he found the cave-cabin, where he shot Fluhmann dead without warning. Harbour proposes a scenario by which Ratcliff demeaned Fluhmann in a saloon, having claimed then to be eating tasty beef from Fluhmann's stock. The Ratcliff children then taunted Fluhmann.[8]

In Pikes Peak Backcountry: The Historic Saga of the Peak’s West Slope (1999), Celinda Kaelin asserts that Fluhmann conceived his cave-cabin as an emergency plan to protect himself from outsiders. Kaelin explains her theory:

When Fluhmann first disappeared, everyone, including the local sheriff assumed he had returned to Switzerland. But not Ratcliff. He knew his prey would never leave his beloved animals unattended. When the cattle still appeared well-cared-for after several months, Ratcliff began a systematic search for the little foreigner. He eventually discovered the cave one evening after months of searching. Ratcliff waited on the ledge above the cave until early the next morning. As Fluhmann cautiously opened the heavy door to greet the new day, Ratcliff fired sending a fatal bullet through the stock of Fluhmann’s gun and into his chest. He then climbed down to his victim and dragged him back into the cave.[8]

Surviving Ratcliff family members dispute the claim that Ratcliff murdered Fluhmann. They even question whether Ratcliff knew Fluhmann and cite "exaggerated local commentary and inaccurate facts ... without proof."[8]

In 1895, Ratcliff murdered three school board members, one of whom had reportedly spread false rumors of Ratcliff's alleged incestuous relationship with an older daughter.[8] Within a year, he was hanged at the Colorado State Penitentiary at Cañon City. Despite the theories advanced in the Harbour and Kaelin books, Ratcliff had not been an initial suspect when Fluhmann went missing and was never charged in the disappearance.[3]

Another possibility is that Fluhmann could have suffocated from warming or cooking inside the cave-cabin without proper ventilation. [3]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Richard Barth. Pioneers of the Colorado Parks – North, Middle, and South Parks from 1850 to 1900. Retrieved on January 21, 2014; no longer accessible on-line.
  2. Colorado Democrat (Buena Vista, Colorado), May 15, 1895.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Laura King Van Dusen, "Gottlieb Fluhmann: Disappeared from Lake George Area in 1892; Remains, Including Valuable Possessions, Discovered in Remote Cave in 1944", Historic Tales from Park County: Parked in the Past (Charleston]], South Carolina: The History Press, 2013), ISBN 978-1-62619-161-7, pp. 107-112.
  4. Francis V. Brahler. Retrieved on Novmber 27, 2020.
  5. Francis Brahler is interred in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.
  6. The Colorado Springs gazette Telegraph, November 1, 1944.
  7. The Flume (Fairplay, Colorado), April 20, 1893.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Rob Carrigan (October 27, 2012). Gottlieb Fluhmann's ghost and Ratcliff side of the story. Retrieved on January 21, 2014; material no longer accessible on-line.