An Aspen family |

An Aspen family

Tim Willoughby
Aspen Times Weekly
J.S. Spurr/USGSThe Budge family owned claims in Lenado, shown here in 1895, among other places.

Stories of Aspen’s past often focus on a few famous family names, eponyms of its streets. Most of those families were early founders, businessmen and mine owners. But what of the thousands of other families who lived in Aspen? Although oral histories circulate within families, more is forgotten with each generation. To fill in family genealogy, hobbyists examine public records such as birth certificates, marriage records and deeds that establish residence. Beyond a few legal facts, however, little information is gleaned. A search through Aspen’s archived newspapers sometimes reveals surprises.

On a whim, I gathered traces of a forgotten but typical Aspen family from a century ago. The Budge family resided in Aspen during the last two decades of the 1800s. The patriarch, Christopher, came from a Cornish mining background. Soon after the birth of his first son, James, in 1872, Christopher and his wife, Emma, immigrated to America. They came to Colorado, where his mining skills were in demand. He worked in several towns before settling in Aspen.

Budge apparently applied his skills beyond laboring for others as he became an owner, or at least partner, in mining claims. These claims were in the Lenado area, including the Elgin and Champion, plus one in the Castle Creek Valley.

Like many families of the period, they produced many children, seven, but only five survived. The children attended the Lincoln School. One, Lillian, gave a recitation at graduation in 1892. Typical of those who established roots in Aspen, Christopher participated in fraternal orders, the Odd Fellows and the Foresters, and the family joined the Methodist church.

The eldest son, James, carried on the family mining tradition after graduating from high school in 1892. Christopher died the same year, forcing James to support the rest of the family for seven years. As many miners did after silver demonetization, James worked as a contract miner, taking leases on portions of mines.

It appears that after Christopher’s death the family had difficulty retaining ownership of the family claims. To hold on to an unpatented claim, an owner had to accomplish assessment work, an annual investment in infrastructure. Several legal actions were filed against the Budges, one possibly by another family member, for performing that work. As with paying today’s delinquent property taxes, those who fulfilled the assessment requirement could take ownership of the claim unless James paid them for their work.

James married Anna Schmidt, whose family emigrated from Switzerland, when he was 18, not young for the times. They had three children. One, Jimmy, carried on the family mining tradition in Goldfield, Nev. At a young age, Jimmy met a tragic death when he traveled on vacation to California. He stopped at a farm where a farmer had dug a hole to cut a tree’s roots so he could remove it. While Jimmy examined the hole, the wind blew the tree down on top of him.

Aspen’s diminishing mining returns may have motivated James to seek alternatives. He purchased 160 acres near Meeker in 1901, then moved his family there. In the early 1900s Meeker attracted many ranchers. Budge irrigated 100 acres and raised horses and cattle. Like his father he became active in his new community. He joined the Woodmen of the World, became active in the Democratic Party and continued in the family’s Methodist tradition.

A.W. Bowen and Company, publishers of the who’s who books of the period, must have had an excellent salesman in the Meeker area because so many men of that area were immortalized in Progressive Men of Western Colorado. Their compendium of 1905 included James Budge. With the addition of that autobiographical sketch to isolated items from Aspen’s newspapers, the Budges became more than mere names in Aspen’s birth and death records.

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