Clyde Vagneur: No-complaint cowboy
Special to the Aspen Times Weekly
“When you forget to laugh about things, you’re in trouble,” Clyde Vagneur said. That’s the way he was, never complaining, even during the many years when his health was failing.
Back in the 1950s, we owned the North Star Ranch east of Aspen (now the North Star Nature Preserve) and rented our pastures to Clyde and his brother, Wayne, for summer grazing.
Every few weeks, they would come up to check their cattle. Riding out through the pastures with them was a big deal for me HOW OLD?. They were the local roping champions and my idols. They were real cowboys and Clyde, in particular, was a little intimidating to a mere 15-year-old.
Because of them, I wanted to learn how to rope. So I would saddle my horse and head out into the pastures just before dark – so no one could see me from nearby Highway 82 – and practice on their calves.
One summer evening, I tried to rope a calf that was trotting along next to its mother, but caught the big cow by mistake. The rope didn’t pop loose as it was supposed to, and I had to cut it loose from the saddle horn with my knife. The cow trotted off with the remainder of the rope around its neck.
For days I tried to get that rope off the cow, knowing that if Clyde saw it, there would be hell to pay.
Luckily, however, it came loose before Clyde came up for one of his visits.
• • • •
Over the last several years I have visited Clyde, both up at his place in Meredith and then at the rehab center in Denver. We sat in that little room in the rehab center, chatting about horses and rodeos and old friends. And the old days when I thought of him as a king.
With his body failing him, it must have been maddening to sit there next to all those photographs showing him as a younger man with a variety of stunning looking horses, but he never complained.
Finally, about eight months ago, I got up my nerve and confessed to roping his calves.
“Aw, hell,” he answered. “I used to rope my dad’s all the time.”
Clyde died of cancer on March 23, 2009. He was a unique symbol of a special time in Aspen’s history. I will miss him.
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