Dynamic Aspen character dies at 92

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

CARBONDALE – Today would have been Ed Smart’s 93rd birthday.

The former Pitkin County resident died May 14 at Heritage Park Care Center in Carbondale after a respiratory illness. He also suffered from Alzheimer’s disease over the past few years, according to friends and family.

But Smart led what might best be described as the life of a man’s man. He flew a plane for the U.S. Army Air Corps in the D-Day invasion. He fought the government and other landowners over mining claims in Colorado. He was a friend of actor John Wayne and writer Rob MacGregor (author of the six original Indiana Jones novels), and is said to have provided story fodder to MacGregor, best-selling writer of westerns Louis L’Amour and others.

Smart, who was born in Chicago, made a lot of money – and spent a lot, too. Not long ago, he sold his share of mineral and timber rights in the Conundrum Creek Valley to the federal government for $2.1 million. In addition to the Aspen area, he lived in Bluff, Utah, and helped with the revitalization of Bisbee, Ariz., a former mining town that turned to tourism as a means of economic survival in the 1960s and ’70s.

“He was fearless,” said former Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis. In fact, in 1999 a local judge issued a restraining order against Smart after a father and son claimed that Smart threatened to “blow us off (the backside of Aspen Mountain)” following a dispute over their use his land to access to a mining claim they owned.

“They raped my land,” Smart told The Aspen Times. “I hope to see them in jail.”

His longtime friend and neighbor Lana Lunceford spoke of his sweet side as well as his feisty character. Over the years, he told her many stories, sent her little notes and gave her copies of books in which writers relied on his tales. She also has an extensive collection of photographs of Smart.

“He would fight anybody and everybody,” she said. “And when he spoke, people listened.”

Lunceford lives off Midnight Mine Road on the backside of Aspen Mountain near Castle Creek Road, not far from Smart’s former log-cabin residence. She counts herself as one of Smart’s best friends and visited him weekly at Heritage Park. Because of his Alzheimer’s, their communication was limited, but Lunceford said he recognized her.

The staff at the Carbondale nursing home where he lived for the last seven years was friendly to him, she said.

“He hadn’t been able to talk for many years,” she said. Though she was many years younger than Smart, he affectionately called her “Momma,” Lunceford said, an acknowledgment of her “mother hen” personality.

She recalled an incident in which they went to an area to check on some property for which he held the mineral rights and some landowners tried to block his access.

“They yelled, ‘You can’t go up there!’ and Ed Smart would just say, “Get out of my way!’ He never opened his mouth unless he knew he was right.”

She described Smart as generous: “He would give away mining claims left and right,” she said.

Lunceford found out that he died a few days ago when she went to see him and the Heritage Park staff said that he had passed away peacefully on Monday.

Smart’s wife, Myrtle, died in 1990. They had four children together: three boys and one girl.

Daughter Mary Smart, who lives in Clifton, said at one time the family lived in a log cabin on Aspen’s Main Street. She noted that Smart and his wife were separated for many years but never divorced.

“My dad was the best on earth,” she said. “He was good to his family.”

No memorial service is planned at this point, Mary Smart said.