‘Cowboy’ Jim Crowley rides into the sunset at age 100 after rich life in Fryingpan Valley
Cowboy took a final ride into the sunset recently.
Jim Crowley died Jan. 16 in Grand Junction of congestive heart failure, according to his daughter, Lea Vasten. His passing was about 11 weeks after he celebrated his 100th birthday.
“He told my brother his goal was to live to be 100,” Vasten said.
Crowley, known as “Cowboy” to his family and friends, celebrated hitting the century mark last summer with a huge party at his family’s longtime property in the upper Fryingpan Valley. He threw a second party in Grand Junction and his immediate family took him out on his actual birthday, Oct. 29.
“He actually had three parties,” Vasten said with a laugh.
Crowley was well-known and beloved in the Basalt area and the Fryingpan Valley, where his family’s roots stretch back to the late 1890s. He was born and raised on the family ranch and attended a one-room schoolhouse in Meredith. He told The Aspen Times in October that he never saw another place as beautiful as the Fryingpan Valley.
“I think it’s one of the prettiest places in the country,” he said.
Crowley leased the Fryingpan Inn at Basalt in the late 1950s and ’60s, running a bar, restaurant and inn with his wife and older children. He said he gladly let the lease lapse after five years.
“It was a 24-hour-per-day job,” he said in the October interview.
He bought a building across Basalt’s main street and created the Midland Bar and Cafe, which attracted local ranchers and workers building Ruedi Reservoir.
He led a diverse life that ranged from managing ranches, operating heavy equipment on projects such as Snowmass Ski Area and mining in Climax, Colorado, and in Wyoming. He suffered a broken neck and other injuries when the Rocky Mountain Gas Co. office in Glenwood Springs blew up in December 1985, killing 12 people and injuring 15.
His love of the Fryingpan Valley always brought him back from adventures in other places. “My heart was at the ranch and it still is,” Crowley said in October.
He was forced by health reasons to relocate to a lower elevation at Grand Junction some years ago, but he visited the Fryingpan Valley ranch as often as possible. His children all have homes there. They are Vasten, Frankie Straight, Betty Ortell and Jimmy Jr.
Vasten said her dad remained reasonably healthy until recently and his mind was always sharp. He was shopping at Wal-Mart as recently as Dec. 28, but he started having heart troubles on New Year’s Day. He was initially in a Grand Junction hospital, then moved to a rehabilitation facility.
“A lot of his family and friends were able to visit him at the rehabilitation facility,” she said of Jim’s final days. He enjoyed a long, rich life, she said.
No public memorial is planned since so many people were able to celebrate his life last year.
“He had such a huge party for his 100th birthday, we felt we couldn’t top that,” Vasten said.
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This summer in Aspen is likely to include indoor and outdoor concerts, maskless gatherings and no state or county-mandated restrictions on social distancing at restaurants or anywhere else.