The Gerbaz family: Ranching on the Roaring Fork |

The Gerbaz family: Ranching on the Roaring Fork

Mining gets all the glory in Aspen even though it tailed off as quickly as a comet.

The great silver mines only lasted for 14 years before the boom was over. Ranching, on the other hand, sustained the town for decades. Nevertheless, Aspen is destined to be remembered as a former mining town.

The Gerbaz family roots stretch back as far as any in Aspen, but it wasn’t mining that attracted them to the Roaring Fork Valley. Jeremie Gerbaz came to the area three years after the silver crash, when Aspen had started its steady decline. He wanted the chance to have his own farm and ranch.

“They were not miners, they were ranchers,” said Delbert Gerbaz of Glenwood Springs, a grandson of Jeremie and his wife, Cecile.

Jeremie and Cecile immigrated to America from the Val d’Aosta region of Italy, like many other ranching families in the valley. Delbert figures some former neighbor sent word back to Italy about the great opportunities in the mountains of Colorado.

Jeremie Gerbaz first tried his luck at a glass factory in a suburb of Detroit, but found after a few years that urban life wasn’t for him. He and his wife moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1896 and stayed with a sister, an Arbaney from Basalt. Gerbaz purchased a ranch at a railroad siding called Watson the following year.

The ranch house had been built a few years prior. That house, recently renovated, still sits on the north side of Highway 82, near where Gerbaz Way intersects the highway.

Within 20 years, Jeremie Gerbaz had increased his holdings to 1,200 acres and hundreds of cattle.

Delbert’s father, Auzel, was one of four brothers who helped work the ranch and eventually rented it when their dad retired in 1929. Jeremie and Cecile had four other sons who weren’t involved with the ranch.

Delbert moved to southern Indiana when his parents divorced in 1923. He still remembers being ecstatic when he came back to visit for the first time in 1932. The Depression had clobbered Indiana; Colorado offered welcome relief.

“This was hog heaven, if you want to call it that,” he said. He preferred the climate over the Midwest, and he liked riding horses and working on the ranch.

His grandfather, father and uncles were cattle ranchers for 35 years. But in 1943 they traded their cattle for sheep with a rancher on Capitol Creek, according to a family history written by Delbert’s dad. The brothers also grew wheat, oats and potatoes. Hay was the big cash crop. Because so many Gerbazes lived in the area it became known as Gerbazdale.

Auzel’s family history notes that his dad, Jeremie, always believed in progress. “He was one of the first to have a telephone in his community; he bought an automobile when there were not many in Pitkin County; as soon as he could he had pipes laid from near the river to the house and an old water wheel in the Roaring Fork River pumped water to a barrel near the house.”

Jeremie died in 1947. His sons continued to work the ranch for almost 20 more years when they agreed to sell most of their land. “They looked around them and saw there was better money to be made,” said Delbert.

Delbert’s first cousin, Cherie (Gerbaz) Oates, said her family lived in Aspen even though her dad, Edmond, worked the ranch with his brothers. “Dad was one of the first commuters on Highway 82,” she said.

As a kid, she spent a good share of time on the ranch, riding horses and helping with chores. Oates’ father married a Tekoucich whose family had immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe to mine. She’s in the unique position of having roots in both Aspen’s mining and ranching communities.

Oates said her parents were always proud of their pioneer heritage. Just about all the kids she went to school with ” the Aspen High School class of 1959 ” came from families with longtime Aspen ties.

“The ranching is what carried this valley long after mining was gone,” she said.

Delbert isn’t sure his dad’s heart was in ranching. He believes he wanted to be a professional writer. Delbert left the ranch to work in the aerospace industry in the early 1940s. He moved back to the Roaring Fork Valley in 1971, worked 13 years for the Skico, including loading the No. 6 lift on Aspen Mountain. He now lives in Glenwood Springs.

There are numerous fourth- and fifth-generation Gerbazes scattered throughout the valley. It took awhile for Delbert to fully realize his family’s role in the valley.

“You don’t gain those insights until you get older,” he said.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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