The Vagneurs: Five generations and counting |

The Vagneurs: Five generations and counting

In a resort town where many people have no roots, Wayne Vagneur and his family are in a unique position.

Both sides of his family made Aspen home in the 1880s. Neither of his grandfathers remained in mining for long, but both became integral parts of the community and the Vagneurs maintain a strong presence in the valley.

His mom’s father, “Granddad Greener,” came to town in about 1880 from Illinois. “He came to mine but he didn’t like it,” Vagneur said. Instead he served as the marshal in the rough-and-tumble mining town for several years.

“That was in the days when there were more than 100 saloons in town so mostly I guess they threw drunks in (jail) and sobered ’em up,” he laughed.

His grandpa on his dad’s side also came to Aspen in the 1880s. He came from the Val d’Aosta, in the Alps along what is now the French-Italian border. Several other longtime Aspen families came from the same area.

“I think the word must have got around between, because they all landed in this valley ” the Cerises, Gerbazes,” he said.

Jeremie Vagneur dabbled in mining before he bought land along Woody Creek and started a ranching dynasty that would last a century. He worked for a couple of years to raise enough money to bring his wife to America.

Jeremie homesteaded along Woody Creek, where the Craig Ranch is now located on Woody Creek Road. He and his wife had five boys. He helped them get established by helping them buy their own ranches. All were in the Woody Creek area, from lower McLain Flats to where Aspen Valley Ranch is now located. “They used to call it Vagneur Flats,” Wayne said.

Vagneur Mountain, named for the family, lies near the head waters of Little Woody Creek.

Wayne’s father, Sullivan, was part of the dynasty. He established his ranch in Little Woody Creek after attending agricultural college in Fort Collins. The Vagneurs were cattle ranchers and potato farmers.

“Everybody in this valley that had a ranch raised potatoes years ago,” Wayne said. “If they had a good market, some of them would go buy a ranch and plant a lot of potatoes. They’d pay for a ranch in one year.”

The potato harvest meant hard work, but it also provided a special benefit. “The best thing was that’s where we learned to drive, driving the old potato truck,” Wayne recalled.

Potatoes would be gathered in the fall and stored in the cellar and sorted during the winter. In the spring they’d be shipped out via the railroad. “The railroad car took 360 100-pound bags to fill it,” he recalled.

He eventually took over the family ranch and ran it until 1987, when he sold it. Ranching was a viable way to make a living up until about 20 years ago, he said. Wayne’s ranch was the last to remain in the family.

The family’s ranches are gone, but their heritage remains. His family lays claim to one of the more interesting mysteries in the Roaring Fork Valley. One of his grandpa’s brothers was murdered at the time Jeremie was establishing his ranch. Two variations of the murder have been passed down.

According to one story, Alcide Vagneur was killed by another man for his money while he was camping along the Roaring Fork River a couple of miles below Basalt. The suspect was allegedly arrested in Leadville, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Another version ” one which Wayne said he heard directly from his Grandpa ” was that Alcide won a bunch of money playing poker in Basalt. He intended to return to Val d’Aosta with his winnings but was found dead in his bed. His fellow Basaltines handed out some frontier justice and hanged the accused man in the street.

Wayne, part of the third generation of Vagneurs in Aspen, said he appreciates his family’s colorful history in the Roaring Fork Valley.

His cousin, Tony Vagneur, part of the fourth generation, also said the heritage is important. “I was always proud of that,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I’ve stuck around.”

But there aren’t as many Vagneurs around as there once were, Wayne said.

“That’s the way it goes. A lot of times when one of the older ones dies, the younger ones don’t stay around,” he said.

Tony said it’s not so much that his generation has fled, it’s that there just aren’t as many Vagneurs anymore. “We’re not as prolific as the old-timers,” he chuckled.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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