Willoughby: William Tagert, a pioneer who spanned mining and skiing | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: William Tagert, a pioneer who spanned mining and skiing

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies
Tagert and Williams business on East Cooper 1903.
Aspen Historical Society, Shaw Collection

William Tagert, also known to friends as “Billy,” ran away in 1883 to Aspen from Leadville to escape from his father at the age of 10. He worked many jobs to survive, including delivering mail in the winter on skis over Taylor Pass from Ashcroft to mining camps on the other side.

He owned and ran one of Aspen’s most important businesses. It was described once as a feed stable, but that is an oversimplification. It is hard to think of a current local business that is comparable.

It started when he bought out an existing feed store and stable from Frank Bourg. Bourg’s store also had a predecessor in 1896. It was located on East Hyman. He also owned a ranch in Woody Creek. He sold his business to William Tagert in 1897 and joined the Yukon gold rush.

Taggert formed a partnership with rancher Johnnie Williams and moved the business, renamed Tagert & Williams, to the corner of East Cooper and Hunter Street. Williams’ ranch on Snowmass Creek was one of the valley’s largest.

They were not the only business in that line, but they had maybe the largest customer base. They sold hay, grain, and other kinds of feed, like alfalfa. They added coal that they brought in from Palisade. They also sold wagons and buggies. Over the years, it also operated two stagecoaches and engaged in the freighting business.

Tagert & Williams was the dealer for Deering Farming Implements. Deering formed in 1876. It was the precursor to a company you are more likely to know: International Harvester.

In the early 1900s, Tagert was active in the Democratic Party and ran for alderman. He ran for county commissioner in three different decades without winning. He formed a band, known as The Three Bills, that played for dances, and he played banjo. He enjoyed horseracing with his horse, Prisme. His sport was fishing, and he went on many fishing trips with friends. He married and had two daughters.

Cars and trucks began replacing the need for his major business. But, he was diversified. He owned several ranches, where he kept and raised horses. He was a part owner of the Montezuma Mine that he was even attempting to work in the 1940s and was a board member of the Newman Mine. He bought the Aspen Mercantile Co., selling mining supplies at the Elks Building location. He had one of Aspen’s first cars and opened the first car dealership in 1923 selling Overland cars.

His livery continued into the 1930s, and he continued to do freighting where trucks could not go, like in the early days of the Midnight Mine before it re-engineered its road for trucks. Tagert delivered supplies for the Midnight and hauled ore, especially in the winter, into the 1930s. He owned properties, including the Galena Street building that now houses Prada that he sold to the Eagles for their lodge.

Tagert Lake east of town was Tagert’s Lake because he homesteaded the property in the 1890s. Later in life, he and his family spent summers there.

For many years, one of Tagert’s close fishing friends was Tom Flynn, one of the founders of the Highland Bavarian Co. that initiated skiing in the 1930s. The Highland Bavarian bought one of Tagert’s properties, the Highland Ranch, on Castle Creek to build their lodge below Little Annie Basin, where they thought they would build their ski area. At that time, the Castle Creek Road was only plowed to the turn-off to the Midnight. Flynn hired Tagert to transport skiers to the lodge using the horse teams and sled that he had been using for his work with the Midnight.

Tagert continued his contributions to Aspen’s skiing with the donation of his Montezuma Basin cabin in 1947 to the National Ski Association. That became the first of the ski huts.

Taget’s wife preceded him in death, succumbing to illness in 1955. Tagert lived to be 94, dying in 1966.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching at Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.


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