Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
September 24, 2011
Myths, superstitions, suppositions and otherwise superficially irrelevant trivia have the potential to become the stuff of legend, particularly in Aspen town.
First and foremost, we should be aware of the “Ute Curse,” cast over the land by the retreating Utes (attributed to various Ute chieftains depending in which part of Colorado you live), which says something like “though the white man may take this land, it and everything on it will never make him happy and his endeavors will forever fail …” Some say the curse goes on to describe that those who visit this area will never leave, or are destined to return if they do. Tough stuff, except the never leaving part. Ask any ski bum.
While we’re on the Utes, let’s clear up another misconception. The Ute Indians did not start forest fires in an attempt to drive off settlers in the Aspen area. It’s a convenient story concocted by whites to defer responsibility for the woodland infernos that did occur. If you think about it, there were miners scrambling all over these mountains, looking for riches of silver and gold, building campfires, smoking tobacco and otherwise taking chances. Also, to shore up the many mines that were producing ore and to provide lumber for spontaneous civilian development, there were logging camps and sundry sawmills (utilizing steam boilers) located everywhere in the high mountain forests surrounding Aspen. Tragically, at least in hindsight, there weren’t any Utes living in the Roaring Fork Valley after 1879.
How many times have you heard it said that a honeycomb of silver mine tunnels exists under the town of Aspen, ready to cave in when conditions are just right? How many people have you talked to that claim to have walked and belly-crawled through that labyrinth of human labor and genius? Old maps of mining activity in the area clearly indicate that a couple of tunnels may have been excavated under parts of the East End. End of story.
This, of course, brings up the fable of the Glory Hole, which used to be located under Glory Hole Park, and probably still is. Some say it swallowed up several steam engines as it sunk, along with the attendant rail cars. Balderdash! It really wasn’t that deep of a dent, and when we were kids it was known as the “Snake Pit,” as it seemed to have a steady population of garter snakes. The sides were partially lined with trash, but the town fathers had put an end to that rather quickly. In years past, there have been sinkholes of similar size on various agricultural properties in the valley, none of which have gained the same notoriety. Perhaps that’s due to a definite lack of exposure?
My friend Romeo brings up the notion that Aspen’s original survey does not line up exactly with the points of north and south. If you stand in Gondola Plaza, such discrepancy is clearly demonstrated by the placement of a large arrow in the concrete, delineating true North. The streets are definitely off-kilter from the established rules of laying out a township.
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With the urgency and devious nature of the land grab engineered by B. Clark Wheeler and Charles A. Hallam in their takeover of Ute City (to create Aspen in 1880), magnetic north could well have been used rather than true north, a surveying no-no. In addition, charting equipment in those days was not of the highest technological standards, from which evolved today’s surveying edict which states that if the original land measure is off somewhat, that’s the way it shall forever stay. A common sense and simple way to deal with errors.
When it comes to myths and reality, it’s kind of like kicking tires and digging up bones. Not everything coincides with what we’ve been told, and we would do well to remember David Bentley’s insightful take on the matter: “Any lawyer will tell you that if two people tell the exact same story, they are both lying.” This writer likes to characterize the perpetuation of such stories as the propagation of inert minutiae.