Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore |

Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

Betty Klusmire Bishop’s ashes were interred Saturday at Red Butte Cemetery. Actually, Betty died in late November, in case you’re just getting the news, and her family waited for better cemetery ambience to have the memorial, one with warm breezes, green grass and shirtsleeves. Betty severely broke her leg skiing many years ago, which might have ended any particular allegiance she had to winter.

If you didn’t know Betty, she’d stand out in your vision if you glimpsed her around town. A beautiful woman, tall and brunette, she was as tough as the West and made herself felt in film productions shot locally, such as 1950’s “Devil’s Doorway,” as a stand-in double for those Hollywood actresses who couldn’t ride horses. Trouble was, she upstaged the stars with her looks and talent, as though such things mattered to her.

Betty’s daughter, Pam, was a classmate of mine, which meant Betty had to put up with a lot of our high school shenanigans. Through it all, she kept her sense of humor, and her cool, which made her a surrogate mother for many of the girls and a few guys, too. She had an aura about her that made you feel special, like she’d been your best friend forever.

I hadn’t seen Betty in years, although I clearly remember our last visit, and even though I feel her loss, particularly through her family, there’s the creeping, incessant feeling that more than thievery of our mortal coil, death exemplifies change.

The Klusmire family was always big around these parts; brother Bob rode more horses into the Red Onion and Jerome bars than any other cowpoke around and probably did it with more elan than any stuntman could have mustered. Bob was one of those throwbacks to the Old West who made ’60s and ’70s newcomers to Aspen feel like they really might have moved to “the wild West” – Bob still used a horse as his primary mode of transportation.

The other brother, Newt, had Newt’s Bar in Aspen, was the proprietor of the Frying Pan Inn in Basalt for many years and, although a reasonably average man (in stature only), wasn’t afraid to take on the whole bar, if need be, and always came out on top.

The two of them were instrumental in building Aspen’s first chairlift.

Betty’s sister, Marie, was a quiet, dark-haired woman, the type who made you believe that whatever she said she meant, even with a smile. And she could back it up.

There were the Klusmires, Smiths, Strongs, Lowderbacks, Loushins, Vagneurs, Zordels, Kastellics, Baltizars, Gregorichs, and on and on the names go, large families that could be seen, in the course of a week, at either the Eagles or the Elks clubs, the Onion or the Jerome, unwinding from the travails of life.

For a kid like I was, always digging into the history and “whys” of local lore, going back to Aspen’s roots, it was like being in a candy store. If one person didn’t have the answer, another would, or a hike from one bar to the other would turn up the resident expert on the subject and the conversation could begin. Corroboration was never a problem. One by one, they’ve died or moved away, that nucleus of families that kept the oral history of Aspen alive.

And the watering holes have changed; the collective memory doesn’t go back nearly as far anymore and people get distrustful looks on their faces if you recite too much history all at once. Old-timers no longer smell of Prince Albert tobacco and rolling papers, stale beer and sawdust.

Today, they’re increasingly about clean sweat, darting eyes that flicker from their iPhones to whomever they’re talking to; the stories they tell are way too quick to the punch line.

Betty, I miss you. I miss the people that could carry me back in time, and I surely do miss those quiet afternoon beers we used to share at the old Eagles Club. Ah, hell, we’ll all eventually experience the flickering light, have our chance to rage against its snuffing, but in the meantime, we’re laying down memories for the next generation of storytellers.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at

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