Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Prior to building a fence, I hired a local surveyor to draw a plat of land I owned, which when completed seemed erroneous. “Why do you show the property line running down the middle of the creek when my domain clearly extends to the other side by a fair margin?” According to the surveyor’s limited view of the world, owning to the middle was the “neighborly” way to be. He finally admitted I was correct but was very reluctant to change his drawing.
When I was 6 or 7, my grandfather tried to explain about property lines. “That’s purt near the dividing line between our ranch and Uncle Delore’s,” said Gramps, “following along that small gully.” Even kids have a glimmer of common sense and I wondered aloud, “Why isn’t there a fence?” As brothers, my great-uncle Delore and my grandfather couldn’t agree on the property division.
It happened in the early 1940s, before I was born and you couldn’t call it murder, but it was definitely killing of the malicious kind. Uncle Delore owned a huge boar, a nasty tempered, award-winning specimen who, after his breeding responsibilities were done, enjoyed sticking his nose into the cool, black earth of fertile ranch land. Trouble was, he preferred mucking about in my grandfather’s hayfields, as opposed to his own. This only served to increase the festering feud that continually existed over the lack of adequate fencing between the two spreads.
A spring rain had blown in, making work mostly impossible, and with the cows still at home, Gramps saddled up his big blue roan to check on the upper mesa, making sure they hadn’t strayed into Delore’s slice of heaven.
Cold and muddy, the unpleasant day reflected off the steel-gray of Gramp’s lever-action .30-.30, his constant companion, strapped to the right of his saddle. Most likely, it was an afterthought, pulling the rifle out of its scabbard and killing the boar, which he found shoulder deep, head down, digging another huge hole in the middle of a grass-covered field. Grandpa’s wife had died just weeks earlier, and though it’s not an excuse, it might be.
The pig wasn’t much, at least not to our side of the story, but for Gramps, who had gone to town on errands, vengeful retribution was being carried out in his absence. Two mature Bluetick hounds, the pride of Grandpa’s hunting arsenal, were gunned down in the cold, wet afternoon drizzle. A cigar chewed down to almost nothing and obviously never lit, was stuck in the porch screen. That’s how Delore enjoyed ’em.
It’s hard to say if it was the culmination of becoming a widower, of losing his dogs, of years of hard living, or just exactly what, but it put Granddad on the drink, for which the culmination was a hospital in Denver, the kind of place that helped him sort it all out before he came home again. He was in his fifties.
A decade later, Delore and his wife Molly sold their ranch and retired to Glenwood Springs. Gramps and the new owner quickly agreed on a functioning property line and a solid fence was built.
Who knows if there was ever talk of the incident between the brothers, but in the years after, Gramps would occasionally stop by Uncle Delore’s house in Glenwood to check up on him. Molly had died shortly after the move, and maybe that created a kinship between them. Thus it was, on another day made for Noah, the kind that always puts me in the whiff of gun powder, that Gramps discovered Uncle Delore dead on the back patio, shotgun lying across his body.
There isn’t much more to be said here, I reckon, over the lives of two tough, passionate Woody Creek pioneers, other than “Good fences make good neighbors,” according to the old proverb made famous by poet Robert Frost. If Frost had only known.