Tony Vagneur: Spending time at the family stomping grounds

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

It was one of those intrinsic realizations that sometimes need to hit me over the head before the connection is made, but it goes something like the following tale.

The other day my daughter and my grandson went on a horseback ride with me through the fall foliage on a most beautiful day. The importance of the ride was succinctly pointed out by my daughter’s post on her Facebook timeline: “Gorgeous and perfect day riding in our old stomping grounds with my dad. It was pure joy to be able to share it with Cash.”

This grandfather thing is very important to me, more important than I ever thought possible, but before we get to that, we need to take a look at the “stomping grounds” before we go any further.

I grew up riding that country, between Sloane Peak and Mt. Yeckel, following my grandfather around Kobey Park and Collins Creek, looking after the cattle. Many weeks were spent at cow camp with the range rider Al Senna or in later years, doing it all by myself. As a young boy, I mimicked every move my grandfather made, whether his stirrup jiggled the tall grass, when he spit, or which direction he was looking. I still remember the exact spot from which he pointed out the first mountain lion I ever saw. Just from all that, I know grandfathers are important.

It’s hard to say for sure now, but my daughter Lauren might have been 7 or 8 when we started going to cow camp together. Think about it — a young girl in a lonely cabin at about 10,600 in elevation, no phone, no electricity, lanterns for light with a woodstove for cooking and for heat. She loved it.

I’ve written a few columns about our experiences, but little did I know such visits would be inculcating a love for the place as strong as my own. She and I rode the entire range together at various times, and it always was high on the list of places she wanted to visit. It was a part of me, part of my growing up years, and then it became a part of Lauren’s growing up years and a part of her. With luck, my grandson will have a love of the place, as well.

After the Vagneur Ranch Company sold, I kept my foot in the door, packing salt for the new Braun Ranch folks. Tim Jacobs, the foreman, had kids around Lauren’s age and we’d meet up there occasionally, moving the cattle up to higher ground, all of us spending the night at the cabin. Lauren got to participate in a couple of fall roundups, which gave her some exciting stories she now tells her children.

My grandson was riding a really good horse, a sharp-moving palomino, and just like on the ski hill, we hadn’t gone far when he asked, “Ampa, can I lead?” Get up here and get going, we have a lot of ground to cover.

It’s different being a granddad, things you notice, particularly the ever-onward march of genes. I’ve noticed before that many times he sits a horse similar to the way I do, and when he’s relaxing in the saddle, it sure looks familiar. That’s good, I hope, but the other part of that is over the years, people who knew my grandfather have remarked that I sit a horse just as my grandfather did.

On one of the first long drives Gramps and I ever undertook, pushing cows up the mountainside behind the ranch, we came to a clearing in a large grove of aspen trees, deep in new-grown grass and cooler than the hotness along the trail. “Gramps, this would be a great place to build a cabin, a neat place for me to live.” Every time I pass through that open space, the memory is clear in my mind.

The other day, as the trail came out in an open meadow, along a raft of aspen trees, my grandson remarked on what a nice place it was and said, “It’d be cool to build a cabin here. I could live in it.”

Yes, thank you to my daughter, for insisting we keep our stories of the “old stomping grounds” alive and thank you to my grandchildren, who make being a grandfather so important.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at


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