Vagneur: A humble student of history |

Vagneur: A humble student of history

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore
Tony Vagneur

We sat around the table, four of us. Three who knew what they were talking about, and me. The adage, “We don’t know what we don’t know,” holds ever so true; but when it comes in the form of stories about people who once inhabited the land we love, a tapestry of history begins to take shape up to the modern age.

Not being the scholarly type, I didn’t bring a damned thing with me other than an Earl Elmont book that had been requested. Sitting down and looking around, my error was glaringly apparent. These folks were serious about the mission — they had questions to be asked already written in their notepads, and they got to the heart of the matter without a lot of small talk.

“Do you know who Virginia Hinderliter was, up the Fryingpan?” asked Jillene.

As in many of these types of get-togethers, which are rare anymore, much of the information exchanged comes down to personalities, either ones that we knew at one time or our families knew and likely were friends with.

As you might expect, a lot of Italian and French names got tossed around, like Cerise, Grange, and Arbaney, but there were plenty of others, such as Perry, Bane, and Rector.

Years ago, my great-grandfather Sloss and his brother, Sterling, ran cattle on Lime Creek from their ranch at Sloss Station (now the Cap K). Sad to say, I’ve never ridden up there, but the story began to unfold as Tom Turnbull addressed the fact that he also had a grazing permit up there, just in a much later time frame.

“Yeah, we used to trail cattle from Woody Creek, down Highway 82, through Basalt and up the Fryingpan, turning them out just above the Cap K Ranch onto the Red Canyon range,” said this writer. 

“Imagine the folks from Perry’s ranch, back in the day,” said Turnbull, trailing their cattle from their Crystal River Ranch, over the Crown (did you know about the cemetery up there?), down W. Sopris, along the railroad tracks and up the Fryingpan, past Thomasville and finally turnout on Lime Creek. In those days, there were still stockyards in Emma, where they might have occasionally spent the night, or maybe a stopover farther up the ‘Pan. (See, I should have brought paper and pen.)  

And then out of the corner of my eye, someone threw in the question, “Have you been by the graveyard at Marion?” Yes, was my reply, The Baby Graves, as they are sometimes called because so many of them contain young children. The West has been an unforgiving place. 

A few names got rattled around about a place I was unfamiliar with, but it fairly well came down to three people whose ranches were contiguous in the area and who might not all have been on the most hospitable terms with each other. Maybe it was an unhappy hired hand. 

In any case, someone was killed (This goes way back). Wondering what to do with the body, it was finally determined the best way to dispose of such a hard-to-hide item would be to stuff it into the stove and let it burn to ashes. Cremation without permission, or something like that. None of those names have been mentioned in this column.    

Tom Turnbull, long-time Crystal River rancher as mentioned earlier, hosted our history conference. Jillene Rector, daughter of Bill Rector, long-time rider on the Thompson Creek range with Louie Burtard, out of the Yank Creek cow camp, kept tabs, and Bee Stevens, daughter of another long-time Crystal River rancher, Flaven Cerise, kept things rolling. 

We talked about cattle, but let’s not forget the sheep ranchers or the tens of thousands of sheep those folks ran in the hills around here. The Gerbaz family, from Watson and Gerbazdale, were big into sheep for many years. Sometimes sheep were more profitable than cattle. Familiar names to those who watched the annual sheep drives through Aspen were Dave and Perry Christensen. 

The people sharing the afternoon with me were folks every teacher would love to have in their class, notebooks open in front of them, pencils and pens at the ready, sitting up straight, and eager to learn. It felt a bit as though I might be back in high school, the class cut-up, nothing to write with or on, and only a vague idea of some of the areas we talked about. They were teaching me.  

However, yours truly suggested we do it again, only invite a few more people and get some more stories going, flesh out the history of our valleys in larger form.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at