Vagneur: Nobody likes newcomers, except newcomers

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

Our spaces are being tested — if we can believe much of what we read — including a lot of what we personally experience. There’s a new Aspenite in town, a pandemic-inspired change in vibe. Be they local, sometimes local, self-described sycophants of the lifestyle or just plain BSers, it’s ruffling the feathers of many in this mountain aerie of “long-time locals.” And, where’d that new-breed of tourists come from? 

We all feel put upon from time to time, I suppose, but, when the grousing becomes rather perpetuating, the same if not similar notes being struck, it might be time to sit back, take a breather and try to look at it from a higher altitude.

“No one likes the newcomers, except the newcomers.” That might be the tone.

If we feel our lifestyle is being a bit rankled, our vision of our way of life tested at every crosswalk or high-priced restaurant, it is hard to imagine how the Utes felt about it all. They didn’t have a perfect path through this world, but it was pretty damned good.

In 1879, Aspen — the land we’re standing on — had already been ceded to the United States by treaty, but, just down 82 a mile or two, the land still belonged to the Utes.

Thanks to the incident at Meeker in the same year, it wasn’t long before the Utes were banished from Colorado. Trying to put ourselves in their position can be a heart-rending exercise, at best.

Philip W. Pratt, Smith Steele and the others who camped here in 1879 at what they called Ute Spring thought they had a good thing going — town lots were given to those early arrivals, they had formed their own loosely-structured, silver-mining-era local government, and the future looked bright.

Then along came B. Clark Wheeler and his gang, who through the fiat of incorporation, without notice of his intentions, took over the camp and, over the objections of H.B. Gillespie and the others, named the town Aspen rather than the preferred Ute City. Talk about getting your knickers in a bunch.

Government-guaranteed silver prices meant fortunes to the barons who owned the mines and a good living for others who prospered off the fringes of such activity. Until, drum roll, repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act in 1893. That brought more than a few changes to this little burg (although not so little at the time with 12,000 or more residents) and, in a panic of sorts — before many of Aspen’s citizens even knew where they were going — they were gone. That’s the kind of change that brings immense consequences.

Fast forward to the 1940s and ’50s: The advent of Aspen as a ski town, which brought quick change to a sleepy town that was already quietly growing on its own.

Ranchers, farmers and old-timers were inadvertently marginalized. Men — both old ranchers and miners¸ like my great-uncle Tom Stapleton, Harry Holmes, Auget Ericksen, Hod Nicholson, Bill Herron and others — were sidelined, their worth measured in how fast they could clear ski trails or lease their mining claims, not for their historical significance to the town that was becoming a new embodiment of itself.

Walter Paepcke and the ranchers faced off over the local rodeo arena, located next to the Music Tent. Peace eventually reigned.

In 1964, I graduated from Aspen High and went away to college. When I returned in 1969, the town only vaguely resembled itself. Other than family and longtime ranchers, the first and almost only person to remember me from the early ’60s was Tom Sardy, local denizen after whom Sardy Field is named. George Madsen, a local Aspen Times columnist, gave me a slap on the back.

Most of my friends had either moved away, were still in school somewhere or were relatively invisible in the horde of newcomers who had hit town. Drugs were rampant. Venereal disease was more prevalent than the common cold, almost ubiquitous, and BS ran deeper than the middle of the Roaring Fork during spring runoff.

It was a sea change, unconsciously engineered by newcomers who didn’t understand our history or traditions, who bulldozed us into an era of alteration we didn’t want but got anyway. To those of us who stayed, we adjusted, got mostly over it and survived.

That’s a very brief synopsis, but it brings us up to the present. Last spring, I shared a chair on 1A with a guy who moaned the whole way up about the changes hitting town, how unhappy it made him and how difficult they were to deal with.

As we topped the lift — a great, cloudless blue sky facing us over the horizon above Snowbowl, sunlight glinting off fresh snow on the ground — I spread my arms in preacherly fashion and asked, almost rhetorically, “Where else would you rather be?”

He had to smile.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at


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