Leaving a legacy of love | VailDaily.com

Leaving a legacy of love

Bud Gates was born and raised on Derby Mesa in western Eagle County. The mesa, and the family ranch, always drew him home.

BURNS — George “Bud” Gates was fond of saying, well, lots of wonderful stuff.

Among the most timeless: “Before you try to train kids, you should train a horse.” Both call for gentle, consistent instruction, repetition and praise.

He was raised that way on the Gates Ranch, as a fourth-generation rancher. His namesake, baby George, is one of 27 great-grandchildren being raised the same way.

He wanted to be at the ranch when the angels called. He was. He was 86.

‘A little piece of heaven’

The ranch is a “little piece of heaven,” according to Bud and Marge Gates’ five children: Kip Gates, Doug Gates, Vienna Sours, Nancy Becker and Tami Schmidt. There are also 15 grandchildren and 27 great grandchildren. There’s a baby George toddling around, being raised and loved on the ranch.

Bud woke up every morning and looked across the ranch for a few minutes, counting his blessings. Counting that high took a few minutes.

He and Marge spent the last couple winters in an assisted living facility. It was about February when Bud started looking out the window, picturing those fields.

“We’re going home pretty soon,” Bud would say.

“It’s still snowing in Burns,” came the reply.

“I don’t care. We’re going home pretty soon,” he’d say.

He’d tell his sons and daughters, “You be here on this day, because I’m going to the ranch.”

When the Gates family put a conservation easement on the ranch a few years ago, someone asked him why.

“Because I don’t want to look out at my land and see nothing but cement and houses. That would be worse than cancer. It would eat at you every day,” Bud said.

Sweethearts from the start

Bud and Marge Gates met in school in Gypsum.

He was raised with four sisters and an aunt, and that’s where he learned to be such a flirt.

“He’d come by every day and flirt with all the girls. Not just me. All the girls,” Marge said. “I decided I liked him and I kept throwing my lasso out there.”

Before long, she caught him. They had their ups and downs, Marge said, like anyone.

They were married 64 years, which, Marge said laughing, “Is too long for a woman to put up with any one man.”

There was that one time when Marge was so mad she grabbed her car keys and headed toward the door.

Bud said, “If we split this sheet, I’ll have half and you’ll have half, and neither one of us will be warm.”

Marge said, “So we left the sheet whole and talked it out.”

Marge was Eagle County’s public health nurse for 32 years and a nurse in the county jail for a couple more.

“I had to support Bud’s hobby, this ranch,” Marge said smiling.

For 12 of those many years, Bud was a county commissioner. The only time the two talked county business was when she asked the commissioners for more money for her department.

Bud was recognized for distinguished service by then-Rep. Scott McInnis from the floor of the United States House of Representatives.

“I felt he a lot to offer to our county,” Marge said. “Bud was a very knowledgeable young man about the future of what would happen to our land and our water. It was a wisdom he had acquired by growing up and working with the ranchers on this mesa. Pretty much every one of them hired him to punch cows or dig ditches.”

When Bud read the newspaper, he read the entire paper, including the legal ads. That’s where he learned about meetings in Denver and other places where water lawyers would be talking about moving water from one place — often his place — to another.

He’d walk in to find himself the only non-lawyer in a conference room.

“He spoke his piece and did some good,” Marge said.

Lifestyle, more than a living

Bud was a tireless advocate for ranching. He tried his hand at filmmaking with friend Roger Brown, the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and owner of Summit Films. “Western Ranching: Culture in Crisis” tried to educate the public that ranchers are the best land stewards around. It was a response to the growing cacophony of misinformation from developers who wanted land and water for residential growth, and the shrill cry of those who want meat eliminated from the human diet.

“When you take us out of that wheel, you’ve got a broken wheel,” Bud said.

No one gets rich ranching. In the 1990s, when those films were made, the average ranching family income was $30,000.

“Money is not our main goal,” Bud said. “Ranching is a lifestyle. We sacrifice to live here. We love that land. We love it and we’ve been good stewards.”

Liquid gold

When they were first married, Marge had to learn the ways of water.

“You always thought you should have money to add to a house, or build on a new room,” Marge said.

For years, the money went to water instead of adding a room to their cabin.

“I was told under no uncertain terms that our water was the most valuable thing we own, and it would make more money for us than anything else,” Marge said.

She eventually got the home she wanted, and the flower garden. Bud’s fishing boat started leaking, so he hauled it to the house and turned it into a flower garden, which is what Marge wanted.

Green, green grass of home

The clan landed in the region when they built the stagecoach stop at Gore Pass. James P. Gates migrated to Eagle County because he was a bear hunter. J.P. and his wife lived in a dugout for several years, and eventually built a cabin on top of it.

Grandma Nona filed for the first 160-acre homestead, and bought up other homesteads in the Derby Mesa area. These days they have 750 deeded acres, along with federal land leases.

Here’s something you might not know: Bud Gates is a twin, which is why he was born in Grand Junction. The local midwives did not know if they could deliver twins, so he was born in the hospital there, because that’s where some family members were wintering.

Among brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and others, Bud was one of nine kids living at the ranch, trying to scratch out a living. His father worked in a Rifle manufacturing plant, which left Bud as the man of the house.

Bud’s uncle, a patriarch in the Albertson clan, used to say Bud was the hardest working little boy he’d ever known. One day, the hired men started making fun of him for playing with dolls, so the 4-year-old Bud put away his dolls and from that day he followed the hired men around, working like a man.

He served in the military during the Korean War, and volunteered three times for combat. The guys on each side of him were tabbed for battle. He never was. He spent 14 months in England, living in tents.

The Colorado cattleman had to teach an Italian cook about beef, because the cook kept chopping up steaks for hamburger. It offended Bud’s cattleman’s sensibilities.

“If you chop that steak up and don’t cook it like it’s supposed to be cooked …” Bud threatened the cook.

He loved England, but dreamed of the ranch.

He returned from the military and in 1970 Bud’s dad made him a partner, telling him, “You do what you can with it. I’m going arrowhead hunting.”

It was not a colloquialism. He actually retired to Arizona to hunt arrowheads.

There were times he and other ranchers led firefighters into the backcountry to fight wildfires.

Then there was the time he and other ranchers led 400 hunters out of the wilderness when fires were closing in.

Marge and the kids could feel the heat of that fire as they stood on their back porch.

As he was leaving, Bud told her, “If that fire makes it to the mesa, you pack the kids and get out of here. Don’t stop for anything.”

The ranch was spared, but Bud ended up in a Denver hospital with smoke inhalation. A steady stream of hunters he’d helped save visited his hospital room.

Bud and his entire family were artists and musicians. Their homes are adorned with original artwork. They hosted dances, and 40 people danced in their living room.

Not only did Bud Gates live a long time, he lived.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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