Local ranchers still friends for life
Roger Brown, an early Vail resident and filmmaker who has worked with the ranchers, describes them:
“The children in ranching families learn to ride a horse about as soon as they learn to walk. They are doing chores almost before they shed their diapers. The day is not defined by work or play, but by things that have to be done. They get up in the dark, feed the animals, come in for breakfast, then go back out to do more chores. The kids fall in love with calves and lambs but understand that eventually these animals will end up in a slaughterhouse. They take lots of rough falls off of their horses but usually get up grinning. Typical cowboys are short on words and long on smiles. In some ways, their life is very hard; in other ways, it’s incredibly rewarding. They spend a lot of time riding around some of the most beautiful country on earth – country we have all come to love since moving to Vail.”
Ranchers in the Colorado mountains in the 1950s and 1960s were, for the most part, land rich and cash short. Many would take other jobs to help support the ranch. Some worked in the mines, and a few worked in Vail doing various jobs after the resort got started in 1962. These ranchers were people of their word. A handshake was as good as a contract. When you made friends with a rancher, it was a lifetime deal.
A place like Vail has been a two-edged sword for the ranchers. Development, rapid growth, and rising land values have destroyed their lifestyle, which requires vast amounts of open space, low land taxes, and few people. Forty years ago, Eagle County was almost entirely made up of working ranches. Today, there are no serious working ranches on the Interstate 70 corridor. A few survive in the Gypsum Creek area and several around Burns, on the Colorado River, but all are threatened by rising values once again. A rancher who has been relatively poor all his life can now become a millionaire overnight!
Perhaps the most successful ranchers at “having their cake and eating it, too” are the Nottinghams.
They owned Beaver Creek and much of Avon in the 1960s. When they sold those properties to the developers for the inevitable expansion that occurred around Vail, they went up the Colorado River road to the Burns area and purchased ranches there. Bill Nottingham’s ranch is one of the most beautiful working ranches left in Colorado that has not been purchased by wealthy out-of-state interests. Originally it was the Benson Ranch – the place Zane Grey had in mind when he wrote “The Mysterious Rider.”
If you ask the old-time ranchers in Eagle County if they are happy about Vail and the development it has spawned, most will tell you they wish it had never happened. But ranchers are pragmatic people. They don’t grieve publicly, and they make the most of the hands they are dealt. As rancher Ben Wurtsmith says, “I was for it in the beginning. It was a clean industry. What harm could it do?” No one, newcomers or old-timers, had any idea how successful it would be or how much it would grow. Who would have thought that from a simple beginning, the Vail Valley would expand fifty miles to the west?
Editor’s Note: In a continued effort to help the community understand its roots, the Vail Daily for a second time is serializing Dick Hauserman’s “The Inventors of Vail.” This is the fourth installment, an excerpt from chapter 1, “Before Vail.” The book is available at Verbatim Booksellers, The Bookworm of Edwards, Pepi’s Sports, Gorsuch Ltd. and The Rucksack, as well as other retailers throughout the valley. Hauserman can be contacted by phone at 926-2895 or by mail at P.O. Box 1410, Edwards CO, 81632.