Minturn old-timer publishes memoir
Vail CO, Colorado
MINTURN, Colorado ” Bill Burnett grew up when locals shot craps and played high-stakes card games in Minturn Saloon and who, despite prohibition, drank whiskey distilled near Gore Creek.
Nine years ago Burnett spent each day writing for a whole year. Now, nearly a decade later, the details of most of Minturn’s 20th century, according to Burnett’s memory, are in print. In his recently published “Minturn, A Memoir,” Burnett writes about Minturn’s people, politics, plumbing and his memories of his parents and tales of his own mischief.
“There wasn’t nothing about Minturn, so I wrote about Minturn,” said Burnett, a Minturn town councilman who has lived in the small town almost his entire life.
In 2003, Burnett brought Nicole Magistro, a former Minturn employee, a 300-page manuscript written on notebook paper in blue ink and asked her if she could help get it published, said Magistro, co-owner of the Bookworm of Edwards and an editor of the memoir.
Battle Mountain High School students helped type the hand-written manuscript and interviewed some of Minturn’s senior citizens. Some of that was added to supplement Burnett’s book, Magistro said.
Born in 1920, Burnett lived when trains ran through the town every hour of every day, railroaders’ toilets were suspended directly over the Eagle River and Vail and Beaver Creek did not yet exist.
“It’s very important for us to remember that part of our valley’s history, because it’s colorful and real and it’s about regular people,” Magistro said.
Burnett puts it concisely.
“If you want to know about Minturn, read it,” he said.
The 153-page book is Burnett’s second and was printed in December with funding from the town of Minturn, the county, anonymous donors and others.
The most detailed, interesting accounts are Burnett’s childhood in Minturn, whose night-time entertainment has waned since Burnett’s days.
As a 10-year-old, Burnett used to box other children in prize fights held every other Saturday night where the Minturn Country Club is now. Hank Elliott, a bootlegger with a booming voice, announced the fights.
“There was no television or radio yet in Minturn, so people had to make their own entertainment,” Burnett writes.
A boy named Buster Kahlenick broke Burnett’s nose a couple times in the fights.
“My nose is still not shaped well,” Burnett writes.
Audience members threw coins into the ring and Burnett and other children sometimes made $4 to $5.
Burnett tells stories that would make many of today’s parents cringe.
Burnett used his money from the fights to buy bacon-flavored candy at the Minturn Mercantile and a sack of Bull Durham tobacco with which to roll cigarettes.
When he ran out of tobacco once, he and some other children scraped wood off of a cedar post and smoked that, Burnett said.
“It made me sick,” he said. “I never smoked another smoke.”
Minturn’s schools have improved since Burnett’s days.
Burnett went to school with a few other students in Minturn and played on the basketball team. With no basketball court, the only practice students got was playing before games at other schools in the valley.
“I don’t think we ever won a basketball game, but we never stopped trying,” Burnett writes.
As Burnett got older, he worked as a Justice of the Peace, which did the same work in a small town that a judge does today, he said. Court was held in the living room in the home he lives in now.
Illegal gambling in the Minturn Saloon (back then it was called Jeff’s Place) kept Burnett busy.
Sheriff’s deputies who raided Jeff’s Place several times used to cut the felt off the craps table and present that in Burnett’s court as evidence.
Jeff Taylor, the owner of Jeff’s Place, always pleaded guilty and Burnett always ordered him to pay the minimum fine.
“If you fined him the minimum fine, well then it was all over with and everybody was happy,” Burnett said. “They’d buy a new top to the crap table and the next day they’d go back to gambling again.”
Along with a movie theater, Minturn had a barber shop, too.
Burnett used to get his hair cut at Mr. Sandy’s, though he can’t recall the man’s first name.
When children failed to listen when Sandy commanded them to move their heads, Sandy hit their heads with a comb.
“I don’t think Sandy really cared to cut kids’ hair,” Burnett writes.
Burnett also worked as a welder at the Eagle Mine in Gilman, a mining town that was abandoned in the 1980s, and helped build Vail as a plumber and electrician.
He’s got plenty of stories about people who owned some of the early homes there, he said.
He hasn’t written about that ” yet.
Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 748-2931 or email@example.com.