To Stump Town … and back
Ranch hand, gold miner, engineer, salesman, Albert Daniel Seibert, Pete’s father, was a man of prodigious talents. He could paint landscapes in oil or watercolor from memory, for example, and play virtually any tune on the piano after hearing it just once.|Courtesy Peter Seibert Collection| |
My father, Albert Daniel Seibert, was born in Roslindale, Mass., to a successful German family that owned a small chain of delicatessens in the Boston area. He was the first of six siblings and possessed some remarkable talents. For example, he had perfect pitch and could play any piece on the piano after hearing it just once. As a boy, I was convinced my dad was the equal to Mozart.
He was also a fine painter, in both oil and watercolor. He particularly admired the French impressionists Corot and Cezanne, as well as the great German landscape painter Albert Bierstadt, who specialized in majestic oil paintings of the American West. My father also loved the powerful sculptures Frederic Remington did of horses and cowboys.
My father’s life changed dramatically in the spring of 1900, when his father died, leaving a widow, six children, and financial problems. At just 16, my father was forced to become the head and sole supporter of the household. He gave up all plans for his own education beyond high school, instead working at every job he could find. Eventually he and his mother managed to put the five other children through college. When the last of them finished school in 1909, my dad was 25. At that point he was ready to begin his own life – and what a life it was.
Besides his great abilities as a pianist and painter, my father also possessed a passion for physical challenge and an irresistible wanderlust. So he headed west to see in the flesh Remington’s noble cowpokes and Beirstadt’s stunning mountains. He found a willing companion, his cousin Peter Werner, my namesake, who owned a Model T Ford. They just took off, traversing what was only the beginning of the eventual network of passable roads for the automobile. The more rugged the landscape, the more they liked it. They crossed the Midwest, the Rocky Mountains and the Arizona desert – before Arizona was a state.
They went as far as the West Coast and Southern California, and decided to settle there for a while, working as ranch hands. As it turned out, Dad loved the job, and he stayed on. Peter Werner, however, drove up the coast to San Francisco, sold his trusty Model T and booked passage back to Boston through the newly finished Panama Canal.
Soon enough, though, my father’s wanderlust took over. He left California, moved to Arizona and spent several years working as a cowboy on a ranch near Tucson. But he was fascinated by the Rocky Mountains. He eventually went north to Colorado and worked in the San Luis Valley, around Alamosa, as a ranch hand. Later he took a job mining gold and silver in Leadville, just about 30 miles from where Vail is today. He lived in a small settlement called Stump Town, which was run by the mining company and offered rough lodging and bare-fisted entertainment. Father told me often of the times Jack Dempsey, several years away from the heavyweight championship and fighting under the name Kid Blackie, would arrive in Leadville, offer to take on all comers and go home with a few bucks.
Stump Town was a dangerous place, not only because of the hard-knuckle fights that went on but also because mining itself was a brutal business that took countless lives. Sometime around 1920, my father had his jaw broken in a mine cave-in while working underground. He barely escaped alive. He viewed the experience as a painful omen to give up his roustabout life in Stump Town and return to the genteel world of Sharon.
Editor’s note: This is the 11th installment of the Vail Daily’s serialization of “Vail: Triumph of a Dream” by Vail Pioneer and Founder Pete Seibert. This excerpt comes from Chapter One, entitled “The New England Years.” The book can be purchased at the Colorado Ski Museum, as well as bookstores and other retailers throughout the Vail Valley.