“What are you going to be when you grow up, Bobby?” This simple question, posed to my granddad when he was a boy in 1920s Chicago, must have had limitless answers but, after running through a list of a few of his idols, he settled on Tim McCoy, a Western star of the silver screen, and answered “I’m going to be a cowboy!"
Years later this childhood dream led my grandparents and their children to the Roaring Fork Valley and a ranch near the headwaters of Capitol Creek, where my grandfather learned that being a cowboy was slightly different than portrayed in the pictures. I remember the hard work he and my dad put in, with help from anyone else who happened to be around – long hours of mending fences, cleaning ditches, fixing equipment, herding cattle, checking on calving cows throughout a cold winter night and bucking bales of hay every summer.
In the early 1970s, Haystack Mountain was under consideration to become developed as a major new ski resort, partly in a bid to bring the winter Olympics to Colorado. Though it could have been a wealthy venture had it played out, my granddad felt differently, recognizing the mountain couldn’t be improved upon its natural state and that size of ski area would have had enormous ecological impacts. He spent years writing letters to congressmen, Forest Service officials and magazines. An open letter from D.R.C. Brown asked the public to question Bob’s motives in his opposition. This led the legendary Fritz Stammberger to knock on the ranch house door one day.
“He stepped inside the door, peered from side to side and up and down, then with a huge grin that told me I had an ally, said, ‘I’m looking for all those hidden motives!'" Though, Bob’s motives were inspired only from a strong sense of environmental responsibility. “There were elk on that mountain. There were about six ranches in that whole valley. It just seemed totally wrong to dump all of that activity in that valley.”
“My Life as a Child” captures the story of a man who cared deeply about this valley, of his years ranching and his years working as a county commissioner during decades that (as Congressman James Johnson writes) “Pitkin County had the most volatile mix of social issues of any county. Ranchers, miners, timber men and small businessmen were assaulted by hippies, the super-rich and glitterati who demanded change in almost every aspect of the community. (Bob Child) was in the midst of the battle on a daily basis and performed superbly.”
It recounts some memorable tales. In one, Bob stepped into the Jerome Bar to say hello to a friend only to find himself in the middle of an impromptu, characteristic Hunter S. Thompson interview. In another, while giving the newly completed Pitkin County Jail a trial run, he and Sheriff Dick Kienast planned a jail-break, escaping to look for a decent cup of coffee. A third tale recalls crawling out the second-story window to adorn Lady Justice on the facade of the courthouse with an Orange Crush shirt during a Broncos playoff run.
This month, Bob and Tee are being inducted into the Aspen Hall of Fame, along with Bobby Mason and Lester Crown, for their contributions to the community and helping shape the valley’s cultural heritage. I’d like to extend a thanks to the Aspen Hall of Fame for recognizing all those who have been the heart of the community and for carrying on the tradition.
In retrospect, all of our stories seem to be the result of the most improbable sequence of events and small moments of happenstance, as evidenced in “My Life as a Child.” It’s remarkable, yet here we are, thank goodness.
This review originally appeared in the Aspen Daily News on January 18, 2018.
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