The Perrys lived a down to earth and plain life
January 28, 2014
Intro: In 1941, Bob and Ditty Perry established the Mt. Sopris Hereford Ranch in Carbondale, and for the next 66 years, until Bob’s death in 2006, they worked their ranch and created what Ditty refers to as “the abundant life” for themselves and their seven children.
Perry: I was born in Denver on November 28th, 1918, in the midst of the Great Flu Epidemic. My mother was sick with the flu when she had me. She couldn’t get in the hospital it was so full of flu patients, so she had me at home.
Gallacher: And you were only four-and-a-half pounds. It was a wonder you made it through.
Perry: Yes, my parents were delighted to have a little girl join my three brothers.
Gallacher: How did your family come to this area?
Perry: My father was born in New Castle, New Brunswick, in eastern Canada. How he ended up in Colorado nobody knows but he went to work for a man named Henry Cowenhoven in Blackhawk, Colorado. Cowenhoven ran a store selling food and supplies to miners. At some point, they decided to sell the store and start west.
When they headed out, they were bound for Arizona but along the way they met miners and prospectors who convinced them to check out the new settlement called Aspen. So they headed that way. When my father got to Aspen he was so taken with the beauty that he decided he wasn’t going any further.
Gallacher: He had a difficult time getting to Aspen didn’t he?
Perry: Oh, yes, it took them three months to get from Denver to Aspen. There was just a very rough trail that they had to follow over Taylor Pass and, two different times, they had to unload the wagons and take them apart and then carry everything piece by piece down over cliffs or around big rocks.
They got to Aspen in July of 1880 and set to work building their store. My father grubstaked quite a few of the miners. That meant that he gave the miners the goods they needed with the understanding that if they struck it rich my dad would have a stake in the profits.
He ended up owning a couple of silver mines that some people didn’t think were any good, but they turned out to be very good. He took the money he made from the mines and invested in banking and ranching. He eventually owned a good number of ranches on the Western Slope.
Gallacher: What did your dad do when the silver mines shut down.
Perry: Most people left when silver sank to the bottom, but he didn’t. He loved Aspen, and he stayed. By then, he was the head of the bank, and he helped a lot of people get through those hard times.
Gallacher: Aspen was pretty much a ghost town after silver went bust.
Perry: No, it was a nice little town, and I loved it. I remember one time in 1937 — I was just out of high school — and that winter there was hardly any snow. We went to Maroon Bells and skated on the lake. It was one of the most wonderful New Year’s parties I have ever been to.
Gallacher: What was your father like?
Perry: Well he was a very hard worker with an attention to detail. Everybody had to be on time and neat and excel at what they were doing. Hard work is one thing he passed on to all of us. I think the one that was most like him was my brother, Darcy. I think Darcy ran the Aspen Ski Company exactly like my father would have.
Gallacher: Tell me about your mother.
Perry: My mother’s maiden name was McNutt. She grew up in San Francisco, and her father was a doctor who had his own hospital. In 1907, her parents sent her to France with chaperones to study French. San Francisco was still recovering from the 1906 earthquake, and my mother’s parents thought she would be safer there.
She met my father on board ship and fell in love. They spent time together in France and were eventually married there. It must have been quite an adjustment for her parents when Mother returned with a husband who was 23 years her senior.
She was a very gracious woman and she was like my father in one respect, neither one of them was very warm. I knew, growing up, that there was something lacking.
My father felt he was a self-made man who didn’t need the Lord in his life, and he passed that on to my brothers. Nobody ever went to church, and Christmas was just another day in our house. Growing up, I knew I wanted something different, and I made my life very different from that.
Gallacher: So faith was missing?
Perry: Faith and warmth, I think those are essential parts of a family. I wanted to have people in and gather around the table. I can’t remember us ever having anyone in for a meal.
Gallacher: You grew up in Denver and summered in Aspen.
Perry: Yes, I couldn’t wait to get out of school and head for the mountains. It was a wonderful place on Hallam Lake with a big yard, tennis court, a barn and milk cows and horses. If you wanted to ride you had to get up early and catch your own horse.
Gallacher: Didn’t Bob grow up in Denver?
Perry: Yes, his family lived just down the block. I was friends with his sister, and he was friends with my brother. I spent more time at the Perry’s than I did at home. Bob’s mom was one of the warmest people I have ever met. By watching her, I think I learned what was missing in my home. Warmth and openness was bountiful at the Perrys’.
Gallacher: When did you realize that you loved Bob?
Perry: Oh, that wasn’t until we were both out of high school and off to college. We were both at loose ends. Bob eventually dropped out of college and tried to make the U.S. Olympic ski team, but he just missed it. I went to college for one year and decided it wasn’t for me. So we decided to get married.
Gallacher: You announced your wedding, but then you had another idea.
Perry: Well, we knew we had to do something, we were pretty footloose at that time. We had planned to get married in the garden in Aspen in August but as we talked it over we realized that neither one of us wanted a big wedding. So we decided to elope.
We drove to Vernal, Utah, with friends and got married on May 17, 1940. I’m sure the judge who married us didn’t have much hope for us. We were both pretty young.
Bob owned some land just outside of Steamboat Springs, where his father had homesteaded. The land had a little two-room cabin on it with no electricity or running water.
So that’s where we lived. I had never cooked, so it was quite an adventure. I remember one of the first days there, Bob left me with a chicken and the coal stove and went off to work, and I had no idea what to do. Bob could cook, so I think he assumed I could, but I had no idea what to do.
The chicken was in the same state when he came back that afternoon. I was really upset, but Bob reassured me and took it all in stride.
Gallacher: That must have been a real adjustment for you to move from a house where everything was done for you to a two-room cabin.
Perry: It was, but I learned to go with the flow. I had a real incentive to learn, and Bob was a great teacher. I quickly learned how to read a cookbook and eventually learned to cook for hayings and brandings and drop-ins for lunch and dinner.
Gallacher: It sounds like you and Bob decided to start a life that was much simpler than the one you were raised in. Is that fair to say?
Perry: We both wanted a life that was down to earth and plain, and we got it.
Gallacher: The life described in your book isn’t plain, it’s full and rich.
Perry: It was a wonderfully interesting life that suited me well. And ranching was the perfect answer for our lives. Bob knew he wanted to ranch since he was a little boy.
So not long after we were married, we moved to the Carbondale ranch that my parents had left to me and my three brothers. Eventually, Bob and I were able to buy my brothers out.
Gallacher: Your father was also a rancher.
Perry: No, my father was in ranching in a business way. Bob was in it because he loved the animals and the way of life. Growing up none of us ever saw any of the ranches my father owned.
When we drove to our summer home in Aspen we went right by the Carbondale ranch and never stopped. My father was the exact opposite of Bob, if he was going to Aspen he was going to Aspen and nothing else.
Gallacher: What was it you loved about Bob Perry?
Perry: His patience; he had tremendous patience with me and with the children. I had to learn to be patient, but it came naturally for him. I grew up in a family where you were never late for anything. Bob taught me to slow down and enjoy life.
Note: This story is a collaboration between the Mt. Sopris Historical Society and the Immigrant Stories Project.