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A tribute to ranchers of the Roaring Fork Valley

CARBONDALE – Twelve of the 26 Roaring Fork Valley cowboys and one cowgirl had already ridden into the sunset by the time Anita Witt got around to documenting their way of life on film. In 2002, Witt and photographer Lois Abel Harlamert published a coffee table book titled, “I Remember One Horse … The Last of the Cowboys in the Roaring Fork Valley and Beyond.” The book chronicles the life of 26 of the area’s settlers.Many have passed on.”That was the hardest thing,” said Witt, her face shaded by her signature wide-brimmed straw hat, about losing many of her subjects after the book came out and before the documentary was finished. “The way it started was, we (Witt and Harlamert) were in the beauty parlor and I said how I’ve been wanting to write a book (about the cowboys of the Roaring Fork Valley) and Lois said, ‘Me too.'”With that “me too” the two women went about finding all of the homesteaders in the valley that were still around. “I knew most of ’em, but not all of ’em,” Witt said. “Lois took portraits of every cowboy, and I got their stories. When I came to them every cowboy said, ‘Why would anybody be interested in me?'”I said, ‘You don’t know how special you are.'”Thanks to Witt’s foresight, generations to come will have an opportunity to get a glimpse of these pioneers through her book, and now through a documentary that’s been three years in the making.A free community showing of “The Last of the Cowboys in the Roaring Fork Valley” takes place at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Crystal Theatre in downtown Carbondale.”After the book came out we sold lots of (copies),” Witt said. “Two people came up to me and said they wanted to see if we could do a documentary. They were both experienced in the field.”Those two people were Chip Comins and Jolie Ramo of American Spirit Productions. Witt thought it was a great idea to get these cowboys on film – so the journey began. And it’s been a long road. Three years later, what is described as a labor of love by everyone involved, will be showcased in downtown Carbondale.”It’s been a long, hard struggle for three years. We had a lot of financial support from the community, but it’s never enough,” said Witt, who hopes future sales of the documentary will allow people who worked on the project to get their due. “We just kept on cookin’. We didn’t give up.”While the cowboy way of life is rapidly disappearing in this valley and just about every other, Witt has captured the essence of a time that can never be repeated.”This film is about the cowboys, the history and a way of life that will never be again in our valleys,” said Witt. “This is a documentary for the community.”Witt went to every living cowboy who was in the book, and what emerged is a documentary that was divided into several different categories.”We start with where their families came from, which was all over the world. They came because they loved the beauty of the area,” said Witt, who added that many of the settlers came from a region in Italy that was similar to the Roaring Fork Valley. “The second part is how they worked on ranches as little boys and went to one-room schoolhouses. Sometimes they weren’t allowed to go to school because they had to work. They had to help run the ranches. It was survival, they barely made it, but they were never hungry.”The film then delves into the business of ranching, which was what paid the bills.”They took care of them from birth to death,” said Witt of the cowboys and their cattle.And if they were lucky, throughout their lives these men would ride one good horse. “We have a section on their favorite horses, the horse they loved the most,” she said.The film follows a natural progression to speculate on the future of this vanishing way of life.”Many of the ranches are being sold because the descendants can’t make a living. The land is worth more to subdivide,” said Witt. And you see it up and down the valley as more and more homes cover what was once open pastures, and you’d be hard pressed to find a working cowboy in any downtown bar or restaurant anymore.One place you will see some real American cowboys is at the Crystal Theatre on Sunday.”That’s the whole reason for this documentary, so that people can see these men and know them and preserve them. The ranches are fast disappearing as a way of life,” said Witt, who lives up in Missouri Heights. “These cowboys were taught character. They were honest and lived with dignity and integrity. It was something taught to them that made them good, decent people. That’s so important today – parents don’t teach their children that anymore.”A handshake was a contract, and that’s not true today, and that’s a shame,” she said.If your heroes have always been cowboys, “The Last of the Cowboys” will give you a good reason to say they still are, it seems. The film is free and open to the public, but donations are welcome to help defray the cost of the film.The film was edited by Kyrsia Carter Giez and James Brundige. Twirp Anderson and John Sommers provided the soundtrack. A reception at Mi Casita will take place after the Sunday showing. Seating is limited.Cowboys on the big screenn What: “The Last of the Cowboys in the Roaring Fork Valley” documentary screeningn When: 2 p.m. Sundayn Where: Crystal Theatre, downtown Carbondalen How much: Free, but donations welcome


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