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Grandparents among the first to settle upper Roaring Fork valley

Immigrant Stories
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Ernest Gerbaz
ALL |

In the late 1800s, Italy was plagued with overcrowding and an unstable government. It was during this time that many Italians decided they had had enough. From 1880 to 1915, 4 million Italians came to the United States looking for a new start. Eighty percent of them came from southern Italy to Boston, New York and Chicago. But most of the Italians who settled around Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley came from the mountain valleys of Northern Italy.

Ernest Gerbaz’s grandparents were among them. They were looking for a place that looked like home.

Gerbaz: All of my grandparents came from the Valle D’ Aosta (Aosta Valley) in Italy. They came in 1891 and ’92 because of unsettling conditions in their country at that time. Italy wasn’t very stable, and there was war and economic hardships. There were too many people and not enough land to make a living from.



The Gerbaz side of my family came to Delray, Michigan, and worked in a glass factory for a while and eventually came to the Woody Creek area. The Arbaney side of my family came to what was then referred to as Bionay Place but everybody knows as Old Snowmass today.

The first to come was my grand father, Alex Arbaney. He was 14 when he and his dad, Etienne, came in 1891. They eventually sent for the rest of the family. The Arbaneys bought and homesteaded the land in and around the Old Snowmass area.



After serving in the Spanish American War in 1898, my grandfather Alex returned to Italy and married my grandmother, Clementine Vallomy. She had been his childhood sweetheart. They came back to the United States that same year and purchased a ranch of their own between Woody Creek and Old Snowmass.

In 1929, they sold the ranch and moved to Carbondale and bought a prime piece of ranch land there along with 640 acres of pastureland on North Thompson Creek, south of Carbondale some 18 miles. My grandparents spent the summers on that pastureland. They lived in a sod house until they were finally able to build a two-story log house. They hauled the logs for the house from a place that is now referred to as Arbaney Gulch.

Alex’s sons helped him fell and haul the logs, and he trimmed them with the small sawmill he had set up. The house is still standing today. When I visit that land it reminds me of the high pastures and high hills where my grandparents came from in Italy.

My grandmother Clementine lived to be 99. My grandfather Alex died of an appendicitis at 74. He had gone up to the pasture by himself and got stuck on the Thompson Creek road coming home. He walked to the nearest settlement, which was about seven miles. But by the time they got him to the hospital in Glenwood Springs it was too late.

I’m sure he knew he was sick but, in those days, they didn’t pay much attention to a health problem. They just waited for it to go away.

Gallacher: Where did the Gerbazes settle?

Gerbaz: They ended up in the same area only up Woody Creek. They purchased land near a place that was called Watson at that time and acquired additional land through homesteading. Many people were taking advantage of the government’s Homestead Act*. Under this act each family member could qualify as a homesteader, so each family member was given a portion of land. They were required to live on it a certain number of days during the year and make improvements.

They raised hay, grain, potatoes and cattle. They eventually ended up raising sheep for quite a few years. The children sold the ranch in 1965 after their parents passed away.

Gallacher: So the Arbaneys and Gerbazes were farming families in Italy?

Gerbaz: Yes they were, and they came from the same region. The Aspen and Woody Creek area resembles the land they left in Northern Italy. They were among the first families to settle in that upper valley between Aspen and Basalt.

Getting started was difficult, and they often had to supplement their income by taking other jobs. Grandfather Arbaney worked in the mines in Aspen and on the railroad. He always seemed to have additional jobs so he could get enough money ahead to buy more land and more equipment.

Gallacher: Who worked the land while he was working the other jobs?

Gerbaz: His older children and his wife, Clementine, fed and milked the cows and mended fence while he worked.

Gallacher: So everyone worked?

Gerbaz: Oh yeah, it was the land of work.

Gallacher: Tell me about your parents.

Gerbaz: Dad was 27 and Mom was 20 when they got married. They homesteaded a parcel of land adjacent to what was the Gerbaz Ranch at that time. My dad died when I was 10 months old, and my mother was left to raise four boys. She moved down to Carbondale to live with her parents, Alex and Clementine Arbaney.

We lived on the Arbaney place until I was 7 years old.

In 1935, my mother married Fred Montover. He had come with his parents from Italy when he was 3 years old. He was a cowboy, a trade he learned when he was just a kid. When he was 13 years old, his father had him spending the winter by himself at the foot of Mount Sopris on a ranch that Tom Turnbull owned. His job was to feed and look after the cattle. When he needed groceries, he had to ride quite a few miles down to the Emma store and back.

He left home at an early age and started riding for the North Thompson Cattlemen’s Association. When he married my mom, we moved over to Redstone and lived in a cow camp up near the town of Coal Basin. We stayed up there during the summers and would go back down to the Arbaney place in the winters.

Eventually, my parents bought a 640-acre ranch near Redstone for $6,500. That price included all of the ranch buildings and land near the present coke ovens at Redstone.

We weren’t able to make it on the ranch alone, so my stepdad had to go back to riding on the North Thompson for extra money. That put him miles away from where we were. I will always remember my mother running the place at Redstone with us boys helping. My brothers and I were still pretty young so my mom did most of the work, putting up hay and irrigating. And there were only three of us by then, because one of my brothers had passed away.

Sometimes my mom would go see dad over on North Thompson and take me with her. We would saddle up the horses early in the morning and ride up Coal Basin over the top and down into South Thompson Creek and back up and over to my grandparents’ place. We would get there right around dark. Mom would stay the night, leave me there and ride on over to the cow camp the next day.

Gallacher: That was a long ways.

Gerbaz: What it is was was hardship. It was difficult to see how hard my mother had to work when my dad was away. A typical day for her was to get up before dawn, go out and irrigate, milk the cows, separate the cream, ride over to the mesa and irrigate, come back and take care of us boys.

My mom taught us how to work hard and be a family. Her lessons about family have carried me through my life. But there were many times in my life when work separated me from my family. I started off working as the janitor at the First National Bank (now U.S. Bank) in 1950 earning $95 a month. I had that job and three or four others just to make enough to afford to buy a house.

After nine years, I was promoted to the head of the installment loan department, but the bank president told me I wouldn’t get the promotion until I found someone to replace me as janitor. He said I couldn’t do both. I finally found Harry Gardner to replace me.

When I retired in 1990, I was president and chairman of the board.

*The Homestead Act is one of several United States federal laws that gave an applicant freehold title to up to 160 acres (1⁄4 section, 65 hectares) of undeveloped federal land outside the original 13 colonies. The law required three steps: file an application, improve the land, and file for deed of title. Anyone who had never taken up arms against the U.S. government, including freed slaves, could file an application and evidence of improvements to a federal land office.

The original Homestead Act was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln on May 20, 1862. Because much of the prime low-lying alluvial land along rivers had been homesteaded by the turn of the 20th century, a major update called the Enlarged Homestead Act was passed in 1909. It targeted land suitable for dryland farming, increasing the number of acres to 320. In 1916, the Stock-Raising Homestead Act targeted settlers seeking 640 acres of public land for ranching purposes.

– source Wikipedia

Immigrant Stories runs on Mondays in the Post Independent. To read other Immigrant Stories go to http://www.immigrantcolorado.blogspot.com.


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