Growing up among the Roaring Fork Aostan families
Intro: Floyd and Lavonne Diemoz were both born in Glenwood; their son John and daughter Corinne DeRaddo also live here. Floyd’s grandparents came to the United States from northern Italy’s Aosta Valley at the turn of the 20th century. They weren’t alone. Many families throughout Italy were leaving. Italy, as a nation, was only 30 years old, poverty was ever-present and there was little sense of a national direction. From 1876 to 1926, 16-and-a-half million people left Italy, 9 million of them came to the United States.
The Diemoz and Vallet families were two of the 45 families from the Aosta region that made their way to the Roaring Fork Valley.
Diemoz: Some of the first arrivals from the Valley of Aosta were sending messages back describing the Roaring Fork Valley as a wonderful place reminding them of Aosta. They encouraged other families to join them because “there were great opportunities here.” The Clavels were one of the first families to arrive, and they settled in Woody Creek. They helped sponsor and house some of the men, and as the men got established they sent for the rest of their family. Most of the families came between 1890 to 1910.
Some of the families moved around Colorado at first. Many of the men went to work in the mines in Leadville but eventually returned to the Valley.
Gallacher: What were the circumstances that motivated them to leave Italy?
Diemoz: My grandmother Vallet on my mother’s side, we called her “Little Grandma,” said that they were taxed heavily, and she told me if their windows were a bit too large another heavy tax was charged. They felt there would be more freedom and opportunity in America. She was a tiny woman who could keep up with the men in the dusty hay fields or when slaughtering pigs to make our favorite head cheese and blood sausage.
The Aostans saw themselves as an autonomous people. They didn’t consider themselves to be Italian, and they were passionate about that. They were more French because they spoke an unwritten French dialect called Patois. They were a separate mountain people within their own little country, Aosta.
Gallacher: Many of them came to this country as indentured servants.
Diemoz: Yes, they came with little or nothing, and out of those 45 families many ended up owning ranches. They eventually owned large tracts of ranch land from Aspen to near Glenwood and they did it in a very short period of time. The words that best described them are industrious, frugal, honest and religious; most were Catholics.
In fact, about a dozen of them ended up being what was called “the Italian Bank” because they would loan money to people in the valley who had trouble getting loans through the regular banking system.
Gallacher: Yes, I know my father, Danny, borrowed from the “Italian Bank.”
Diemoz: Many of them made good money back when the whole valley was producing tremendous crops of potatoes. In those days, the Valley’s potatoes were being shipped all over the country.
Gallacher: The Aostans weren’t welcomed to the Valley with open arms.
Diemoz: In the beginning they were discriminated against and were called the worst of all names — “dagos.” At the time this was a vile slur. I remember Uncle Oscar Diemoz telling me in later life that this word was no longer bad. “You bet I’m a dago, and I’m proud of it.”
Gallacher: Can you read off the names of the 45 Aostan families?
Diemoz: Sure: Antonelli, Arbaney, Arlian, Barrailler, Beck, Berthod, Betemps, Bionaz, Blanc, Breyer, Carturier, Cerise, Chatrain, Chuc, Clavel, Creton, Cuaz, Cullet, Darien, Desandre, Diemoz, Dossigny, Duroux, Favre, Flou, Gerbaz, Gianinetti, Glassier, Grange, Herin, Jammaron, Jorrioz, Letey, Montover, Natal, Perrier, Perruchon, Rey, Ronce, Rossett, Trentaz, Usel, Vagneur, Vallet and Vasten.
Gallacher: When did your family come?
Diemoz: My dad and mom’s family came around the same time, between 1903 and 1908. Neither family knew each other in Aosta even though they lived in villages that were only a mile apart. Mom and dad met and married here.
Mom’s family settled at the base of Mount Sopris on Prince Creek, their last ranch was on the north side of the Roaring Fork River upriver from the entrance to Carbondale. One of my memories as a kid on that ranch was the magpies. There were thousands of them. In fact, they used to have magpie hunts on the Gianinetti ranch across the river and whoever shot the most got the prize.
Dad and mom lived on Missouri Heights, and that’s where I grew up as a child.
Gallacher: What was your father’s experience growing up?
Diemoz: He was a cowboy and grew up on the Emma ranch at the base of Mount Sopris on the Basalt side called the Crown. The family lost nearly half the ranch during the Depression. Dad had to go to work as a cowboy at an early age to help pay the mortgage on the half they were able to keep. He was the cowboy on the Sopris Range and took care of a thousand head of cattle and got paid a dollar a head for the summer and fall. That was a lot of money in those days, and it helped save the ranch.
As a young man, he had a great interest in rodeo and boxing. He became a champion bronc rider. In those days, people enjoyed the sport of boxing. Often times, the men would challenge one another to a fistfight just for the sport of it. They never thought of pulling a knife or a gun, it was purely sport. After the match, they would shake with their bruised hands and return to the dance, followed by the crowd that had left the dance to watch the fight.
Gallacher: Your dad was an iconic figure here in the Valley.
Diemoz: Yes, he was an outstanding athlete. In addition to being one of the best boxers in the Valley, he was a kind and gentle man.
Gallacher: How was he as a father?
Diemoz: He wasn’t difficult. In fact, I think my mother was more of a disciplinarian than my father. From his success you would think he would be one to control, but he wasn’t.
Gallacher: What about your mother?
Diemoz: She was very bright and beautiful and extremely detailed. Both Mom and Dad were good parents. I always felt loved and encouraged.
Gallacher: How did your dad make the move from ranching to construction?
Diemoz: Just before World War II, Dad went to California because he felt that he could be a better provider for his family. He always had the attitude that he could do anything. At his job in the shipyards he soon ran a large crew rebuilding and retrofitting ships for war, including Russian ships. He was also a volunteer with the Coast Guard helping patrol and protect the military installations near and around the Golden Gate Bridge.
While he was in California, he took exams to become licensed as a building contractor. That was 1948 and those exams were very stringent. He was certified to build high-rise buildings.
Dad and Mom set up their own construction business, and Mom became the bookkeeper. Dad worked on the jobs, and Mom kept meticulous books and managed the records. It was a true partnership. Dad was the prime mover, but without Mom, he couldn’t have done what he did.
Gallacher: How did growing up an “Aostan” influence your life?
Diemoz: One of my favorite memories was of my grandparents. They were wonderful, fine and simple people who were not at all pretentious. I know they felt comfortable with their farm life.
A few years ago, I noticed a patina on my home stair railing. It was an accumulation of years of dirt, grime and sweat from many hands touching the wood. It had been there for a number of years, and I wondered why I hadn’t noticed it before. And then I remembered the entry door to Big Grandma Diemoz’s kitchen with the heavy patina that was a testimony to the soiled hands that worked the never-ending farm chores.
Gallacher: It was a family history of sorts.
Diemoz: That’s right, and that memory also triggers memories of her earthen cellar. It was filled with wine in wooden barrels, cheese, and both larded and dried sausage. It was a treat to hear the snap of a stick of that wonderful bone dry sausage.
Gallacher: The Diemoz family has accomplished a great deal in this community. What are you proudest of.
Diemoz: Our construction company’s history began in California in 1948. The folks returned to Glenwood in 1950. Over those 65 years we worked for the most wonderful clients imaginable. We had outstanding workers, from laborers to carpenters. Some worked for us for the great majority of their working life.
Joe Jammaron, an Aostan, began working for the folks in 1956 and was still helping out as late as 2009, also Ted Cantrell from Carbondale, was with us for many decades. We were also proud of others that left to start their own successful construction companies. Although construction can be a litigious business, we have never sued anyone nor have ever been sued by anyone. In fact we have never been threatened to be sued. A hand shake would sign and seal 90 percent of our jobs.
Mom was a founder of the Frontier Historical Society, and for me, I had a great experience being involved in the solution for I-70 in Glenwood Canyon. It was more like a lifetime hobby that began in 1963 and ended at the highway dedication in 1992, but that’s a story for another time.
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