Witt whips up a Wild West show
Post Independent Staff
MISSOURI HEIGHTS ” With her platinum blond hair and an embroidered denim rodeo shirt, Anita Witt is a timeless example of the American cowgirl.
“You gotta watch where you step when you come out here,” Witt jokes, as she journeys out to the corral where trick horses Whiskey and Jose Cuervo graze and methodically swat flies with their tails. “Be ready, because he (Whiskey) is going to smile for you. There’s little tricks to his tricks.”
With bluebird skies and Mount Sopris standing majestically in the background, Witt’s 100-acre ranch is where she’s most at home this hot Colorado summer day.
“We go a lot of places, but I like to come home at night,” said Witt, of her cowgirl trick-riding performances. “Sadie, Jose and Whiskey are my best friends.”
The petite cowgirl, who has been a country and western singer and guitarist and trick rider since the 1940s, loves showing off her two horses, who answer with nods, and Sadie, a 13-year-old black Lab who performs tricks on command, too.
“Hey Sadie, I’m gonna ask you something, would you rather be married or dead?” Witt asks the dog. Then the dog gives her answer as she slowly rolls over on her side and plays dead, inside Witt’s wood-trimmed, western-themed home. “I’ll tell you what her greatest trick was. We did the Texas Skip in Las Vegas at the Frontier Hotel in 2000. The Texas Skip is a big loop that goes around me and Sadie.”
After Sadie displays a few more of her talents, Witt pops in a copy of her documentary, a project she is hosting a Cowboy Round-up Ranch Party benefit to support. The family event takes place from 4-8 p.m. Saturday at the McBride-Puckett Ranch (Leo Light Ranch) in Old Snowmass.
Witt, 66, is producing the documentary “Last of the Cowboys” with the Mount Sopris Historical Society and American Spirit Productions to preserve the stories of some of the region’s cowboys. Some of the cowboys are still alive, and some have died since they were interviewed for the film.
“It just breaks my heart, but I thank God that we got their stories,” said Witt, who authored “‘I Remember One Horse …’ The Last of the Cowboys in the Roaring Fork Valley and Beyond” in 2002. The project took three years to finish. “They are a heck of a bunch of guys. Their stories are wonderful. Every single one of them said ‘Why would anyone be interested in my life?’ We want to share it with everybody.”
As the 10-minute video begins, Tom Zordell, a cowboy tan from years of working in the Colorado sun, wearing Wranglers and a green cowboy shirt, stops by Witt’s to drop off a load of hay. He promptly removes his weathered cowboy hat as he sits down, cordial as a teenage boy meeting his date’s father on a first date.
The 71-year-old Zordell is one of the cowboys Witt has immortalized in the video and her book featuring Lois Abel Harlamert’s black-and-white photography. The documentary even features Zordell’s horse, Robin Maria. His faithful companion died this winter at the age of 34.
“The most wonderful thing about this documentary is that 100 years from now, Tommy’s great-great-great-grandchildren will know what he did. They’ll know how the original cowboys lived,” Witt said.
“I’ve got two great-grandchildren already,” says Zordell proudly, flashing his unassuming smile.
The film shows old-timers, including brothers Frank and Joe Starbuck, and Adolph Diemoz, then 95, recalling stories of the old West, when 300-head cattle trains dotted the Roaring Fork Valley and electricity was a luxury.
“I used to rope with that man,” says Zordell, who had nine brothers and one sister, as Diemoz’s face fills the TV screen.
“Tommy was raised on a ranch in Kansas and had to sleep in a screened-in porch, even in the winter,” said Witt, who will perform in Saturday’s ranch rodeo.
Diemoz, whom Zordell says he “used to heel for” in Witt’s book, tells of what it takes to be a real cowboy.
“Determination is what it’s all about,” says Diemoz in the unfinished documentary. “If you’re determined to do something, then you’ll think nothing of it.”
Diemoz was born to Italian immigrants in 1908 on a ranch near Emma outside Basalt.
Wayne Vagneur, a descendant of immigrants from Aosta, Italy, like Diemoz, is also featured in Witt’s book and the video, which Witt and American Spirit Productions hope to complete in the next six months.
“My ancestors were some of the first white people to come to Aspen in 1879 ” the year of the Meeker Massacre,” Vagneur says of the infamous event that led to the banishment of the Ute Indians of the area to reservations in Utah.
Vagneur was born in 1929 on his father’s ranch along Woody Creek ” and the homestead was a bit crowded, with six boys and one girl, Claribel.
As the video ends and the TV switches to white noise, Witt and Zordell share a few more stories of a Western lifestyle that is a part of both their lives. They talk about growing up and the ranching life, and Witt points out her collection of saddles before the old cowboy goes outside to unload his Dodge truck bed full of hay. Before he leaves, she recruits him for Saturday’s Cowboy Round-up Ranch Party at the old Leo Light Ranch.
“I’ll have Whiskey and Jose, and we’ll get Tommy out there, too, to ride a bronc,” Witt said.
Zordell flashes an ornery smile, laughs and heads out to unload the hay.
In typical cowboy fashion, there’s work to get done before he can think about play.
Contact April E. Clark: 945-8515, ext. 518
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