Banquet a treat of traditions

Davin Montoya gives La Plata County Commissioner Kellie Hotter a hug after presenting her with the Cattlewoman of the Year Award at the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Banquet on April 21 at the Sky Ute Casino and Resort Event Center. Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Carol Lewin

Davin Montoya gives La Plata County Commissioner Kellie Hotter a hug after presenting her with the Cattlewoman of the Year Award at the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Banquet on April 21 at the Sky Ute Casino and Resort Event Center.

The agricultural community works hard all year, particularly in the spring, when crops are planted and livestock is giving birth to the next generation.

Maybe that’s why the La Plata-Archuleta Cattlemen’s Banquet is such a hot ticket each year – everyone’s ready to relax and kick their heels up.

Somewhere between 275 and 300 people gathered at the Sky Ute Casino and Resort Events Center in Ignacio for a feast of prime rib – what, you expected fish? – and an event that is full of familiar traditions.

Marvin Conrad, who has the voice for radio but loved working on his ranch more, served as the master of ceremonies.

This is an event that is a must-stop for politicians and candidates, as the ag community is a powerful voice. County Commissioners Bobby Lieb and Kellie Hotter were both on hand, as were commissioner candidates Julie Westendorff and Harry Baxstrom. (There may have been more, but it was a busy evening, and my notes had a little au jus on them.)

Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio, a sheep rancher in his day job, led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance and a prayer. In an interesting twist, Brown’s opponent, Mike McLachlan, the Democratic candidate for the 59th District, was also there, and it turns out his wife, Barbara, once spent some time shearing sheep in Australia. Small world.

The La Plata County Cowbelles spend a big chunk of time creating two highly coveted quilts that sport historical and working livestock brands, such as the Bar 40 or Diamond Lazy H, using brands of members of either the association or the Cowbelles. One quilt is raffled off, and this year that went to Brice Lee, whose brand the Quarter Circle Lazy J was on it.

The second is auctioned, and auctioneer Ron Dunavant kept the bidding spirited until Don Gosney, whose brand the XV Bar was embroidered on it, managed to outbid his competition and emerge as the winner.

The true winners are the students planning to pursue ag careers who will benefit from the scholarships funded by the quilt sales. Two of them were on hand to help out, the 2012 recipients Zack Riley and Courtney Gulliams. Also helping out were two lovely young ladies, La Plata County Fair Royalty Shawntell Stiner and Shaylen Garrett.

Several guests from neighboring cattlemen’s association were on hand, as was state President David Mendenhall. The keynote speaker was State Brand Commissioner Chris Whitney.

Whitney gave us all some insight about the immense job brand inspectors are charged with performing, a particularly valuable lesson for townies like me and newcomers unfamiliar with the open range laws of Colorado.

While brands have existed in Colorado since it was just a territory, the brand office began registering them in 1899. The brand commission’s goal is to use those brands to “protect livestock (which includes horses) from theft, illegal butchering or straying.” There are currently 34,500 brands registered in the state, Whitney said, some of which are preserved as legacies of ranches no longer in the family and others which are working brands.

The brand inspectors check brands whenever there is a change of ownership or livestock is moved more than 75 miles. The 10 supervisors and 37 inspectors drove more than 1 million miles last year and performed 4.5 million inspections on the 3 million or so head of livestock.

With so much of Colorado’s population of 5.1 million living in the cities on the Front Range or towns around the state, the agricultural community needs to do more educating about how the industry works, Whitney said, and I think he’s right.

One fact that many people don’t understand is that Colorado has a “fence-out” law – if you don’t want livestock on your land, it’s up to you to fence them out.

Whitney, who’s a horseman, said the change in perception of horses has caused difficulties, too. Many people perceive horses as “more like dogs than cows,” he said. But the 300,000 horses in Colorado are officially considered livestock. (There are between 2.7 and 2.8 million head of cattle.)

In these days of concerns about food contamination, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is forcing ranchers to use digital ear tags on cattle, so they can better track where a cow has been from birth to death. But brands will live on, in part because they have such a fascinating heritage, and in part because they are the fastest way to identify livestock. Besides, they’re way cooler than a digital ear tag.

In one final piece of business, Davin Montoya presented the Cattlewoman of the Year to Hotter, whose maiden name was Folsom. I hope I get this right: her great-great-great-grandfather was elected as the county coroner in 1883 and great-great-grandfather was Durango’s first dentist, so that’s some serious La Plata County history. Folsom corner, which was at the intersection of Ninth Street and Main Avenue, was where they had their offices.

Between marrying into the Hotter ranching family and having a ranching background on both her Folsom and Cugnini sides, she’s got ag in her genes. A lot of her family was at the banquet to watch her receive her honor.

The event takes a tremendous amount of work, with a huge silent auction on top of the rest of the activities. Barbara Jefferies and Peggy Beebe led an organizing committee that included Ned Jefferies (hope you’re feeling better soon), Wayne and Patti Buck, Shirley Engler, Sharon Nossaman, Debbie Candelaria, Marvin and Catherine Conrad, Ski and Rose Novotney, Trish and Larry Corman, Melody Semler, Kyle Beebe, Mae Morley, Gary Everett, Sandy Young, Tom Compton, Norma Conley, Emma Shock and Jake Nossaman.

I hope Barbara Jefferies is home with her feet up recovering after two years as the first woman president of the Cattlemen’s Association. She truly burst through that glass ceiling.

Once the business was done, the fun began. The High Rollers took the stage and the evening became all about two-stepping and country dancing.

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Shielding their birthday candles from the rain are Sydney DeLacey, Tom Helms, Tim Martin, Beth Poremba, Mason Stewart, Paden Stewart, Jacob Clayton, Braden Lyons, Mark Mishu, Kelly Cunnion, Peter Cunnion, Janie McLaughlin, Clint Wolf, Cheryl Wiescamp, Barbara Denk, Kade Jackson, Bob Sexton, Eric Hjermstad, Richard Kippen, Collyn O’Brien, Greg Drover, Alex McLean and Virginia Pewterbaugh.

And happy 16th birthday greetings go to one of the most special people in my life, Meredith Nass.

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While you’re checking out all the ways to spruce up your house this weekend at the Home & Ranch Show, be sure to stop by the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Homes with Heart playhouse to buy your raffle tickets for the chance to take this darling house to your backyard – or, if you don’t have space for it at your house, think what a great amenity it would be at the Girl Scout Community Garden, the Community Shelter, Manna Soup Kitchen or some other community organization’s facility.

The house this year is sweet, with a removable slide, deck and even a vaulted ceiling. Durango High School students built it under the direction of Shaun Smith. Troy Dyer of Classique Homes did some professional consulting and a ton of local building suppliers chipped in with the materials, including Pro-Build, Alpine Lumber Co., and Four Corners Roofing.

The lucky winner’s name will be drawn at 1 p.m. Sunday, and the playhouse will be delivered free of charge within 25 miles of Durango – to an accessible location.

Tickets are $5, and they’re only selling 3,000, so the odds are way, way better than that $640 million MegaMillions jackpot a few weeks ago.

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Grateful to be getting some much-needed rain for their anniversaries are Russ and Pam Turpin, Robert and Shannon Kunkel, Jim and Jane Marentette, Bill and Tamara Volz, Stan and Alice Crapo, Ray and Janie McLaughlin and Randy and Molly Bondow.

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For information about upcoming events and fundraisers, check Local Briefs.

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