By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff
As the Carbondale Wild West Rodeo wraps up its summer season, it’s worth remembering that the Gus Darien Arena takes its name not from a star rider but from a hard working rancher and steady stopwatch man.
“Gus was an amazing character and one of the last of the old guard,” said John Armstrong, who worked with the Dariens for years. “He could do pretty much everything — farming, ranching, woodworking… He was from that self sufficient generation.”
John gave his son, Ben, Gus as a middle name. He remembers the original as a tall man of short stature who styled himself as the meanest guy in town but was really a pillar of the community.
It’s a legacy, among others, that Roz and Tom Turnbull are trying to keep alive in a new pavilion at the rodeo arena — which serves as an ice rink in the winter.
“Sometimes we are just struck by the number of people who have helped the community, and they’re not always remembered,” Roz observed.
The pavilion itself is dedicated to Roz’s parents, longtime ranchers Bob and Ditty Perry. It went through several conceptual phases before landing at the rodeo grounds, which the Turnbull’s think is perfect.
“It’s the Carbondale melting pot on Thursday night,” Tom said.
The addition of a display has allowed them to showcase some of the other facets of local history, including answering some of the oft-posed questions about the arena’s namesake.
Gus Darien was born in Emma in 1911 shortly after the family arrived in the area from Italy’s Aosta Valley with his two older brothers, Hank and Jim already in tow. He went to the Emma Schoolhouse, but never graduated. He married Elda Cerise, herself a native, and they had three children. The family began working the land in Marble, Thompson Creek and Carbondale.
“There was nobody here,” his son, Larry observed. “It cost next to nothing to buy it.”
In a time when Carbondale’s population was measured in hundreds and the main road into town followed the present course of Eighth Street and Weant Boulevard — leaving downtown with more gas stations and motels than restaurants — the Dariens owned most of the area east of old town and south to the current Roaring Fork High School building. They donated the land for the Methodist Church and hosted the roping club’s arena, which is how Gus’s name ended up on the new arena when it was moved out to Catherine Store.
In addition to moving cattle up and down the Valley with the seasons — which was just a matter of driving them along the dirt road that became the highway — the Dariens raised sheep and pigs, farmed potatoes and kept a garden and an orchard.
“We ate most of what we grew,” Larry recalled. “In the winter you didn’t have anything fresh.”
It wasn’t the easiest way to live.
“I used to get time off from school to pick potatoes,” he added. “I would rather have gone to school.”
Gus always had a second job, he added, whether as a brand inspector or a town trustee.
When the mines reopened in Redstone, the town’s agrarian roots began to shift. The family sold a large part of the remaining Carbondale property to Mid-Continent Resources for a housing project in 1964 and moved into a house on Seventh and Colorado which was purchased for them as part of the deal. The Thompson Creek property still known to some as Darien Meadows is now part of Crystal River Ranch, Elda continued to live in the house on Colorado well into the ’90s, and Larry still lives on the land in Marble.
Gus’s heart gave out as he was working on a ditch south of town in 1981.
“He was still a young man at 70 with his humor and ability to work,” Armstrong said.
Larry isn’t sure what his father would have thought of what’s become of the place he grew up.
“He wouldn’t recognize the area. He had a saying that if you couldn’t walk out your door and take a piss your neighbors were too close,” he said. “The whole Valley has changed and it’s just totally out of touch with reality. As soon as somebody has been here two years they think they’re an old timer. The end up trying to make it into everything they left behind.”’
Gus might, however, feel at home as the gates open up in the arena that bears his name — and hosted his grandson as a bull rider for a while around 2009.
“I think that’s an important legacy for him,” Larry said.