Sunday, September 11, 2005
They auctioned off Helen and Henry Rehder's worldly possessions on a breezy September Sunday on the east side of Lake Catamount, where Harrison Creek tumbles out of the mountains.
The guy who successfully bid $7.50 on a few rusty traps couldn't have guessed the role they played in Routt County history.
The Rehder clan settled in the south valley at the turn of the 20th Century, when there was no Lake Catamount -- just Harrison and Green creeks rushing down to a stretch of the Yampa River notable for its meandering oxbows. Henry wasn't even old enough for school when his extended family moved here.
They homesteaded in the shadow of Rabbit Ears Pass and worked hard, hacking their own irrigation ditch into a steep slope.
The ranch is a wildlife preserve today, and all that remains of the lifetimes spent on Harrison Creek are a collection of old buildings, and, until Sunday, the accumulated belonging of the Rehders. Henry and Helen lie buried on the hillside. He died more than five years ago. She died on Mother's Day 2004. There is something profound about an estate auction.
Of course, we all know, you cannot take it with you when you go. And so, your heirs are left to liquidate a lifetime of possessions. But none of us imagines strangers gathered in our front yards to compete for the right to buy our heirlooms, our kitchen utensils, our books and our tools. But that's the way it goes.
There was a lot to see and bid on Sunday at the Rehder estate auction when Cookie Lockhart strapped on one of those funky Madonna style microphones and began her rhythmic chanting.
They had everything for sale. They had 8-by-8 sheepherders' tents, branding irons, oil paintings by Helen, fancy glassware, worn out saddles and power tools in perfectly good condition.
There was a buffalo head mount rumored to be the last North American bison ever to wander down Harrison Creek. A dozen old sheep bells like the ones the ewes wear around their necks set off a bidding frenzy. People were paying $25, $30 and $35 for a single bell.
I looked on approvingly as a man bid $60 on a strange looking fly reel still in the box.
Anyone who watches Antiques Roadshow knows that anything that is old and has to do with fishing, is valuable. Someone bought Henry's pint-size Stetson hat after Cookie pointed out that it was a special, summer weight hat.
"Feel how thin the brim is," she implored. "You can feel that hat breathe. It's a dandy!"
Estate auctions are a lesson in human psychology. A fancy vase that meant nothing to me sold for $160, and an old metal Ex-Lax advertising thermometer, about 4 feet in length, sold for $150. That, I could understand.
Henry was a self-reliant individual who was known to carve his own skis out of a 4-by-4 piece of timber. He used a draw knife to plane them down and steamed them to put camber into them.
Henry and his brother used to hike up Mount Baldy, then ski down. There is a story about them chasing coyotes down the mountain on their skis. What about the rusty old traps that sold at the auction? Well, Henry used his skills as a trapper to raise the money to buy his uncle's ranch. During the winter, he was known to camp out on the mountain so he could mind the traps he set for pine marten.
He sold the beautiful rust colored pelts to the female students at Perry Mansfield. Even in the old days, they brought as much as $20 to $30. Presumably, the students had them made into fur stoles. There are plenty of rugged individualists perusing their passions in the Yampa Valley today. But it's becoming more difficult to find pioneer stock such as Henry and Helen in this valley anymore.
Spotting longtime rancher Jerry More in the audience, Cookie took the opportunity to lament the passing of so many Yampa Valley pioneers. "Jerry's a real old-timer," Cookie said. "There aren't many of us left. We're disappearing every day. Jerry, does it bother you that so many old timers are going?"
"Not as long as I don't get up to bat," More shot back.