Remembering Mario Zadra
Our area lost a legend when rancher Mario Zadra passed away on June 5.
What a wonderful man and important part of our region's history. He will be greatly missed by those who knew him, and represents the vanished breed of what the area was before today. He was a rancher first and foremost, worked in the mines, and was quite the historian.
I first met Mario on Specie Mesa when I lived in my little bunkhouse in the early 90s. He would always stop in and check on me, hat in hand, making sure a single girl on the mesa was doing OK. We would look through Howard Greager books about ranching life in the old days, and he'd tell me firsthand stories about “the Injuns” in the photos and why they outran the law (because their horses were better).
Mario told me all about “Cowboy Heaven,” a whorehouse across the road from my property, where the cowboys would overnight each week after they ran cows down the road (then called the Beef Trail) to Placerville to be shipped off to feed the miners in Telluride. He showed me where a Ute elder was buried at the top of my place, and where two little girls were buried in another place after a particularly harsh winter on the mesa, which one can only imagine.
He bought the ranchlands to summer his cattle up on Specie Mesa from the famous rancher Marie Scott,
whom he began to work for in his teens. He shared stories about driving the mule trains up the treacherous route to the Camp Bird mine, and how the mules would hang over hundreds of feet of drop-offs as they went from switchback to switchback packing gold ore or what have you. Driving the mule train was his first job, at age 12, but then he told me when he was a lad of 10 he delivered a horse for his father all the way from Ridgway to the Disappointment Valley...alone. Took him two days.
On top of all the history, he was a lovely man to the end. There are many others who can tell better stories of Mario Zadra, but I guarantee they will all agree they don't make ’em like Mario any more.