Jasper Butero was a real big guy from old Sopris. He was big in body, big in mind, and huge in heart. The big guy weighed in at two hundred sixty pounds and stood at a stout
5' 11 1/2 inches in height, with hands as large as those of a burley black grizzly bear. And talk about a big heart! He would give an itinerant destitute railroad bum the shirt right off his back, a couple bucks, an affectionate pat on the shoulder.
He was born the day after the Fourth of July in 1917. Way back during the time when opposing troops of the Axis and the Allies were struggling and dying in the muck of hundreds of miles of front line trenches and concertina wire in Western Europe. He was born in Sopris in a three room adobe stucco house. There were six children born into the Butero family, five boys and one girl. Jasper was the baby of the brood. Mother Maria died during the 1918 flu epidemic. 'Big Jasper' was only a seventeen month old baby when mother passed away. The oldest child, Tony, was a mere twelve years old. There was Tony, then Paul, then Rose. Rose died of a ruptured appendix. Back in those days, the practice of medicine was, for the largest part, a highly tenuous and impractical science. Medical practitioners didn't have much to work with, no penicillin, nor other appropriate medications or procedures necessary to help save the young Butero sister. She died at the old Mt. San Rafael Hospital on top of the hill in east Trinidad. Until then, she did all she possibly could to help nurture her younger brothers.
All the boys survived for a longer period of time, Joe and Mike and Jasper, the baby. Tony later died of cancer of the lungs, and Joe went the same way. Both were heavy smokers, and both resided in Los Angeles for over twenty-five years. They chain smoked cigarettes and drove big trucks on the smoggy freeways of southern California. It was too much for their vulnerable breathing equipment to take. Paul, now deceased, lived at Village East in Trinidad with wife Krissy. Mike, at a robust age of eighty-four, lives in Pueblo with wife Julia. Julia was a Cunico, whose family were also natives of Sopris.
Sebastiano, the big daddy of the Butero clan, had a history that could easily serve as a plot for a best selling novel. He was the second born of three sons. There was Joe, who was the oldest, and Jasper, the youngest. They were born in Bisquiano, Sicily, near the toe of the great boot of Italy. They were farmers back there in Sicily. Difficult times in the crop growing business before the tum of the century induced them to head west to the land of great opportunity in America, to Louisiana in the south in 1898, where they toiled on the plantations, an employment most conducive to their training and expertise. It was when they were in Louisiana, in 1900, that they received a call from two uncles in Sopris, entreating them to head west once again, this time to labor in the land where coal was king. Brothers Joe and Jasper eventually sojourned to greener pastures in California when the Sopris Mine shut down. Sebastiano was the only brother who chose to stay and work in the Sopris coke ovens. A back injury, incurred while laboring in the ovens, forced the energetic Sicilian to exercise all his creative abilities for the sake of survival. The family needed food on the table. He bought a horse and wagon that he used to peddle vegetables, fruits, and other sundry delectable comestibles. Sebastiano peddled his food in many of the neighboring coal camps; Cokedale, Primero, Tercio, and down
country to the east in Trinchera, EI Moro, and Hoehne.
Mama Butero was a LaBella before she met Sebastiano. She lived on a goat ranch deep in the backwoods ofPrimero Canyon. He met young Maria on one of his grocery runs with his horse and buggy. She struck his fancy, so he took her for his bride when she was just fourteen. And he continued to peddle his victuals. He had to sell foods that were not stocked in the company stores. The coal companies, who owned and managed their own stores in the mining camps, would not allow him to sell products they stocked on their shelves.
Sebastiano eventually opened a one-room family store at their newly purchased two-story house in Sopris. It was a big house. It reposed on the extreme northeast comer of the single major street that meandered through Sopris. The old house was once the property of old man Pincinati. He, too, had a store in the house.Dad Sebastiano ran the retailing operation in his new abode from 1928 to 1937. He had to shut down his small business because of the depression. Hard times required that he dole out credit to his many friends and customers. There were so many of them, ... and many could not pay the tab. The depression got to them too. Pappa Butero reluctantly submitted to a retirement pension.
Despite the hard times, the Buteros survived. Jasper and Mike were the only two who graduated from Lincoln High School in Sopris. Paul drove Dad's 1928 Dodge fitted with screen sidings. The sidings allowed for a larger cargo of groceries. He had to quit school in the ninth grade to drive the Dodge. Dad wouldn't drive it-he adamantly refused to drive any motor vehicle. He once rammed a friend's Reo truck through the rear of a garage by accidentally stepping on the accelerator at a most inopportune time. Never again would he put his hands on a steering wheel of one of those complicated mechanized contraptions. Joe quit school in the ninth grade, and when Paul married, Joe took over the job of driving the Dodge. Tony also quit school and moved to California. He dropped-out about in the fifth grade. Tony hung around to work in the mine for a while, did odd jobs, and eventually hauled coal with a newer and much more modernized Ford truck. Dad bought the Ford for Tony in an attempt to entice him to remain in Sopris. The ploy didn't work. Tony got married and headed west. Out to California where his uncles lived.
Jasper remained, and for him those growing years were the good times in old Sopris town. "Growing up we were all one," explained Jasper. "I really liked that about the coal camp. We all grew up together. It went beyond my immediate family. I still cherish that thought today. That is respect. It didn't make any difference what your ethnic background was. We all ate at each other's house and spent a lot of time together. That's respect. It didn't make any difference who or what the person was.
"And we made our own fun as kids. We would shoot magpies at flat rock, walk the hills, hunt rabbits, cook bread in the oven in our back yard and walk around town with fresh loaves in our pockets. We didn't have to have all the gadgets kids have now. There were no cars and no Segas. We had a day when we walked on our stilts, then a day for playing with tops. We walked with cans on our shoes and played a lot of marbles. Unless someone saw a video of what we used to do, they wouldn't believe it. Our folks only had enough money to feed and clothe us. We used to catch buckets offish from the river to sell. We'd sell rags, and aluminum or iron for a few cents. That's how we made our money."
During his high school days, Jasper weighed in at a paltry one-hundred seventy-five pounds, but highly sports minded. In school, he participated in basketball, softball, and track and field. Back then he used to shoot those seemingly awkward two-handed shots from the guard position. The focus was not on offense, but defense. Scoring twenty points in an entire game was big time event. And there were other sports to get involved in. He was light on his feet and could run like a deer. He had a whole pillow case at home at the big Butero house on the corner full of ribbons won in track and field competition. He was a runner, threw the discus, and partook in the broad jump.
Frank Martini, John Lira, Charlie Benedetti, Jasper, and Joe Langowski took home the championship trophy in the County track meet in 1936. The team battled their way to the state playoffs for two consecutive years. And state competition at that time was just one big division. There were no sub classifications. Primero or Sopris were usually the primary teams from southern Colorado. Jasper's Sopris Panthers were defeated in basketball by a strong Pueblo Central team by a meager six points, a slim margin that prevented them from playing in the state tournament that year.
And way back then, town baseball was exceedingly popular. Baseball was truly America's game in rural Colorado. Every coal town had an organized team. It was the ultimate entertainment. Everybody and their grandmothers attended Sunday games. Competition was strong. Coal mine camps, Valdez in particular, would recruit quality players by offering them good jobs in the mine. It was an era of camaraderie, a time when families could leave their homes unlocked without any fear of vandalism or theft. Almost everybody could be trusted. And there was always baseball. According to the 'Big Boy,' there was an abundance of talent on the myriad baseball diamonds that dotted the coal camps. But there was little visibility in the backwoods of Colorado for the great ones. Television was then a technological fantasy, subsequently, very few people were exposed to professional baseball. And there was also a paucity of good coaches, and those who did coach had no contacts with the major leagues.
"There were a lot of good kids who probably could have played in the big leagues," reflected Butero, "but there was no way they could get there."
After high school, in 1932, Mike worked with Dad for a while, as a construction laborer, and later as a carpenter at the Valdez Mine. He was drafted into the Army from the mine. Jasper graduated from Lincoln High School in 1936. He enrolled at Trinidad State Jr. College in that same year, and worked in the coal mine during the summer to earn enough cash to pay for his education. Old man Watson, then Superintendent of the Valdez mine, found him a place to work during the summers of 1936 and 1937, digging coal with a pick and shovel to earn the much needed money for college. He studied pre-engineering and earned his A.A. degree in the spring of 1938.
At TSJC Jasper continued his pursuit of his great love for athletics. Here he played football and basketball, and ran with the track squad. There were no junior college conferences back then. They participated in sports as an independent, competing against Ft. Lewis College, Portales, (Eastern New Mexico University), Mesa in Grand Junction, Adams State, and New Mexico Normal College in Las Vegas. There were six boys on the football team who had never laid eyes on the sport, two each from Sopris, Branson, and Kim. They managed, during their tenure at TSJC, to defeat Adams State and Ft. Lewis, but got whacked by Mesa and Portales. They employed the single wing, an offensive scheme that allowed 'Big Guy' to run and throw the football from the fullback position with reckless abandon. He played tackle on defense. At one-hundred seventy-five pounds, he was the heaviest player on the team. During his second year, the basketball team participated in the very first organized athletic conference consisting of teams from Pueblo, Portales, Ft. Lewis, and Mesa. Pueblo College tied them the final game of year for the conference championship. Again he played at the guard position with a young cohort by the name of Steve Pitt. Also on that 1938 team were Trinidad's venerable Fred Sawaya and Frank Martini.
Ironically, Jasper played on the first football team ever at Trinidad State Jr College, and youngest son Bob played tackle on the last year of the program in 1970. Jasper Jr., before transferring to Ft. Lewis College in Durango, also played football for Trinidad State for two seasons, between the years that dad and brother Bob played at the school. All three of the Butero boys graduated from Trinidad State.
Jobs were still difficult to find following his college graduation. The Great
Depression was running full steam. Armed with his engineering background, the
'Big Boy' was eventually hired as a surveyor helper. Objective, to help layout and map the area of the Purgatory River in preparation for construction of the Trinidad Dam. He was hired by the Army Corps of Engineers out of Little Rock, Arkansas. He surveyed for seven months. He also worked the territory between Trinidad and Colorado Springs. He had great aspirations for staying with the Corps, for he married that year, in 1938, and he had to have a job to support his new bride. The lady of his affections was the good looking Barbara Rose Dintelman. She lived with her parents in a little brown frame house near Sebben's abode, in close proximity to the high school in Sopris. Initially, he never paid attention to his future bride, so he says. Barbara Rose finished her senior year at Lincoln High after her folks moved to Trinidad during her junior year. He started dating her during the time she was commuting to Sopris with several teachers who drove from Trinidad daily. He once thought she was too young, by three years, for his amorous affections.
"But I always liked her," mused Jasper. "She was a nice looking girl. I walked with her one afternoon to the Frontier Tavern. She had to use a telephone. The next night I took her to a movie in Trinidad. Eventually we went over the hill to Raton to get married. We wanted to keep it a secret. She was in Jr. College (TSJC), and I was working in La Junta at the time. We thought the folks wouldn't allow us to marry because she was still in school. My father-in-law (Charlie Dintleman) found out accidentally while congratulating Arthur Dahl, an old Sopris friend who had recently married. Dahl returned congratulations to him for my marriage. He was surprised, to say the least, and the sparks flew for a while, but he turned out to be the best father-in-law ever."
Jasper worked another month for the Corps before he was laid off. He had to return to the back-breaking pick and shovel coal digging routine at the Valdez Mine in 1939. He quit in 1940 to hire on with the Santa Fe Railroad in Raton, New Mexico as a brakeman. He worked the Raton and Las Vegas main line. The insufferable moving continued; he moved to EI Paso, Texas, then to Las Vegas, then back to Raton before he was again laid off. The newlyweds returned, and he worked for the Valdez Mine until 1960 where he toiled for an interminable twenty-two and one-half years. Then the mine shut down, and he found work for one year at the CF&I steel mill in Pueblo, Colorado.
In the interim, he passed a civil service examination which provided him eligibility for employment with the Engineers of the state Highway Department. The 'Big Boy' worked on the initial construction of highway 25 when they built the four lane route north and south through Walsenburg. He worked a total of nineteen years and eight months for the state highway engineers. Jasper opted for early retirement because
he was forced to live in motels in Pueblo for the five final years of his work with the
state highway system. He figured retirement was cheaper. But by this time, sixty-five
years had passed him by, and a well earned rest was beckoning.
And then there were more good times and then some bad times for Jasper and
Barbera Rose. They had six children, four of whom survived. Sharon Joyce was born
first, on April of 1943. Sharon currently is employed by the Department of Social
Services in Trinidad. Two years later they lost a baby girl, born stillborn. Janice would
have been her name. Jasper Jr. was born in 49. He is currently Superintendent of the
Hoehne public schools. Bob came in 1952. Like dad used to do, he travels often in his
joh as Mine Inspector and Safety Director for the United Mine Workers of America.
Debbie was born in 1955. She is employed as a clerk with Las Animas County judicial
And then there were the bad times. The Butero's tragically lost another child in 1962. She was an innocent three-year old warm and evolving human being, just beginning to absorb the wonders of a magical, responsive world. Little Chrissy Marie accidentally cut her arm on a minute sliver of broken glass on a window frame. Just a tiny cut on a muscle in her upper arm. Tragically, nobody seemed to understand what happened to Chrissy Marie. They never did receive the results of autopsy.
But all-in-all, life has been good for the 'Big Boy' and his highly functional family.
"Growing up in Sopris was wonderful," reminisced Butero. "Money couldn't buy my youth. We had nothing, but we had a lot. We knew where every wild plum, chokecherry, and apple tree from Sopris to Madrid was located. We knew every swimming hole. Swimming and baseball were great fun. We would walk the railroad tracks from Sopris to Trinidad to play baseball. We would rake in fifteen or twenty cents picking rags, then go to Kendall's bakery to buy day old cookies, then we would go down to river to eat them. Many times we went to Jansen to play baseball against the DeBono brothers, or to steal their cucumbers.
"People were so close knit. Respect. There was so much respect. We always respected what one had or not had. I never heard a kid talk back to their parents or cuss them out. Until we relearn respect, we will never be good as a nation or community. We'll be living like animals without it. A handshake was all that was necessary. Your word was gospel. Didn't need a lawyer for anything back then."
Jasper recently celebrated his fifty-eighth year of marriage to Barbara Rose, "The most beautiful woman in the world."
"She's been there for all of us all the time." reflected Jasper. "She's doing the same thing for the five grandkids that she did for her own children. She's a woman you can trust and know that she cares for you. She's been wonderful. She put up with me all
these years. Must be a saint."
And 'Big Jasper,' until the time of his passing, assisted son Bob manage the Stay Fit Family Center on Main Street in downtown Trinidad. His work hours were 4 a.m. to 9 p.m., five days a week with an additional seven hours on Saturday and Sunday. And he worked out every day, pumping iron and exercising on the machines to strengthen his legs, arms, and lungs.
Jasper was eighty-one at his passing. He will always be remembered.
NOTE: Jasper passed away on May 20, 1998.