The history of the burros of Fairplay

LINDA BALOUGHpark county correspondent
Special to the DailyA Llama poses with its blue ribbon during burro days in Park County.

When gold was found in the mountains of Park County, miners needed a way to carry supplies in and the gold ore out. At elevations well above 10,000 feet along treacherous narrow trails, only the little burro was sure-footed enough to heft heavy and valuable loads to the top of the mountains and back down without endangering themselves, the “pay dirt,” or their masters. It was years before the narrow game trails were widened to accommodate freight wagons, so the little jack animals were engaged to carry everything from the timber to shore up the mines to potbellied stoves for the camp cookhouse. These faithful little animals carried millions of dollars worth of gold and silver ore out of the mines high up on the mountains. Small wonder the lowly burro soon became the miner’s best friend and the subject of countless songs and legends. In Fairplay, there are two monuments to honor two different burros, a statue of a pair of the little donkeys on the school campus, and the local high school teams proudly call themselves “The Burros.”

The most famous of all the local burros was Prunes. He first went to work in the mines around Fairplay in 1867, and his familiar long face was seen at the opening of nearly every mine in the area as he carried whatever his owner at the time required. In his later years, Prunes met up with Rupert Sherwood and the two would scour the old mining sites for gold. They became such good friends that when Prunes died in 1930, at the age of 63, the folks in Fairplay built a fitting monument for such a notable member of the community right on Front Street overlooking the river. At the dedication of the memorial, Rupert read a poem he wrote, “Me and Prunes”, and requested that he be buried along with his pal. When he passed away a year later, the townspeople honored Rupert’s request and buried his ashes in the monument alongside Prunes.

Now, the teams of man (or woman) and burro complete the World Championship Pack Burro Race right in front of the memorial to the longtime friendship of Prunesand Rupert.

Folks in Fairplay enjoyed the little burros long after the mines no longer needed their services. Nearly every morning they were awakened by the raucous braying of a “Canary of the Mountains” expecting a handout of a flapjack tossed outside the kitchen door. Shorty was one such visitor, and after he became blind, he was befriended by Bum, a local dog who patiently lead Shorty on the rounds of finding good grass or flowers to eat or a scrap of food from a kindly housewife. One day, Bum was off chasing rabbits or some such other activity and Shorty stepped into the path of a car. Bum found Shorty’s body on the town dump and refused to leave his side for days. Finally, the townspeople decided to bury the little burro and placed his body in a grave on the old courthouse lawn where Bum held vigil until his own death. They buried Bum next to Shorty, where there still stands a stone marker over the grave of the two best friends in Fairplay.

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