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1/31/2013 George Draperís Legacy

Custer County lost one of its finest boosters, economic advocates and old-school cowboys with the death last week of Wetmore rancher George Draper. Draper, who had been in declining health, died at the age of 86.

 A resident of Wetmore nearly his entire life, Draper came from a long line of pioneers. His father acquired the current ranch holdings in 1930, and the 5,000-acre property, which straddles portions of Custer and Fremont counties, is historically important: a cave on the property was used as human shelter thousands of years ago; the 1930s-era Fort LeDuc trading post was situated on the property; and motorists along Highway 67 just north of Wetmore still marvel at the crenelated barns and corrals built of cement by entrepreneur Augusta Gumaer in the 1860s.

Draper worked hard in his cattle and quarter horse operation, and was an avid rodeo competitor. In those capacities he was active in a variety of state and national organizations. He and his family were recently honored as the Colorado Conservationists of the Year. And he served as a dedicated and thoughtful county commissioner for five terms, back in the days when the three commissioners were nearly always ranchers and Democrats.

But for decades, Draper played an important behind-the-scenes role in boosting our county’s economy. His efforts are in line with Carl Wulsten (leader of the 1870 German colony), Edmund Bassick (who in the 1880s brought mining venture capital pouring into mining operations here), and Dick Milstein who founded the Conquistador Ski Area in the 1970s.

Draper worked closely with his cousin Karol Smith of Canon City, head of the state film commission, to bring scores of movie and television production companies to Custer and Fremont Counties in the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Some were important Hollywood  epics: Saddle the Wind, How the West Was Won, True Grit.  Draper provided livestock and served as a double in many of these ventures, which poured tens of thousands of dollars into the local economy and which brought plenty of attention to our region (what movie-goer’s jaw didn’t drop when viewing the Sangre de Cristos in, say, Cat Ballou or Comes A Horseman, and then checked the credits to locate this special place?)

George Draper was a good steward of his land, a caring public figure, and a man whose legacy won’t soon be forgotten. He leaves being his wife, Leona, and two sons and their families.