Vernon Paul Playton (1942 - 2023)
-Denver Den President 1990 - 1991-
"He was a cowboy, and a good one," is how Vern asked to be remembered.
Vern entered his earthly journey on December 2, 1942, in the early stages of World War ll. His first recollection was his baby bed — a drawer in a dresser in a Louisiana house rented by his mother and father while his father was in training to become a pilot in the War. His parents took him several other places during this phase of his father's training, including Tennessee, Denver, Casper, Wyoming, and Massachusetts.
Summers were spent with his grandparents in an 1880's rustic cabin on the Evergreen Lazy LR family ranch, while a larger cabin was being built. Vern's mornings, as a "little tyke," starting at dawn consisted of first building a fire in the pot-bellied wood-burning stove so that his grandparents would wake to a warm cabin. That done, he would trudge uphill to the ancient outhouse wearing his drop-seat footed pajamas. Once done, he went fishing in Yankee Creek just a few feet outside the cabin door where a few nice "Brookies" would make a delicious breakfast.
Sometimes, in the afternoon, he took 2 to 3-mile hikes on his own just to investigate the countryside. Occasionally, a concerned neighbor would see him out on his own and contact his grandparents to let them know the whereabouts of "Little Vernie."
Vern always wanted to be a cowboy even during those early summers spent on his grandparents' ranch. Grandpa always ran cattle in the summertime, and Vern would be out there with his rope trying to catch one. If not that, he would get on one of the nags Grandpa kept and try to herd them here or there. Grandpa would get exasperated and ask, "How are they going to put on weight with you running them all over creation?"
One of Vern's jobs during his grade-school years was working in his grandpa's grocery stores, Save-A-Nickel, chopping up chickens back in the butcher shop while wearing a butcher’s hate. He also usually had a paper route delivering papers before daylight from his bicycle. Off and on, Steve went with him to help deliver papers. After all were delivered, they would stop in a coffee shop for a donut before heading home for breakfast.
Then came Flagg Ranch, Vern's Dad's dude ranch south of the south gate of Yellowstone. Early on, in the middle 50's, one of Vern's main jobs was to drive the garbage truck at age 13 or 14, with Steve as his helper. They would pick up the trash barrels outside the tourist cabins and haul them to the open dumps which had been dug out in the woods. Bears loved these open-pit dumps and gathered there regularly.
Each night at Flagg Ranch, the horse concessionaire had what was called a Moonlight Ride. Tourists could either ride a hay wagon or a horse for a few miles to a campsite with a big campfire. Once there, everyone could roast hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire. Then, the music would start. On the nights that Vern went, he would pull out his guitar from the hay wagon and start singing cowboy songs. The tourists ate it up and loved the young cowboy crooning his ballads.
Of course, it wasn't all summer fun and adventures. In the winters, Vern attended school like all other kids. This might come as a shock, but Vern was a somewhat rebellious adolescent, and he got into numerous fights and other scrapes. He and his hardnosed Dad regularly butted heads about these extracurricular activities, so, for Vern, it was off to St. John's Military Academy in Salina, Kansas for 9th and 10th grades. There, Vern joined the boxing team where he resumed his love of boxing, refined his fighting skills and put them to more constructive outlets. An Army post, Fort Riley, was nearby, and the St. Johns boxing team would have matches with the soldiers stationed there. Legend has it that Vern didn't lose a fight during these contests.
After two years at St. John's, Vern's grades and behavior had improved to the extent that he thereafter attended Judson School in Scottsdale, Arizona for the rest of his high school years. Judson had a boxing team, so Vern was able to continue in that sport. But Judson was also a Western school, and students who had their own horse could board them there and take part in rodeo events. Vern took his horse, Whiskey, with him, and during his senior year practiced calf-roping nearly every day and participated in rodeos whenever he could.
After graduating high school at Judson, Vern attended Colorado State University in Fort Collins. He majored in Business Administration and received a bachelor's degree. During his undergraduate years he continued rodeoing, and he and his friends entered rodeos at every opportunity. Vern not only continued with calf roping, his true rodeo-event love, but rode bucking stock as well — bareback broncs, saddle broncs and bulls.
Vern stayed at CSIJ for one year of post-graduate studies. During that year, he worked as an assistant to a professor who was investigating the alleged alien spacecraft crash at Roswell, NM. He had access to some of the Professor's research materials, and Vern swore up and down that it was not a hoax, based on what he saw.
Vern didn't continue with his graduate studies because his grandpa said, "We need a lawyer in this family." The idea appealed to Vern, so off he went to Law School at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, shoeing horses to help make his living expenses. Three years later, in 1969, Vern completed law school, and with a law degree in hand, returned to Colorado and set up a successful private law practice in Denver in 1970.
Because the Western, outdoor way of life was such a major factor in Vern's life, he closed his law office in 1997. He spent the remaining years of his life living on the Lazy LR Ranch, riding his horses on the nearby old mining claims and logging trails. He also spent much time hunting both big game and birds. Perhaps the greatest gift that Vern possessed was his ability to communicate with animals and birds.
Collecting, repairing, and remaking historic saddles and pocket watches became a passion with Vern, and he became quite expert at both endeavors. His skills working with historic saddles and late 1800's pocket watches were self-taught.
Upon retirement, Vern was not content to "take it easy," but looked forward to pursuing his many interests that had not been possible when his law office was open. With his wonderful singing voice, accompanied by his guitar, he not only spent many hours in the cabin singing and playing in the evenings, but also was called on to play during many Western trail rides and at hunting events. Unknown to many friends, he wrote and sang many of his own Western ballads.
Vern celebrated his 80th birthday on December 2, 2022. After using up most of his nine lives, such as, living through the 1959 Yellowstone earthquake, being struck by lightning twice, and being attacked by Apache Indians in secluded Arizona, on June 20, 2023, his heart finally said, "That's enough."
Vern's second request? Vern requested that his ashes be placed in the Lazy LR Ranch private cemetery next to his grandpa, and with a good view of Mount Evans. Now, Vern is riding newly discovered trails on his good horse, Whiskey.
From one of the lines in a song Vern wrote, "He was truly a man of the West.”
The Playtons would love to hear from you at PO Box 3928, Evergreen, CO 80437. For those of you who would like to pay tribute to Vern through a memorial donation, please consider the following:
  1. Water for Wildlife Foundation, 501 545 Main St., Lander, WY 82520, (307) 332-6862
  2. Heritage & Trails Foundation, 823 S. Perry St., Suite 120, Castle Rock, CO 80104                                                                                            
  3. Bit and Spur Club Scholarship Fund, c/o Don Bailey, PO Box 301, Simia, CO 80835