Tales from the Tread: Remembering Elaine Gay
“The Yampa Valley has lost an incomparable legend — one of the greatest and most influential champions of conservation that this valley has ever seen. We owe much of the modern feel of the valley to the way this rancher fought for the landscape. She defined integrity.”
— Jennie Lay, local journalist and adult programming coordinator at the Bud Werner Memorial Library.
The beloved late rancher, Elaine Gay (1918-2015), was known for many things: conservationist, rancher, historian, community leader, local activist, club member, mother, wife and more. She was known widely as the kindest of women, who personified grace and goodness and left her magnificent mark forever on this valley.
If you ever had the privilege of meeting Elaine, you surely will never forget her. Her charm, wit, smile and infectious laugh touched all who crossed her path. For this and her vivid memories of the early days in Pleasant Valley, a scenic jewel just south of Steamboat Springs, she often drew packed houses as a featured speaker at the Tread of Pioneers Museum and other venues.
Of all the ways we remember Elaine Gay, she was known far and wide as a phenomenal cook, who was encouraged repeatedly throughout her life to record her recipes and capture her generation in the cookbook she published in 1990.
A Taste of History
At noon July 26, we will honor this magnificent woman at the Tread of Pioneers Museum’s A Taste of History event. The special program will feature recipes and food tastings from Gay’s highly sought after cookbook, “Cowpokes, Cowpies and Otherwise.”
After many years out of print, the cookbook, along with Gay’s book “How Pleasant is the Valley,” was reprinted by the Tread of Pioneers Museum this year with donations gifted to the museum in Gay’s memory after she passed away in 2015. Both books will be for sale at the event, and proceeds support preservation and educational activities at the museum.
“Both of Gay’s books capture irreplaceable and personal snapshots of a formative time in our local history and a generation of pioneers that we are quickly losing,” said Candice Bannister, the event’s organizer and museum executive director. “We hope to keep this history and the memory of Elaine Gay alive through this event and the reprinting of her books.”
Anyone who knew Gay is invited to share a remembrance alongside Gay’s friends and family, who will speak at the event.
Gay’s friends and family will also prepare the food available for tasting at the event, including Gay’s Great Chicken Casserole, Shirley Nay’s Potatoes, Cowpie, Jimalyn’s Golden Anniversary Punch, Roberta’s Cocoa Cupcakes and more.
“Nobody was better fed than us,” said Bill Gay, Elaine’s son, who deeded the books’ copyrights to the museum. “I think mother embraced cooking as she embraced life. … No matter the challenge, she embraced it. That spirit was reflected in her cooking.”
Elaine Gay was also a community icon who stood up for the timeless beauty and serenity she found in Pleasant Valley.
“She baked a mean pie, wrote books, told amazing stories and successfully ran, with her late husband, one of the most stunning ranches in this valley. She was a rancher who fought alongside skiers for the very nature of the landscape that exists here today,” wrote Jennie Lay in her Straight Talk blog on my.steamboat.com after Gay’s death. “She was our queen of conservation, and visitors and locals can all thank her for working tirelessly to protect the character of this special community — a place that remains home to cowboys and cosmopolitan skiers alike.”
In the final words of “How Pleasant is the Valley,” Gay shares perhaps the last words that she might like to leave with all of us:
“There are still many birds in the valley to fill the air with song in the spring. There are frogs croaking in the sloughs and ponds. The hills and mountains are relatively unscathed from the big building boom that has left other mountain areas covered with huge houses and scars from ski runs and over development. There is still the roaring of streams in the springtime as they dash down the mountainside into the rivers below. There remains a quietness and sense of peace at being away from the noise and blare of traffic.”
“How wonderful it would be if we could just keep what we have left, as it is, for all of the world and future generations to see.”
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