Melville Sutton Wins First Burro Race

The starting gun was a weak “pop,” and it was a moment before reaction took hold of the 21 contestants lined before the old Leadville courthouse to begin the 22.9 mile trek of the First Annual Rocky Mountain Pack Burro Championship Race last Saturday morning.

Quickly, realization that the gun had sounded swept down the picturesque line of whiskered men and pack-saddled burros, and the race over high and tortuous Mosquito Pass had begun.

Racing for a quick advantage, several “prospectors” lashed their sad-eyed teammates into a gallop at the start. Others, among them the winner in the end, Melville Sutton, Como, let the others set the pace. Some, like Sutton, held back purposely; others because their burros were imperturbably about the whole affair.

Sounding as must have a Conestoga wagon train of bullwhackers, the drivers yelled on their animals around the corner by the historic old Hotel Vendome. Gradually stringing out, the teams plodded up the hill on Leadville’s Seventh St., past the famed Matchless Mine where Baby Doe Tabor died, and upwards.

On past the still active gold producer, the Resurrection Mine, and the going became rougher. Now the towering peaks of Mosquito Range loomed up to discourage those already falling back. Sutton lent further discouragement by setting a heart-breaking pace to top the 13,500-foot summit in two hours.

While Sutton was starting the downhill but treacherous descent, many of his fellow contestants were struggling gamely up the Lake County side. A few faltered before reaching the top and dropped out.

Heading toward Fairplay, money, and fame, all 15 miles of weary footsteps away, Sutton and Fairplay’s Ed Knizely battled it out for the lead. Sutton was in superb condition and continued to set the pace. By now, Knizely’s game knee had gone out on him, and sore feet were beginning to foretell his chances of winning were waning.

At Park City, Knizely fought back excruciating pain and drew abreast of Sutton and “Whitey.” But the Como boy was tasting victory now and again pulled out into a good lead.

Sutton rounded into sight at the end of Front St., in Fairplay, to be welcomed by swarming crowds cheering hoarsely. As he reached the corner by the Park County Republican, and as if to shrug off the arduous race he was just finishing, Sutton pulled at the 15-foot lead rope to break into a run toward the Prunes monument and the finish line a block away.

Stripped to the waist and gleaming with sweat, the blond, bronzed winner was surrounded by the approving crowd. “Whitey,” the burro, stood with unconcern and received his admirers and plaudits with full dignity. Sutton was sponsored by the Colorado Dept. V.F.W.

Then the crowd was cleared to receive a game but tired Ed Knizely and his burro, Prunes IV. Knizely was limping badly at the finish and had to be supported as he left the finish line. Knizely still believes Prunes IV was the best burro. He said after the race that if his leg would have held out, he would have had a good chance of winning the trophy by the Rocky Mountain News and the $500 purse.

Knizely was awarded the $250 second prize money. He represented the Fairplay Chamber of Commerce. Curtis Moran, sponsored by the leasors and fleecers of Alma, took third and $150. Jack Burton representing the Buckskin Joe Committee of Alma, won $100 by coming in fourth.

So, all the honors of the day went to Park County entrants. Even though Prunes IV did not come in ahead of the field, the tradition was upheld that Park County’s burros are wiser and hardier than their other brethren.

This article was originally printed in the Park County Republican and Fairplay Flume on August 4, 1949. It has been reprinted here in its entirety.