Memories of Clay Briggs

Please take a few minutes to read the below articles in Tribute to Clay.


Clayton William Briggs, age 77 - On March 28, 2014 the world lost a wonderful father, son, grandpa, brother and friend to many. We will all miss having him in our lives, but his presence is still felt all around us. Clay lived a full life and enjoyed nature, fishing, animals, guns, knives, camping and spending time with family, friends, and the love of his life, Connie. Clay was a strong believer in education and showed that not only in his own academic accomplishments but also in his willingness to take a break in his law enforcement career to be a school teacher, teaching biology, chemistry and physics. His lifelong passions were teaching and making the world a safer place.


In memory of all that Clay has done for Bear Trap Ranch and it's residents, a memorial tree has been planted in the Recreation Area on Pine.  A plaque was also erected.

 
  

Driving down Apache this morning, everything looked pretty much just like it always does: birds and deer and such, and folks taking care of their morning activities. But it sure doesn’t feel the same these past days just knowing Clay isn’t here.

My name is Jim Presba and I have a place at the end of Apache Road.

Most folks know that Clay was responsible for security on the ranch, and that he went out of his way to take care of people's pets and plants, make sure gates were closed and doors were locked, and just look in on folks who were on their own. Jeni Reno, a former Bear Trap resident, once wrote about Clay, “A familiar face around Bear Trap is a silver haired, rough & tough guy in a silver pickup with a red light flashing on top, ready to stop many an unfamiliar vehicle to see what they are doing on the ranch. After the vehicles are stopped, folks are greeted by this “tough guy” with twinkling blue eyes, a toothpick in the side of his mouth and a genuine concern for the safety of everyone living here. Among many other duties, he's helped solve the occasional domestic dispute, run off deer hunters and poachers, put out forest fires and help find lost people. But, behind this gruff exterior lies a man with a heart of gold.”

I don’t believe Clay shared details of his life with too many, so let’s take a minute to talk about who this very special fellow was, where he came from and what he will always mean to Bear Trap Ranch. 

Clay was born in Denver on June 10th, 1936 and attended 32 different schools as his father moved between assignments as a surveyor. Clay loved the outdoors and spent as much time as possible hunting, fishing and camping. He once said his life-long fondness for knives and guns started during this time, and he lived the life of a sportsman his entire life, happily sharing his knowledge with others.

In high school Clay played football and rodeo'd. He had exceptional athletic ability and a competitive nature that lasted his lifetime and he took great pride in having played on the State Championship high school football team in Alva, Oklahoma. But, his back took quite a beating and this was just the beginning of back problems that plagued him for the rest of his life.

Right out of high school Clay joined the Navy, and served in the Pacific aboard the heavy cruiser the USS Toledo. Among other duties, he was a member of one of the first underwater demolition team units which was tasked with detonating bombs and blowing caves shut that were leftover from WWII. This group eventually became the vaunted Navy SEALS. What is now known as Scuba diving was, at that time, new and extremely dangerous and only the strongest and most courageous men were chosen to join this group. It was while training other divers, that an accidental underwater explosion, possibly caused by an overzealous newbie, blew him clear out of the water and nearly to kingdom come (his words). His back was injured yet again, but this time so severely that he was never without significant pain from then on. It also blew out both of his eardrums - which may be why he and I spent a lot of time yelling “huh” at each other.

Clay loved being in the Navy not only for the adventure and sometimes danger. He especially liked being in the Pacific, visiting the exotic ports of call, and sampling the different foods. If you ever had a meal “in town” with Connie and Clay, you know he’d most likely suggest a place with Asian, or non-typical, cuisine and especially one that featured seafood.  Above all, he took tremendous pride in serving a country he dearly loved. Clay was a staunch patriot who never compromised in his ideals or principals.  He held deep beliefs and, moreover, he knew exactly why he held them.

Clay always pointed to his maternal grandfather Tucker as the most influential man in his life, and often said he hoped to live up to the standards set by his grandfather. Mr. Tucker was a police officer in Kansas City in the early part of the century and served as one of the citys first motorcycle patrolmen. Yep, young Clay Briggs became an avid motorcycle rider, just like his grandpa.

After mustering out of the Navy, Clay came home to Colorado and following in his Grandfather’s path, became a Deputy Sheriff in Jefferson County. Law enforcement, he often said, was his true life’s calling and he loved - you guessed it - the adventure and danger of patrolling 60 or more square miles alone and mostly out of radio range. He served with distinction for three years as a Deputy Sheriff.

One of Clay’s passions was improving himself so, reluctantly leaving the Sheriff’s department, he went to Greeley where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in education, fighting forest fires in Washington State during the summers to help pay his tuition and expenses just another example of his real commitment to a belief that you should always be moving upward and onward.

After receiving his teaching degree and then newly married in 1965, Clay taught biology, chemistry and physics in Tacoma, Washington. His love for the Pacific Northwest lasted throughout his life. But, opportunity knocked back in Colorado and Clay once again returned home and became a police officer, this time as one of the original 30 members of the Lakewood Police Department. These were busy years for Clay as he not only worked his new job and completed a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology at CU, but he also welcomed sons Bret and Bradley into Clan Briggs.  Eventually Clay decided that teaching was a safer career than law enforcement for the father of two young boys and he returned to teaching high school in both private schools and in Jefferson County Public Schools.

Clay’s first heart attack came in 1987 which led to open heart surgery. Shortly thereafter he and the boy’s mom went their separate ways, leaving him to bring up Bret and Bradley by himself. He was able to take early retirement from teaching and devoted himself to being a full time Dad. In 1988 Clay and the boys moved to the Ranch where Clay worked, you guessed it, security at both the mine and casinos. They lived in the little log cabin that is now Clay's reloading and holster making “man-cave”. It must have been an incredibly tight fit for three men, but somehow they made it all work. Bret and Bradley tell me that during this time Clay was always undemanding, easy-going and had very few expectations of them. Yeah, right! They didnt really say that But what Bret does say is that Clay was a completely devoted and engaged Dad, ready to drop whatever he was doing to support his boys and their activities. Encouraged by Clay to play soccer, Bret eventually played on the Varsity soccer team which often required travel out of state for tournaments. And, Bret doesn't remember his dad ever missing one of his games.

Early on Clay became a volunteer firefighter and EMT at 4 Mile. And while he was unable to continue on as a active firefighter during his later years, because of his health,  I know that Clay always still considered himself a part of the Fire Dept family at 4 Mile. Each of the people there held a very special place in his life and in his heart. Maybe some of you don't realize that as recently as the Nash Ranch Fire, Clay was out afterward on his ATV with a tank of liquid fire retardant, hunting for hot spots to put out.

In 1991 salvation finally appeared in the form of the pretty and outgoing Connie. He was head over heels right away, but he had to have a little fun with her while they were dating. Connie told me he set up a target against the hillside and challenged her to see who could hit a bulls-eye first with a pistol. But, strangely, Clay just couldn’t seem to aim straight that particular day so it was Connie who hit the exploding target that Clay had set up without her knowing. I can only guess that the unflappable Connie must not have been too mad because Clay didn’t seem to have any bullet holes in him.

Clay would ever after refer to Connie as “a wonderment” who saved his life and gave him purpose. One story Clay told me was about was how he had to shake his head in absolute awe and admiration because Connie had killed a rattler that was right out in front of the house He said that while most people, himself included, would have kept their distance and killed it with a shotgun, Connie chopped it’s head off with a hoe and calmly threw it in the trash. (He admitted that he later went out and retrieved it so he could save the rattles.) He was so very proud of Connie’s courage and calm - not just that time, but always. Such a kind and gentle soul, who shared Clay’s adventurous spirit. They often would drive their little motor home all over the country to camp, fish and just watch the sunsets together. As Clay’s health worsened, he and Connie limited their camping excursions to nearby lakes and streams, but always there were still those sunsets together . . .

Clay loved his family more than life itself and loved having a grand kid, or two, or more at the house (not always - sometimes) to spend time teaching them survival techniques, leather working, driving TUG, or shooting pistols over at the range. And, when they weren’t “roughing it” with grandpa, grandma Connie was patiently teaching crafts, how to cook, making soap, and more. It’s just hard to imagine a more wholesome and fun grandparent experience than provided by Connie and Clay. I don’t know about you, but I’d sure like to spend all my summer vacations at “Camp Briggs”.

When one or another of the grandchildren would come for a visit, Clay would shake his head in befuddled wonder at the electronic devices the kids have these days. Maybe that’s why he started using Facebook and even got a cell phone himself - though I never knew him to have the cell phone turned on but then I suppose sometimes some forms of tech savvy have to come in stages.

And, his sons have always been such objects of love and pride for Clay, and in my conversations with him, his thoughts often circled back to them and their families and how important Bret and Bradley were to him and how very proud he was of the men they'd both become.   Bret & Marcy have two daughters, Emily who is 16 and Allison, 11. Bradley & Tosh have a 13 year old daughter, Skyler, and Cameron is their 11 year old son.

Connie's children are Ronette & husband Troy, Randy & wife Judy, and Carl. Clay was grandpa also to their children, Ben 20, Christy 27 and Lucas who is 18.

Clay is also survived by his sister, Nancy Hill.

As Clay grew older he reminded us that the ages of mankind begin and end much the same. We begin by dreaming big, but later in life we’ve likely only accomplished a few of the things we’d hoped. Eventually we wind up back where we started, with the same dreams, both of things past and the things we wish we could do again. The old dreams won’t be fulfilled, but they’re still with us. And, of course, we treasure the ones that came true.

Clay Briggs died on March 28, 2014. I had the enormous privilege of spending a few hours with him earlier that same day, reminiscing, telling tales and sharing heart-to-heart feelings about people who were in our lives. He talked about his absolute love and admiration of Connie, his love for his boys and his family, his dear, dear friends on the Ranch who filled not only his time, but his life. And, we also talked about how Clay knew his latest health setback was significant and it was going to take some time to overcome, but he was going for it - as you would expect from Clay.

****

And now, since I have the floor, I want to take just a few minutes to share the Clay Briggs I knew personally. I hope some of you will also consider sharing some of your thoughts or experiences about Clay a little later on.

Clay and I often traded emails about every topic under the sun. There were times when I’d spend an hour putting together an argument about something he’d mention in his email. Sometimes he'd give me the satisfaction of arguing back but sometimes he’d simply write back “interesting argument”. That's not what I was expecting and I suspect he knew that, which might be why he did it. The emails continued back and forth sometimes I'd get the reaction, sometimes I'd get the “interesting argument”.

He was honest to a fault - intolerant of lies, liars and sometimes of people whose opinions went against the grain of a deep-held belief, which occasionally landed him in   a tough spot. Rather than let an untruth stand, tell a white lie, or tolerate an opinion he found intolerable, he’d sooner take the risk of jeopardizing the relationship and speak his mind. His word was his word which is maybe why in the unpaid position of security for Bear Trap, he performed the duties as if they were his job. He was diligent, reliable and he truly cared about the people on this Ranch. While there might have been someone who had not yet entrusted Clay with a key to their house, I sure don’t know who they were. Occasionally when I’d ride along with him on his patrol, driving every road, every day checking for strangers, unfamiliar vehicles or just things that were out of place, it was done with purpose and professionalism and done entirely at his own expense. Deputies from both Park and Teller County relied on him for information and input, knowing that his impressions were reliable and his attention to detail superb.

Many of you know that Clay always had deep respect for education - reading anything and everything he could get his hands on. Even a brief conversation with Clay often journeyed into philosophy, science, theology, history, and he was capable of discussing just about any obscure topic you might want to throw at him. Absolutely nothing was  off limits, but you had to be prepared to argue your position, because Clay would darned sure argue his. He was a voracious reader, often using his electronic Kindle to not only get books that struck his fancy more quickly but probably to keep from filling the whole house with even more books than he already had. Just some of the materials I‘ve seen at his place were about: (Big game hunting in Africa: Peter Capstick and Robert Roark, guns: John Connor and John Taffin, Science: Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking , science fiction: Isaac Asimov, and way too many more to list) - and, of course, there were always gun magazines, gun magazines and occasionally even a few more gun  magazines.

Some of my fondest memories were of simply sitting on our deck with him, and often Connie, just watching the day and drinking coffee. We could sit, be quiet, and it never felt like we had to say anything that enjoying nature, the companionship and the friendship was really the whole purpose.

And then there were the many different aspects of trust I had in Clay. I knew I could tell him things that were on my mind and they would go no further. I knew that what he told me was the absolute truth as he knew it and I knew he would do what he said he would do, when he said he would do it. Clay and I spent some number of hours reloading ammo and swapping tales down in his little cabin where he had his equipment set up.  For those of you who are shooters which is like somewhere around 100% of this crowd I'm guessing, you know that shooters notoriously refuse to shoot ammo hand-loaded by others. But there was never a question for me about shooting ammo Clay had made. He was the only guy I know whose hand-loads I’d be comfortable using and I felt honored that he’d also shoot my hand loads. That meant a lot to me.

That last day, he still talked of big dreams, of things he wanted or wished he could do. He was well aware, however, that he was severely limited and was frustrated by the limitations his physical body placed on him. He was never, however, limited by his wonderful imagination, curiosity and sense of adventure. It’s hard to imagine what it’s going to be like knowing that Clay won’t be on the Ranch because he‘s part of the very fabric of the Ranch. There’s no one that I more enjoyed shooting the breeze with, discussing heady subjects such as whether or not there really are UFOs, whether to mow the weeds, how does the tread depth look on the tires - you name it. And sometimes I simply just enjoyed poking at him on a topic I knew would get him all wrapped around the axle. And, he knew exactly what I was doing.

When we first got our place up here about 8 years ago, Clay and Connie were among the first people we met. We became great friends and I’m going to miss him more than I’m able to say. Clay was a character, for sure. But more than that, he was a man of character whom I’m privileged to call a friend.




Clay was an incredible asset to the ranch. He spent countless volunteer hours patrolling the roads to keep us and our properties safer. He always stopped for some conversation and knew who we were though we are only occasional weekenders. Reassuring yet professional during the hard times especially during the Dutcher murders. Our local historian who shared wonderful stories of Ranch happenings with wildlife and people. He listened with care and advised with heart and didn't make fun of city slickers who couldn't get rid of the porcupine under the porch as he did with one shot. Our hearts go out to Connie and the rest of his family as well as those who were lucky enough to know him better than we did.
Sadly, Keith and Linda Boettcher

Clay was the very first person we met when we purchased our property in Bear Trap. He was making his rounds and noticed new people on the property so stopped in to see who we were. Just doing his job which he took great pride in. It was nice to know that someone was keeping an eye on the ranch. Clay was a good man. Even though we rarely make it down we will miss Clay and his great stories of the ranch's past. We know you all have lost a very dedicated neighbor and we feel your sorrow. We know Clay has not been physically able to watch over the ranch for a few years now but we believe he will be able to see the whole ranch with one glance now, and you all know that is exactly what he is doing, so everyone should still mind the speed limit!
Dennis and Kerri Waldner

Clay was one of the first people we met at Bear Trap.  We were working on the property and Clay drove up in his silver truck, toothpick in the corner of his mouth and his shotgun next to him.  He introduced himself and we had a wonderful talk.  I always felt safe knowing Clay was patrolling the area and also keeping an eye on our property when we were not there.  We were lucky enough to hear some of Clay’s wonderful stories and he made us laugh.  We will miss Clay but as many have said, he is still watching over us.

Sue & Rick Pepin & Dorothy Veillard



To Clay,

I first met Clay in the late 70‘s when the realtor and I were driving around looking for a piece of paradise (We had locked gates back then!).  He stopped us and asked us if we were landowners, where we were going, and Clay stuff.  We thought his full gun rack and holster were pretty cool, out here.  The second time I saw Clay, I just bought the land on Sioux Rd and drove to enjoy it.  He asked if I were a land owner, then what lot #.  After putting his pistol back in his holster (Just Kidding!!) we talked about Bear Trap Ranch for about 20-30 minutes.  I liked him immediately!  I could tell how much he loved the ranch and also thought how great it was to have someone like Clay on the ranch and taking care of security!  I always saw Clay driving around Bear Trap and he always stopped to say hi and chat about animals seen around the ranch or other things.  Although we were on separate poles on politics and some personal matters, we ALWAYS respected each others opinions and laughed at each other in brotherly fashions.  I grew to love Clay like a brother of Bear Trap Ranch and the mountains.  We plunked around with music a few times, and I always enjoyed his skill with leather, carving, and mountain decorations in his home!  I particularly enjoyed his news letter writings as “Chief Plenty Water” about the ranch happenings and some funny made up stuff too!  Even though Clay tried to hide it, he had a great sense of humor!  I will miss our talks, laughing, agreeing, disagreeing, but always listening to each other.  I will, and I know a lot of you also will miss Clay...

 

To Clay and Connie,

I didn’t know Clay when he was in the Denver area or in his previous career, but I do know that his kids and Connie were the best things that ever happened to Clay!  I saw nice changes in Clay after he met and fell in love with Connie.  Just as Rita has completed my life, Connie completed Clay’s life! She smoothed off some of his rough edges and I saw a softer side of Clay that I always hoped was there, and it was!  Clay may not have been as open and expressive as me or others, but he loves Connie and always will.  Bear Trap Ranch is a better place because of Clay and Connie, they both gave a lot back in volunteering and being there if something was needed.  We enjoy being friends with them both, and I will truly miss Clay for many, many reasons.

Rest in peace my friend...

 

Danny and Rita Pitcher

        and

Bear Trap Ranch




Comments