ASPEN, Colo. — All Stefan Albouy ever wanted was to be a silver miner, and this former silver mining center seemed the perfect place.
But Albouy was born a century too late.
Tangled in red tape, tripped up by environmental groups and government agencies, Albouy always seemed to fall one step shy of his dream, one permit short.
It finally proved too much. On June 5, he took the .44-caliber Magnum that he wore in a holster and put it to his head. He was 34. He left no note.
The flag flew at half staff at Albouy's beloved Smuggler Mine; a jar with daisies sat in the portal.
"Maybe it all just wore him down," said former Aspen Times editor Mary Esbaugh Hayes, an Albouy supporter. "Every time he turned around he was hauled into court."
Friends, associates and supporters believe Albouy was a symbol--and victim--of the struggle for control of the West, an example of how the West's mainstay industries of mining, logging and ranching must battle to survive urbanization.
"People who have no understanding of Colorado wanted to shut him out," said Rep. Scott McInnis, the Republican who represents western Colorado. "It's a fight for the West and he's a victim of it."
The son of a World War II French Resistance fighter, Albouy (pronounced all'-boy) was digging tunnels beneath the road by his Aspen home when he was 5. At 16, he began buying mining claims.
He and the band of volunteers who helped him were sometimes known as Peter Pan and his Little Lost Boys. They drove cars adorned with "I Love Explosives" bumper stickers.
"The fact remains that I love mining," Albouy said in a 1992 interview with the Associated Press. "There's nothing I'd rather do."
In 1982, he acquired the rights to operate the Smuggler Mine; he hoped to turn the clock back 100 years to the days when the mine produced $50-million worth of silver.
But this was a different Aspen, a city transformed from an old silver mining town into a playground for the rich and a skiing and tourism mecca.
Even after getting the mine into shape, Albouy was forced to operate tours rather than extract ore because silver prices were too low.
"I think he was so disappointed with the changes he saw in his home and this valley," said Gary Wright, his partner, lawyer and friend.
Albouy later picked up the rights to the Compromise Mine, located in the middle of Aspen Mountain, America's glitziest ski mountain. He started tours there this year, eventually winning the support of the ski company.
Albouy enlisted a dozen friends to run the Compromise. They paid dues and had to do work to be shareholders in the operation.
"Everything has started coming together," said Dominic Popish, one of Albouy's volunteers. "For the last eight years we had been pouring our own money into this and we were finally making some."
But the bureaucracy continued to frustrate Albouy, his friends say.
The U.S. Forest Service ordered Aspen Skiing Co. to stop selling tickets for the tours. Officials said the sales were not part of the skiing company's master plan.
Another time, Pitkin County officials ordered Albouy to halt the tours because they said he needed a Forest Service permit. It turned out to be unnecessary.
Albouy tried--and failed--to open a marble quarry inside the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area outside Aspen. He fought for years with county officials, filing numerous environmental reports and attending numerous hearings, only to have the Forest Service step in and claim jurisdiction, forcing him to do it all over again.
Albouy and his Lost Boys loved mining so much they made a pact to take over the shares of any member who died.
"It's almost like there's a renewed sense of commitment on the part of Stefan's family and friends to make sure his dreams are realized," Wright said.