—Below are excerpts about the Plute Bull taken from “Greatest Elk – The Complete Historical and Illustrated Record of North America’s Biggest Elk” composed by Roger Selner, our record-book expert. —
It was sometime around 1899 when John Plute looked down the iron sights of his .30-40 Krag and pulled the trigger. His shot was good, and he must have been overwhelmed at the size of the bull elk that lay dead from his bullet. Plute was an expert woodsman and skilled hunter with many elk to his credit, but this bull in Colorado’s Dark Canyon was enormous. It was so big, in fact, that Plute was determined to pack the antlers out, something he had never done before. He hunted only for meat, but he wanted others to see this elk. No one would ever believe him otherwise.
More than half a century later, decades after Plute’s death, the elk was officially declared the world record by the Boone & Crockett Club, scoring 442 3/8″.
Unfortunately, no one attempted to document the details of the hunt back when Plute was alive. There was no Boone & Crockett Club in the early 1900s and therefore no standards by which to judge the elk. It was just a big bull, nothing special — until the measurement of its antlers some sixty years after Plute killed it. Much of the background information about the elk was theory, with various versions told and retold by writers and local residents who had no firsthand knowledge of it.
Plute lived alone in a boarding house, and it is said that he occasionally traded an elk quarter or two to pay for his room and board. He was no doubt looking for meat on the day he met up with the giant bull in Dark Canyon, which is twelve miles west of Crested Butte.
The precise history of the famous antlers is largely conjecture. A popular account is that after Plute killed the elk, he stored the rack in John Heuchemer’s garage. (Rozman showed me a pitted spot on an antler that could have resulted from the rack lying on the dirt floor of the garage.) As the story continues, in 1915 Plute gave the rack to bar owner John Rozich in payment of a bar bill. Rozman told me that he carefully checked the bar’s ledgers after he inherited the saloon from Rozich, his stepfather, and could find no record of the transaction. Mary Sedmak said that she remembered seeing the antlers on the barroom wall when she was very young, which indicates that the antlers were given to Rozich several years before 1915.
When John Rozich died in 1948, the Rozman brothers inherited the saloon along with the antlers, which up to that time amounted to nothing more than a conversation piece. In 1953 Ed Rozman took over the bar, and he soon realized that the rack might be special. A friend, Joe Wheeler, sent Rozman the 1952 edition of the Boone & Crockett record book in June 1954. Wheeler’s brother-in-law was associated with the Boone & Crockett Club, and it was Wheeler’s suggestion that Rozman have the elk scored.
In 1955 Ed and his brother, Tony, measured the rack. Working with no experience on a set of antlers that had enormous mass, the Rozmans gave it a score of 460. They sent the form to the Boone & Crockett Club in New York, but as a matter of procedure, Boone & Crockett officers couldn’t accept the score and asked the Rozmans to have the rack officially measured.
Ed Rozman learned that there were two official measurers in Denver, but at that time he wasn’t prepared to go to the expense of crating and shipping the rack. For the time being, the antlers continued to hang on the barroom wall.
Afterward, a member of the Hotchkiss Elks’ Lodge stopped in the saloon to borrow a roulette wheel for one of the lodge’s parties. The man looked at the giant antlers and asked if he could display them in the lodge. Ed Rozman agreed to loan the antlers if the lodge promised to have them officially measured. A deal was struck, and for the first time, the antlers left Crested Butte.
The elk finally ended up (back) in Crested Butte in 1971, and that’s where it is today. I first saw the bull in February 1979, when I stopped in Crested Butte to ask of its wherabouts. After parking my truck next to fifteen-foot-high piles of snow on the street, I walked into a little hardware store to inquire about the antlers. I opened the door and gasped.
John Plute’s elk wasn’t being displayed in a prominent spot in a glamorous setting. It was in a 103-year-old store that, ironically, had been built about the time the world-record bull was born. As I gazed at the elk, a number of elderly men in bib coveralls huddled around the stove and rubbed their hands. A customer came in out of the -30 degree cold and bought a screwdriver from Tony Mihelich, owner of the store. Soon another man came in and asked Tony if he could borrow a set of jumper cables to start his car. Tony grinned and walked out into the bitter cold to assist the stranger.
Tony, now eighty-two, is a pal of Ed Rozman’s, and that’s enough reason for the giant elk to hang in Tony’s store. Ed asks nothing of Tony to display the bull, and Tony asks nothing of the thousands of people who come into the store every year to stare at the elk. Maybe Tony will sell a couple of flashlight batteries or a pair of pliers to someone, but more often than not, the people who stream into his place just want to look at the greatest bull in the world.
The lengths of the main beams are 55 5/8 and 59 5/8 inches; each of the first four points is more than twenty inches long. The right antler has eight points, the left seven. Despite the length and width of the antlers, what catches the eye quickest is their incredible mass. The circumference around each main beam between the first and second points, for example, is 12 1/8 and 11 2/8 inches; between the fourth and fifth points, the circumference is eight and nine inches.
The future of the world’s biggest elk is in Ed Rozman’s hands. Some collectors of record-class animals simply enjoy owning them while others deal in trophy antlers for profit. Rozman has neither goal. He never rents the elk out, as he could easily do, and now and then he’ll let a buddy display the rack just for the heck of it. If you’re in Gunnison for the annual Cattleman Days Festival in July, you’ll probably see the elk in a local sporting-goods store, and you’re apt to see it at the annual convention of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. But after it’s temporarily loaned out, it’ll be back on the wall of Tony’s hardware store in Crested Butte, between the cans of white gas and various nuts and bolts.
—This book was written in 2001 and now after the Sept. 21, 2016 auction, the antlers and other various items from Rozich’s store sit in the Crested Butte Visitor’s Center.—