Colorado tomato war revived after 20-year armistice

June 23, 2011
photo - Photo Courtesy  Colorado Mountain History Collection  Lake County Public Library, Leadville Photo by
Photo Courtesy Colorado Mountain History Collection Lake County Public Library, Leadville Photo by  

Twin Lakes was once the battleground for a peculiar face-off: an annual war born of a playful animosity toward tourists from Texas.

Coloradans armed themselves with truckloads of rotten tomatoes and worked themselves into a frenzy with war cries of “Beautify Colorado. Put a Texan on a bus” and “Die, Texan.”

The annual Colorado Texas Tomato War began in 1982 and ended in the early 1990s, a victim of concerns about property owners’ liability and keeping their insurance coverage.

What had become just a distant memory for aging tomato warriors is being resurrected at Copper Mountain, where the first Tomato Battle will be held this weekend.

Up to 2,000 people are signed up to heave 300,000 pounds of overripe tomatoes at each other Saturday afternoon in a parking lot at the resort. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Borderland Food Bank in Arizona.

The plan is for a free-for-all fight followed by live music and beer drinking — all for about $40. The festival planners are also hosting tomato battles in Georgia and Texas.

The lingering question, however, is how will this year’s event compare to the epic battles of the past?

The original Colorado tomato war was the brainchild of Taylor Adams, former owner of Inn of the Black Wolf. She organized the tomato war as a response to the hordes of Texans who vacationed in Colorado’s high country and would “throw their dollars around.”

Clint Nelson, an organizer of the modern tomato war, said he wasn’t even aware of the Colorado versus Texas faceoffs of the past. Instead he traces its lineage to the La Tomatina festival in Spain that began in 1950.

Like La Tomatina, Nelson said the battle at Copper Mountain will be a non-competitive, tomato tossing good time — a stark contrast to the combative tomato sauce bloodbaths of the past.

Anthony Aiello, 56, of Minturn remembers when the tomato battles in Twin Lakes were cutthroat and involved strategy, like choosing the smallest and most firm tomatoes for the hardest hit.

A splat anywhere on the torso “killed” a warrior and put them out of the fight.

“If you hit somebody in the face it didn’t count, but it hurt like hell,” Aiello said. “One time a guy was running across the river all by himself, and we hit the guy so hard we knocked him down.”

According to an article in Philip Morris magazine about the 1987 tomato war, the vastly outnumbered Texans took refuge in an improvised fort they dubbed the “Tomalamo,” over which they raised their state flag. Coloradans charged the fort across a creek they renamed the “Rio Grande.” The wounded were tended to by battlefield medics equipped with Bloody Marys.

Aiello won the competition two years in a row, being the last of more than 500 people standing after the two-day battles that left most competitors drenched in red, fleshy fruit.

“I wasn’t covered in tomatoes,” the former softball pitcher boasted, adding that the grand prize was bragging rights for a year. “It was a really fun time for everyone, even those who got killed.”

Though the event was homegrown with the intention of humiliating Texans, Aiello said he couldn’t recall natives of the Lone Star state participating when he joined the competition in the late 1980s. Perhaps by that time, Texans were fed up with driving to Colorado only to be outnumbered and have their side lose, which it did most years.

But in 1984, a newspaper reported that troops of Texans arrived in full force with Jeeps covered in paper machè to resemble tanks. Other participants reportedly parachuted onto the battlefield, which was on national forest land and Adams’ property and included acres of mud, brush and creek.

With thousands of tomato battle participants slated to fight Saturday, Nelson said it would be nearly impossible to identify one winner. Instead, they’ll wage war until the tomatoes run out.

“I’m a little worried about clean up,” he said.

tomato battle 2011
When: Saturday, June 25. Registration opens at noon, the fight kicks off at 3:15 p.m.
Where: Copper Mountain Resort
Cost: $39
Visit for more information.

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