Flora Vista woman remembered as cowgirl, artist

Friends remember Karen Cugnini as former Silverton boutique owner and rancher

Steve Garrison
Karen Cugnini smiles beside her granddaughter, Tyanne, in an undated photo. Cugnini, 69, was found last week shot and killed at her home in Flora Vista.

FARMINGTON — Friends of the woman shot and killed last week during a burglary at her home in Flora Vista remember the 69-year-old as a cowgirl and an artist who sold jewelry and dresses from a small boutique in Silverton for more than 15 years.

Karen Cugnini was born and raised in Durango, Colo., and graduated in 1964 from Durango High School. From 1966 to 1987, she was married to Duane Cugnini, the second-generation owner of Hi-Country Cattle Auction in Breen, Colo. The couple had two daughters.

“She was a cowgirl at heart,” said Kari McWhirter, a family friend. “She loved horses and loved being outside. She loved the mountains and loved Silverton.”

Cugnini obtained the storefront for her Silverton boutique, White Woman Trading Post, in 1979, according to the assessor’s office in San Juan County, Colo.

Sherron Hinkel said she met Cugnini through a local 4-H Club about 32 years ago, and for many years, they shared coffee almost every morning.

“She had beautiful display cases and different types of clothing,” Hinkel said. “Not like a normal dress shop. It was really unique, one-of-a-kind.”

John Wright remembered Cugnini from their days together in the Silverton Dead Poet’s Society.

“Throughout the '80s, we would gather for evenings of poetry at Andy Hanahan’s house and eat some fancy recipe we were trying out,” Wright said.

Wright said the men favored the “blood and guts” poetry of writers such as Rudyard Kipling.

“The women’s contributions were something a little gentler, but always humorous,” Wright said.

Wright said Cugnini was adventurous, witty and fun. She would sometimes lead the group of friends in a search for wild chanterelle mushrooms, according to Wright.

Cugnini eventually sold the shop in Silverton and after a stint as a ranch hand in Mancos, Colo., she settled into semi-retirement in Flora Vista in 2008.

McWhirter said Cugnini had friends there, and preferred the weather in New Mexico.

Cugnini was a talented artist, according to her friends.

“All of her gifts to you were painted or sewed,” McWhirter said. “Anything that she would’ve given to you was from the heart.”

Hinkel said Cugnini even belly danced, albeit in private.

“She was great at belly dancing,” Hinkel said, laughing.

Cugnini also spent nearly every weekend caring for her granddaughter, Tyanne, who has cerebral palsy.

“Her children and grandchildren were the light of her life,” McWhirter said. “That was her world. She was always doing projects with them.”

Many of the items stolen from Cugnini’s home at No. 236 County Road 3050 were once on display at the White Woman Trading Post.

Rick Stallings

Rick Stallings, 50, was arrested Saturday at a residence in Farmington on charges related to the theft of Cugnini’s vehicle, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

Some of Cugnini’s jewelry was recovered from the Farmington residence, and Stallings was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder in Cugnini’s slaying.

San Juan County Sheriff’s Office Detective Lt. Kyle Lincoln said that many more items, including necklaces, rings, several Navajo rugs and a .38 special revolver, are still missing.

Stallings is expected to appear at a preliminary examination hearing on Oct. 15.

A funeral service for Cugnini is scheduled to take place at 2 p.m. Friday at the Vallecito Lake Event Center in Colorado.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.