The New West

Samain and the Moon of Thanksgiving

Wednesday gratefuls: Mountain Waste. Doctors. The one here and the ones out there. Roads. The builders of Colorado Mountain roads. His Dark Materials. Phillip Pullman. Friends. Caregiving. Tsundoku. Collecting books you have not read. William Schmidt. Bill. As he goes through the next 14 days. Tom on December 1st. Carne asada unthawing. Carnitas and beans for supper.

Red Sky in the morning through the Lodgepoles. A western greeting. When it’s red like this, I always think of Louis L’Amour. I’ve only read one of his. It surprised me. The prose was more like Dashiel Hammet. I think it was Riders of the Purple Sage.

When we moved out here, I expected cowboy hats, western shirts, cowboy boots, maybe guns on the hip. Bars with half-doors on spring pivots. Lotta chaw. I have been disappointed. There is the occasional Stetson. Cowboy boots are the most common of the things I mentioned. Very few western shirts, though attending the Great Western National Stockshow saw many of them. It’s the rodeo guys, the paid cowboy entertainers, who dress western.

Although. Yesterday when we got our hair done, Jackie showed me pictures of her son’s wedding. The minister, her son and his bride stood on a large boulder. Her proud father, all dressed in black with a black Stetson and belt with silver stood off to the side below as did the small number of wedding guests. The chairs were hay bales with DinĂ© blankets. This western culture lives on among ranchers. It’s more of a rural thing.

Denver and its metro area, including the Front Range where Kate and I live, is the New West. Skiers, hikers, back country campers, and many millennials have added themselves to the state. In spite of the many bumper stickers like Native, Colorado: We’re full. This change irritates the hell out of “native” Coloradans. Who are, in my opinion, feeling a slight taste of the angst their ancestors gave the Utes, the Apaches, and the Comanches who lived here first. They’re not native here. No one is, in the longview. It took those wandering tribes from Asia a while to populate North America, but even the earliest of them weren’t here 50,000 years ago. But, as we used to say in the first grade, those early nations did have dibs on the land.

This change in the human population has changed both the physical and political landscapes. The number of hard rock mines here, hard rock mines with toxic runoff and piles of toxic tailings literally dot the mountainous part of the state. After the Indian wars, the settlement of Colorado got a big push from Eastern mining and railroad interests, plus one pulse of gold diggers. Pikes Peak or bust. Most, almost all, busted. There was gold here. And silver. And magnesium. So many minerals that a college, The Colorado School of Mines, has taken a storied place in both the states recent past and mining around the world. The mines, the railroads, even the stockyards that grew up around the ranches and the confluence of north/south rail lines, were not locally owned, nor locally controlled. Colorado was, back then, a vassal state of financiers, industrialists, and railroad owners like James J. Hill.

That’s the second big lie behind the nativist bumper stickers. These faux natives of Colorado did not “own” it. Those who saw the West, the Rockies in particular, as a source of resources for their own plans, did. They controlled the politics and the wealth. Those so-called natives descended from peasants who worked the land and mountains for Wall Street feudal lords. The New West, the new Colorado, has its own Fortune 500 companies. The space, technology and military presence here makes Colorado a unique blend of highly educated workers and outdoors enthusiasts. It also means that the state has gone from red to purple to blue over the last few decades. Again, a process highly irritating to those who want to close our borders to new residents.

Kate and I are part of the New West, the new Colorado. So are many of our neighbors. We have moved West as Horace Greeley once urged young men to do. Sort of. Many of us came from the humid east, but many come from Texas and California. Colorado, by a slim majority, became the first state to mandate by popular vote, the reintroduction of wolves. The natives were the chief opposition. The rancher crowd and the hunting oriented outdoors folks. This will not be their first defeat along environmental lines. We also elected a gay Governor, Jared Polis, two years ago, after having been called the Hate State not twenty years ago.

When I consider all this, I’m not surprised any more at the low relevance of old west motifs. My fleece and plaid shirt, denim and hiking shoes, are the dress of the New West. At least for me.











This entry was posted in Colorado, Commentary on the news, Denver, Jefferson County, Mountains, Myth and Story, Our Land and Home, Park County, Politics, Shadow Mountain, The Move, The West, US History. Bookmark the permalink.

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