Sunday, June 22, 2008

Native bragging rights


A woman in Denver once looked at me kind of funny and asked me about the way I talk. “Where are you from?,” she said. “I don’t recognize your accent.” She seemed a bit embarrassed upon learning the truth.
I’m from Colorado — a third-generation native. Maybe it was my reference to the “crick” rather than creek that gives me away.
My Great-Grandfather William S. Taylor, and his family were farming and surveying for the United States Geological Survey in Axial Basin, (near Hamilton) Colorado shortly after the Thornburg ambush and the Meeker Massacre in 1879.
William S. Taylor followed out his brother, Gene Taylor, an Indian Scout for the White River Indian Agency of Meeker Massacre fame, in the spring of 1882 from Minnesota. They brought their infant daughter, my Great Aunt Ruth with them on the train to Rawlins, Wyoming and then transferred themselves and their belongings to finish the trip to Axial basin via team and wagon. My Great Aunt Verda, my Grandma Cecil, Uncle Milton and Aunt Marion were all born there in Axial Basin and went to the one room school there.
Owen Carrigan, my granddad, filed his first Colorado homestead claim 1914. He also hailed from Minnesota country, by way of the Dakotas. He came here to escape Asthma and finish recovering from a broken leg he suffered when a horse fell with him while punching cows for a Texas-owned outfit in the Dakotas.
His mother, Minnie Buce Carrigan, wrote the popular book “Captured by the Indians, Reminiscences of Pioneer Life in Minnesota.” It is an account of her captivity among the Sioux after the 1862 uprising and her subsequent experience as an orphan. In the book, she describes her life as a young German immigrant girl prior to her capture and the ten weeks she lived with her captors until being freed by the United States Army.
In a state where “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over,” two bodies of water in Rio Blanco county bear granddad’s name, Owen Carrigan Reservoir and Owen Carrigan Ditch. I am proud of the fact that, as a family, we go way back around here. Not everyone can say that.
At last count, more than 4.3 million people lived here in the state. In the decade between 1990 and 2000, Colorado’s population increased 30.6 percent. At last Census, we were the third fastest going state in the nation. In my lifetime (and I’m a young ‘fella’) the state’s population has more than doubled.
For a 10-year stretch starting in the late 1980s, I left the state and lived in California. When I left, there was no such thing as Highlands Ranch. When I returned in 1996, boom, 70,000 people lived there.
Does that native status afford us any special privileges or consideration? Hardly, unless you want to count the ability to buy “pioneer” plates. Bragging rights is the one true benefit.
But there is something to that. After all, this is the same state that leads the nation in beer production per capita, has over 300 days of sunshine a year, and is home to the “Pinto Bean Capital of the World” (Dove Creek).
But a being native in this state means different things to different folks. You can’t even slap a decent stereotype on longtime residents here. It’s a big state and someone born and raised on the West Slope will operate with a completely contrasting bent from a Denver native. A cattle rancher from Yellow Jacket in South West Colorado may have nothing in common with someone in the same line of work from Holyoke in the North East.
Colorado historically is a study in contrasts: boom and bust, ‘flatlanders’ and ‘hillbillies,’ rich and poor, ski areas and steel mills, Front Range and Western Slope, miners and farmers, newcomers and natives.
Interestingly enough, maybe that’s why my accent sounds a little funny to some of you.
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