Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tools in the holster and tell-tale choice


“The difficulty in life is the choice.”
__ George Moore, 1900

It is said that you can tell a lot about somebody by the choices they make. Favorite Beatle, Fat Tire beer in the cooler or Miller High Life in Fridge, plain or peanut, Ford Ranger or Subaru Outback – it all gives a bit of insight.
What then, can we learn from a particular preference in firearm?
Men of violence, of course, sometimes choose paths that make the firearm necessary in the first place. But once headed down that path, what compels them to shove a particular tool in the holster?
The Samuel Colt Co., in 1873 developed Peacemaker model and it became an immediate hit here in what was the “Wild West.”
“It was originally produced in .45 caliber, with a 7 ½ inch barrel, for Ordinance issue to troops. Custer’s Seventh Cavalry troopers each carried one of these weapons with 18 rounds of ammunition in addition to his Springfield .45-70 single shot,” wrote Robert B. Cormack, in a paper for the Denver Westerners Monthly Roundup in 1962.
Part of its popularity was the result of genius of forethought by Colt in chambering this six-shooter for the same cartridges used in the Winchester Model ’73.
The ‘hog leg,’ or ‘plow handle’ and even sometimes called a ‘cutter’ was the first large revolver to use self-exploding, center fire cartridges.
“Bat Masterson’s favorite Colt was a .45 cal. single action with a stubby 4 ¾ inch barrel. Wyatt Earp usually wore two of this caliber. The left one won was a ‘Peacemaker’ with a 7 ½ inch barrel, the right had a 12 inch barrel. Known as a ‘Buntline Special,’ this Colt had been made to order and presented to him. According to the testimony of his friends, Doc Holliday definitely did not lug a shotgun everywhere with him. His pet was a nickel-plated .38 double action Colt, though on many occasions he was known to carry additional artillery. Billy the Kid had small hands, and therefore preferred his .41 Colt double-action Colt to the .44-40 he sometimes used. Butch Cassidy favored the Frontier.44-40 colt with a 7 ½ inch barrel. Wild Bill Hickock gained his fame with two 1851 Colt Navy .36s with ivory grips. He retained his fame with two ‘Peacemakers’ and died with a Smith & Wesson tip-up .32 rim-fire revolver in his pocket,” wrote Cormack.
Perhaps one of the most interesting elements of the times, was how commonplace the option of packing a piece was.
After all, when the McCarty gang, buddies of Butch Cassidy, decided to rob the Farmers & Merchant Bank in Delta and a bank teller started yelling for help and was shot and killed by Fred McCarty, it was the owner of the hardware store who came to the rescue.
“Ray Simpson, junior owner of the hardware store of W.G. Simpson & Son was cleaning his Sharps .44 caliber rifle at the time of the bank robbery. The hardware store was directly across Main Street from the bank. Simpson was thirty-one, a tall and slender man. He loved to hunt and was a crack shot. He was quiet, cool and calm,” notes Ken Jessen in his 1986 book “Colorado Gunsmoke.”
“Upon hearing the two shots from the interior of the bank, Simpson quickly pulled the lever down on his Sharps to drop the breech block. He inserted a shell and grabbed several more as he ran out of the store … Just then, he saw the outlaws coming at full gallop down the alley. Simpson fired from the hip at the man in the rear, Bill McCarty. The entire top of Bill’s head was blown off, and his brains ended up some twenty feet from where he fell from his horse. Simpson dropped the breech block again to insert another shell,” Jessen wrote.
“In the meantime, young Fred McCarty pulled up to see if could help his fallen father. Fred was nearly a block away from Simpson, but that moment of hesitation gave Simpson a clear shot. The bullet from Simpson’s rifle hit Fred in the base of the skull, then came out his forehead. Tom McCarty did not slow to see what happened to his brother or his nephew, but continued to ride hard. Money from the robbery was scattered in all directions in the street.” according to Jessen.
Simpson fired again, and then once more at Tom McCarty but missed each time, hitting instead a riderless horse.
Later Tom McCarty sent letters for months to Simpson, threatening to avenge the killing of his brother and nephew.
Simpson eventually made the choice to leave Delta and move to California. Tom McCarty is said to have hid out in the Paradox Valley for some time after the robbery but eventually left the area also, possibly ending up in Oregon, Alaska or Montana.
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Monday, August 17, 2009

Work, live and die hard. Go to hell.


I always found it interesting that the “highway to hell” ran through Cortez and on into Utah, with stops at Pleasant View and Cahone. After all, as Carl Sandburg wrote, “To work hard, to live hard, and to die hard, and then to go to hell after all, would be too damned hard.”
But I guess the politicians and the sign makers fixed it for us.
In 2003, on May 31, the Old 666, “the mark of the beast’ got its brand altered and became Highway 491.
“Whereas, the living near the road already live under the cloud of opprobrium created by having a road that many believe is cursed running near their homes and through their homeland; and
“Whereas, the number “666” carries the stigma of being the mark of the beast, the mark of the devil, which was described in the book of Revelations in the Bible; and
“Whereas, there are people who refuse to travel the road, not because of the issues of safety, but because of the fear that the devil controls events along United States Route 666; and
“Whereas, the economy of the area is greatly depressed when compared with many parts of the United States, and the infamy brought by the inopportune naming of the road will only make development in the area more difficult,” read the Joint Memorial Resolutions put forth first by the New Mexico State Highway and Transportation Department and later joined by Colorado and Utah transportation officials in recommending the name change.
But as Richard Weingroff, of the Office of Infrastructure, noted in a 2003 article about why it was number 666 in the first place,
“Despite the biblical reference and the image U.S. 666 has gained over years, the gematria calculation had nothing to do with the numbering of the route. Boring though it may be to contemplate, the route was simply the sixth branch of U.S. 66 in early August 1926, and retained that number when U.S. 466 was dropped a few weeks later,” said Weingroff.
That bit of truth and knowledge did little, however, to stop the tales of the strange and the twisted on the remote stretch of blacktop winding its way through multiple states.
Mad truckers, packs of demon dogs, and even a frail girl in a long nightgown that appears out of nowhere, are just some of the stories associated with “Triple 6” according to Linda Dunning, in a “Haunted Utah” piece which she wrote in 2003. Not to mention the occasional “Skinwalker.”
“There are Native American tales of unwanted passengers appearing in the backseat of the car along such stretches of highway,” writes Dunning. The evil shape shifter may take the form of a crow, or a coyote or other animals.
Then, of course, there is the movie. The 2001 straight-to-video release by Lions Gate Home Entertainment titled simply “Route 666,” has Lou Diamond Phillips complicating his job protecting a mob informant by heading down a mysterious highway with evil prison gang zombies in chase, as well as wicked mobsters. Basically, in the end, it is “the road’s” entire fault. But the Joshua Trees and the dialog makes you wonder if the writers and the directors (and maybe even the actors) fell in a Peyote patch out in there in the process of filming.
The name change brought a ton of attention nationally and internationally.
A June 2003 article in the New York Times by Jodi Wilgoren, told the story of how the Anasazi Restaurant and Lounge had its address altered 15 years before the highway took the treatment.
“June Merrett (it is really Merritt, even the ‘Gray Lady of Journalism’ can jack up the spelling of a name every so often) who owned the Anasazi then, decided that the address of her establishment was unacceptable. As though it wasn't inauspicious enough to be stuck squarely on U.S. Route 666, the building's number was also 666. So along with adopting the local name of the road as it crosses through town -- Broadway -- she convinced officials at City Hall to switch the address of the Anasazi to 640.”
When the highway officially dropped the 666 designations at the end of May in 2003, the signs for “New 491 – Old 666” as well as anything with the “666” became quite the collector’s item fetching admirable pricing on E-Bay.
Fanciers of the signage made it difficult to keep the route marked. People were running over them with their cars, taking the chain saw or the cutting torch to them, and what have you.
That reminds me of conversation related to the absence of signage that I overheard in Cortez shortly after the highway name changed.
“Is that the Highway to Hell over there?
“No, now it’s just the road to Dove Creek.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Good point.”
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Thursday, August 6, 2009

There was a time, time is a river


There was a time, maybe 30 or 40 years ago, when I could have told you who lived in every single house on the street. Back then, in fact, I could have gone down all the streets in town, and rattled off names for 90 percent of the people living there.
But time is a river, and as Marcus Aurelius understood, we should “reflect often upon the rapidity with which all existing things, or things coming into existence, sweep past us and are carried away.”
I went back to Dolores several years ago now, to the river town where I grew up and my parents still lived at the time.  My dad and mom moved away several years ago, and my dad died in 2013.
Much of it was the same. But I don’t get back as often as I should, and started thinking, and walking, and trying to remember then.
Down on the corner, during Mass at the little Catholic church (Our Lady of Victory), it was possible for me take in a little different perspective — as I was never Catholic until long after leaving Dolores.
The church was always there (since 1901 at least), at the end of the street, but I don’t recall ever setting foot in there before. They welcomed me, and gave me a prayer card.
“May the Lord watch over you and guide you on your journey…his saints and angels protect you on your way… no harm come to you and may you reach your destination in peace and safety.”
Amen, I say to that, brother.
From there I wandered ‘downstream’ toward the Hollywood Bar. I was hoping to run into someone I knew and thought I had better chance in that direction. Unfortunately, the Hollywood was destroyed by fire in August of 2012.
On the way, past the bank and what used to be the post office, the old Forest Service buildings, Bud’s Auto, etc… Couldn’t help but notice that the Food Market was no longer open and was a residence or something, at the time.
Traveling back in time I remember my mom sending me after milk, bread, a can of corn, cigarettes, or what have you -- and I would just sign a ticket and she would settle up later with the Cattles who owned it at the time. The transaction would, of course, take place at one of the two busy registers, on the oiled-oak floors, on Saturday when she made her regular grocery run.
Past there, Doc Merritt’s office was off to the right and then, what used to be the drugstore. Ah, the drugstore. What a great place? I can still smell the frequently burnt popcorn for which you redeemed for a card that Mrs. Myrtle gave you from Doc’s office. I can still hear Edith Brown scolding me and chasing me out for looking at Playboys up front.
Across the street, also on the hill side, (in a three-main-street town like Dolores, everything is either on the ‘hillside, ‘or ‘riverside,’ or on ‘railroad,’) was the empty lot where Taylor Hardware used to be. The steel railing near the curb that appeared one day when I was still in high school remained, but that was pretty much all that was left, even a few years ago.
Looking toward the hill and across the alley, the shop was still there and a late-model truck was parked. Gene, I would guess?
I walked down there and turned the knob, but hearing all hound hell break loose, and two giant Rottweilers appeared to dance in the window, I backed away slightly.
Indeed, Gene appeared soon to see what the dog racket was about, and introduced me to the friendly buggers.
We meandered back through the double doors and Martha was there too. We talked for a while about Dolores, and Rico, and they let me take a look upstairs in the attic, (If you were having trouble locating 6” black stove pipe, I bet I know some folks that still can help you out) and showed me photos from then and earlier.
It was starting to rain when I was getting ready to leave so Gene gave me ride home but first took me upriver to see how they moved Merton’s house across the street and Shelby (their daughter) was finishing a new house on the larger lot it left open then. Apparently, Merton and Wilson Brumley had moved a number of houses on that block up from McPhee in the 1930s, so it had been moved before.
He dropped me off at my parent’s house then, but I had already decided to pick up where I left off later when the rain stopped.
And later, I did, drifting down through town past the Hollywood Bar (it being ‘rodeo week’ in Cortez, there were only a couple of barflies I could see, and no one I recognized, so I didn’t go in) I tried to remember way back when shops such as Tade’s were still in Dolores.
Tade’s, when I was really young, was about the only place where a kid could get a cheap birthday present in town if you were to get invited to a party. I remember the fenced off raised platform at the back of the store where you might find a G.I Joe or something, that might be acceptable for such an occasion.
And there was the busy Akin Mercantile, where a person might get groceries, or a pair of out-of-style Levis, snow-mobile gloves -- or you may stop in the back and ask Monte “How’s your meat?"
V.T. Boyd and his son-in-law had the lumberyard down there at one time, and the Sawmill Run restaurant. Going way back, there was another bar in the Del Rio building, the “Hoffbrau” if memory serves me correctly.
The old Rio Grande Hotel was still there, of course, but the building where Bill’s Emporium (the site responsible for uncountable hours of misspent youth playing pool and arcade games) was now an art gallery and Taylor’s track warehouse has been converted to several different businesses.
What used to be the liquor store (and barber shop) looked like a fun, happening place in a new role as a brewery.
Not many remember when John Lambert, the one-legged blacksmith was on the corner and the newspaper was in the middle of that block … or even when it was in the old Exon Mercantile building.
Later on that visit, my Dad and I drove out to the Heritage Center because I wanted to take a look at where the main road in to Dolores once meandered over the river on a silver-painted, steel bridge and snaked its way up “Ritter Hill,” (I wondered out loud at the time, if those Ritters were any kin to the Governor of that period) past the big old barn, and what was once called the “Three-Cornered Store” over the hill and on out toward the plywood plant and to Cortez and beyond.
Finally, on our way back to my parent’s house, I asked my Dad to swing over by the river and the ‘Big Rock.’
The sand bars were in different locations and I didn’t see the usual collection of river rats throwing dives into the current off the rock that I recalled from my youth. No one was lounging in the sun, or high-stepping it across the hot rocks and gravel between the river and the road.
There was a time, maybe 30 or 40 years ago, when that river would have been full of kids near the ‘Big Rock’ on a hot summer day.

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