Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Where True western symbols came from


“It is always better to have no ideas than false ones; to believe nothing, than to believe what is wrong.”

___Thomas Jefferson

After recently noting some disagreement about which horse and rider’s likeness might actually grace Wyoming license plates, and commenting on the tendency of our neighbors-to-the-north’s reference to Colorado folks as “greenies,” I have encountered another interesting twist in my tale.

As it turns out, the designer who developed the “Cowboy State’s” plates was actually a “greenie.”

According to three venerated Colorado institutions, the Colorado Historical Society, the Denver Art Museum and the Denver Public Library, which are hosting the Allen True exhibit opening Oct. 2, at all three locations, True designed the bucking bronco and rider on Wyoming license plates.

Allan Tupper True was a prolific muralist, magazine illustrator, and studio painter who produced commissioned works all over the American West including the capitols of Colorado and Missouri, as well as Hoover Dam and Denver’s Civic Center.

“The bucking horse and rider first appeared on Wyoming license plate in 1936,” according to information from University of Wyoming. “That design was developed by the then Secretary of State, Lester C. Hunt (who later became the Governor of Wyoming, and a U.S. Senator) in 1935.”

Hunt commissioned True to do the work. The Wyoming Secretary of State’s Web site confirms that.

“In 1935, Secretary of State Lester Hunt proposed legislation to make changes to the Wyoming license plate design to combat the problem of wide-spread counterfeiting of Wyoming's license plate. Therefore, Secretary Hunt commissioned Mr. Allen T. True of Littleton, Colorado to 'put to paper' his concept for a new license plate design which included the famous Bucking Horse and Rider,” says the state's site.

Though, the University of Wyoming says it was really Hunt who planted the seed.

“It was his idea to use the bucking horse and rider,” according to the University of Wyoming’s official Athletic Site. “The horse and rider he utilized for the license plates differs from the Steamboat image. For plates, Hunt used a photo of a rider named ‘Stub’ Farlow, and a horse called ‘Deadman.’ ‘Deadman’ belonged to the Jackson Hole Frontier Association.”

“This symbol has been a part of the University of Wyoming Athletics Department since the early 1920s, when UW Equipment Manager Deane Hunton obtained a photograph of a cowboy, Guy Holt, riding the world famous bucking horse Steamboat.”

I always thought that perhaps the horse’s name was a reflection on the town in Northern Colorado, but ...

“Steamboat was born on a ranch between Laramie and Bosler in 1901, and is regarded as one of the greatest bucking horses ever. Hunton traced the photo, and had it made into a logo that was utilized by UW athletic teams. In later years the symbol more closely resembled the logo on the state’s automobile license plates which was a depiction of another horse and rider,” according to UW Athletics.

“Whether it is Steamboat or Deadman on those Cowboy and Cowgirl uniforms, one thing is certain … the bucking-horse-and-rider-logo is one of the nation’s best and most distinctive.”

Maybe so, but it is important to know the 'True' origin of things.

As for the Denver art exhibits, the Denver Public Library will focus on Allen Tupper Trues’ magazine work, the Denver Art Museum will display True’s paintings, and the Colorado History Museum features full-scale murals, studies, photographs, and other objects that True produced over the life of his career. Colorado Public Television will air “Allen True’s West,” at 8 p.m. on Thursday, midnight on Friday and 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 4.

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See related story

Once a 'Greenie,' always a 'Greenie.'

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Perfecting the art of getting out of Dodge


"Every dog, we are told, has his day, unless there are more dogs than days."
__ Bat Masterson


Sometimes, a change in scenery is good for you soul, or can save your hide, or it is simply necessary to help clear the air around you. No one understood that better than the legendary gunfighter and Colorado lawman Bat Masterson.
Masterson was a true practitioner of the art (both literally and figuratively) of picking the precise moment to “get out of Dodge.”
As a young man, Masterson worked as an army scout in conflicts with Kiowa and Comanche tribes. His first gunfight occurred in a bar in Sweetwater, Texas.
Melvin A. King, an army corporal, who became jealous and combative upon finding Molly Brennan in the company of one Bat Masterson at the Lady Gay Saloon, began firing upon them.
According to some accounts, Miss Brennan jumped in front of Masterson in hopes of heading off the violence and preventing King from shooting him, but both were hit anyway. As Masterson fell, he shot King, who had paused to cock his pistol. Both King and Molly died of their wounds, and it left Masterson using his cane for the rest of his life.
After serving as a deputy for the city (and later in the famous Dodge City Peace Commission) alongside Wyatt Earp in wild and wooly Dodge City, Kansas, Masterson eventually became Ford County Sheriff. His brother Ed, became City Marshall of Dodge City. Ed was killed in fight with two drunken cowboys outside a saloon in Dodge City in 1878.
Bat Masterson became a deputy U.S. Marshall in 1879 while continuing to serve as county sheriff, but by 1880, after losing a re-election bid for Ford County Sheriff and still despondent from the slaying of his brother, he found it was time to get out of Dodge'.
For the next few years he passed most of his time playing or dealing cards, drinking and chasing women in places like Leadville, Trinidad and Tombstone, Ariz., with his longtime friends, the Earp brothers.
In 1882, he was hired by the city of Trinidad to clean up the town as town marshal and was by most accounts, successful. In the meantime, the Earps, along with 'Doc' John Holiday had managed to get into their legendary trouble at the OK Coral in Tombstone. Finding it necessary to get of town themselves, they ended up in Trinidad. Being an officer of the law at the time of the incident, Wyatt Earp was somewhat protected from legal troubles in Arizona, but Doc Holiday was in danger of being extradited for his role in the shootout. Masterson, according to some reports, was able to help out by having him arrested in Trinidad on trumped-up charges and making sure that trial delays and hearing postponements gummed up Holiday’s extradition back to Arizona. Holiday was however arrested in Denver, but Colorado refused to extradite and he lived out the remaining five years of his life here in Colorado.
Masterson returned to Dodge City several times over the next few years but, but in each case, he seemed to run into some form of trouble there. Visiting in 1881, he stepped off a train and into a gunfight with two men who were badgering his younger brother Jim. The fight was stopped by shotgun-brandishing authorities, and one of the wounded men was taken to the Doctor. Masterson, for his part in the affair, paid a small fine and left on the evening train.
He showed up again in Dodge City in 1883 for the “Dodge City War” that wasn’t. The scrap developed between the town’s saloon keepers and the city authorities but it turned out to be a bunch of hub-bub over nothing. In 1886, he was back in town again and ended up smacking Nellie Spencer’s husband with a pistol and ran off with Nellie.
That relationship, however, was short-lived and by 1891 he owned and managed the Palace Variety Theater in Denver and married actress Emma Walters. He began writing sports columns for George’s Weekly, a sporting newspaper in Denver. He also spent some time managing a gambling hall in Creede (where he reportedly got liquored up on occasion and would walk down the street late at night shooting out business lights and then come back in the morning an pay for the damage).
Denver, started wearing on him as well.
“When a boxing promotion partnership with Otto Floto, sports editor of the Denver Post, ended rancorously, Masterson took up the pen to retaliate against vituperation Floto hurled at him in his columns. The word battle led to a street brawl in July 1900. Bat belabored Floto with his cane and sent him running. Many Denverites viewed the feud as a comic affair, but it grew more serious when Floto and his Post employers imported notorious gunman ‘Whispering Jim’ Smith to deal with Masterson. The two gunfighters never met, but in May 1902 Bat, disgusted with Denver, left town,” wrote R.K DeArment in the June, 2001 edition of “Wild West.”
Masterson spent the rest of his days in New York City, much of the time working as Sports Editor at the New York Morning Telegraph and died at his typewriter in 1921, having just finished his final column.
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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Once a 'Greenie,' always a 'Greenie.'



When I went to work in Wyoming in the mid 1980s, I was labeled a ‘Greenie’ until I could get my plates changed. That’s what they called Colorado refugees then, (probably still do) and it wasn’t all that affectionate of a term. The basis for the expression resides in Colorado’s mostly green license plates of the period.
Laws of Wyoming, and sideways looks from the locals, pushed me into to trading my green plates in for yellowish-orange colored, bucking-horse-and-rider adorned, numbered-for-the-county you-live-in plates -- within a month or two of taking up residence.
The name of the bronc rider depicted on the “Cowboy State” plates was long forgotten. Depending on whom you talked to, in reality it was either ‘Stub’ Farlow or Guy Holt. But most Wyomingites could tell you the name of the bucking horse. The horse was either ‘Steamboat’ or ‘Deadman.’ And that, once again, depended on which particular story you bought. The ‘Steamboat’ version was dominant.
“The bucking horse and rider first appeared on Wyoming license plate in 1936,” according to information from University of Wyoming. “That design was developed by the then Secretary of State, Lester C. Hunt (who later became the Governor of Wyoming, and a U.S. Senator) in 1935. And today, you can still tell what county a plate was registered in Wyoming by knowing what the number on the left side of the plate (1 through 23, one for each of the state’s 23 counties) designates. A ‘7,’ for example, indicated the car was registered in Goshen County.
Though most passenger car plates are still green in Colorado, the ‘colorful’ label might actually describe your choice in license plates today. Recent Colorado plates might be red, or gold, or maybe even pink. Drivers in this state now can choose from some 150-plus plate preferences. “Respect Life” Columbine inspired plates, Pioneer plates (once requiring proven Colorado ancestry, but since 2007, available for anyone who wants them), Bronco plates, various branches of the service plates, Breast Cancer plates -- there seems to be a plate for just about everyone.
According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, the first official state license plates appeared in 1913 and were simple black numbers on a white background. For the first three years, those official plates were porcelainized. Green plates didn’t appear until 1950, the same year that ‘colorful’ appeared for the first time. That particular description was dropped in 1956, reappeared in 1958, dropped in 1959 and reappeared in 1973. The outline of the Rocky Mountains first appeared in 1960.
From 1932 until 1958, Colorado used a numbering system (similar to the one employed by Wyoming today) to designate the issuing county. In 1959 the state shifted over to a lettering system that operated along the same lines.
When I first started driving, I think every plate in Montezuma County used the XL designator to identify that county’s plates. Later XN appeared and later still, they shifted to a 3-digit code using UPY and USL. Nearby counties I remember as ZH for Dolores, VV for La Plata, and YX for San Miguel. The letter system was in place until the end of the millennium.
Also, I remember that first set of plates of mine had reflective glass granules in the white paint.
Since 1926, Colorado license plates have been made at Colorado’s oldest prison, the Colorado Territorial Correction Facility in Canon City. Inmates produce roughly 2 million plates a year for cars, trucks, motorcycles and trailers, according to a 2006 story by Andrea Brown in the Colorado Springs Gazette. At the time of that writing, inmates could produce as many as 25,000 plates per day. There were 159 separate versions produced at that time.
Of course in 1975 and 1976, Colorado, being the Centennial State issued special red, white and blue plates with a ’76 insignia on it. But the state returned to the basic white on green version in 1977 (still in use). That version is the one I have on my car right now. In 2000, a screened version displaying white mountains, with gray accents and dark green background, first began appearing and now is the dominant plate on Colorado highways today.
Personally, I prefer my old green-background plates. Once a ‘Greenie,’ always a ‘Greenie,’ I guess.
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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

We want a name that means something

Related stories
"God hates a coward, yet there are several of them engineering so called newspapers." __David Frakes Day

It is probably no surprise that one of my favorite newspaper characters is the legendary Colorado nuisance David F. Day. Afterall, how can you dislike a guy that is able to accumulate 42 separate lawsuits in his lifetime, despite entering the publishing game late by most standards, after his 30th birthday.
But one of his most endearing and enduring qualities was his ability to pick a newspaper name. As evidence, I submit “The Solid Muldoon.”
Longtime Colorado publisher and newspaper association manager Ed Bemis traced the origins of the name.
“In the July, 1939, Colorado Editor appears a full explanation of how the paper was named. The story’s documentation and authenticity would appear to be irrefutable. But in 1939 the story did not entirely settle all speculation on the intriguing historic puzzle – nor will its reprinting now,” wrote Bemis as he referenced the 1935 piece written by D.B. (“Bing”) McGue of Durango.
“I have known the Day family since my grade school days. When a kid, I shoved about a quarter million sheets of paper into the maws of a cylinder press that produced Col. David F. Day’s Durango Democrat – into the maws of the same old Cranston cylinder that Jesse Jones used when he was at Mancos. And some years later I again was employed by Rod S. Day, who succeeded to the management of the Democrat upon the death of his father,” says McGues account.
“As associate editor under Rod, I had the opportunity to scan the files of the Solid Muldoon, and often was regaled with stories of stirring events of early Ouray, and its picturesque characters.”
The Solid Muldoon was the first newspaper published in Ouray. It was started by two partners – Col. David Frakes Day and Gerald Lecker, in the late 1870s. The latter afterwards became clerk of the federal court at Salt Lake City, Utah. McGue said his statement was corroborated at its writing by Rod S. Day.
“With appearance of the Solid Muldoon it quickly gained favor. Its circulation, at its peak, was several thousand copies weekly, and it was one of the most thoroughly read and most sought-after newspapers in the West. Among the early-day printers who worked for Colonel Day when Rod was still a youngster was one Kelley. Now there were many Kelleys in Ouray at that time. To distinguish Printer Kelley from Hardrock, War Horse, Dynamite, Power jack and numerous other Kelleys, he was called Muldoon,” according to the printer McGue.
“And there was Little Muldoon, and the late Wil Vincent Tufford of Clinton, Iowa, secretary-treasurer of the Inland Daily Press association, who was employed by Colonel Day in 1880-81. Whence came the name for the Ouray Publication?”
Here is what Mrs. Victoria S. Day, widow of Colonel Day, has to say:
“The Colonel, as a young man, was a great admirer of the late William Muldoon, the grand old man of sports who died a few years ago, whom he regarded as the world’s greatest athlete and an honest man.
“When it came to selecting a name for Ouray’s first newspaper, Gerald Lecker, the colonel’s partner, said, ‘Dave, give the baby a name.’
“Running his hand over a saber-scarred cheek – a scar that had won for him as boy of 16, the Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry in action during the Civil War – the colonel gazed contemplatively at the towering mountains surrounding the town of Ouray. Suddenly, he turned and squirted a stream of tobacco juice toward the sawdust –filled box in the corner of the room.
“Said he: ‘We want a name that means something – solid, and as honest as – well, as honest as Bill Muldoon. Sure, that’s it, Solid Muldoon.”
Mrs. Victoria S. Day who according to McGue, “all newsmen called her ‘Mother’ Day,” at the time of that writing, she was 88 years old, lived with her youngest son George Vest Day, at Bondad near Durango “and was decidedly spry.”
Rod Day sold the Morning Democrat, founded in 1891 by his father, to George Lane and John B. O’Rourke, both lawyers. After a year or two, they sold out to J. H. McDevitt, publisher of the Durango Evening Herald, who consolidated the two publications into the Herald Democrat. It later became the Durango Herald of today.
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