Tue. Jun 6th, 2023


The Real News Network

New books on Colorado bluebirds, Western towns, mining-era massacres

3 min read

“Remembering Ludlow But Forgetting the Columbine,” by Leigh Campbell-Hale (University Press of Colorado)

Most Coloradans know about the Ludlow Massacre but know nothing about the massacre at the Columbine Mine near Serene, which had far more influence on America’s labor politics. Six miners died, and another 60 were wounded at the Columbine.

The strike polished the image of Josephine Roche, later part of Franklin Roosevelt’s cabinet. Roche was a Progressive who inherited control of Rocky Mountain Fuel Co., which owned the mine, and was credited with humanitarian actions during the strike. Author Leigh Campbell-Hale disputes that, claiming tight control over her image led to hagiographic portrayals of Roche by feminist historians. “She gave lip-service to democracy, industrial and otherwise, but her actions often contradicted her own press releases,” writes Campbell-Hale.

“Remembering Ludlow But Forgetting Columbine” is a heavily documented history of labor activity in the Colorado coal fields. One intriguing tidbit: Roche was married briefly to a man who wrote scripts for the popular radio program “The Shadow.”

“The Art and Life of Merritt Dana Houghton.,” by Michael A. Amundson (University Press of Colorado)

Long before aerial photography, artists made bird’s-eye-view engravings of Western towns. Merritt Dana Houghton produced 35 of these drawings of towns, primarily in Wyoming but a few in Colorado, too. The process was exacting. He drew every building in a town, placing them on streets, with railroad tracks, gardens, telephone poles and trees, cows and carriages.

Houghton began as a photographer but quickly turned to drawing. He sketched scenes, then went over them in ink. He turned out some 200 ranch views, mining scenes, and landscapes as well as the bird’s-eye-views. His pictorial work is more reportorial than fine art. Still, he documented much of Wyoming’s early economic growth.

“Merritt Dana Houghton” is a well-researched biography of the artist, accompanied by a portfolio of Houghton’s works. Michael A. Amundson sheds light on a little-known Western artist. Born in 1846, Houghton died of the Spanish flu in 2019, just hours before his wife succumbed of the same illness.

“Bluebird Seasons,” by Mary Taylor Young (Chicago Review Press)

Essayist Mary Taylor Young thought she’d write about a single bluebird season when she and her husband, Rick, bought their Colorado vacation land near Trinidad. But over the years, she’s seen changes in the bluebirds. She’s watched the number of hummingbirds and elk decline and other deprivations brought about by climate change. So instead, “Bluebird Seasons” is about the changes in her land over the 30 years she has owned it.

A naturalist and zoologist, Young writes about the trickle-down ecological effect of warmer weather. Elk nibble on plants and trees that would normally be under snow. That means less vegetation for birds. Warmer temperatures result in an explosion of parasites that infect elk and other large mammals.

“Bluebird Seasons” is a painful look at the demise of birds and animals and flowers in one woman’s mountain yard. It’s also a pean to the wild things around us. Young’s chapter on hummingbirds is just plain lyrical.

“Grit, Not Glamour,” by Cheryl Mullenbach (Twodot)

“My husband thought it a willful waste of time to read anything and that (it) showed a lack of love for him (as) if I would rather read than to talk to him,” wrote an anonymous Western rancher’s wife. The woman, who had wanted to be a teacher, was pressured into marriage and lived a hard life. She could read only when her husband was away, and even then he refused to buy newspapers. He thought them a waste of money.

While many of the women in “Grit, Not Glamour” tell of hardships, not all were as put upon as that unknown woman. In fact, many eschewed marriage and ran farms and ranches on their own. Gussie and Louise Lahm left a convent school to operate a California sheep and cattle ranch, where they fought forest fires and blizzards and poachers. Instead of lauding their efforts, an early 1900s newspaper questioned whether they should be allowed to wear overalls on the streets of San Francisco.

Author Cheryl Mullenbach writes about more than two dozen female pioneers who ran farms and ranches, raised grapes and ostriches, and worked to save buffalo from extinction. There are even a couple of bad girls who operated outside the law.

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