Gold rush may­hem

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By San­dra Dal­las

Gold! Mad­ness, Mur­der, and May­hem in the Colorado Rock­ies

By Ian Ne­ligh (West­winds Press) Colorado was founded on gold. In 1859, some 100,000 peo­ple joined the rush to the Rock­ies, and in a cou­ple of years, they had filed nearly 15,000 claims. Those gold­seek­ers are long gone, of course. Today, only one com­mer­cial gold mine — New­mont’s Crip­ple Creek ven­ture — op­er­ates in the state. Still, gold will al­ways at­tract prospec­tors.

In “Gold!”, Ian Ne­ligh, ed­i­tor of the Clear Creek Courant in Idaho Springs re­counts the story of the Colorado gold rush, bring­ing it for­ward to con­tem­po­rary times, meld­ing the old and the new. He tells about the men who still moil for gold in the Colorado Rock­ies.

With the ex­cep­tion of the 1980s, when heap leach­ing re­vived the old mine dumps, gold min­ing pretty much died out at the be­gin­ning of World War II, when the gov­ern­ment shut down the mines as nonessen­tial. By then, gold’s hey­day was long over and the few mines still in op­er­a­tion were run by skele­ton crews. Ne­ligh tells of a group of min­ers in the 1930s who dis­cov­ered a vug (a de­posit of al­most pure gold) in the La­mar­tine mine near Clear Creek. They wanted to high- grade it and thus kept the vug a se­cret from their su­per­vi­sor. The su­per­vi­sor spot­ted it, how­ever, and to their sur­prise, he sug­gested they form a pact to steal the ore. When he turned around, he dis­cov­ered the min­ers hold­ing rocks, ready to brain him if he threat­ened to tell on them.

Ne­ligh writes of con­tem­po­rary prospec­tors who use metal de­tec­tors or search the streams. One fel­low has 50 ounces of gold that he’s panned and stored in a safe. It’s not the sell­ing of the gold that counts, his friend says, then adds in an age-old adage, “It is about the find­ing.”

Talk­ing Ma­chine West: A His­tory and Cat­a­logue of Tin Pan Al­ley’s Western Record­ings, 19021918

By Michael A. Amund­son (Univer­sity of Ok­la­homa


Not long af­ter Frederick Jack­son Turner de­clared the Amer­i­can fron­tier closed, Amer­i­cans de­vel­oped a nos­tal­gia for the West. “The Vir­ginian” was pub­lished, and Tin Pan Al­ley dis­cov­ered western songs. These were not the songs the cow­boys sang to the cows on trail drives, how­ever, but Broad­way’s im­age of the pass­ing fron­tier.

The lyrics that emerged from wax cylin­ders and one-sided records were filled with nos­tal­gia and lovelorn angst. They were of­ten racist. How else to ex­plain “Lit­tle Ar­row and Big Chief Grease­paint” or “I’m a Yid­dish Cow­boy?” Vir­tu­ally all the songs mis­rep­re­sented Amer­i­can In­di­ans, por­tray­ing them as no­ble red­skins or drunken sav­ages. Still, there were a cou­ple of mem­o­rable songs that came out of that era. They in­clude “Red Wing” and “Rag­time Cow­boy Joe.”

Au­thor Michael A. Amund­son be­came in­ter­ested in early western hit tunes af­ter buy­ing a 1906 Edi­son Home cylin­der phono­graph, which played wax cylin­ders. The songs on them were recorded in stu­dios, and only the hearti­est singers per­formed, since songs had to be recorded from be­gin­ning to end in one take; there was no splic­ing. The singer had to per­form all day long in an air­less stu­dio. That meant pow­er­ful lungs. En­rico Caruso was one of the best at singing for record­ings. So was Billy Mur­ray, who grew up in Den­ver in the 1880s and worked at the Over­land Park Race­track.

“My Pony Boy” was the era’s big­gest hit, and “Red Wing” was the most pop­u­lar of the In­dian love songs. (Its sheet mu­sic il­lus­tra­tion of an In­dian maiden in a feather head­dress is clas­sic.)

Amund­son’s love af­fair with the Tin Pan Al­ley West is ev­i­dent in this over­sized book with its lav­ish il­lus­tra­tions. The au­thor gives a his­tory of talk­ing ma­chines and song­writ­ing, then de­tails 54 western songs, with sheet-mu­sic re­pro­duc­tions.

Land on Fire

By Gary Ferguson (Tim­ber Press)

In his pro­logue to “Land on Fire,” out­doors writer Gary Ferguson tells that fire is one of the most dev­as­tat­ing forces in na­ture but also “a pow­er­ful agent of heal­ing, a mighty wand that wipes the land free of disease and insects and fallen tim­ber to cre­ate a stage for … new flushes of life.”

In a com­pre­hen­sive but highly read­able look at wild­fires in the West, Ferguson writes that wild­fires are in­creas­ing in both num­ber and in­ten­sity, due to cli­mate change and pop­u­la­tion growth. Nine out of 10 fires are started by hu­mans, and of the West’s 120,000 wild­fires a year, some 10,000 are set in­ten­tion­ally. So Smokey Bear (that’s his real name, not Smokey The Bear) is right when he warns that only you can pre­vent for­est fires.

If the fire dan­ger is in­creas­ing, so is the tech­nol­ogy in fire­fight­ing. Fire­fight­ers no longer just show up at the site with shov­els in hand. They are ap­praised ahead of time about the di­rec­tion of the fire and the fuel source, which can be de­ter­mined by smoke. Team lead­ers have the lat­est tech­nol­ogy and train­ing to de­ter­mine how to fight the blazes.

For­est man­age­ment has changed over the years. “Be­cause of ear­lier sup­pres­sion poli­cies, a stag­ger­ing 300 mil­lion acres of western forests are today suf­fer­ing from un­nat­u­rally heavy fuel loads,” Ferguson writes. Light­ning, a cig­a­rette butt or sparks from a chain saw can set off a blaze that can de­stroy hun­dreds of acres.

In a small but fact-filled book with dozens of pho­to­graphs, Ferguson tells about how and why fires are started and fought. There are even ar­son dogs that can de­tect the source and cause of a fire. He also dis­cusses fire preven­tion and the af­ter­math of fires, in­clud­ing the ben­e­fi­cial ef­fects of scour­ing the land. Within days af­ter a blaze, new growth springs up, in­clud­ing an aptly named flower called fire­weed.

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