Go Higher

Telluride Topography

Telluride, Bluegrass and the Cross of Gold

My first time into Telluride I was coming in from the East. The summer was hot and dry; the Colorado backcountry better suited to rattlesnakes than trout water. I had been camping up the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, some rutted jeep trail of a Forest Service road that would have seemed an interstate compared to the insanity of Black Bear Pass. That is to say, I drove in from the West, down Leopard Creek Canyon through Placerville by way of Ridgeway. When in doubt, go higher.

“I would be presumptuous, indeed, to present myself against the distinguished gentlemen to whom you have listened if this were but a measuring of ability; but this is not a contest among persons. The humblest citizen in all the land when clad in the armor of a righteous cause is stronger than all the whole hosts of error that they can bring. I come to speak to you in defense of a cause as holy as the cause of liberty-the cause of humanity.”

William Jennings Bryan spoke as such when he visited the town of Telluride in 1896, while campaigning for the presidency. Telluride sits astride a narrow box canyon at the headwaters of the San Miguel River. It’s not the sort of place you happen across, that you wander through on your way from here to there. Telluride is a destination.

“Never before in the history of this country has there been witnessed such a contest as that through which we have passed. Never before in the history of American politics has a great issue been fought out as this issue has been by the voters themselves.”

The mines of the San Juan mountains gave birth to Telluride in the 1870s. Zinc, lead, copper, silver and gold flowed from the Sheridan, the Tomboy, the Pandora mines. Miners mined the ore, the town mined the miners. The good times were good. The bad times were bad. Butch Cassidy began his career in crime in June 1889 when his “wild bunch” robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank. Eastern financiers dealt a much heavier blow during the Silver Panic of 1893. It was silver and gold that brought Bryan to town.

“But in this contest, brother has been arrayed against brother, and father against son. The warmest ties of love and acquaintance and association have been disregarded. Old leaders have been cast aside when they refused to give expression to the sentiments of those whom they would lead, and new leaders have sprung up to give direction to this cause of freedom. Thus has the contest been waged, and we have assembled here under as binding and solemn instructions as were ever fastened upon the representatives of a people.”

Over time the mines played out, and by the 1970s, “hippies” had taken over many of the old union shacks. The search for silver and gold turned to the perfect slope. And the perfect music festival. According to the Library of Congress, the first Telluride Bluegrass Festival was organized by a bluegrass band, Fall Creek, for the 1974 Independence Day celebration. Telluride, acoustic music and the Festival have all changed a lot since then.

“we stand here representing people who are the equals before the law of the largest cities… The miners who go 1,000 feet into the earth or climb 2,000 feet upon the cliffs and bring forth from their hiding places the precious metals to be poured in the channels of trade are as much businessmen as the few financial magnates who in a backroom corner the money of the world.”

Author & professional contrarian Edward Abbey made his home downriver, past where the San Miguel joins the Dolores River and flows into Utah. He lamented the mining at Moab that followed the bust at Telluride. He lamented the rise of industrial tourism that turned desert towns and mining towns into meccas for the leisure class. Abbey’s Moab and Bryan’s Telluride are the same, yet different, than hundreds of others places in the high country. Built and broke on the back of mining and ranching. Reborn as recreational playgrounds, some might say they sold their souls to the new company store. Might say they’ve lost their souls on a cross of gold.

“If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

William Jennings Bryan spoke of literal gold, the heavy yellow mineral competing with Telluride’s silver for status as legal currency. Yet we still today find ourselves pressed down upon: Our crown of thorns is a gold record standard. The over-riding expectation that all that matters is the next hit on the radio chart, the next big thing on MTV, the next Girls Gone Viral on the world wide web.

Telluride is one of the few places that have staked out their own claim outside the Next Big Thing. Citizens of the town work hard to stand up for their land and historic fabric, looking for ways to balance growth and development—to make a place for a ski resort, summer recreation and a functioning community.  The Telluride Bluegrass Festival has done as well, balancing a broad and diverse lineup to stay funky yet relevant.

It is no easy thing to resist the lure of easy gold. To resist the urge to get yours while the getting is good. To do better. To go higher.

Telluride is the destination. An amazing music festival is the reward.

 

(Thinking of posting to New Depression Telluride Bluegrass Festival Blog Contest .)

Tightening our (gun) belts

 Man standing with gun and ammunition belt

On 15 April I joined the nationwide Tax Day Tea Party movement to protest high taxes, higher federal spending, and general disrespect for the Constitution of the United States of America.  It felt good.

I also know that along with rights come responsibilities.  Times are tough all over and it is difficult to see services we use being cut.  Government provides many essential services, and many things that just make our communities nicer places to live.

I doubt many people consider the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) an “essential service”.  According to their website:

The Minnesota Historical Society is chief caretaker of Minnesota’s story—and the History Center is home to the Society’s vast collections. Within its archives reside artifacts ranging from American Indian moccasins and artwork to furniture and photographs, Civil War-era flags and a wealth of geneaological information. All of it is accessible today and for future generations.

I love history and I love the Historical Society, and I am a paid member.  However, they really are the last part of “public health, safety and welfare”;  not surprisingly among the first to be cut.  MHS announced today a planned 16% cut to their budget for next fiscal year, starting 1 July 09.

Minnesota Historical Society Announces Plans for a Potential 16-Percent Budget Reduction

All programs and facilities will remain in full operation until a final plan is adopted

The Minnesota Historical Society announced plans today for a potential 16-percent overall budget reduction, beginning July 1, 2009, which would result in layoffs and reduced services to the people of Minnesota. The plan is based on expected cuts in the Society’s funding from the state of Minnesota, as well as the effects of the current economic downturn. The reduction was developed in anticipation of serious budget shortfalls during the Society’s next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

A final decision on the Society’s state funding levels is expected in late May when Governor Pawlenty and the Minnesota Legislature announce an overall state budget for the upcoming biennium, which also begins July 1. In January, the Governor’s budget plan contained a 15-percent reduction to the Society’s operating budget. The Minnesota House recommended a reduction of nearly 10 percent earlier this month, and the Minnesota Senate recommended a seven-percent reduction this week.  

In addition, the Society is projecting a 20-percent shortfall in its non-state revenues over the next two years, due to declines in admissions, sales, charitable gifts and investments.

“We know that Minnesotans value the work of the Historical Society,” says Nina Archabal, director. “Our main objective in meeting the challenges of today’s economic downturn is to continue to preserve the state’s history and educate the state’s schoolchildren and adults.”

Since October, 2008, the Society has been engaged in a comprehensive strategic planning process. This process provided guidance in developing the proposed budget reductions.

The planned budget reductions would result in less public access to the Society’s services, programs and facilities.  It also would affect the Society’s work to preserve the state’s history.

Layoffs would occur for 94 full- and part-time employees, and an additional 223 employees would have their hours reduced.  In total, 317 individuals would be affected, or 46 percent of the Society’s staff, including individuals that work directly with the public, as well as people that support public programs and preservation statewide.

Some of my favorite MHS sites are on the chopping block.  Three sites will be mothballed 1 July 09:

More sites would see access and hours cut back, including Jeffers Petroglyphs near Comfrey, MN, which I recently wrote about on JohnScout blog.

These are great places.  I visited Historic Forestville last summer.  It’s a ghost town down in the Drifless Hills of Southeast Minnesota, south of Rochester.  Living history players act out original characters, literally bringing history to life.  I would love to participate on a regular basis if I lived closer…and dropped seven or eight other hobbies to make time.  One of those hobbies I’ve picked up of late is participating in Mountain Man Rendezvous, with their black powder rifles and tomahawk throws and leather britches over cast iron.  The Fur Post at Pine City recreates the world of 1804 and the European, American and Ojibwe fur trade.  Picture me lost and dreaming in buckskins.

I am a bit concerned about this bit at the end of the press release:

Also pending is a decision on how proceeds from the Legacy Amendment will support history education and programming. The constitutional amendment, which was passed by voters in November 2008, calls for funds to preserve Minnesota’s history as a way to supplement, rather than substitute for, current funding and programs. The Minnesota History Coalition, representing historical organizations statewide, including the Society, has recommended that 50 percent of the funding for the Arts and Cultural Heritage portion of the amendment be dedicated to statewide history education and preservation.

I could be cyncial and say it’s all posturing to get dedicated funding.  I won’t.

I could fuss and fume, and put on a big pout.  I’ve driven by the Lindbergh property several trips, each time telling myself “I’ll stop next time.”  Now there won’t be a “next time.”  These places are important to me and a big benefit to living in the state of Minnesota. 

I could get angry, pull out the big guns, and demand my rights.  But I won’t. 

When times are tough we all have to tighten our belts and do our share.  What I’m going to do is clear my calendar for the 2nd half of June after I get home from Scout camp.  I’m going to plan a drive to Pine City before the Northwest Company Fur Post closes.  Maybe I’ll go through Little Falls, or at least make a stop at Jeffers Petroglyphs on my way.  I’m going to look for a book from the MHS bookstore to buy and read after the first of July.  I’m going to save so I can renew my membership.  I’m going to put my money where my mouth is….

Right after I write a letter to my Representative, my Senator, the Governor about cutting (my) taxes and (somebody else’s) spending.

(Cross-posted at JCShepard.com).

Our Irish Elders

In 1849, Thomas William Maloy married Anna Kenny, somewhere in County Roscommon, Ireland.  They soon departed Eire’s green shores for a better life in America, settling on a small farm in Upstate New York.

The Maloys—along with untold other Irish ancestors known and unknown—left all they knew and loved for the great unknown.  Thomas & Anna were certainly pushed by the Great Famine, when the population of Ireland declined by 20-25%.  However, all took a great risk to move forward to give their descendents—I and my family—a chance at a better life.

They left behind the clans who’d been together a thousand years
With music and the memories ringing in their ears
They brought with them tradition and the will to work and die
In the land known for freedom, soil and sky

The Elders, 1849

We have been very fortunate that Maloys still in New York recorded the facts and stories of Thomas and his brother and their children.  We know they came from County Roscommon via Canada.  We know that writers say the Molloy name in Connacht is typically derived from “O Maoil Aodha, ‘descendant of the devoteee of (St) Aodh’, from maol, literally ‘bald’, a reference to the distinctive tonsure sported by early Irish monks.”  We know that no Maloys were left by the time our American family went looking in the old country, although that hasn’t stopped us from continuing the quest to better understand where we come from.

So, this St. Patrick’s Day, as we lift a Guinness and sing Danny Boy, save a quiet moment to remember our Elders, the one’s who gave so much when we deserve so little.

Living too close to town

Edward Abbey died 20 years ago today.  The American Spectator has a nice essay that sums up my love-hate admiration for the Conservative Anarchist of the Desert Southwest:

Cactus Ed was a prickly sort; a conservative anarchist, if you will, who on one hand could support eco-terrorism (a favorite motto was: “Keep America Beautiful — Burn a Billboard!”), and on the other supported the National Rifle Association (NRA), and restrictions on immigration.

Much commentary on old Ed Abbey focuses on his essays, in particular the visionary  Desert Solitaire .  I’d heard the name before a friend of mine gave me a paperback when I was living in Bozeman, MT.  Still, Desert Solitaire hit me hard at that particular time and place.  I’ve been a Conservative all my life, yet I also have a deep, abiding love of the land, in particular that large landscapes of the American West.  Snow-capped mountains of Colorado.  Trout streams gracing the Big Sky of Montana.  Haunted kivas of New Mexico.

In Edward Abbey, I saw both the evil of environmental relativism and the promise of reconciliation—with those of us who value individual freedom and respect above mindless groupthink and junk science.

I don’t know the collective feeling at Patagonia regarding junk science, but their blog highlighted a special event this week for Abbey fans.  The host of The Risky Biscuit Hayseed Hoot radio show does an annual special memorial show, an “incomparable blend of tasty instrumentals, blues, folk, outlaw country, and a generous helping of Mr. Abbey…”

Starting Saturday morning, it will be available for a full week via podcast at the Hoot website. You can also listen live Saturday morning, 8 – 10 a.m. Pacific, by going to www.kthxfm.com and clicking on the “Listen Live” button (on the right).

Kill your television and crank up the podcast.  If you don’t make it before the week is up, go find Tom Russell‘s song “The Ballad of Edward Abbey” on the album Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs; it’s a good take on a complicated legend.

Mapping Minnesota

I love maps.  The Minnesota Historical Society is hosting a special exhibit of historic maps depicting what is now the state of Minnesota. In this video:

Map Curator Pat Coleman gives us an introduction to ‘Minnesota on the Map:’ Four Centuries of Maps from the Minnesota Historical Society Collection: an exhibit he has curated that opens on February 28. The exhibit includes 100 maps from the MHS collection of over 22,000. Pat also shares his insights to a recently acquired globe from 1765.

More commentary on the Delisle Globe (Guillaume Delisle. Globe Terrestre: Revu et Corrige sur les Dernieres Observations et les Meilleurs Carties… Paris: Desnos.here.

I am an MHS member, but St. Paul is 200 miles from home.  Hope I can make it up while the display is open.

The Day The Music Died

Today is the 50th anniversary of The Day The Music Died.  On 3 February 1959, in a field outside Clear Lake, Iowa, a small plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, crashed and killed everyone on board, including pilot Richard Peterson.  As we all know, Waylon Jennings gave up his seat on the ill-fated plane and lived to sing his own songs another day.

Bye bye Miss American Pie,
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good ole boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye
Singing “This’ll be the day that I die,
This’ll be the day that I die.”
Don McLean, PlayAmerican Pie

Minneapolis Star-Tribune Columnist & Twitterer James @Lileks doesn’t think the music died that day.  He thinks the music is doing just fine, blaming McLean’s American Pie for getting it all wrong.  Take a look at an annotated explanation of the cryptic lyrics here.

I’m more inclined to agree with AcktheHack that the music did die a little that day—I wonder how enthralled I would have been with this new-fangled Rock & Roll if I had been a generation earlier.  To wit The American Spectator: “Who, in the early sixties at least, cared to patronize the recordings of sex perverts whose 45s probably received radio spins through bribery?”  I liked La Bamba yet I’m thinking if I was contemporary to the events depicted, probably not so much.  Really more a Hank Williams fan.

The STrib re-visits Clear Lake’s Surf Ballroom and the crash site, video here.  Also on the playbill last night: Bobby Vee, Graham Nash, Los Lobos, Delbert McClinton, Joe Ely and Wanda Jackson.

I could have made the drive, it’s only 182 miles out my front door. Still, I try to stick closer to home come winter time.  Never know when your vehicle might freeze up & get stuck…

-jc

(cross-posted & slightly edited from last.fm )

Vigilantes 1864

 Vigilantes at Bannack 2001

Vigilantes 1864

Cold cruel winds blow down intent

upon the Bannack mining camp.

Just days before an Innocent

had spilled his guts, the saddle tramp

Told one and all:  the Road Agents

were sheriff’s men, which none could trump.

In Virginia, Nevada, all up Alder Gulch,

Catholic and Mason, from South and from North,

Stormed forth the Committee for Vigilance-

defend their homes, they swore the oath.

‘Cross rivers frozen and sagebrush adrift,

a vision, revelation, to the very last pale horse.

Come ghosts of the hundred murdered before.

Come Deputy Ray, you will kill no more.

Come Deputy Stinson, leave your saloon whore.

Come damned Sheriff Plummer, let us finish this chore.

Come dance in the gallows, plead for your souls.

Come peace to Montana, 10 January 1864.

 

(c) jcs 18.01.01

Reposted in honor of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering at Elko, Nevada, this week. Bannack became first capital of Montana Territory on May 26, 1864.