I count myself among those that are feeling the Internet’s affect on my brain. I used to read all the time and now? Rather than reading one of the many books I’ve accumulated (I love books) I find myself browsing Twitter or skimming some silly Buzzfeed article. If I’m going to focus to read a good longform article, I send it to my Kindle… where it languishes until I finally binge on all the good stuff I’ve sent there.
Anyway, my mom clearly pursued my Amazon wishlist while she was Christmas shopping and bought me a copy of David Lavender’s One Man’s West. One Man’s West fits in perfectly with my bookshelf of adventure, local history, geology, travel, etc. I love reading about the places I know animated under a different time or through the eyes of someone with a different background. In the book, Lavender relates tales of his young adulthood in southwestern Colorado.
While there is definitely a story line, Lavender focuses on groups of related stories in each chapter. While One Man’s West focuses on Lavender’s time as a miner and rancher, later in life he became an English teacher as well as a prolific writer. I was sort of surprised to learn that One Man’s West was his first book: I found it to be conversational and really compelling.
The “new edition” (2007) includes an excellent introduction by David G. Lavender (the author’s son) which set the stage for the book describing how David Lavender was born in Telluride in 1910 and came to return to his stepfather’s ranch in far western Montrose county after attending boarding school in Pennsylvania followed by Princeton and then a short stint at Stanford Law.
The book begins with a description of the time Lavender spent in Camp Bird mining and attempting to build up a nest egg before he married his wife, Martha. I’m sure part of my love for this book is driven by my knowledge and understanding of the region that he writes about but I loved his description of life high above Ouray. It is so much fun to imagine life in the basin and in town as it must have been and Lavender does an excellent job of facilitating it. (I also learned that Lavender Peak in the La Platas is named after the author’s brother!)
Similarly, the section of the book describing life as a cattle rancher are very rooted in place and time. The ranch operations happened primarily between the Paradox Valley and Lone Cone but Bluff, Utah and Indian Creek make cameo appearances as well. (Climbers will totally recognize places in the Indian Creek section!) He even discusses the Dolores Canyon Hanging Flume. But amidst all the places where my geography obsessed heart leaps there is a very clear eyed but tender picture of a west that was quickly fading.
The book wraps up with a chapter added in (I believe) 1956 discussing how the uranium boom had impacted the region and I though it made for a really great end to the book since that period had a huge impact on the West End.
I highly recommend One Man’s West to anyone with an interest in western history. Lavender paints a vivid picture of what life in far southwestern Colorado was like during the 1930s that is well worth reading.