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Commodity Prices and Cultural Frontiers

Letter from Jim Ludwig

April 1997 edition – May 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine

Some Issues from the April issue: Commodity Prices & Cultural Frontiers


Your 1928-1997 price comparisons in the March edition are interesting, but it is obvious (from the photocopy) that Charlie Fitzsimmons did not or could not afford to pay the water bill. The house at 408 W Seventh now belongs to Charlie’s son Terry, and is occupied by his granddaughter, Kathy. We met to have a 40th wedding celebration at that very house on March 22.

Terry has no idea how that unpaid water bill became part of the public domain, except that when Charlie died in the 80s, Terry dumped some old boxes of papers from the house at the Leadville dump.

It would be interesting to know what percentage of today’s loaf of bread is due to the cost of wheat as compared to 1928. Your numbers indicate that the closer the raw material is to the end or consumed product, the higher the rate of increase. (Not a statistical analysis!)

The price of many products today has no relationship whatsoever to the cost of raw materials used to produce the product — barley and beer are a good example.

Most of the cost is packaging, marketing, distribution, intellectual capital, and particularly, retail markup, and taxes. Bill Coors explained to me once that the cost of a bottle of beer varies less than a penny, yet you must cover the complete spectrum of high- to low-priced products if you wish to compete in the modern marketplace. Sales volume has less to do with the quality of product than the quality of advertising.

George Sibley did an excellent examination of the conflict at the edge cultural migrations. This area has been a mixing place before the Anglo-Spanish-Indian “emulsifying” of comparatively recent times. The agricultural native people of the southwest (Pueblo, Anasazi, Hopi), the weather-prompted migrating mountain tribes (Utes, Apaches) and the buffalo dependent people of the plains (Arapahos, Comanche) all met in this banana belt to trade and mix their cultures even before the Navajo came down from the Northwest.

In modern times, developed cultures of the area struggle to survive against pseudo-scientific greens and moneyed life-style purchasers who fill the valleys with their second homes. The miners clearly have lost, the forest users and the ranchers fight an uphill battle against an elite who have little concept of why this land is what it is today, and why “almost natives” do not wish for it to change.

Tolerance and civil discourse should have replaced the aggressor-defender cultural conflict of the recent past. Unfortunately, intolerance and uncivil discourse seem to be the current modus operandi. This in turn prevents us all from examining, accepting and enjoying the best of each cultural shift and incorporating it into the whole. Instead we are bombarded by the media, press and government with the worst of each and forced to defend a status which might well benefit from cultural amalgamation.

Let me skip back to your discussion of Salida and history. Maybe Central Colorado does not revere history because it is uniquely situated to now be making history as the focal point of a cultural clash that engulfs us all.

Your self-defined Central Colorado (Gunnison to Fairplay, Leadville to Saguache) area is in need of a champion to define the historical significance that seems to exist only on its fringes. If the true history is not interesting enough, perhaps you could rewrite it, just as many other special interest groups do.

I wish you well!

Jim Ludwig an Eccentric Old Man in Buena Vista