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You Hang Him, by Les Messamer

Review by Ed Quillen

Local Lore – November 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

You Hang Him
And Other Stories from the Base of the Collegiate Peaks
compiled by Les Messamer
published in 1996 by the author

When Buena Vista celebrated its centennial in 1979, Les Messamer (the voice of Buena Vista on KVRH Radio) collected old-timers’ tales on audio tape, which was duly stored at the town library and museum.

These anecdotes deserved a wider distribution, though, and thus this published collection. The title comes from Leah Thompson’s recollection of her grandfather, Hugh Crymble, who served as county sheriff and arrested a fellow named Nick after a scuffle in Granite.

Nick, it turned out, had escaped from prison in Missouri, where he faced the noose. “… my grandfather contacted them and they said, `No, we don’t want to bring him back here. You hang him.'”

Mostly these are brief anecdotes, and Messamer organizes them in sensible categories: frontier living, ranching, mining, school, railroad, and rodeo.

Thus are some local voices preserved, as in this sample from Ted Shaffer:

“There was this mine down here at Calumet off of Brown’s Canyon. They had a real good mine; it was a payin’ mine, see? And they built a railroad spur up to it and was haulin’, well, a lot of ore out of it. And they worked Chinese because you could get Chinese labor in here at that time, a long time ago, real cheap…. The company always wanted to make all the money they could, so they didn’t timber very well, see? … And then one time when a shift was in there, why, the whole side of the mountain just caved in. My granddad said he heard there’s a hundred and twenty-five in there …”

Not all the events recalled here are so gruesome — mostly they concern daily life long ago: starting the stove at the country schoolhouse, persuading a horse-drawn wagon to stay on the road, celebrating Lettuce Days in Buena Vista.

Most of these accounts come from Buena Vista, with occasional forays to Leadville, St. Elmo, and Salida.

Some seem to be embroidered or stretched a little, but as Messamer notes in the introduction, “No concerted attempt was made to determine the accuracy of the tales. Most, if not all, are probably at least based on the truth … It is recognized that time may have clouded the memory of some of the tellers of these stories.”

In other words, read and enjoy, but recognize the need for an occasional grain of salt.

Wallace Stegner once argued that we create places from landscape by telling stories about the places. Messamer has preserved some stories, and they’re generally fun to read.

Get it for yourself if you enjoy local lore, and it would make a fine present if you’ve got some people with Buena Vista connections on your shopping list this year.

— Ed Quillen