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Celebrating Durango’s Western heritage

Jenny Johnston/Western Chronicles

Fall is upon us. Change hangs in the air and leaves begin to blow confetti of yellow and orange across the landscape. It is a time I find myself reflecting on the transformations; big and small, good and bad, necessary and voluntary, all at once, that I have seen in the four generations my family has called this Southwestern town home. Like many long time locals, my families’ Western roots run deep. From horse racing to royalty, it’s been in my lineage going back as far as we can recall. This county fair season, I was able to watch a new crowning of royalty that spanned a 67-year time line difference between tiaras and boots. My children ride in the same dirt their great grandfather saddled up and rode in and there is something to be said about celebrating ones Western heritage. Heritage is what gives you something to remember and look forward to at the same time, in this town we do it in boots.

It was in September of 1880 that the town of Durango sprang into existence as a mining community first established with the help of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. It is easy to forget that 143 years ago this month, Durango was bustling with dirt streets and saloons, where miners tied their horses out front and bellied up at the bar swapping stories of hard earned fortune and dreams. Today, shootouts and wanted posters have been replaced with bump outs and real estate flyers. The town has become a dichotomy of sorts of agriculture and pop culture. The dirt may have been replaced with asphalt but history is still under our feet and whether you walk it in boots and spurs or heels, we owe it to the gunslingers and dreamers to remember them when we walk the same path.

By 1830, as silver began to dwindle, unused land became readily available and Durango became an agricultural oasis for cattlemen and ranchers alike and like the abandoned mines that still cling to the jagged landscape, the hoof prints of these Western trailblazing cowboys remain today in livestock lineage and family ranches as proud reminders of where we have been to get to where we are.

With the ideal of a Western life today, it becomes a different type of “draw” situation. These mountains draw people today in droves. There are no more 10 paces between two opposites and a quick draw to decide who stays and who goes. The allure of the Colorado’s Western lifestyle and landscape draws folks from far and wide but too often they bring the far and wide with them and the landscape and culture of the west they sought out becomes drown out in a sea of concrete and T-shirt shops. Newcomers stand around looking for the cowboy in a Western town like Waldo in a seek and find book. He’s all we expect but we are shocked how hard it is to find him.

Its time to put in on your boots and get out there and remember that whether you were born here or just lucky enough to find a way to make this town home, we all have a responsibility to celebrate our Western Heritage. We owe it to the cattlemen, ranchers, cowboys and outlaws who shaped this community into a place we all chose to live. Rather than looking for opposition, let us pause this September and look for opportunities to celebrate all that makes Durango and the West, “Wild.”

Like an ol' dog, turning circles in his nest, trying to find just the right spot to get comfortable, the Great American West has been struggling to find just the perfect spot to settle among the encroaching concrete jungle that has sprouted up around it. And while progress is inevitable, history is forever. There is something to be said to looking forward to seeing where you are going, but on the same hand, its worth taking a look back every now and again to recall how we got here. Our Western heritage is something to celebrate. And like 143 years ago when Durango was settling into its nest, we have opportunities today to celebrate the men and women who made this town what it is.

The Durango Cowboy gathering is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year and has four days of Western Heritage fun filled events for the while family! From Sept. 28- Oct. 1, participants can enjoy everything from music and food to parades and poetry, there is something to bring out the cowboy or cowgirl for everyone. Bayfield will host its 24th annual Heritage Days this Sept. 30 and give participants an opportunity to peer into a window of rich agricultural heritage of ranching and sheep herding.

Jenny Johnston is a fourth generation Durango local, part time rodeo announcer and mother to two lil’ buckaroos.