The Legend of Colton H. Bryant

( 14 )


A heartrending story of the human spirit from the author of the bestselling Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

Alexandra Fuller returns with the unforgettable true story of Colton H. Bryant, a soulful boy with a mustang-taming heart who comes of age in the oil fields and open plains of Wyoming. After surviving a sometimes cruel adolescence with his own brand of optimistic goofiness, Colton goes to work on an oil rig-and there the biggest heart in the world can't save him from ...

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A heartrending story of the human spirit from the author of the bestselling Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

Alexandra Fuller returns with the unforgettable true story of Colton H. Bryant, a soulful boy with a mustang-taming heart who comes of age in the oil fields and open plains of Wyoming. After surviving a sometimes cruel adolescence with his own brand of optimistic goofiness, Colton goes to work on an oil rig-and there the biggest heart in the world can't save him from the new, unkind greed that has possessed his beloved Wyoming during the latest boom.

Colton's story could not be told without telling of the land that grew him, where the great high plains meet the Rocky Mountains to create a vista of lonely beauty. It is here that the existence of one boy is a true story as deeply moving as the life that inspired it.

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Editorial Reviews

Carolyn See
At first it would seem that The Legend of Colton H. Bryant marks an extraordinary change of pace for accomplished writer Alexandra Fuller, whose earlier books, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and Scribbling the Cat, are detailed, realistic narratives, both set in Africa, in some of its most inhospitable climes and dire circumstances. The Legend of Colton H. Bryant is set in Wyoming (where Fuller now resides with her husband and children). It is short, incantatory and, although true, cast as a fable, a story of why-things-are-the-way-they-are, a little like Rudyard Kipling's "How the Leopard Got His Spots." But this short "legend" has a great deal in common with the African books. They all concern men who fall helplessly in love with impossible landscapes and hopeless situations. Something within them connects to the hard times outside them, and that connection increases in strength until it snaps.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Fuller, author of the bestselling Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, narrates the tragically short life of Colton H. Bryant, a Wyoming roughneck in his mid-20s who in 2006 fell to his death on an oil rig owned by Patterson-UTI Energy. A Wyoming resident herself since 1994, Fuller is expert in evoking the stark landscape and recreating the speech and mentality of her adopted state's native sons. Along the way, she sheds light on the tough, unpredictable lives of Wyoming's oilmen and the toll exacted on their families. Though the book is wonderfully poignant and poetic and reads more like a novel than biography, Fuller acknowledges that she has taken narrative liberties, composed dialogue, disregarded certain aspects of Colton's life and occasionally juggled chronology "to create a smoother story line," leading readers to wonder what is true and what invented for dramatic purposes. As such, it is difficult to assess Fuller's simplistic conclusion that the company's drive to cut costs killed the young man, though she is right to highlight the strikingly high number of fatalities in the industry. As a touching portrait of a life cut short and a perceptive immersion in the environment that nurtures such men, Fuller's volume excels, but in terms of absolute veracity it should be read with caution. (May 6)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
A lyrical paean to an unsung . . . well, not exactly hero, but one of life's unsung people. If this book were a country song, it would be by Merle Haggard. Whether British-born Fuller (Scribbling the Cat: Travels with an African Soldier, 2004, etc.) knows from Haggard is a matter of speculation, but what is clear is that she has an unfailing eye for common people caught up in uncommon events. This story of a young Wyomingite named Colton H. Bryant is also that of the oil and gas boom wrought by deregulation in these rapacious years of Bush, "a tragedy before it even starts because there was never a way for anyone to win against all the odds out here." Alternately bullied and ignored-"Retard" is a slur-cum-nickname that figures often in these pages-Colton did most of the things a young man in the heavily Mormon southwestern corner of the state is supposed to do: ride and rope, fish and hunt, cruise around in pickup trucks. Moreover, like young men in Evanston, Colton "was born with horses and oil in his blood like his father before him and his grandfather before that and maybe his grandfather's father before that." Having endured adolescence thanks to a good friend named Jake and a slightly misquoted creed borrowed from television ("Mind over matter"), Colton followed the second birthright to the oil patch, where he quickly found work as a roughneck, an unforgiving job. "They have to keep drilling hour after hour--storm, heat, sleet, ice, sun--no matter what," writes Fuller. "They'll slap another beating heart on the rig to take your place if you're so much as five minutes late." Diligent and aware of the dangers, but needing to support a wife and baby, he fell into the well, as so manyothers have, just one of 35 Wyomingites to die on the rigs between 2000 and 2006. The petroleum company, in the meanwhile, boasted record profits-while Colton's family "received no compensation for his loss."A latter-day Silkwood, quiet and understated, beautifully written, speaking volumes about the priorities of the age.
The Barnes & Noble Review
Each week, printing presses vomit reams upon reams of biographies and memoirs about the rich, the famous, and a dubious combination of the two (hello, Paris Hilton!). Publishers know readers love to immerse themselves in the lives of Those Who Are Not like the Rest of Us. For the space of a few hundred pages, we vicariously lap up the titillating adventures of French chefs, Revolutionary War heroes, golf pros, not-old-enough-to-vote pop singers, and White House press secretaries. But what of the humble, blue-collar American? What modern Boswell will write of the average life in as careful detail as others would of John Adams or Gene Simmons?

Alexandra Fuller has done just that in The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, an account of a Wyoming roughneck's short, happy life. Just as she did in her own memoirs of life in Africa, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and Scribbling the Cat, Fuller tells Colton's story in a parade of impressionistic scenes that are as much about the landscape as they are about the wide-eyed oil rigger who walks through it. In the book's opening sentences, Fuller writes: "This is the story of Colton H. Bryant and of the land that grew him. And since this is Wyoming, this story is a Western with a full cast of gun-toting boy heroes from the outskirts of town and city-shoddy villains from head office."

Colton, the unlikely hero at the center of the book, is no John Wayne, no Gary Cooper. Raised in the Upper Green River Valley of Wyoming, he loves hunting and fishing, idolizes his father (also an oil rigger), swigs Mountain Dew by the gallon, marries young, drives a Ford pickup, and works hard to provide for his family. There's nothing flashy or extraordinary about this Wyoming boy, and his biographer plays it straight nearly every step of the way. Fuller writes with a colloquial style, as if she's talking her way through a story with readers as rapt listeners. It's a quality that's been heightened and refined since her equally pitch-perfect Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. Now, stepping outside of her own life, Fuller bottles the essence of a young American male pitted against the unforgiving landscape where "a person could evaporate....hide in the snow-blown creases that make up the endless quality of Wyoming's open spaces. You might look all your life and never find a man."

Fuller found her man several years ago while doing research for a New Yorker article about the social, economic, and environmental impact of the natural gas industry. She couldn't have found a better David to provide contrast with Goliath-sized oil companies. Despite the "legend" of the title, Colton is not larger than life, just larger than his own life. Energetic, unflappable, and recklessly brave, he bounces through the book like a human pinball. Though he's never officially diagnosed, he exhibits all the signs of attention deficit disorder. Fuller tells us his brain works

like a saddle bronc, fired up for eight seconds maximum and then bolting around the rails looking for a way out of the arena. Even on Ritalin, Colton has a way of tearing out of the chute, firing with all hooves at once. Colton doesn't have the gear between flat out and stopped. He doesn't have speed perception -- the way other people feel alarmed when they're going too fast, Colton feels alarmed when he isn't moving fast enough.

In this way, he packs a big life in a short span of time, arms flailing, legs pinwheeling, taking chances where a more reasonable person might hesitate, always plunging forward like a horse out of the rodeo chute.

His simple kind-heartedness may eventually grate on cynics' nerves or readers who want a little shadow with their sunny characters. However, by the end of the book, no matter how hard or soft your heart, it's hard to shake Colton from your mind. If nothing else, the golly-gee expression "Holy cow!" will stick in your head like a skipping record, as will Colton's favorite phrase: "Mind over matter -- I don't mind so it don't matter."

In drawing Colton and other characters, Fuller displays her allegiance to the spirit of Charles Dickens; the book delivers full-fleshed portraits (bordering on caricatures) which in the same breath tell us as much about the inner person as the outer appearance. Here, for instance, is her verbal snapshot of Colton's father:

It would be a cliché and also not entirely accurate to say that Bill looks weather-beaten, because he doesn't look beaten by the weather, or by anything else. So it might be better to say that Bill is a man uncovered by weather -- blown and rained and sunned and snowed -- to the essence of himself, more and more perfectly grained with every passing year. Stripped of unnecessary flesh in this way, he hangs faultlessly on his own bones, so self-contained that he couldn't lose his fundamental nature even if everything else were lost.

Sometimes, Fuller's sheer exuberance for description gets sloppy and sentimental, such as when she writes of Colton's "cornflower blue eyes, forgiving as Jesus, like he truly couldn't feel the pain." It's already enough that Colton is unbelievably pure-hearted -- we don't need the messianic comparison.

More than anything, The Legend of Colton H. Bryant is a story about the crushing realities facing blue-collar westerners, the once-proud pioneers who now find themselves the disposable commodities of industry and corporate greed. Colton is trapped by his circumstances, above which he'll never rise by luck, higher education, or football scholarship. Colton is an oil rigger's son destined to follow in his father's greasy footprints, knowing he has little if any choice in the matter.

From the opening page, Fuller warns us her subject is predestined for an early death: "Like all Westerns, this story is a tragedy before it even starts because there was never a way for anyone to win against all the odds out here." Fuller doesn't completely bring the "villains" on stage until the end of the book, when Colton lies dying in the hospital. An oil company safety officer pays the grieving family a visit, heartlessly telling them, "If the boy dies, we can help with the funeral, but we got to get blood and urine outta him and test for drugs. He comes up hot for anything and you ain't getting nothing." Fuller wisely resists injecting any authorial moralizing and just lets the scene play out on its own.

The most poignant chapter is saved for the end of the book: the story of Colton's birth in the front seat of a 1976 Ford Thunderbird going 70 miles per hour on Highway 6 near Payson, Utah. In his mother's arms, "Colton pulls away and begins to paddle, as if trying to feel the limits of his new world and, finding none, trying to swim away on his own umbilical pull back to the earth." The image captures perfectly the sense of a boy who could not wait to start living. This is one unforgettable American life, cut short by tragedy, written in large, beautiful strokes of the pen. --David Abrams

David Abrams's stories and essays have appeared in Esquire, Glimmer Train Stories, The Greensboro Review, and The Missouri Review. He's currently at work on a novel based in part on his experiences while deployed to Iraq with the U.S. Army.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143115373
  • Publisher: Viking Penguin
  • Publication date: 4/28/2009
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 418,813
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Alexandra Fuller

ALEXANDRA FULLER was born in England in 1969. In 1972, she moved with her family to a farm in southern Africa. She lived in Africa until her midtwenties. In 1994, she moved to Wyoming. She has three children.

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    1. Hometown:
      Wilson, Wyoming
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 29, 1969
    2. Place of Birth:
      Glossop, Derbyshire, England
    1. Education:
      B. A., Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada, 1992

Table of Contents

Part 1
A Western     3
Colton and the Kmart Cowboys: Evanston, Wyoming     5
Preston and Colton, Hunting     9
Bill's Philosophy of Horse Breaking: Evanston, Wyoming     14
Bill and Colton: Evanston, Wyoming     19
In the Beginning: Wyoming And the West     24
Cattle Drive: Near Evanston     27
Goose Hunting with Jake, Colton, and Cody: Near Evanston     30
Jake: Utah     36
Jake: Evanston, Wyoming     39
Jake and Colton: Evanston, Wyoming     44
Running Free: Near Evanston     48
Bill's Philosophy of Hunting     55
Looking for Cocoa     57
Firewood     61
Cocoa: June     66
Graduation     68
Bull Riding: All Over the West     72
Paradise Road: Upper Green River Valley     77
Drilling on the Rigs: Utah     81
Anatomy of an Oil Patch: Upper Green River Valley     83
Flow Testing: Upper Green River Valley     87
The Astro Lounge: Rock Springs     90
Train Stopping     97
Colton and Chase: Winter     104
Kaylee's Philosophy of Drugs     109
Fireworks: Evanston, Wyoming     112
Driving All Day: Wyoming/Utah/Arizona     117
Patterson-Uti Drilling: Upper Green River Valley     119
Driving All Day and Night: Wyoming/Utah/Arizona     123
Married: Evanston, Wyoming     126
Drilling     129
Thanksgiving: Evanston/Rawlins     131
A Serious Life     137
Marriage and Roughnecking: Evanston, Wyoming     141
The death of Leroy Fried: Upper Green River Valley     143
Dakota Justus Bryant     148
Colton Quits     151
Colton Works in Evanston     154
Minus Thirty-Five     157
Part 2
The Day Before Valentine's Day: Evanston, Wyoming     161
Cumberland Cemetery     165
Valentine's Evening: Jake And Tonya     169
Free Fall     172
Jake Driving All Day     174
Patterson-Uti Drilling     176
Tough Angel     179
Rainbow: Upper Green River Valley     183
A Million-Dollar Personality     187
Evanston Cemetery: Evanston, Wyoming     190
Colt     193
Jake And Colton: Afterwards     195
Author's Note     199
Acknowledgments      201
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Customer Reviews

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( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 18, 2009

    The best book I've read in years

    This carefully researched and big hearted book deserves to become a classic about the costs, both human and environmental, of our country's voracious appetite for energy which sweeping over the overthrust belt of northern Colorado and southern Wyoming like a tidal wave. The tragedy of Cullen Bryant is a continuation of the centuries old tragedies of coal miners in energy rich Appalachia. But, what keeps this from being just another sad story about a young man who ran out of options for supporting his family, is Alexandra Fuller's luminous and evocative prose. She has distilled the essence of Cullen's life onto these pages and in the end I felt like I had lost a friend from my wild earlier life. I come from northern Colorado and I would have loved to run with Cullen.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2008

    A reviewer

    In reading this story after meeting Alexander at a conference, it was a must. It touched my heart and the lump in my throat did not go away with end of the book. Reading this brings your emotions to the surface to remain for a long time. The author loved Colton H. Bryant even thought she never met him. It is apparent in her outstanding telling of his story.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2012


    I am a bryant and this is an amazing book they were even thinking about a movie so thoese who didnt like it u dont no what good is and living in wyoming isent hard but its just a harder task than living in a citys and expessialy in evenston wy its not just a place to us here its just one big grop of friend anyone who likes short and like a biography of fun and challanging chapters this is the book for u in memmories always uncle colton love u forever!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2010

    Interesting and Different

    While I enjoyed this book, I would be hesitant to recommend it to others. It's a odd little work of non-fiction - with "narrative liberties" - comprised of short chapters (usually 2-3 pages). It actually felt more like a series of super short stories that are put together to give you a snapshot of the life of Colton H. Bryant - a modern day cowboy, working the rigs in Wyoming. I enjoyed learning about this little corner of our country and I thought her descriptions were very well written. I could see it land, feel the wind, feel the cold. I've never been to Wyoming so I don't know how accurate it was, but her descriptions took me somewhere in my head that was beautiful, windy, and cold. I also came to truly feel for Bryant's family and friends - a hard working group of people living in a tough, tough place. You can't help but respect these people. It's was also interesting to read about the simple reality of where our energy comes from. I feel like I read about energy a lot in the paper, but this book makes you think about the people that are bringing that energy to you, and the land it is coming out of. The way Fuller describes the sounds of the rigs drilling into the earth - it was painful. I liked this book and found it interesting, but not a page turner. I was glad that I read it, but also glad that it was only about 200 pages.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 4, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Short biography

    I was alerted to this book after watching a roundtable discussion on CSPAN regarding oil drilling in the west. Fuller was on the discussion panel. I wasn't quite sure what to expect of this story...maybe a little bit more of Bryant's time working on the rigs. The story I got was one of Colton H. Bryant's life from childhood until his death at the age of 26. Fuller opens the window to the hard lives for families of those who work on oil rigs and those who live out in the hinterlands of Wyoming. As someone who was raised in the West and has experienced three different western cultures, the Wyoming west is much different compared to the ones I've experienced and maybe that's why I felt much of the "color" of the story felt forced and exaggerated. But again, I've never lived in Wyoming so I can't be sure. Still, I couldn't help a tears from spilling when I read about Colton's final hours.

    Would I recommend this to others? I think only a select view would find value in it so I would be very choosy to who I would suggest this one to.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 4, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A Story About The True West

    A true book about a boy growing up in the beautiful state of Wyoming and his love for the outdoors. The author, Alexandra Fuller, captures the feelings and emotions of this family completely. A very moving story and a book you will want to read again.

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  • Posted April 20, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Colton H. Bryant

    Without a doubt, this is one of the best books I have ever read. I picked up Colton H. Bryant after reading both of Alexandra Fuller's other books, both of which I also strongly recommend. As someone who is continuously exposed to the natural gas industry in Wyoming and other places in the Rocky Mountains, this book really hit home. All of the characters connected to people I know, and it really depicts an accurate picture of both the ranchers and roughnecks of Wyoming as I know them. One of the most powerful aspects of the book is its portrayal of the thought-process and culture of natural gas workers, a sort of no-fear, macho personality that counters the dangerous nature and tough circumstances of that field. I was constantly amazed by the events of Colton's childhood, which had it been a fiction book I would have blown off as contrived. From stopping Union Pacific coal trains at midnight in a blizzard to chasing his horse around grasslands for a year, this book creates an interesting and exciting insight into the setting as well as the characters. Written in a similar manner as her other books, the structure of short stories and anecdotes really help the story's development and prevent the artificial or unnatural flow I often find in other non-fiction works. I strongly recommend this novel for people who are involved in natural gas extraction or ranching, or are just interested in a modern Western.

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