by Gary Hart


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With a contemporary Western flavor and plenty of intrigue and suspense, Gary Hart's latest novel Durango brings readers into the world of the small southwest Colorado town as the close-knit community is rocked by scandal and controversy. As a drawn-out battle for water rights looms over the town, one of Durango's most eminent citizens, stoic former politician Daniel Sheridan, is implicated in a shocking transgression, forcing him to clear his name and resolve the contention that has weighed upon his hometown for decades. Drawing on the classic themes of loyalty, honor, redemption, and the land, Durango presents an unforgettable saga of the American west.

Gary Hart has been and continues to be one of America's great public servants for almost four decades, from his role in the 1972 McGovern campaign to his years as a visionary senator, from his leadership on national security matters before and after 9/11 to his contributions as a respected statesman on various issues. He is the author of several books, including The Thunder and the Sunshine: Four Seasons in a Burnished Life, as well as two novels published under the pseudonym John Blackthorn. Hart lives in Denver, Colorado.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781555916701
Publisher: Fulcrum Publishing
Publication date: 07/10/2012
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Gary Hart has been and continues to be one of America's great public servants for almost four decades, from his role in the 1972 McGovern campaign to his years as a visionary senator, from his leadership on national security matters before and after 9/11 to his contributions as a respected statesman on various issues. He is the author of several books, including The Thunder and the Sunshine: Four Seasons in a Burnished Life, as well as two novels published under the pseudonym John Blackthorn. Hart lives in Denver, Colorado.

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By Gary Hart

Fulcrum Publishing

Copyright © 2012 Gary Hart
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55591-670-1




Rescuing lost things would be easier if God would cooperate. Every time somebody's cow or calf, or both, or some dumb flatlander got themselves stranded up there in the high country, it seems that there's a storm of some kind.

Now here was Harv saying, Say, Dan, I know it looks kind of bad out there. But I got a good old cow and a spring calf up above there. He had paused and coughed apologetically. I was wonderin' if you could give me a hand bringin' 'em down.

Sheridan had figured what it was when the phone rang. Every spring, Harv let his cows go up too high too soon and then, just about this time every spring, one or two got lost or stranded. And every spring the call came. Same words. Same cough.

But hell, he thought, pulling on the boots that had even more creases than his face, Harv was a good decade older than he was, and he wasn't getting around too well. Besides, situation reversed, Harv would do the same for him. But Harv had never had to and, he thought wryly, never would have to. The few cattle he did run would never be allowed to graze up high this early in the cantankerous spring storm season.

He pulled on the flannel-lined denim jacket, turned up the wool collar, and pulled on his worn-out work gloves. He told Toby, his border collie, he'd be back. Outdoors he bent against the rising wind to get to the barn. Glancing to the northwest, he guessed fifteen minutes for the snow. Depending where the cow had got herself and her calf to, it would take the better part of an hour to find them and most of another hour to bring them down.

He hefted the saddle, soft from a recent oiling, down from its mounting, and the horse, noisily munching his supper oats, gave him the sad eye. Not tonight, the look said. Not while I'm having my supper. Sheridan patted the solid rump and said, The oats'll be here when we get back. For himself, he was glad he had remembered to get a fresh bottle of Jameson. He led the horse out of the barn, swung up, and the horse shook his head vigorously as he felt the heel tap.

Sheridan said, Okay Red, let's go.

Harvey Waldron had been a neighbor, had been his father's neighbor, so long he couldn't remember since when. A hogback ridge separated their properties up the tail end of the old Florida Road. Harv tried to run thirty or forty head of Herefords all by himself long after he should. Dan, he'd say, what else I got to do? Just me and the cows, he'd say. I figure, he'd always say, when the cows go, I go.

That being the situation, what else could he do than help Harv bring down a cow or two every spring?

He made good time in the dimming light, going up the diminishing dirt road that tailed off into a trail in the draw leading to the upper reaches of his property. He knew Harv would meet him where his horse trail met a similar one rising above the Waldron meadow to the east. Now the snow came. And with it, the wind. And it didn't start slowly. It arrived full force. The electricity along Florida Road was down, yet again, and the forecast from his hand-cranked radio had predicted a foot or more of snow. He saw Harv sitting his horse just ahead in the driving snow and knew they had to find the cow and calf right quickly.

Thanks, Dan, Harv muttered through his thick mustache. I'll do the same for you one of these days. Then he chuckled, Except I know I won't have to.

Doesn't matter, Harv, Sheridan shouted back as he moved his horse out in front and followed the trail higher. It's the thought that counts, he shouted over the wind. Where do you reckon this cow of yours is?

Where they always go, Dan, Harv shouted, up in those aspen trees at the top end of my place. Maybe even over into the federal land.

Sheridan heel-tapped his big red horse and climbed more quickly. The high aspen grove was another thirty minutes at least. They climbed in silence, the horses and men blowing serious clouds of steam. Loose rocks clattered under shod hooves. He could see no more than thirty feet, probably less, ahead. The horse snorted and shook his head, thinking of oats. If a horse had a memory and could count — and for all Sheridan knew, this horse could — he would know it would be an hour or more before he got back to his oats and the barn's shelter.

Considerable time passed as the climb continued, the stiff wind blowing snow sideways from the northwest. They emerged into a small, high meadow, and he thought he could see the aspen grove a football field away. Harv shouted, She's up there. He knew Harv couldn't see that far, particularly in a spring blizzard, so he listened. Sure enough, there was a faint, far-off, buffered bellow. He suddenly remembered he hadn't holstered his rifle and hoped to God a cat hadn't gotten after the calf.

They followed the intermittent bellowing as it became less muffled. Fifty yards, then twenty-five. His horse snorted again and he knew, from certain experience, that if a cat had gotten there first, the horse wouldn't go much farther. He cursed again about the forgotten Winchester. Harv could afford to lose a calf a lot easier than he could afford to lose a horse that had taken a dozen years to become an extension of his own body.

He swung down from the horse and, grunting, Harv followed. Both carried lariat rope. Eyes wide and terror-stricken, the cow stomped and thrashed around in the thick aspen growth. The month-old calf stood still, threatened with trampling by the mother cow. Sheridan got within a dozen feet of the frantic cow and easily tossed the lariat rope over her head, and it settled around her neck. He looped the rope around the saddle pommel as Harv lassoed the calf and did likewise.

The cow now calmed and let the horse lead her out of the grove. The calf seemed satisfied to follow. Now, he thought, the hard part begins. Harv, he shouted through the wind's howl, you start down there with your calf and I'll bring the old lady down right behind you. Harv nodded and mounted up. Sheridan hoped to hell Harv wouldn't get lost going down, but he trusted him to know the trails — even those now drifting heavily with snow — on his own property deeded to the Waldrons by some Indian chief well over a century before.

Visibility was now almost totally gone. He let the reins loose on the tall horse, knowing that oats were as good a horse-compass as anything. Harv's mustache was hoary-thick with a mixture of frozen tobacco juice and snow. His own eyebrows, he imagined, looked much the same — minus the tobacco juice. The snow drove sideways at about thirty miles an hour. He brushed snow away from his horse's eyes as the sure-footed creature methodically plowed through the drifts now up to his knees. Sheridan pulled the aged Stetson lower over his forehead.

They got to the fork connecting the horse trails from the two properties, and he followed Harv down toward his outbuildings, now a quarter of a mile ahead. Harv shouted back to him, Give me that lead rope and I'll take her on in. Sheridan shook his head no. If the cow got spooked or rambunctious, Harv could well be tossed from his horse and end up frozen. He waved him forward. After another ten minutes or so, they got to the cow pasture. They both dismounted, untied their bovine wards, and turned them into the fenced pasture with their closely huddled herd. The cow lowed and bellowed, and the calf trotted to join her in the dense mass.

Come on in for a drink, Harv shouted over the wind. You've earned it.

He shook his head and shouted back, Next time. You'll owe me one.

I owe you a helluva lot more than one, Harv shouted back and waved his arm toward the house.

Sheridan shook his head again and swung up into the tall saddle. He touched his hat, now thick with snow, and reined his horse around. They went back up the Waldron trail to the fork and made a U-turn down toward his own place. Another ten or fifteen minutes later, he dismounted and led the horse back into his stable barn. He lifted off the heavy saddle and blanket, hung them on their hooks, and proceeded to knock the caked snow from the horse's hide. He led the big creature over to his stall and let him start on the oats as he wiped him down with a heavy horse towel. He then brushed him vigorously, as much to stimulate circulation as to groom, and finally toweled him off again.

The animal stomped a foot now and then, as if to say, You've done your job. Now let me enjoy these oats. I think I've earned them.

Sheridan smacked the horse's rump by way of thanks and compliment and then headed out through the blizzard to his own smoldering fireplace and the Jameson.


Well, here he comes, Sam Maynard observed. Sam always sat at their corner table by the café window in the seat that gave him the best view of the street and anyone coming up the sidewalk. Let's act like we don't know about his adventure, he muttered.

The Monday, and sometimes Friday, coffee club had become a fixture. Mr. Murphy had started it, and Sam had been an original attendee. The professor scheduled his history classes at Fort Lewis College so that Monday and Friday mornings around eight were free. Bill Van Ness, the high school principal, discovered the conclave and managed to happen by once or twice a week. And from time to time, Dan Sheridan found himself in the neighborhood of the café on Durango's Main Avenue, with the mural of Jack Dempsey on the outside wall that dated to sometime around the turn of the century — the twentieth, that is.

Sheridan came through the door, hung his hat on the coat tree, and took the last seat at the table. He nodded all around.

You get much snow up your way? Mr. Murphy asked.

A good bit, Sheridan said. Happens every year around this time.

The men sipped their coffee and gave this some thought. The professor said, Kind of makes you wonder about climate changing. Big snow like that. Even so, he continued, all the material I've read convinces me it's the real deal. Something we have to deal with.

Suppose so, Sheridan allowed, cutting off what could have been a disquisition on climate.

Sam grinned and said, Your cattle okay? The others stared at him. They had known he couldn't resist this.

Yep, Sheridan said.

How's old Harv doing? Sam persisted after a brief silence. The others stared harder. They wanted to see if Sheridan would discuss the adventure on his own.

Harv's doin' fine, he said, so far as I would know. Now they knew he wasn't going to volunteer anything.

Well, Sam said, there's some talk going around about you and Harv and some cows. The professor studied the smoked-stained ceiling.

Over the top of his steamy cup, Sheridan looked at Sam. Harv did have a cow and calf up at the top of his place when the snow came in, he allowed. We went up and got 'em and brought 'em down. That's pretty much it.

The regulars considered this. Pretty bad snow Friday evening, Bill Van Ness said.

Sheridan said, Hmmm.

Harv's telling folks you saved his cow and calf, Sam said.

I wouldn't know about that, Sheridan said, reaching for the coffeepot. Harv's been known to have a good imagination.

Soon the conversation wandered off to the Durango High School's chances at the state basketball tournament, whether the tourists would show up and when, and a number of other topics of the day. It was a standing, though unspoken, rule that politics would rarely be discussed.

The Sheridan family went back three generations in Durango. The grandfather was buried on the property, as was his son. It was generally assumed the grandson would someday join them in the small fenced plot in a corner of the high meadow beyond the top of Florida Road. Some said the original Sheridan somehow traced back to the Civil War general Little Phil. Even though the County Cavan roots were there and the dates worked out, more or less, the old man had steadfastly denied it, as much as anything else because Philip Sheridan had treated the western Indians brutally following the war.

Daniel Sheridan made no claim one way or the other.

Though well enough known in the community, Sheridan kept to himself, as they said, and his life was singular if not solitary. He was known to visit the local cinema on occasion when a movie worth seeing came to town. That itself was rare enough. And even more rarely he would be seen at the Strater Hotel dining room at a back corner table, on almost every one of those occasions in the company of a tall, dark-haired woman. She was also known in town, though her habits were at least as closely guarded as Sheridan's.

Caroline Chandler's place was about ten or twelve miles northwest of town, around where Quinn Creek met Johnson Creek. Her acreage was smaller than Sheridan's, and she had no time for cattle. What she had time for, aside from the rare dinners with Sheridan, was a matter of some mystery. But Durango was not a town given to prying into the lives of its citizens, especially those with deep and lasting roots. The town observed an almost nineteenth-century concern for privacy and respect for personal idiosyncrasy.

Well, then, Mr. Murphy said, that's our excitement for the week. Rescued cow and calf. Doesn't take much around here.

The professor, more attuned to Sheridan's moods than the others, happily announced that enrollment at Fort Lewis College was going to be up for the next fall. Well, that's good, they all agreed. The kids bought stuff in town, frequented the bars and restaurants, and, compared to their generation elsewhere, generally behaved well. The college was a definite boost to the local economy.

Sheridan pushed back from the table, fetched his hat, and nodded all around. See you Friday, Sam said, more by way of a question. Sheridan waved over his shoulder.

Now Harv said it was a real tough trick to bring that cow and calf down, Mr. Murphy said. Dan wasn't about to admit it.

Bill Van Ness said, You didn't expect him to, did you?

Not especially, Mr. Murphy replied.

Sam inquired cautiously, Do you think he'll ever be back to his old self ... the way he was?

The table was silent. I wouldn't hold my breath, Mr. Murphy finally said. If he's not his old self by now, he probably won't ever be ... and even so, Ms. Chandler would be the one to know. He nodded across the street to where she was parking her car.


In 1868, the federal government entered into a treaty with the consolidated bands of Ute people. Within a few decades, federal policies and the pressures of western expansion would divide the Ute people into three distinct tribes, one of which is the Southern Ute Tribe. By the late twentieth century, the tribe was down to fewer than 1,500 members, though well before the Spanish came, their ancestors had migrated around and across most of what became Colorado and large parts of New Mexico and Utah. In the late nineteenth century, the Ute Strip, basically desert land roughly fifteen miles wide and seventy-five miles long, was created by the government and became the permanent Southern Ute reservation. By the mid-1930s, even that rough terrain near the corner of Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico was half-owned by non-Indians. And the whites had managed to get much of the prime land near the several rivers and streams crossing the Southern Ute reservation.

Like everywhere else in the arid and semiarid West, there was little that could be done with the land unless you had water. A few cows might be grazed on the scrub brush and clumps of weeds, but there would be no crops for sale or gardens for family food without water. And the water did not ordinarily come from rainfall. It resulted from the high mountain snows and it had to be stored when the spring runoff from the San Juan Mountain range, just north and east of the reservation, came. The Animas and La Plata rivers, as well as the Florida and lesser streams, transited the reservation. But the tribe had no storage facilities for irrigation or domestic use. If you did not have property along one of those streams, and the means to divert it, you were living a life dominated by wind and dust, and little else.

Up until the 1960s, the Southern Utes, with few exceptions, lived pretty much hand to mouth. The small tribal treasury provided no more than one or two hundred dollars a year per tribal member. And by and large, members of the tribe were at the end of the employment chain in and around town.

By the 1960s, however, things began to change. Tourism in the spectacularly beautiful region, with its national forests and then wilderness areas, jagged peaks, ancient Native American ruins, wild streams, partially restored mining towns, nature and horse-riding trails, and plentiful campgrounds, brought a wave of economic growth. Increasing numbers of city dwellers, confronting urban crowding and pollution, visited the region, went back home and sold out, and moved to the area permanently. But all this activity and all these new people needed more of what was already lacking: water.

Not too long thereafter, a vast national search for energy resources began. As early as the 1950s, areas around Durango were mined for a new vital resource — uranium — first for nuclear weapons and then for nuclear power plants. But there was also coal, and there was oil and natural gas.


Excerpted from Durango by Gary Hart. Copyright © 2012 Gary Hart. Excerpted by permission of Fulcrum Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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