102404cowboy.jpgSummer, 1974. Driving along a winding dirt road in the Western Slope of Colorado when a tire blew on my rental car.

As I replaced the blown tire, rancher John Wilson rode up, cradling a shotgun in his arms.

“Did you know you’re on my land?”

“Isn’t this a public road?”

“No, it ain’t. You’re trespassing.”

I wasn’t about to argue with a double-barrel 12-gauge but his stern look softened and he climbed down off the horse to help me finish changing the tire and then said “why don’t you follow me to the house and rest a spell.”

We sat on his porch and talked ranching, weather and politics until the sun sat.

“Why don’t you stay for dinner? The missus always has some extra.”

I stayed for dinner, and breakfast, and lunch, and dinner the next night, finally resuming my trip two days later.

“You head out towards that mountain,” Wilson said. “That will take you back to the hard road.”

John and Edna Wilson stood on the porch and waved as I drove away. We exchanged letters over the next few months but I hadn’t heard from them in a while so, a few years later when I was on assignment in Colorado, I drove back to the ranch house to see John and Edna but another couple lived there.

“Oh, you mean the old guy who owned the place? His wife died in 1975 and the Production Credit Association forecosed on him in ’76. We bought the ranch at auction. Don’t know what happened to him.”

At the general store about five miles from the ranch, the woman behind the counter remembered John Wilson.

“I think he moved to Idaho to live with his daughter but I’m not sure. It’s a shame what happened to his ranch. It’s happened to too many ranchers around here and too many farmers in this country.”

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