Historian Duane Smith has hit one out of the park for posterity by compiling a second volume of his Durango Herald columns into a book Durango Diary II 1890s-1945. Who knows what students or any curious readers will find there, and when they'll find it? This is a treble recycling effort or more. Not only did the component columns run first in the Herald from 1998-2006, but the Herald was one of the author's most important sources. And the paper's publishing company is putting the book out.
Smith's first volume Durango Diary covered the 1880s and '90s. The second picks the story up from there and takes it through World War II.
The 43 historical photographs in the second volume make up an added resource.
This is more a book to dip into than to read in a sitting or two. The columns were written to be read one by one, and so there is duplication. For instance, the fall in the price of silver in 1893 that dropped Durango in depression for most of a decade needs to be referenced often to make various points.
But because Smith is a teacher, a professor of history and southwest studies at Fort Lewis College, he knows the value of repetition as a teaching device.
And his latest of many books is nothing if not educational. After six years living in Durango, I had no idea, for instance, that we'd had a not-terribly-successful land rush starting in 1899.
Smith doesn't shrink from pointing out the town's flaws. He reproduces a front page from The Durango Klansman newspaper and recounts how the town voted against women's suffrage and establishing national forests.
Smith's section about the Great Depression is his most moving. He has managed to interview many people who were alive then, and their recollections cram his columns on the subject.
Ethel Nelson, for instance, told of a neighbor boy who came to meals and wolfed his food. When admonished for eating fast, he replied "Well, if you hadn't had anything but squash to eat all winter, you'd eat fast, too."
Smith's section on bootlegging and prohibition is entertaining. He includes a ditty from the Durango paper Democrat: "We'll build a little still / somewhere upon the hill / and let the rest of the world go by." The quality of the plentiful hooch was dicey, though. One Durangoan remembered that if you spilled homemade liquor on the floor, it took the paint off.
This book would be a useful teaching resource. I can picture teachers from middle school through college adding it to their curricula and pupils having a fine time, even a giggly time, talking about it in class.
They might even be inspired, as when they read about the tenacious girls of Durango High School who overcame querulous local politicians to get their first basketball team. Will young people be able to imagine sports as too unladylike to be allowed?
Smith is giving them the opportunity to think about issues that have never occurred to them. Good for him.