Our letters section and your opportunity to weigh in and be heard. Send us your thoughts and profundities. You can contact us here.

Brushing up on local history

Dear Editors,

OK, quick history lesson – what’s the real name of the river that runs through our town, and from where did it get its name? Your first reaction might be that it’s named the Rio de Las Animas Perdidas, the “River of Lost Souls,” or the Animas River for short. You’ve likely heard the legend that it was named by Spanish explorers after members of their party drowned while attempting a crossing, hence the name. Wrong!

As recorded in his personal journal, the Animas River was named the Rio de Las Animas (simply, the River of Souls) by Spanish explorer Juan Maria Antonio de Rivera on July 4, 1765. The bridge across the Animas River near Home Depot was named Rivera Crossing in his honor, in 2004. Rivera broke trail as it were, for the later Dominguez-Escalante Expedition in 1776. This expedition was headed by Franciscan friars, Silvestre Velez de Escalante, and Francisco Antanasio Dominguez. Among several streets in our town and others in the area, the explorers are locally recognized by Dominguez Drive, the road from Hwy. 160 that leads to Escalante Middle School.

So why the persistent “River of Lost Souls” legend? You’ll have to admit, it’s a colorful moniker. You should know that in Colorado, there is actually another Animas River (also known as the Purgatory River). These are located in Southeast Colorado, mostly in present day Las Animas County.

According to historian David Lavender, “The myth (or fact if you will) that created the name is older than the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock.” Lavender then states that an exploration party was sent out of Mexico

to the area (of present day southeast Colorado), around 1594 to suppress the Indians. When they judged their mission completed, their interests turned to pursuing theexplorer Coronado’s fruitless search for the fabled Quivara. They disobeyed orders to return, quarreled violently among themselves, and their numbers4

diminished, were set upon by Indians. Years later, their rusted arms were discovered by a “roaming party of explorers” near a river. This band of explorers named the river the “Rio de Las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio,” The River of Lost Souls in Purgatory, which survives today as the Purgatoire.

How did this transfer to our own local Animas River? Could it have been a miner, or whoever named Purgatory Creek, possibly someone who had traveled here from the eastern part of the territory? The source of how this came to be may be lost to history.

Whatever, the misnomer persists today. Only now, you, the reader, know the truth. Impress your friends, correct the less well-informed. Tell them the name of the river that runs through our peaceful burg is actually the Rio de las Animas, the “River of Souls,” named by the explorer Juan Rivera in 1765.

– Elwin M. Johnston, via e-mail

Increasingly dark days

To the Editors,

My father tuned his BS meter at steelworker union meetings. I was witness to this cussing and gesturing, and it was interesting to see them come to a vote and “solution.” They knew their futures, and those of their families, depended upon actions taken on those particular days.

Today, I marvel at the whimpering of media while losing audience. It seems they are baffled as to why their bottom lines are suffering. I, for one, am tired of the lies, propaganda and disinformation regularly presented by the Fourth Estate.

Our national media has failed us miserably. We now understand that BIG issues are heavily filtered through the six (count ’em) media outlets with a heavy corporate bias. As FDR would have it: “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it (be)comes stronger than the democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by a group.”

I recently finished Jesse Ventura’sAmerican Conspiracies and sense that his efforts are trustworthy. Of special value is the comparison between our politicians and professional wrestlers. Fake opponents are to be reported upon in the media but once the camera lights disappeared, it was party time.  

Allow me to waken the senses and propose a literacy of conspiracy. In short, the playbook contains the following material: When evidence is quickly removed and destroyed from a major event, bet on the conspiracy. False flag operations, the patsy, moles, military drills, provocateur and billionaire are all terms that we should use to enlighten our future generations.

Ancient cultures imagined that the sun needed conscious help from people in order to avoid a great darkness. These are increasingly dark times, but if we give our attention to the young people, the less fortunate and our community, light may shine a clear path toward truth. And this, my fellow citizen, is when truth will trump propaganda.

“Our lives begin to end the day we are silent about things that matter.” – MLK

– Lenny Papineau, Durango

Memories of Durango


With two reunions of over 100 members of our family at the Durango Mountain Resort and Lake Vallecito, and many family horseback rides with our brother Dan in the area over the last decade, the Smith family has many fond memories of the Durango area. And for those good times, we thank the citizens of Durango and of La Plata County.

Our good times include the support we have received from the Durango community during the recent difficult week during which my brother Dan was found guilty of both felony menacing and reckless discharge of a firearm. We appreciate the support described in several stories in the Herald and in readers’ web comments on those stories.

What happened when we stopped at Durango’s Bread store on County Road 250 shortly after the trial illustrates the depth of community support we have received. When the clerk asked why we were in town, my brother related the story of his trial. The clerk then gave us free bread (unfortunately they were out of their famous gluten-free trademark bread), coffee, brownies and cookies to lift our spirits on a very difficult day!

Our family understands that the experience of my brother is one of those unfortunate things that can happen when individuals fail to observe common social graces and allow bad manners to escalate into ill-temper and rage.Given the extraordinarily dangerous situation my brother was in, our family is proud of the way he handled himself. He took charge. No one was injured. No property was damaged. With no one in charge, either he or the other party could easily have been killed. As one of our family, Alexandra Corwin, was once a deputy district attorney in Albuquerque, we understand the limits of the legal system. While disappointed in the verdict, we are grateful to the La Plata County justice system for the insights it provided into the relationship between my brother and the Durango community.

My brother had a stroke in the 1990s that has handicapped him both physically and mentally. The discovery process for the trial provided our family with insights into our brother’s multiple handicaps, especially his subtle mental handicaps, that otherwise we never would have gotten. The assistance provided by my brother’s Principal Investigator, Gale Pennington of Durango, and my brother’s defense attorney from Colorado Springs,4 David Migneault, an expert in law enforcement procedures, has also been invaluable. They have provided key facts and insights to help our family understand the complex relationship between my brother and the community. Based on their work, I agree with the District Attorney’s comment that the verdict was, for the jury, “a difficult question.”

Regretfully, my brother moved his pack operations out of the Durango area in September, sold half of his Durango properties in April, and will soon put his remaining property in Durango up for sale. Even without my brother here, I plan to return to Durango and its many wonderful people, historic hotels, wonderful businesses, sunrise jogs on the Animas River Trail, and hikes through the wilderness areas whenever I can. Thank you, Durango, for wonderful times and family memories, past and future!

– William (Bill) Smith, Alameda, Calif.

Listening to the great outdoors

To the Editors:

Following on the heels of a recent White House conference on America’s Great Outdoors (the first time the president had convened such a meeting since 1908, when Theodore Roosevelt was in office), Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to announce a nationwide series of “listening sessions” this summer to encourage public discussion about conservation issues.

Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA) works to protect roadless areas, wilderness and other backcountry habitat for fish and wildlife, the very foundations of our public lands hunting and fishing traditions. We will be looking to Secretary Salazar and our elected officials to voice their support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the 2001 Roadless Rule, the Wilderness Act, and other tools that that protect our land and water and critical fish and wildlife habitat.

June has been proclaimed Great Outdoors Month in Colorado – an opportunity to enjoy the mountains, rivers, wildlands and wildlife of our state, and renew our responsibilities as stewards of our wild public lands birthright. As all BHA members know, our public lands in Colorado and elsewhere are every hunter’s, angler’s and citizen’s gift, and it is our civic duty to take care of them for current and future generations.

– David A. Lien, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, via e-mail

The Visitor

I walked into the east grove to stack winter’s wood.

It was early evening when the summer sun’s light

Was long and the shadows most discernable.

A steady up-slope breeze was soothing and cool.

Beyond the old cedars,

I noticed a shadowed figure resting

On a felled log.

I approached this visitor cautiously

And as he turned… I was astonished

To see Pop!

Grinning, he stood up leaning on his cane,

Dressed in suntans,

The familiar infantry trim of light blue,

Those mirrored, spit- shinned shoes,

And two rows of combat ribbons pinned

above the left pocket.

Pointing upward he shouted,

“Surprised to see me!

Bob Blackie and I are headed

Above those banks of clouds to find Charlie!

You know he’s been waiting for us somewhere on Saipan.”

He tapped a camel from his pack and

Lit it with the snap of his silver Zippo.

“You take care son, gotta go!  A long exhalation.

Shocked and confounded by this apparition,

I turned to throw a branch on the woodpile

Sensing a waft of tobacco.

Fathers and sons from my generation seldom

Displayed fondness:  It was exhibited

Almost ingloriously by a ritualized gesture, a joke

Or farewell.

It was always that way.

– Burt Baldwin, Ignacio