Colorado gun culture: Oscar Wilde had us pegged in 1882

Colorado gun culture: Oscar Wilde had us pegged in 1882

 
Famous Irish poet, playwright, art-lover Oscar Wilde came to Colorado in 1882 as part of what became a notorious whirlwind lecture tour of the United States. Hopping across the continent in horse-drawn carriages and steam trains, he was giving lessons and getting lessons. Once safely returned to the Old World, he regaled European aesthetes with tales of exotic America — the naivete, the rugged manners and style, the matter-of-fact violence, the unbridled receptivity to all things new. “America! Really, I swear!”

The story of his visit to high-altitude Leadville surely had them rolling in the aisles. It is an absurd recounting of a place where dinners are served at the bottom of mine shafts and where guns! guns! guns! are as common as shirts.

As people in Castle Rock this year engaged in a battle over open-carry gun policy will tell you, much and nothing has changed in Colorado in the near century and a half since the legendary fop came and went.

From Salt Lake City one travels over the great plains of Colorado and up the Rocky Mountains, on the top of which is Leadville, the richest city in the world. It has also got the reputation of being the roughest, and every man carries a revolver. I was told that if I went there they would be sure to shoot me or my travelling manager. I wrote and told them that nothing that they could do to my travelling manager would intimidate me. They are miners — men working in metals, so I lectured to them on the Ethics of Art. I read them passages from the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini and they seemed much delighted. I was reproved by my hearers for not having brought him with me.
      I explained that he had been dead for some little time which elicited the enquiry “Who shot him “? They afterwards took me to a dancing saloon where I saw the only rational method of art criticism I have ever come across. Over the piano was printed a notice:
      PLEASE DO NOT SHOOT THE PIANIST.
      HE IS DOING HIS BEST.
      The mortality among pianists in that place is marvellous. Then they asked me to supper, and having accepted, I had to descend a mine in a rickety bucket in which it was impossible to be graceful. Having got into the heart of the mountain I had supper, the first course being whisky, the second whisky and the third whisky.
      I went to the Theatre to lecture and I was informed that just before I went there two men had been seized for committing a murder, and in that theatre they had been brought on to the stage at eight o’clock in the evening, and then and there tried and executed before a crowded audience. But I found these miners very charming and not at all rough.

[ Sarony photo via Oscar Wilde in America ]

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About the Author

John Tomasic

Writer, editor, teacher, web wrangler. He has worked for art, business, culture, politics publications, five universities and a UN war crimes commission. @johntomasic
jtomasic@coloradoindependent.com | 720-432-2128 |

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