Dear Library Enthusiast –
We received a gift this month in support of the Carnegie Library for Local History that caught my attention. It involved $1,600 in cash and a Sheriff’s badge.
Intrigued, I asked our donor, a retired orthopedic surgeon and “Sheriff” of the now-closed Boulder Corral of Westerners, to meet me at the Carnegie library, to go over the donated materials and share some of the memories they evoked.
Bill Johnson generously obliged. He explained to me that, in its heyday, the Boulder chapter of the national Westerners organization had dozens of members who met monthly to hear from excellent speakers presenting fascinating histories of the West. Topics ranged from mountain men to firearms of the American West, from Native Americans to women in the West, and even included mountaineering.
“We had fantastic presentations,” Johnson said.
Anyone who loved the lore and history of the American West was welcome to join. Across the country and at about 50 still-active Westerner “Corrals” or “Posses” – including in Denver – members range from local history buffs and readers and viewers of Westerners to professional historians.
“The purpose of the Westerners is fun and scholarship related to the American frontier West,” according to a trifold brochure in the donated file. ‘Westerners share a dislike for stuffed-shirtism, over-seriousness, shiftless thinking, and above all ignorance,’ wrote the late Ray Allen Billington, historian. Western traditions prevail in all meetings of Westerners.”
The Boulder Corral of Westerners was founded in 1987 and its final meeting took place in 2018 at Frasier Retirement Community. Now it’s one of about 50 local chapters referred to as “Dry Camps” for lack of activity.
“The unfortunate thing was that most of our members were older,” said Johnson, 87. “The younger groups didn’t seem to be interested in taking over.”
And so the “Sheriff” – the name given to the Corral’s presiding officer – found himself at the Carnegie Library for Local History this summer, donating a file folder full of speeches, meeting agendas, membership rosters and newsletters. He donated a check for $1,625.27 – the balance of the funds held by the club, donated to support the Carnegie branch.
“The Carnegie Library was very dear to all of us,” he said. “We decided that was the best place to donate the funds.”
He also turned in his Sheriff’s badge. “It was sad,” he said.
The silver lining came in knowing his club was supporting Boulder’s best repository of historical archives.
“Look around,” he said, gesturing towards Carnegie’s bookshelves. “It’s amazing what they have here.”
Despite officially packing up the dry camp, Johnson is staying active and sharp. He’ll lead his annual gathering of local history buffs this August on a hike from a cabin in Eldora to a gravesite deep in the forest. He believes it’s the final resting place of explorers dispatched in the winter of 1845-1846 to discover a transcontinental railroad route that would connect the West to St. Louis.
He’s been researching the story with friends for 12 years now.
“We’ve had a heck of a good time,” he said.
Thank you, Bill, for your club’s donation to Carnegie, and for your dedication to the history of the American West.
Executive Director, Boulder Library Foundation