Dear Friends

  • Fire in their eyes: Mary Margaret Davis (left) and Marge Higley in Lander, 1973


A skipped issue

Twice a year, the High Country News staff takes pity on its readers and stops the flow of news for a fortnight. This bonus issue, with its four extra pages, will have to take the place of the skipped July 21 issue. Our next issue will be dated August 4, 1997 - which means, basically, that summer is practically gone.

She saved the paper

High Country News founder Tom Bell recalls that in the paper's early days in Lander, Wyo., "when I had come to the end of my rope and could not see how I could continue, and there seemed to be no hope of saving the paper, I deliberately took the paste-up sheets off the layout table and took them back to the garbage barrel."

They didn't stay there long. The paper's two other employees, Marge Higley and Mary Margaret Davis, "marched to the barrel, removed the sheets, and took them back to the layout table, and then appeared at my office door.

"Needless to say, two women with fire in their eyes convinced me to go on..."

On June 10, 1997, Marge Higley, who was born in Rawlins, Wyo., in 1913, was honored at a memorial service in Lander. She died last November in Wheatridge, Colo.

Tom writes that when he hired Marge in April 1970, a few months after the paper's founding, he wondered if he were doing the right thing for her or for himself. She needed the job because her husband, Chuck Higley, had become an invalid. It turned out to be a good decision for Tom:

"She was what I needed when it seemed my spirits and the fortunes of High Country News could go no lower. Incredibly, during those trying times, she was carrying her own great, personal burdens. As I have looked back on occasion, I have wondered how I could have been so insensitive to her problems."

What was Marge's job? Tom says, "She was given the high-sounding title of circulation manager, although there really wasn't much circulation. However, she was not one to sit around; she saw what needed to be done and did it."

She set headlines; she ran the clanking, noisy Addressograph machine by the hour, and she helped on pasteup. Within a month, she was also writing an environmental column, "Thoughts from the Distaff Corner," which included Looney Limericks by Zane E. Cology. Here's one of them:

"Bless my soul!" cried good old St. Nick "
Someone better do something - and quick!
By Jumpin" Jiminy!
I can't find one chimney -
That air down there is so thick."

Tom's eulogy concluded:

"It is quite often the case that the head guy - the big shot - gets all the credit when there is finally some success. But I gratefully acknowledge that without the support and dedication of the three women (Marge Higley, Mary Margaret Davis and Tom's wife, Tommie Bell) involved with me in High Country News in those crucial, early years, I could not have done what I did."

Writers on the Range

High Country News has officially launched its Writers on the Range project, which will put op-ed pieces by a variety of writers on the editorial pages of the West's newspapers.

The project will be directed by Paul Larmer, who will move over from his current position as HCN Senior Editor.

If you are both opinionated and a good writer, or if you are an editor in search of good op-ed material, contact Paul at 970/527-4898, or via e-mail at [email protected]

Share your great reads

When reader Vince Ryan visited the Job Corps Center in Collbran, Colo., he discovered that the 16- to 25-year-olds had no library. They will soon. As a volunteer for Joint Action in Community Service Inc., Vince is compiling lists of great books and great reads, and is soliciting tax-deductible donations of both.

He sent us several of the lists that he has received. One led with Don Quixote de la Mancha, Origin of the Species and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Another led with the U.S. Constitution, Shakespeare's works and Descartes' Discourse on Method. And a third started with Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me Ultima and John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath.

So, tastes are eclectic, and your books will be welcomed by Vince Ryan at JACS,1999 Broadway, Ste. 1740, Denver, CO 80202-5716. For more information, call him at 800/852-8988.

Connecting to the West

A man came into our office on June 25, perhaps thinking we were a drugstore, looking for post cards. We gave him a copy of the paper instead. But he hadn't really come looking for post cards. He had come in because his wife's grandfather or some such had lived in Paonia in 1910, and he wanted to talk about it. He assumed that we, too, would want to talk about it. Sometimes we enjoy those talks, even though we're almost as new to Paonia as our visitor. But we were in production, and so we deflected him. We were willing to give him anything but our time and a sense that he belonged, which may have been all that he wanted.

His visit reminded us of what Hal Rothman had said two nights earlier during a panel discussion we participated in on KPCW radio in Park City, Utah:

"In the West, you can sell your dirt or you can sell your identity." Visitors demand only one thing of tourist towns, the history professor from Las Vegas said - that they make the tourists feel both comfortable and important. Tourist towns, he said, succeed because they are willing to transform themselves into whatever the tourists want to see.

Las Vegas, he continued, is successful because it has such a strong sense of itself: Its identity is that it will become anything the tourist wants, including New York, New York.

But while Las Vegas knows what it is, Santa Fe has pretensions - that it is an authentic relic of the past. Rothman said that when he first made that remark in Santa Fe, it was not well received. In fact, he said, it cost him his honorary New Mexico citizenship.

Read a tribute to Marjorie Higley at

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