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Featured Article

Book Review

Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death:
Death and Dying in Early Western Colorado
by Ken Reyher Western Reflections Publishing Company
Lake City, CO
Copyright 2009 167 pages

The lives of Colorado's pioneers were filled with tragedy, and death was their constant companion in the wilderness. The dangers of settling a new frontier and of occupations such as mining often led to an early grave.

In his book "Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death: Death and Dying in Early Western colorado," Ken Reyher chronicles the difficulties of the pioneers of Western colorado. He divides the book into sections to illustrate the specific hardships of each group of people in the early history of the region. These chapters include a look at the lives of lawmen, miners, clergymen, women and children, as well as the burial customs of the Utes.

To illustrate the various challenges, Reyher includes stories and quotations from and about the various inhabitants of Colorado. Most striking to me were the numerous examples of how, in a community consistantly visited by death, people did their best to stand with neighbors and friends.

Many of the people who came from other parts of the world to work in the mines brought their families with them, and their community understood that the loss of the chief bread winner meant huge uncertainty and an even more difficult situation for the surviving members of the family.

While it is always clear, when visiting most cemeteries in Colorado, that some of the most poignant tragedies for its citizens were the multiple deaths, in short succession, of young children. It had never occured to me that the children themselves might've lived with the constant concern, each time one of his or her siblings became ill, that they might soon not only catch the same disease, but that they might be the next to die from it. Given that most children shared, not only the same room, but, usually the same bed, and that sanitation and medication were in short supply, any cough could sound like a death sentence. It is a sobering revelation.

In addition to highlighting the effects of epidemics, mining accidents, avalanche dangers and other tragedies, the book notes how the traditions of the various groups that came from Europe were kept and adapted through burial customs and expressed themselves on monuments and markers in the cemeteries.

This book looked with compassion upon the bravery of the people whose existence, every day, was a struggle for survival in a harsh world. It revealed the humanity of the people behind each marker. There were several insights into pioneer life and death in this book, making it a very interesting and valuable resource.

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