The Legend of Colton H. Bryant

The Legend of Colton H. Bryant

by Alexandra Fuller

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Overview

A heartrending story of the human spirit from the author of the bestselling Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight

Alexandra Fuller returns with the unforgettable true story of Colton H. Bryant, a soulful boy with a mustang-taming heart who comes of age in the oil fields and open plains of Wyoming. After surviving a sometimes cruel adolescence with his own brand of optimistic goofiness, Colton goes to work on an oil rig-and there the biggest heart in the world can't save him from the new, unkind greed that has possessed his beloved Wyoming during the latest boom.

Colton's story could not be told without telling of the land that grew him, where the great high plains meet the Rocky Mountains to create a vista of lonely beauty. It is here that the existence of one boy is a true story as deeply moving as the life that inspired it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143115373
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/28/2009
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 1,183,074
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Alexandra Fuller was born in England in 1969 and in 1972 she moved with her family to a farm in Rhodesia. After that country’s civil war in 1981, the Fullers moved first to Malawi, then to Zambia. Fuller received a B.A. from Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada. She is the author of Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood, a national bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book of 2002, and a finalist for the Guardian First Book Award, and Scribbling the Cat, winner of the 2005 Ulysses Award for Art of Reportage. Fuller lives in Wyoming with her husband and children.

Hometown:

Wilson, Wyoming

Date of Birth:

March 29, 1969

Place of Birth:

Glossop, Derbyshire, England

Education:

B. A., Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada, 1992

Read an Excerpt

Praise for Alexandra Fuller’s The Legend of Colton H. Bryant

“Incantatory.”

—Carolyn See, The Washington Post

“African-bred Alexandra Fuller has a feel for wildness—of a country or of a man. With the breathtaking bravado of a western windstorm, Fuller charges straight inside the mind of an American innocent, a restless cowboy with cornflower blue eyes. . . . Set this real-life hero within a landscape of oil rigs in a culture of corporate greed, and you have The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, a loving, raging portrait of the untamed but endangered American West.”

—Cathleen Medwick, O, The Oprah Magazine

“[The Legend of Colton H. Bryant]—set in [Fuller’s] new home, the high plains of Wyoming—hangs so faultlessly on its high-altitude, big-sky, oil-drilling bones that it seems not so much to have been written as uncovered by the wind and weather of the American north-west.”

The Economist

“Fuller creates an iconic cowboy from his friends’ and family’s memories. Her writing is poetry.”

—Sarah Peasley, Rocky Mountain News

“A latter day Silkwood, quiet and understated, beautifully written, speaking volume about the priorities of the age.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A gentle, understated book that effectively muckrakes at the same time it portrays a living and dying symbol of the oil rigs.”

—Dennis Lythgoe, Deseret News

“Moving . . . By the time Bryant meets his demise, you may just find yourself fighting tears.”

Entertainment Weekly

“A poignant portrait of an extraordinary ordinary roughneck . . . Fuller nails dialogue and the disdain for self pity endemic in the West.”

—Johanna Love, Jackson Hole News & Guide

“Extraordinary . . . I still feel heartsick a few weeks after finishing it. . . . How can you read this tender, troubling book and go out and fill your car with gas, and not care about the men who risk their lives to provide that energy?”

—Jenny Shank, New West

“Fuller’s deeply moving celebration of Colton’s life is bursting with humor, love, and tragedy, like all that is best in life, and without ever having met him, you won’t soon forget Colton H. Bryant.”

—Ian Chipman, Booklist (starred review)

PENGUIN BOOKS

THE LEGEND OF COLTON H. BRYANT

Alexandra Fuller was born in England in 1969. In 1972, she moved with her family to a farm in southern Africa. She lived in Africa until her mid-twenties. In 1994, she moved to Wyoming with her husband. They have three children.

ALSO BY ALEXANDRA FULLER

Scribbling the Cat:
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight:
Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness

Table of Contents

Praise for Alexandra Fuller’s The Legend of Colton H. Bryant

About the Author

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

FEED JAKE

Cast of Characters

 
PART ONE

A WESTERN

COLTON AND THE KMART COWBOYS

PRESTON AND COLTON, HUNTING

BILL’S PHILOSOPHY OF HORSE BREAKING

BILL AND COLTON

IN THE BEGINNING

CATTLE DRIVE

GOOSE HUNTING WITH JAKE, COLTON, AND CODY

JAKE

JAKE

JAKE AND COLTON

RUNNING FREE

BILL’S PHILOSOPHY OF HUNTING

LOOKING FOR COCOA

FIREWOOD

COCOA

GRADUATION

BULL RIDING

PARADISE ROAD

DRILLING ON THE RIGS

ANATOMY OF AN OIL PATCH

FLOW TESTING

THE ASTRO LOUNGE

TRAIN STOPPING

COLTON AND CHASE

KAYLEE’S PHILOSOPHY OF DRUGS

FIREWORKS

DRIVING ALL DAY

PATTERSON-UTI DRILLING

DRIVING ALL DAY AND NIGHT

MARRIED

DRILLING

THANKSGIVING

A SERIOUS LIFE

MARRIAGE AND ROUGHNECKING

THE DEATH OF LEROY FRIED

DAKOTA JUSTUS BRYANT

COLTON QUITS

COLTON WORKS IN EVANSTON

MINUS THIRTY-FIVE

 
PART TWO

THE DAY BEFORE VALENTINE’S DAY

CUMBERLAND CEMETERY

VALENTINE’S EVENING

FREE FALL

JAKE DRIVING ALL DAY

PATTERSON-UTI DRILLING

TOUGH ANGEL

RAINBOW

A MILLION-DOLLAR PERSONALITY

EVANSTON CEMETERY

COLT

JAKE AND COLTON

 
Author’s Note

Acknowledgments

For Dakota and Nathanial
(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The Legend of Colton H. Bryant"
by .
Copyright © 2009 Alexandra Fuller.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Part 1
A Western     3
Colton and the Kmart Cowboys: Evanston, Wyoming     5
Preston and Colton, Hunting     9
Bill's Philosophy of Horse Breaking: Evanston, Wyoming     14
Bill and Colton: Evanston, Wyoming     19
In the Beginning: Wyoming And the West     24
Cattle Drive: Near Evanston     27
Goose Hunting with Jake, Colton, and Cody: Near Evanston     30
Jake: Utah     36
Jake: Evanston, Wyoming     39
Jake and Colton: Evanston, Wyoming     44
Running Free: Near Evanston     48
Bill's Philosophy of Hunting     55
Looking for Cocoa     57
Firewood     61
Cocoa: June     66
Graduation     68
Bull Riding: All Over the West     72
Paradise Road: Upper Green River Valley     77
Drilling on the Rigs: Utah     81
Anatomy of an Oil Patch: Upper Green River Valley     83
Flow Testing: Upper Green River Valley     87
The Astro Lounge: Rock Springs     90
Train Stopping     97
Colton and Chase: Winter     104
Kaylee's Philosophy of Drugs     109
Fireworks: Evanston, Wyoming     112
Driving All Day: Wyoming/Utah/Arizona     117
Patterson-Uti Drilling: Upper Green River Valley     119
Driving All Day and Night: Wyoming/Utah/Arizona     123
Married: Evanston, Wyoming     126
Drilling     129
Thanksgiving: Evanston/Rawlins     131
A Serious Life     137
Marriage and Roughnecking: Evanston, Wyoming     141
The death of Leroy Fried: Upper Green River Valley     143
Dakota Justus Bryant     148
Colton Quits     151
Colton Works in Evanston     154
Minus Thirty-Five     157
Part 2
The Day Before Valentine's Day: Evanston, Wyoming     161
Cumberland Cemetery     165
Valentine's Evening: Jake And Tonya     169
Free Fall     172
Jake Driving All Day     174
Patterson-Uti Drilling     176
Tough Angel     179
Rainbow: Upper Green River Valley     183
A Million-Dollar Personality     187
Evanston Cemetery: Evanston, Wyoming     190
Colt     193
Jake And Colton: Afterwards     195
Author's Note     199
Acknowledgments      201

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

" [Fuller's] book-set in her new home, the high plains of Wyoming-hangs so faultlessly on its high-altitude, big-sky, oildrilling bones that it seems not so much to have been written as uncovered by the wind and weather of the American north-west."
-The Economist

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
Born in a Ford Thunderbird streaking down an empty highway in southwestern Wyoming, Colton H. Bryant always liked it when things happened fast. He wanted his teacher to talk twice as fast so he could get out of school twice as early. He guzzled Mountain Dew and rode the open highways with delight. He found himself drawn to the rodeo corrals where a man’s worth was measured in eight seconds flat. He even imagined that he could catch a pronghorn antelope with his bare hands. Yet, amid all the exuberant pleasure that he found in speed, Colton H. Bryant also sensed that he was racing through life. He seemed to know that that race might be over in a very short time. When, at the age of twenty-five, a fall at his job on an oil rig brought Colton’s ecstatic running abruptly to an end, there was little reason for those who knew him to be surprised. Still, the feeling that this young man’s end was somehow fated did nothing to ease the loss of a father, son, and friend taken away too soon.

By prevailing standards, Colton H. Bryant seems hardly the stuff of legend. His education slowed and hampered by ADHD, his ambitions and prospects stunted by the isolation of his surroundings, Colton was a person whom many of us might promptly dismiss as another face in the crowd. However, in her third book, The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, Alexandra Fuller begs to disagree. In this true story with “narrative liberties,” Fuller takes a detailed, affectionate look at the life of a young man who, although his dreams and abilities never take him far from home, traveled deep into the affections of those who knew him. She presents a portrait of a person who always knew how to “cowboy up” when adversity came, someone who received more than his share of blows, both physical and emotional, but bore them with astonishing patience and forgiveness. A recurrent phrase runs through The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, a line that Colton espoused as his abiding mantra: “Mind over matter. I don’t mind so it don’t matter.” Holding fast to his homespun stoicism, Colton lived life with seemingly invincible good cheer. Nevertheless, Colton’s happy-go-lucky resiliency could not quite free him from his quietly endured pain, and his face exudes some “deep hurt lodged early somewhere far behind the eyes.” It is the balance that Fuller achieves between happiness and hurt that makes her tale so poignant, so memorable, and so real.

With refined perception and deeply affecting prose, Fuller powerfully evokes both a unique human spirit and a vast, overpowering landscape that both inspires the people who call it home and drives them toward folly and destruction. She examines a simple life and discovers within it the complexities of a modern tragic hero. Simultaneously, beneath her ecstatic prose and deeply human insights, there lies a punishing indictment of the economic forces that conspired to shorten Colton’s life. Fuller decries the deadly cocktail of fear, indifference, and greed that drives our economy at so reckless a pace—too fast even for the speed-loving Colton H. Bryant.



ABOUT ALEXANDRA FULLER

Alexandra Fuller was born in England in 1969 and was raised in Rhodesia. After living in Malawi and Zambia, Fuller received her bachelor’s degree from Acadia University in Nova Scotia. Fuller recalled her formative years in her highly popular memoir, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood. This debut won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize and was honored as a New York Times Notable Book in 2002. Her second book, Scribbling the Cat, received the Lettre Ulysses Award for literary reportage. Alexandra Fuller lives with her family in Wyoming.

 


A CONVERSATION WITH ALEXANDRA FULLER
Q. We doubt that there are very many people whose lives have passed through England, Rhodesia, Malawi, Zambia, and Nova Scotia on their way to Wyoming. How has this unique personal odyssey shaped you as a writer?

It’s probably cliché to say this, but in my experience, people are far more alike than they are dissimilar. There are forces in every culture that are trying to protect an often unsustainable status quo and mavericks or risk-takers who try to embrace a broader definition of what it is to be human on the planet. The fracture that is created while the new fights to shake off the old become stories of people whose cultures no longer seem relevant. For example, read Dambadzo Marachera’s controversialThe House of Hunger set in freshly-independent Zimbabwe and its drunken violence is comparable to the disturbing heroin-soaked Scottish novel Trainspotting by Irvin Welsh. Or look at The Grass Is Singing, Doris Lessing’s 1950 book set in Rhodesia and compare it to Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel written in 1964 set in Canada. Laurence writes of the stultifying cost to women of living in small, wind-maddening prairie town in North America and Lessing writes similarly of a woman on the edge of nowhere trying to hold onto herself against the loneliness and against the often unimaginative response of her husband in southern Rhodesia. I think the point is, give us similar circumstances and regardless of whether we’re in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Canada or Scotland, we all suffer the same and we all long for a kind of autonomy and self-regard, equality and fairness, the right to use our brains and hands the best we can. We are also all capable of shocking unkindness and thoughtlessness.

I heard Cindy Sheehan (the American mother who became an anti-war activist after her son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004) speak once in a BBC interview of being a “matriot” instead of a “patriot.” A matriot, she explained, valued the lives of all people, across the world. A matriot does not value the lives of children of one nationality over another. Perhaps more than anything, my life’s journey from Africa to the U.K. and from there to North America has persuaded me the moral truth of this philosophy. I don’t think you can assume some lives are worth more than others or that some people deserve more of the world’s resources than others. It seems very clear to me that we, in the West, cannot afford to continue assuming propriety over the world’s resources in a careless, greedy way without paying for it, not only with the lives of our loved ones, but also with our souls.

There’s a fabulously catchy country song out now (I started to listen to a lot of country when I was writing The Legend of Colton H. Bryant). It’s called “Little Bitty” by Alan Jackson and is really an anthem to peace and sharing, “A little bitty house and a little bitty yard / Little bitty dog and a little bitty car. . . .” Colton was pretty familiar with “little bitty.” He drove his sister’s little bitty car for long enough (although he longed for a Ford F350, it’s true), spent the first few years of his life in a little bitty single-wide trailer home, never really had more than a man needed to get his life done. It was a life lived with values we hardly recognize anymore, closer to the earth than many Americans can even imagine. He is not so far from people I know in Africa in that regard, nor from my Scottish ancestors who lived among the crofters on the Isle of Skye off the west coast of Scotland.

Q. The Legend of Colton H. Bryant speaks eloquently of the effect of climate and landscape on a person’s thoughts and character. How do you think life in Wyoming has influenced your own thinking and personality?

I think the West used to be simpler. People came out here and got beaten into shape by the climate they found. Now the West has become the biggest energy supplier for the rest of the United States and the old ranching way of life that had always rubbed shoulders more or less comfortably with mineral extraction is disappearing. There isn’t the time anymore to let a cow grow to its full size on prairie grass, we put them in feed lots so they can get fat quicker and cheaper and we can follow suit.

I was lucky to get to Wyoming before this latest oil boom. I had a chance to see a glimpse of how those cultures worked before the money piled on and the fights over how much we could make broke out. It was—and still is in places, but it’s harder to find—a strange combination of people who really mind their own business and have incredibly decent values. (Some old cowboys I met remind me of monks, which is how I found that image for Bill Bryant. Their peace is hard-won, but they’re ascetic and profoundly Zen in their philosophy.)

I don’t know if it’s just my age, or the climate, or the high altitude, or some of those old-cowboy values rubbing off on me, but I’ve grown slightly mellower living in Wyoming. I think if you ride into the West on a high horse, you pretty soon end up in a pile of manure. I like how humbling all that space and all those hours in a saddle can be. Also, one long stare from someone like Bill Bryant tends to put a person in their place. He doesn’t mean anything by it, but he has a kind of moral authority that is incredibly hard won, and it really is life changing to be around someone who has such a clear sense of self.

Q. You seem to have captured the speech and idioms of your Wyoming characters with native fluency. Was it difficult for you to absorb these mannerisms, verbal and otherwise, that must seem so foreign to those of your own earlier life?

Like I said, I listened to hours and hours of country music on those long drives from Jackson to Pinedale and all around Sublette County and down to Evanston. I learned a lot about the culture and the nuances of the culture from the music. You’ve got everything from Alan Jackson’s “Little Bitty,” which seems to me to be a song about peace and the environment to his funny, irreverent “It’s Five o’clock Somewhere” (sung with Jimmy Buffet), which is about drinking your way out of a mindless job to Montgomery Gentry’s in-your-face lyrics in “What Do You Think About That” to an anthem about women fighting back, Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder and Lead” (“I’m going home / Gonna load my shotgun. . . . I’m gonna show him what little girls are made of / Gunpowder and lead”), to some of those sentimental songs that got me all teary-eyed, like Kenny Chesney’s “The Good Stuff” and pretty much anything by John Denver.

One night, I left Jake and Tonya’s late, after talking about Colton. It was late May and a spring snowstorm had hit the mountains. As I was leaving, Jake gave me a carton of fresh eggs from their chickens and told me to “keep ’er on the road.” He seemed worried about me driving in the snow (spring storms tend to make the roads slick and the snow is slushy and hard to see against). Suddenly, he turned and ran back into the house and came back out with a handful of CDs. “These were Colton’s,” he said. “We found them in his house after he died.” I drove home through the snowstorm that night listening to Colton’s music: Neil Diamond, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, and a whole bunch of people I’d never heard of. I cried the whole way home through a pretty terrific snowstorm (I don’t think I went over thirty the whole way). I also started to “hear” Colton in my head a little. Maybe it was the way Jake had been imitating Colton all night and the way he got all goofy to try and demonstrate the way he walked, or maybe it was the music and the long, lonely drive home, but Colton’s “voice” really settled on me at that point and after that, I don’t think I ever lost his sound (I can hear it, and I can write it, but I couldn’t speak it if my life depended on it).

More than that, I have lived in Wyoming fourteen years. I have spent enough time on cattle drives and with ranch hands that I have started to get a grip on the way people slide their language over their tongues and their sly wit and the way they understate everything (the bigger the mess, the less they say about it). What I didn’t get until I met Bill Bryant was the way Wyoming people speak in silences. Sometimes you ask them a question and they’ll just kind of squint at you or spit (or both) and it took me a long time to realize that they were letting the wind and the spit do the talking. Understanding that piece of the dialogue was very important but it was hard to write—how do you express an absence of dialogue in which the unsaid is everything?

Q. Your writings have explored both farm life in Africa and life on the oil patch in rural Wyoming. Are there any comparisons to be made between the two existences?

Oh, sure. Both places are inhabited by some of the toughest people I know—resilient, resourceful, uncompromising. I think you survive very well either place with that kind of toughness.

Q. To the casual observer, you and Colton would seem to have very little in common. How did a writer like you happen to be drawn to a person like him?

I disagree. Sure, I’m a girl with a funny accent and Colton was a boy who spoke Rocky Mountain English, but I knew boys just like Colton when I was growing up and if I had been a boy, I’d have been more like Colton than not. As it was, I spent the first decade of my life regretting not being a boy (from what I could tell, men seemed to have all the power, if not all the fun) so I was an inveterate student of what it would take to be a boy. And, aside from that, I grew up around guns and horses, pickups and taciturn men. And I grew up with women who had lost children. Imagining Colton in that way wasn’t a huge leap for me. I felt like I knew him, even though, of course, I never did meet him.

Q. Although your story is essentially nonfiction, you write this book very much in the form of a bildungsroman, that is, a novel about the main character’s coming of age. The heroes of such novels often tend to be sensitive, artistic types, reflecting the mental habits and preoccupations of their creators. Colton H. Bryant, however, was hardly a person of great cultural refinement. Were you intentionally breaking the mold by choosing someone like him as a coming-of-age hero?

No, I wasn’t breaking any mold or making any mold. I was just writing the story I had in front of me. Colton seemed like someone who represented a romantic and tragic hero of the post 9/11 western United States and in that way, he was every bit as iconic as an Old West figure. Cowboys have been dying off since they were invented and, at heart, every cowboy story is about the death if not of themselves, then of their way of life. Colton is a new kind of cowboy. (Although just the use of that word can get all kinds of people upset. Some people argue you can’t be a cowboy without cows. I say, sure you can. Colton had everything but the cows).

Q. Another genre that your book enables us to rethink is tragedy. A lot of us, I suppose, grew up with the old Aristotelian idea of the person of high rank brought to grief by a tragic flaw. Your vision of tragedy in The Legend of Colton H. Bryanthas less to do with inner failings and much more to do with environment. You say early on that every Western is a tragedy “because there was never a way for anyone to win against all the odds out here.” Would you like to elaborate further on your ideas of tragedy?

There is something inevitable about tragedy out here. I think because there has always been a rush for the resources and that kind of greed ensures that tragedy is close behind. I was stunned by There Will Be Blood (the movie by Paul Thomas Anderson, based on the Upton Sinclair novel Oil!). Almost nothing has changed since the early oil days (or the story of that time) except the magnitude of the violence. Now we have violence on a less hand-to-hand level, but it’s not so far removed at all from early gold- and oil-rush days.

Q. Great tragedy often proceeds from a sense of inevitability, and your book continually hints that its story will not end well. Yet you also suggest that Colton’s death was preventable. Do you feel any tension between your book’s overall sense of inevitable catastrophe and its social message that Colton’s particular demise could have been avoided?

No, I don’t think there is any tension in the story. That would have to mean someone in power was actually trying to stop what was inevitable but everyone from the oil companies to the federal government to the Bureau of Land Management (who issues the leases) were pushing to get the minerals out of the ground as fast as they could. I don’t know what will give them pause. Colton was the third roughneck killed on an Ultra rig in one area in six months and they just fenced off the place where he fell, moved the rig, and went right back to work. I think the real tension is between Colton and the reader. What is the reader going to do different, knowing what the true cost of energy is? For me, the tension starts when the book ends.

Q. Colton’s fundamental decency and his inability to grasp the forces that will eventually destroy him reminded us a bit of Steinbeck, another author of the West whose good-hearted characters unwittingly collide with indifferent, exploitative economic forces. What writers were on your mind as you worked on The Legend of Colton H. Bryant?

Yes, John Steinbeck and James Galvin (The Meadow), of course, but mostly I was writing so close to the bone, I was terrified to read too much writing about the West. I ended up rereading Paul Theroux’s incredibly disciplined short stories and tried to remind myself to tell a good story. I had become so emotionally attached to Colton and I have a deep respect and admiration for his parents, his sisters, and Jake and that I had to be careful to write for the reader, not for them.

Q. The Legend of Colton H. Bryant has some rather harsh words for the oil and gas industry. However, we might suppose that industry executives would say that they are just doing what companies do: trying to supply a necessary product at a competitive price while giving their shareholders a strong rate of return. Any comments?

I wrote this book in part to demonstrate that there is no heart and soul—embodied by Colton—when the only imperative is financial profit. I have heard over and over again that the drilling business is a dangerous business and death is an expected part of the game, but I’ve also heard of the way that safety violations, human and environmental laws, and a concern for the local culture are flaunted in pursuit of money. It’s no secret that there are safer, more thoughtful ways to live and to generate power. Throwing heartbeats at a drill bit in this particularly mindless way isn’t one of them.

Q. We may tend to think of legends as involving mythic, larger than life figures like King Arthur or El Cid. What led you to characterize the life of Colton H. Bryant as a legend?

After I came up with the title, I phoned Jake to ask what he thought of it. Jake was quiet for a moment and then he said in that lovely Rocky Mountain drawl of his, “It makes me kinda warm and fuzzy all over.” And we agreed that Colton was a legend in the way that only Wyoming can make them. He was the kind of boy that made people want to tell stories around the campfire. “Remember the time Colton stopped the train. . . .” “Remember the time Colton lost Cocoa. . . .” He was also a man of legendary forgiveness and love. Those are not simple or easy qualities to embody in the oil and gas world of Wyoming.

Q. The Legend of Colton H. Bryant has a great deal to say about how masculinity is constructed in America and, in particular, in the red-meat precincts of the Rockies. What are some of the things that either attract or repel you about the myths and realities of American maleness?

There was something unique and slightly old-fashioned about the way Colton was raised to respect women, take care of his family, never curse unless you absolutely have to. It’s hard not be smitten by those kinds of old world manners. On the other hand, that same gentility in the West can often go hand in hand with a kind of unimaginative sense of entitlement—Manifest Destiny it’s called. I think that supreme sense of entitlement which attaches to the idea of American maleness is appallingly limiting, as evidenced by the Kmart cowboys that tease Colton relentlessly for being slightly different.

Q. You write that, in the 1990s, the West was “still full of a kind of gun-shot, hard-won innocence and broken promises and open roads.” That wasn’t so very long ago, yet your elegiac tone makes it sound as if that moment were long gone. What do you think is different now, and how could the old ways have evaporated so fast?

During Clinton’s second term, the Republicans in Congress began to push for more and more oil and gas development in the West. In the eight years since 2000, the Bush administration consolidated its grip on any and all minerals it could get its hands on domestically and nearly 30 million acres of public lands were leased to the oil and gas companies in the West. It was shocking to see the transformation of towns and landscapes surrounding these new gas fields. In their hurry to get minerals out of the ground, the culture—that “gun-shot, hard-won innocence”—was lost and so was an understanding of a common kind of Western decency. I think most Westerners went into the turn of this century believing that they were doing the right thing by allowing expansive oil and gas development—they felt it was their patriotic duty. But then it became increasingly clear that the drilling had less to do with domestic security than massive, record-breaking profits for the oil companies. The loss of life and culture that went with what some have called “Dick Cheney’s land grab” has not been met with a pragmatic, frugal response from the federal government. The West has been sold out, and the only thing anyone has to show for it is a warmer planet and richer mineral companies. The war has dragged on. The West’s wild lands are incredibly, maybe irreparably, compromised. It’s no longer possible (nor should it be) to get in a pickup truck and drive all night for no good reason without worrying about the cost of gas, the cost to the environment, and the cost to the culture.

Q. You chose not to tell the story of Colton’s birth until the next-to-last chapter of the book. What prompted this departure from your generally chronological approach to your narrative?

Chronologically it might have made sense to put Colton’s birth first—and in several early drafts, I tried that—but emotionally, it didn’t feel right to me. I hoped that by putting Colton’s birth at the end—that magical moment when he came racing into the world with his parents watching—the reader would have become attached enough to Bill and Kaylee to connect to that moment when every parent meets their child for the first time and attached enough to Colton that they would have understood that this is the only way Colton could have been born. There was an awful, tragic symmetry to his life—as Kaylee once said to me when I was interviewing her for this book, “He came into this world in a hurry and he left in a hurry.” I wanted the reader to leave the book with an image of the new, innocent Colton coming into the world, all in a hurry to get ’er done and then read, in the author’s note, how carelessly his short life was wasted.



DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • The average length of a chapter in The Legend of Colton H. Bryant is between three and four pages. How does the relative brevity of Fuller’s chapters influence the rhythm and feel of her story, and how is it suited to her subject matter?

  • Compare Fuller’s description of Colton as a boy in the chapter “Colton and the Kmart Cowboys” with her later delineation of him in “Running Free.” What continuities—and what differences—mark the boy and the young man?

  • How successful is Colton’s mantra, “I don’t mind so it don’t matter” as a philosophy for dealing with the pain of life? How well does it work for him? How well do you think it would work for you?

  • In The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, characters continually place themselves in situations of extreme risk. Often they seek out these risks voluntarily, as if to supply some quality that is otherwise missing from their lives. How does the book as a whole address the relationship between risk and personal fulfillment?

  • One of Colton’s few ambitions is to be just like his father, Bill. How does this desire influence Colton, both as a motivation and as a limitation?

  • Although Colton wants to be like his father, he and Melissa want their own children to be very different from either their father or grandfather. Melissa thinks that three generations of Bryants on the oil patch is enough, and Colton dreads the prospect that his son will have to endure the same struggles that he faced as a boy. Why is Bill Bryant’s way of living good enough for Colton, but not good enough for the next generation?

  • How does The Legend of Colton H. Bryant interact with the images you may have associated with western living? In what ways does it resist a stereotypical view of life in the West? Are there ways in which it confirms popular assumptions about western living?

  • One of Alexandra Fuller’s signal achievements in The Legend of Colton H. Bryant is her ability to move fluidly from one level of diction to another. She seems equally at home with colloquial phrases like “hooty-tooty-almighty folk” and higher sounding ones like “lost, disembodied orbs.” Select and discuss some of the moments at which Fuller’s use of language becomes the true hero of her story.

  • It is easy to think of the West as a principally masculine space. Nevertheless, the women in The Legend of Colton H. Bryant also have their role to play. How do the women in the Bryant family make their influences felt, and how do the men in the story respond to feminine influences?

  • Colton often calls Jake, who has undergone repeated episodes of sexual abuse, “Pussy.” Jake routinely counters by calling Colton, who has struggled terribly with ADHD, “Retard.” Paradoxically, they use these words as terms of endearment. How is it that the two friends can reinforce their bond by exchanging epithets that recall their most painful experiences?

  • Alexandra Fuller observes admirable, even noble qualities in Colton. Nevertheless, the “Kmart cowboys” in her story—no great models of success themselves—look down on Colton as a simpleminded loser. Does Fuller completely succeed in making Colton sympathetic, or does there remain a part of him that is simply pathetic?

  • Readers arriving at the end of The Legend of Colton H. Bryant may be surprised to learn that it is essentially a work of nonfiction. What techniques does Fuller use to make the book feel more like a novel than a collection of factual reminiscences?

  • Recommended Song List

    Many of these songs make an appearance in The Legend of Colton H. Bryant. Others were songs that Alexandra Fuller listened to while researching and writing the book and while driving to and from the oil fields.

    Black Eyed Peas, “Where Is the Love”

    Bon Jovi, “Livin’ on a Prayer”

    Neil Diamond, “Forever in Blue Jeans”p

    Dixie Chicks, “Travelin’ Soldier”

    Sara Evans, “No Place That Far”

    Five for Fighting, “Superman”

    Montgomery Gentry, “What Do Ya Think About That”

    George Harrison, “Here Comes the Sun”

    Sarah Johns, “He Hates Me”

    Miranda Lambert, “Gunpowder and Lead”

    John Lennon, “Give Peace a Chance”

    Willie Nelson, “Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys”

    Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, “Fishin in the Dark”

    Pirates of the Mississippi, “Feed Jake”

    Daniel Powter, “Bad Day”

    Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the USA”

    Gary Wright, “Dreamweaver”

    Bill Withers, “Lean on Me”

    Customer Reviews

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    The Legend of Colton H. Bryant 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
    2Rain More than 1 year ago
    This carefully researched and big hearted book deserves to become a classic about the costs, both human and environmental, of our country's voracious appetite for energy which sweeping over the overthrust belt of northern Colorado and southern Wyoming like a tidal wave. The tragedy of Cullen Bryant is a continuation of the centuries old tragedies of coal miners in energy rich Appalachia. But, what keeps this from being just another sad story about a young man who ran out of options for supporting his family, is Alexandra Fuller's luminous and evocative prose. She has distilled the essence of Cullen's life onto these pages and in the end I felt like I had lost a friend from my wild earlier life. I come from northern Colorado and I would have loved to run with Cullen.
    txwildflower on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I loved this book although it has a sad ending. A true book about a young boy growing up in Wyoming and all he ever wanted was to be just like his dad who worked on the oil rigs. He loved the mountains, hunting and fishing, and just spending time outdoors.
    BibliophileBubba on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I loved this book. It is the story of a young cowboy, for lack of a better term and, yes, apparently they do still exist--growing up in hardscrabble Wyoming in the 1990s and early 2000s. The book is the more remarkable because its author was a total outsider when she arrived in Wyoming to live in 1994. An Englishwoman who grew up in Africa, Fuller's knack for capturing the spirit and sound of the rural West seems unerring to my admittedly non-expert eye. The book comprises a series of small, intensely personal vignettes that rely for their impact on detailed reconstructions of characters' thoughts and conversations. It's a very tall order to pull off with the sense of reality that its success depends upon. That she so thoroughly succeeds is her triumph in this small but powerful, deeply evocative book. Only very, very occasionally does her dialogue slip into the caricatured and less sincere-sounding that would be the likely and recurring fate of a lesser author.
    sushidog on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    (Spoiler Alert- can there be a spoiler alert with a true story?) Even though you know from the get-go that he's going to die on the rigs, it still gets you when it happens. Also amazing is the author was born in England and raised in Africa and has only been in Wyoming for 10 years. Hard to believe as she captures the sound of the west so well.
    rainbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Alexandra Fuller is the author of the best selling book ¿Don¿t Let¿s Go, To The Dogs Tonight,¿ a memoir about her childhood in Africa during the war in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.Fuller¿s next book, ¿Scribbling the Cat,¿ creatively retraced the Zimbabwe war through the eyes of a soldier. More recently Fuller has written about a life closer to Moffat County and to her home in Wyoming titled ¿The Legend of Colton H. Bryant.¿Colton Bryant grew up in the high plains of Evanston, Wyo. He was teased at school, but Colton learned how to cope by reciting his motto, ¿Mind over matter. I don¿t mind, so it don¿t matter.¿Growing up in a home where manners, hard work and hunting were taught, Colton didn¿t dream of moving away or going to college. He came from a line of roughnecks ¿ slang for oil workers ¿ and that was where Colton knew he would end up.Fuller does a great job at explaining the parts of an oil patch or rig and Colton¿s first job is a flow tester; a boring, uneventful job for Colton. But he stuck with it because his best friend, Jake, was there.Jake stayed on the rig because Colton had a way of making life exciting; like the time Colton flagged down a train when the boys were stuck with a broken down four-wheel drive. Or the time Colton brought his date, Melissa, to shoot off four hundred dollars worth of fireworks he and Jake had bought.At 23 years old, Colton applied for a new job with Patterson-UTI and got a job as a floor hand. Then, he asked Melissa to marry him.When Colton found out Melissa was pregnant, he comments, ¿Mess¿n around days are over. It¿s gonna get more serious from here on out.¿Roughnecking and marriage didn¿t match up like the young couple hoped it would. A man who works on the rigs lives his life two weeks on and two weeks off.Soon after Colton¿s son was born, Melissa begged Colton to try a new line of work. Colton tried but after two months he convinced himself and Melissa that he was safer on the oil patch then driving on the highway.Even though two men died due to safety hazards at Patterson-UTI, Colton still returned to the oil field.On Feb. 14, 2006, Colton fell from the oil rig. The oil patch was new and he wasn¿t wearing safety equipment. Colton was rushed to a Salt Lake City hospital. Friends and family came to say good-bye to Colton before he is taken off the ventilator.Jake drove through a snowstorm to get to his best friend. Jake prayed for Colton and said his good-bye¿s. Colton¿s father said he loved him and than Colton let go; his heart stopped beating.Colton¿s family never saw any money because of the circumstances of his death. Patterson-UTI¿s was fined more than $7,000 dollars for the six safety violations that could have prevented Colton¿s death. This meager amount meant nothing to the company that cleared more than five million dollars in 2006.More than half of the deaths occurring in the oil and gas company field happen in Wyoming. But that harsh, fierce land breeds men like Colton; men that continue in their father¿s footsteps as ¿white oil field trash.¿
    jomajimi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Didn't read the whole book but am done. Very well written but too dark for me at present.
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I am a bryant and this is an amazing book they were even thinking about a movie so thoese who didnt like it u dont no what good is and living in wyoming isent hard but its just a harder task than living in a citys and expessialy in evenston wy its not just a place to us here its just one big grop of friend anyone who likes short and like a biography of fun and challanging chapters this is the book for u in memmories always uncle colton love u forever!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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    txwildflower More than 1 year ago
    A true book about a boy growing up in the beautiful state of Wyoming and his love for the outdoors. The author, Alexandra Fuller, captures the feelings and emotions of this family completely. A very moving story and a book you will want to read again.
    Tom71 More than 1 year ago
    Without a doubt, this is one of the best books I have ever read. I picked up Colton H. Bryant after reading both of Alexandra Fuller's other books, both of which I also strongly recommend. As someone who is continuously exposed to the natural gas industry in Wyoming and other places in the Rocky Mountains, this book really hit home. All of the characters connected to people I know, and it really depicts an accurate picture of both the ranchers and roughnecks of Wyoming as I know them. One of the most powerful aspects of the book is its portrayal of the thought-process and culture of natural gas workers, a sort of no-fear, macho personality that counters the dangerous nature and tough circumstances of that field. I was constantly amazed by the events of Colton's childhood, which had it been a fiction book I would have blown off as contrived. From stopping Union Pacific coal trains at midnight in a blizzard to chasing his horse around grasslands for a year, this book creates an interesting and exciting insight into the setting as well as the characters. Written in a similar manner as her other books, the structure of short stories and anecdotes really help the story's development and prevent the artificial or unnatural flow I often find in other non-fiction works. I strongly recommend this novel for people who are involved in natural gas extraction or ranching, or are just interested in a modern Western.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    In reading this story after meeting Alexander at a conference, it was a must. It touched my heart and the lump in my throat did not go away with end of the book. Reading this brings your emotions to the surface to remain for a long time. The author loved Colton H. Bryant even thought she never met him. It is apparent in her outstanding telling of his story.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    While I enjoyed this book, I would be hesitant to recommend it to others. It's a odd little work of non-fiction - with "narrative liberties" - comprised of short chapters (usually 2-3 pages). It actually felt more like a series of super short stories that are put together to give you a snapshot of the life of Colton H. Bryant - a modern day cowboy, working the rigs in Wyoming. I enjoyed learning about this little corner of our country and I thought her descriptions were very well written. I could see it land, feel the wind, feel the cold. I've never been to Wyoming so I don't know how accurate it was, but her descriptions took me somewhere in my head that was beautiful, windy, and cold. I also came to truly feel for Bryant's family and friends - a hard working group of people living in a tough, tough place. You can't help but respect these people. It's was also interesting to read about the simple reality of where our energy comes from. I feel like I read about energy a lot in the paper, but this book makes you think about the people that are bringing that energy to you, and the land it is coming out of. The way Fuller describes the sounds of the rigs drilling into the earth - it was painful. I liked this book and found it interesting, but not a page turner. I was glad that I read it, but also glad that it was only about 200 pages.
    pjpick More than 1 year ago
    I was alerted to this book after watching a roundtable discussion on CSPAN regarding oil drilling in the west. Fuller was on the discussion panel. I wasn't quite sure what to expect of this story...maybe a little bit more of Bryant's time working on the rigs. The story I got was one of Colton H. Bryant's life from childhood until his death at the age of 26. Fuller opens the window to the hard lives for families of those who work on oil rigs and those who live out in the hinterlands of Wyoming. As someone who was raised in the West and has experienced three different western cultures, the Wyoming west is much different compared to the ones I've experienced and maybe that's why I felt much of the "color" of the story felt forced and exaggerated. But again, I've never lived in Wyoming so I can't be sure. Still, I couldn't help a tears from spilling when I read about Colton's final hours. Would I recommend this to others? I think only a select view would find value in it so I would be very choosy to who I would suggest this one to.