Betty (Steele) Wallace grew up on a ranch near Lake City, Colorado and spent her life in Hinsdale and Gunnison Counties, working as a newspaper reporter, clerk of the County Court, teacher and local historian. Being only one generation removed from the area’s pioneers, she understood what it took to build the country, both in terms of the effort and skills involved and the nature of the people. She witnessed first-hand the results chronicled in “Gunnison Country” and “History With The Hide Off”.
As a reporter, columnist and pro-tem editor, she recognized the value of preserving the tales of the area and scoured newspapers’ ‘morgues’ for the views of the day. She interviewed the older generation – the original pioneers and their children – capturing life “straight from the horse’s mouth”, gleaning stories with the immediacy of youthful first-person memories tempered by the reflections that age provides.
Teaching came naturally to her because of her conviction that life and its lessons were meant to be shared and cherished. She also knew that one’s station in life was unimportant – rich or poor, white, black, Mexican or Indian – “A man’s a man for a’ that”. She never distinguished between the coal-miner and the college professor, the Governor and the janitor (and she knew one Colorado governor quite well – and one of her many jobs was janitor of the County Court House). What mattered was one’s vision, one’s willingness to work toward realizing that vision and how one coped with adversity and treated others.
The pioneer life always emphasized certain character traits: Courage – because there were many risks to life and limb on the frontier; Honesty – because in an unorganized pre-legal world people had to be able to depend on one another; and Industry – it took too much hard work for laziness to be tolerated.
Those who peopled and established the Gunnison Country are representative in attitude and values of many who settled much of the country, from Colonial times to the early 20th century, and those attitudes and values are still found in many places.
Betty Wallace’s writing documents something uniquely American and pays homage to it, capturing the optimism and illusions, the victories and defeats, the glory and the bathos – and the raw sense of humor of the frontier.