The Legend of Colton H. Bryant by Alexandra Fuller (Penguin Books, 2008) takes narrative liberties with the non-fiction story of a young man from Wyoming. The facts of the case are unalterable but the way Fuller tells the story makes it one worth knowing.
“Cowboy up, cupcake!” Colton would tell his buddies in those moments when the tough get going. In 2004 there weren’t many real cowboys left in Wyoming. Oil rigs. Open sky. And yet he’d tamed a wild Mustang.
Blues eyes, shy, and not the sharpest tool in the shed, Colton H. Bryant became the butt of the school bullies’ jokes. He had talents; they weren’t the academic type. He had a knack for having accidents. A charming cross between goofball and klutz, Colton as an adolescent is easy to identify with as he and his friends try to sort out what to do after high school in the middle of nowhere as a bunch of nobodies.
The only jobs they can secure, just like their fathers, seem to be with the oil industry. Interesting to read about the lifestyle of those at the lowest end of this industry; temporary rig workers. The lack of safety training for employees and the lack of repair and maintenance on equipment leads to the occasional loss of life.
Colton avoids the inevitable employment and spends an entire summer working the rodeo circuit with a friend riding broncos. The bonds and friendships between these boys as they become men make them fascinating to follow. Finding love, marriage, children and all those manly responsiblities of adulthood to be a bit much, Colton is the underdog dude you fall in love with even without looking into those blue eyes.
Even though Fuller captures the Wyoming landscape and lifestyles, the true story of the destructive forces of the oil industry, particularly hydrofracking, is larger than all of Wyoming. It’s right here in my backyard. Hydrofracking in the oil industry in Texas, Pennsylvania and now New York offers “job growth” in the “energy” industry. And the dangers are not just to the workers, but the entire community.
Since I picked up The Legend of Colton H. Bryant I have also read in my local newspapers that there was a leak in the pipeline south of here between Elmira and Binghamton and a house exploded in Horseheads from another leak. In Ithaca I have seen a dozen or more pickup trucks, brand new 4-wheeling big trucks, with the Cheasapeake Oil logo on the sidedoors driving around downtown last week.
“Cowboy up, cupcake!” Colt said when his friend Jake had his heart broken by a girl. In their early 20s, these friends shared a world driven by an insatiable quest for fossil fuels; and it continues unquestioned. The men and women who risk their lives to provide us with that energy at last have a champion in this new American cowboy.