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What if?. (CAMPFIRE TALES).

Sixteen years ago I invited a dozen men from around the country to bring two six-guns and meet with me for a week of unorganized shooting. We had such a great time that we made it an annual event, which we decided to call The Shootists' Holiday. The original 12 has grown to nearly 100. And there would be a lot more were it not for space limitations. Over the years, we have met in Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. This year I traveled to the 16th Annual Shootists' Holiday through southern Idaho, down through Utah, across southwestern Colorado, and into New Mexico. I felt as if I'd traveled more than 1,000 miles by highway, and it also seemed as if I covered more than 100 years of history.

Although we may argue about the age of this country, and whether it was created or evolved, there can be no argument that this is some of the most beautiful country in the world. We have been blessed with everything from deserts and rolling hills to cloud-shrouded mountain peaks. As I traveled over the 12,000-foot high Monarch Pass between Salida and Gunnison, I marveled at the sight. The horizontal- and vertical-layered rock formations are awe inspiring. Anyone who can look at such a sight and does not feel very small and insignificant needs to be humbled. In contrast to these rocky areas, between Grand Junction, Colo., and Price, Utah, one encounters a rugged desolation that has a beauty all its own. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about what the pioneers went through when traveling through such country by wagon, horseback, and on foot.

There's a lot of time for thinking, contemplating, dreaming, and even seeing visions when covering such a great distance, especially when there are two drivers who can switch off every few hours. When returning from New Mexico, we left at 6:00 a.m. and arrived back home in Idaho at 11:15 p.m. the same day. We traveled 1,037 miles, and I could not help but think that we covered a distance in one day which would have taken most of the summer just 150 years ago. Wonderful progress -- but at what price?

My favorite western singer, in fact my favorite singer period, is Don Edwards. One of his songs, entitled simply "Coyotes," tells of the old cowboy who had seen Pancho Villa, and curses the automobile with the lament that "the Longhorns are gone, and the drovers are gone. The Comanches are gone, the outlaws are gone, Gerinomo's gone...."

What if progress somehow could have been stopped? As we traveled through the Salt Lake Valley, I caught some of the vision that must have greeted Brigham Young and the Mormon pioneers as they found their destination. Could they have even begun to envision how this beautiful area would be today -- choked with people and the automobile cursed by the old cowboy? What if time somehow stood still and everything stayed the same?

In 1876, legislation was introduced in Congress to close the U.S. Patent Office. The reason? Everything that could possibly be invented had already arrived and we needed to go no further! Today -- with airplanes, automobiles, television, computers, instant communication, and on, and on, and on -- such an idea seems ludicrous. But what if progress had been stopped in 1876? Was the politician who introduced this bill so wrong? After all, by 1876 we had the stagecoach, the transcontinental railroad, the telegraph, the Winchester rifle, the Sharps single-shot rifle and, most definitely, the Colt Single Action Army. The Winchester, the Sharps, the Colt SAA all have the ability to transport many of us back through time. When we pick one up, the modern world seems to disappear and strange things happen to our senses. We can smell bacon and beans sizzling on an open fire next to a chuck wagon. We can hear the low, moanful bawling of Longhorn steers settling down for the night and the barking of coyotes in the hills a round us. We can feel a good horse underneath us. We can see stars through skies not obscured by 100 years of pollution. I can taste all of it!

Other than the medical advancements over the last 100-plus years, has there been anything else in the way of progress that has really been beneficial -- or has it caused more problems than solutions? What if the buffalo still roamed the prairies? What if large herds of elk still grazed together with large bands of antelope? I looked across the country as we traveled, and in my imagination I could still see them. As we passed a ranch with several pinto ponies in the corral, it didn't require much on my part to envision that the Comanches were not gone, the Longhorns were not gone, the drovers, the outlaws, the gunfighters -- none of them were gone.

Yes I know I'm a dreamer, and yes I know those were tough times. But it was a toughness that was easier to understand and handle than the stress of modern living. The more we progress, the less happy we as a society seem to be; the more machines we get, the harder we seem to work; and the more time saving devices we come up with, the less time we seem to have. Consider this, from the beginning of time until the discovery of the steam engine, the world changed very little. The overwhelming majority of what we call progress has occurred in our lifetime and in the lifetimes of our parents and grandparents. What would it be like today if these three generations had been allowed to live their lives the same as all previous generations?

What would the world be like today if all time had stopped in 1876? If life had stayed simpler would we have had two world wars? What would the world be like today if there had not been such major conflagrations? What if Einstein had not advanced his theories? What if the fastest way to travel was still by train? One of the reasons, perhaps the major reason, Cowboy Action Shooting is such a popular sport today is that it stops the passage of time and, for at least one brief instance, locks us into the 19th century.

The strangest thing is that I am raising all of these questions while dictating my thoughts into a voice-activated computer! If time had stopped 125 years ago I might be spending this beautiful afternoon sitting on a high, grassy hill with a Sharp's rifle, crossed sticks, a supply of .50-90 black-powder cartridges, looking over a herd of buffalo. How hard would it be to choose between these two activities? But it is all only a dream, and the nice thing about dreams is that we can block Out all the harshness of reality and dwell only on what appeals to us and to our imaginations.

The only thing more certain than progress is the passage of time. Progress has varying speeds -- high points and low points, time is a steamroller that is chasing all of us while gaining more and more speed. Both of these are man's mortal enemy and both are entirely out of our control. At least it is a most pleasant thought to occasionally ask, What If?
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Author:Taffin, John
Publication:Guns Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 2002
Words:1228
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