Outlaw Reflections: Looking Ahead to Telluride’s Raunchy Past

Outlaw Reflections: Looking Ahead to Telluride’s Raunchy Past

Editor’s note: I am reminded of the man every day. A talented sculptor, one of his mobiles sits on the coffee table in our living room. But I had not seen or heard from Oleh Lysiak for over 20 years. Ah, the wonders of social media. We rediscovered each other earlier this month, when I also discovered the artist I knew is also a writer – at least nowadays – though making marks on paper is only one among a very long list of talents, some slightly sketchy.

O. Z. Lysiak winking

 O.Z. Lysiak has from time to time worked as a reporter, editor, columnist, photographer, public affairs officer, restaurateur, festival booth owner-operator, ski technician, carpenter, sailor, smuggler, tree planter, fishing guide, truck driver, river guide, cook, wood-cutter, trash collector, marine gravity operator, reclaimed wood broker and sculptor. He has written for The Ukrainian Weekly, The Oregonian, and closer to home, The Aspen Daily News, The Aspen Times, The Crested Butte Pilot, The San Miguel Basin Forum – and The Telluride Daily Planet. Oleh’s poetry has been widely published and his is author of  several books, including “Neighborhood of Strangers”; “Art, Crime & Lithium”; “Scars In Progress”; “Geezer Rumba.” 

Given his street cred and the fact he wrote extensively locally in the bad old days, I asked Oleh if he would mine his files for past columns that might be of interest to our readers. I am thankful he said “yes.”

A kinder, gentler Oleh with granddaughter Tulip

A kinder, gentler Oleh with granddaughter Tulip


By O.Z. Lysiak

Peter Spencer and I seal the deal with a handshake on a cold, gray afternoon in an empty lot next to the San Miguel County Post’s offices. Laughing, we cross the street to the Lone Cone Saloon to celebrate. A few tequilas and beers later we go to work.

I cover Norwood politics, town board meetings, water commission meetings, regional water board meetings, school board meetings, high school sports, Rodeo Days, horse racing, Christmas pageants, art shows; Telluride politics, the county cop shop, county commissioners meetings, county planning board meetings, regional transportation board meetings, festivals; interviews, commentary and opinion, do all the photography and write a weekly column.

A year reporting for The San Miguel County Post is the best job of my life, every day with something interesting to do. Peter Spencer is a pro with a sense of humor, loves a long shot and is a joy to work with. We have disagreements. If he even hints at changing a comma in one of my stories, let alone one of my columns, I kick open the Post’s door and we take it to the empty lot where I rant and rave. Peter listens until I run out of steam and assures me he’ll change everything back to the way I wrote it. We go across the street to the Lone Cone Saloon, have a shot and a beer and go back to work. Of course he never changes anything. By the time the paper is out the next day I’m calm and see his point.

Peter Spencer

Peter Spencer

Gwen Davidson, the Post’s assistant editor continually requests I use the spell checker on my computer. Since there’s no time for rewrites and copy I turn in is written in one take, I consider her nagging request, but refuse because the spell checker doesn’t work in context. It becomes a joke between us.

Eagles winter in the San Miguel Basin. I submit photographs of eagles every week until Peter hollers, ”Uncle! No more eagle shots, OK?” I submit photographs of kids, geezers, the Lone Cone, camels, pigs, bucking broncos, sheep, buffalo, cattle, every manner and sort of critter imaginable.

Once all my other copy is turned in, I write “Fishing With Uncle O,” a weekly column, some of the best writing I’ve ever done. I go fishing and write about it, my job. Can life be any better?

The Post is a modern version of a 19th century paper produced on very sophisticated computers and printed on a classic newspaper web press using soy ink. There is a lot of hauling around of newspapers in this process, what with circulating in 3,000 square miles of one of the country’s most thinly populated areas and mailing subscriptions to far away places.

The San Miguel County Post started publication on May 4, 1994. In his first editorial, which became his weekly “Fearless Leader” column, Peter writes about the original Norwood Post.

“These newspapers duly recorded the milestones of daily life, births and deaths, marriages, celebrations. Sometimes an ink drawing of the latest fashions from the east would amuse, a serialized novel entertain. The latest news of national politics (not more than a few days or weeks after the fact) would be the talk of the café, and a shooting or a report of a rustling would bring outrage or excitement. Advice from the vet or the local doctor would be carefully studied, recipes and crafts from local homes would be clipped out and saved. The best horse in the race or the best time in a calf roping would always rate the front page, with little or no attention paid to gossip or scandal in distant cities. Feisty editors would rail against some perceived injustice, and opinions were sometimes challenged with fists or even bullets.

“In an age when mobile populations and scattered families are the norm, cohesiveness of rural communities is as important as it was a century ago. The original Norwood Post was published from 1912 to 1938. A revival of the traditional rural newspaper can be a centerpiece in maintaining a sense of connection to one’s neighbors and the community as a whole. To that end, the revived Post will attempt to chronicle, report, educate and entertain.

“The Post believes that most of what is important happens outside the halls of government and although we will cover meetings and politics as part of our obligation to inform the readers, we will devote our most enthusiastic coverage to our children, our community and our daily lives.”

The San Miguel County Post, in its first year was criticized for not covering enough government meetings.

“Of late,” Peter writes, “in the heat of political controversy, we feel we have covered too much government activity. We will endeavor to correct that imbalance this year”

In 1926, the following was reported in the original Norwood Post:

“M.O. Ballard took over publication of the Norwood Post on February 1, but declined to make any rash promises as to what he would do thereafter. He merely stated that he would work for the best interests of the community and he had long ago given up the idea that a breathless world waited to the stroke of his pen to determine whether it could go on for another seven days, which indicates rare judgment and discretion.

“One very poor man can promise more than a score of good ones can fulfill and while our hopes have a certain bearing on the scope of our accomplishments, it’s what is done, not what is intended that counts.”

“We trust that The Post has not disappointed Mr. Ballard,” writes Peter.

Peter and I discuss getting health insurance for The Post’s employees, acquiring local newspapers and a radio station. Peter helps me buy a house in Norwood by manipulating financial information on my mortgage application. It works. If I’m saddled with a mortgage, I’ll need a job and stay at The Post.

I morph into The Post’s cultivator of controversy by writing commentary and opinion after I write straight news stories about the meetings and events I cover. My news stories are not necessarily balanced, but my commentaries are incendiary. Letters to the editor complaining about my commentaries and opinions play perfectly into the cultivating controversy plan. Circulation grows and people take notice. The Post is the voice of reason in San Miguel County, balanced between the hard core rednecks, farmers and ranchers of the far West End and the overbearing, high dollar liberals in the far East End, a neighborhood of strangers.

To me it’s about the people, the land, the tradition and heart of the county, not the new money, the promise of development or the prospect of big bucks rolling in. I know where I stand in relation to development and big money. The people I interview write their own stories in their own words. I listen, transcribe and provide introductions and endings.

Like all good things it comes to an end, more quickly than I would have liked.

Stayed tuned for more from Oleh.

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