McManus details life in Garfield County in 1900s with ‘Bess’ |

McManus details life in Garfield County in 1900s with ‘Bess’

Carol Crawford McManus is a storyteller. She talks with a smile in her voice and is funny, and so kind she might put even your own grandmother to shame.McManus has stories about how her family moved from Battlement Mesa, where she was born, to a ranch three miles west. Even in 1941, the ranch was absent of running water, electricity and indoor plumbing. And she’s got stories about her father fighting a brushfire near Parachute, alone, until help arrived. She’s heard that he received a letter of commendation from President Teddy Roosevelt for his efforts, though the only person who’d confirm that part was her aunt. McManus got started early with stories. By far the youngest child in her family, she “was drug around everywhere my parents went.”Her parents and their friends told stories of “Paul Bunyon scope,” which have stuck with McManus to this day. These days, McManus spends hours poring through old newspapers. So deep is her love of research that she can “step into an old newsroom and smell the newsprint, and it smells like perfume to me.”And it’s all memories of her childhood friends and the research that has given McManus her stories. After raising kids and a 30-year career in alcohol counseling, McManus found herself with a lot to say but nowhere to say it. So in the late ’90s McManus started writing the book, “Ida: Her Labor of Love,” a biography of her grandmother. And this summer, McManus’ research has given rise to another book, “Bess: A Woman’s Life in the Early 1900s,” which chronicles a young woman’s life on a Garfield County ranch.”I guess when people have a story to tell it just gets told,” said McManus during a phone interview from her Grand Junction home. “I had no intent to ever publish,” she said. In fact, she said, “I don’t consider myself a writer as much as a researcher … I have to write to justify all the research.””Bess” isn’t a dry historical portrait, though. It’s the story of a girl and her brother sent from St. Louis to a ranch near Parachute to live with an aunt and overbearing uncle after their own mother becomes deathly ill. Bess has to work hard to earn her keep but yearns to become a schoolteacher and become more than just “cheap labor” for her uncle. “(Bess’) Uncle Elmer wasn’t a bad person, necessarily,” McManus said. “But he didn’t understand, as a lot of men didn’t in those days, why a woman would want to rise above herself.”And though “Bess” is fiction, fact is just beneath the surface. “Bess is a lot of strong women that I knew,” drawn from the tales McManus heard growing up, she said. “My mom – my God – she weighed 87 pounds and would do the work of a man,” she said.McManus dotted the text with historical facts, even quoting a pharmacist who claimed, “Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and the bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.”And for a book with so much fact in fiction; kind, sweet McManus is keeping one of the book’s secrets to herself. The picture of the woman on the cover is a real western Garfield County woman, but McManus was tight-lipped about the woman’s identity. All she’ll say is: “She was a Garfield County person, and she also marched to a different drummer.””Bess” is available at: Red Mountain Books, Book Train, and Through the Looking Glass.

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