‘COLORADO RED’ aims to impress at the Garfield County Fair | PostIndependent.com

‘COLORADO RED’ aims to impress at the Garfield County Fair

Makenzie Neil, 16, poses as “Colorado Red” for the Western Heritage Project. Colorado Red is a persona created by Neil, who competes in .22 rifle and .22 pistol marksmanship, as well as air rifle and air pistol for 4-H. The character is based on a fictional grubstaker who lived in Leadville in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Lisa Neil |

Most people at the age of 16 are still searching for their true calling in life, but Rifle’s Makenzie Neil has already created a future for both herself and the mysterious “Colorado Red.”

Neil has participated in Garfield County 4-H for eight years, and was drawn to the organization for the opportunity to become a markswoman and to further a family tradition.

“My great-grandma was in 4-H. She liked to sew, and taught it as a leader,” she explained. “My uncles were involved, so was my grandpa when he was younger, and I’ve always had a passion for shooting.”

Neil’s participated in .22 rifle marksmanship for eight years; air rifle and air pistol for seven years; and .22 pistol for three years in 4-H. She also shoots shotguns for fun, as a side hobby away from 4-H. She won first place in air pistol her last year in junior 4-H — an achievement she worked very hard to earn.

“I love shooting, but I don’t know if I want to make a career out of it. It’s just something I enjoy doing.”Makenzie Neil

Neil’s passion for shooting sports has led her to the 4-H Western Heritage Project, which allows participants to invoke a persona from days past, and to create an outfit to match.

“You dress up Western style, and you have an alias, and a background story for your person,” Neil said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Neil became Colorado Red, a grubstaker that “sold all kinds of stuff to the miners” in Leadville in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Grubstakers typically sold provisions to prospectors, in return for a portion of their profits or mineral discoveries.

“I’d get 50 percent of their profit off the mine,” she explained.

Neil noted that Garfield County Director of 4-H Youth Development Carla Farrand helped her to bring Colorado Red to life.

“She lived in Leadville for a while, so she helped me come up with the story and a background,” Neil said. “She also helped me make my costume.”

She added that it took roughly three days to cut the material and sew together the pieces to create the authentic look of a grubstaker. For the Western Heritage Project nationals, Neil needs to create five personas and five matching costumes to compete.

“I need to work on some new characters,” she said with a laugh. “It’s like cowboy action a little bit, but the rules are more 4-H based.”

Neil also relishes her role as a 4-H leader, which she’s taken part in for five years.

“I’ve been doing it for a while. I became a junior leader last year, so I get to hang out with the kids, and be on the line with them and help them shoot,” she said. “It’s fun, and I’ve been in their shoes before, and know how it is starting out.”

In her free time, the incoming Rifle High School junior likes to go camping and hunting with her family. Neil wants to be a veterinarian when she gets older, and has an affinity for all animals, and is even looking into pheasant breeding.

“I love horses. I love animals in general,” she said. “I like playing with my dogs. We have two hunting dogs. … I’m really passionate about animals. I love shooting, but I don’t know if I want to make a career out of it. It’s just something I enjoy doing.”

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