Authors honor burros in book
September 2, 2010
When people consider animals to honor, the burro (or donkey or ass, as some refer to it) isn’t the first creature that springs to mind. Perhaps royal Egyptian cats or modern loyal dogs or even horses charging into battle come to mind.But authors P. David Smith and Lyn Bezek felt compelled to write about one of the most loyal, yet often overlooked animals, which played essential roles in Colorado’s history: the burro.In their 272-page book, they delve into the story of the burro, revering even its spiritual essence. It introduces the species by reviewing the lineage of the creature; interestingly enough, there are only five animal types left in the biological genus to which the burro belongs – three zebras, a horse and an ass.Since ancient times, people employed burros to haul goods. Throughout history, some owners absolutely loved their burros, while others abused and killed them for fun.Burros arrived in America with Columbus’ second voyage, in 1495, and many historians argue that the Spaniard’s introduction of the burro was the most beneficial contribution that any country made to the existing Native American culture, since the beasts of burden could carry heavy weights for their size, and they had a patient demeanor.When the gold rush struck the West, many men relied on burros to mine. As stories go, some burros led prospectors to discover gold by wandering off, causing their owners to look for them – and accidentally stumble upon gold along the way.Burros also acted as friends. As the authors write on p. 66: “Given his life of solitude, the prospector and his animals often became very attached, as can be seen in the fact that almost all prospectors named their animals and talked to them.”However, some owners abused them or placed them in harm’s way by loading them with dynamite, nitroglycerin, oil, kerosene, acids and blasting powder.”If a burro’s load blew up, the little animal simply disintegrated,” the author’s wrote on p. 104. Even leaking acids could result in burns and wounds that left burrows crippled or in pain for life. Allowing packs to rub against the animal, then not resting burros so their wounds would heal also caused injury.When miners no longer needed burros, they simply let them run free. Often, local women fed them, despite the fact that burros could be pesky, eating growing vegetables or gobbling up ham or bacon that wasn’t theirs.Smith grew up with an affinity for burros because when he was 7, his grandfather bought him one. Unfortunately, the annoying braying at sunrise forced the family to return the burro after one summer. As an adult, Smith wrote about Colorado history and noticed early record keepers almost always mentioned the burrow.Bezek grew up reading “Brighty of the Grand Canyon,” one of her favorite stories that told of a little burro roaming in the canyons. It captured her imagination, and when she moved west, she was delighted to find the “world famous” wild donkey herd in Cripple Creek. It was there she fell in love with “their long floppy ears, their soulful eyes, and their surprisingly long eyelashes.”Together, the authors produced a book honoring the burro’s legacy, by depicting the animal’s innate dignity.