Curiosity. Sometimes it seems curiosity is the hemoglobin
through author and historian MaryJoy
Martin's veins. Or the oxygen that inflates her lungs. Or the muscle that moves
her tongue. Questions never stop flying out of her mouth. She is driven by a
curiosity that makes the cat go static. It might be what zaps her in the end,
for as Dorothy Parker The Irreverent once said, There is no cure for
Answers only lead to more questions, Martin
said in a 2005 interview when asked if she was satisfied with the publication
of The Corpse on Boomerang Road. This book solved three 100-year-old
murder mysteries stemming from the labor troubles in Telluride, Colorado, at
the turn of the 20th century. But Martin, more curious than a score of cats in
a woodpile, said what she uncovered only made her want to know more. And so her
search for answers continues, like an archaeologist brushing away grains of
sand to reveal something astonishing below the surface.
eighty per cent of my time researching, Martin said. I want to know
what happened, and, although one can never fully recreate the past, one can get
enough evidence to come close.
American anthropologist and author
Zora Neale Hurston summed it up perfectly when she said, Research is
formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a
Martin's purpose is to unearth every possible fragment,
shard, scrap, and sliver of the lives of her subjects until she has enough to
bring them back from the dead. All critics agree: Martin's research is
Author Seth Cagin calls Martin's recent book,
brilliantly researched, and a stunning history of
Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen says it is
extensively researched and richly told.
columnist, poet and San Miguel County Commissioner writes, Martin has
done a brilliant research job. This is the definitive history of Telluride's
War on Labor
Exhaustive. A masterpiece of historical detective work
And it's not just great history. It's a great read.
Langdon, Senior Critic for The Durango Herald writes, Martin's
splendid chronicle of Telluride's little-known labor wars is surely one of the
finest regional histories in recent years. Hers is a compelling, startling and
unnerving tale of how powerful dark forces shattered a prosperous mining
community a century ago
Her book deserves high commendation and
recognition, and not just in scholarly circles. Most of all, she deserves a
legion of readers.
Curiosity was the starting point.
1970s Martin heard a ghost story about a man named Will Barney who was looking
for his head in the mines at Telluride. She was curious about a body looking
for a head. It seemed it should be the other way around. She put that question
aside, and instead asked why Barney had lost his head in the first
Yes, a headless man led me to Vincent St. John,
Martin says. In 1976 I found an old-timer from Telluride who told me Will
Barney was butchered by St. John, the local miners' union president. The
old-timer had details dripping with blood and gore, a fabulous scene set in the
tenderloin district with Barney being beaten and shot and his head lopped off
and tossed into a mineshaft. I was fascinated, completely entranced by the idea
that I could find the facts of Barney's murder and tell his story, putting his
spirit to rest, so to speak.
Barney led her on a wild ride,
because no two tales were alike. She finally ditched all second-hand hash and
re-hash, and moled into the hard evidence of primary sources. She discovered
facts that stunned her: Barney, said to be murdered in 1901, turned up alive
and well in 1902, 1908, 1912. Other "murder victims" in the Telluride, Colorado
region did likewise.
I never set out to change what had been
accepted as fact for the last century, Martin says. I merely
followed the evidence. In the beginning I had a sense of compassion for Barney,
believing him to be a genuine victim of union savagery. Book after book claimed
it was so. When I discovered documentation that indicated he wasn't murdered, I
concentrated all research on Barney himself to make certain I didn't have
another fellow by the same name. Documentation proved I had the right Barney.
And he was alive and well AFTER his murder.
Martin's years of
hard-nosed research unraveled two other 100-year-old murder mysteries,
exonerating those who had been accused of butchery. The result was the
award-winning book, "The Corpse on Boomerang Road: Telluride's War on Labor
1899-1908," which is currently being transmogrified into a motion picture by
Screenwriter Evan Greene, Producer Frank Capra III, and Director Michael
Schroeder of Elbow Grease Pictures, Inc.
The book was recommended for a
National Book Award and a Pulitzer in history, winning a 2005 Evvy Award in
History (Colorado Independent Publishers Association). Martin was also a
featured speaker at various history presentations, using Barney as an example
of how oft-printed lies can harden into accepted facts, especially
after a hundred years.
I had over eleven-thousand pieces of
information for this book, Martin says. Keeping them straight and
fitting them altogether was a fete in itself. In the end, I had to let some
things go and others I left for further research. I still had more questions
Curiosity. She wanted to know more about the
characters she had met in the Barney saga. She wanted to refine her research on
Vincent St. John, once a national labor leader who was mentioned at least
weekly in newspapers coast to coast in the era from 1901 to 1925. Various labor
professors, archivists, and historians asked her to write a biography of St.
John, a man whose life was more dramatic than any fictional
Martin's initial response was a perhaps
if I can
find new material.
A few things I included in the
Corpse book, Martin says, were materials other people had
researched for me. This was before the Internet and I couldn't get to places
such as Chicago and Boise in time to meet the publisher's deadline for
Corpse. Since that time I have done follow-up research myself, and was
able to correct whatever small bits had gone astray under the circumstances.
Consequently, I wound up with fifteen-thousand more parts to the
storyplenty to breathe life back into St. John's bones. Vincent St.
John's astounding story demands to be told.
But Martin's writing
career isn't all just Vincent St. John. Her diverse interests come out in
magazine and newspaper articles on anything from the toxins in fungi to the
mysterious stone rings of Neolithic Scotland. She has written poetry and
countless articles for periodicals since 1980, including cover-stories
featuring her photography in The
Highlander, The Magazine of Scottish Heritage, Telluride Magazine,
Magazine, Destinations, Colorado Outdoors, Empire Magazine, Contemporary,
True West, Denver Post,
Rocky Mountain News, and many others.
Her earliest publication was
an off-the-wall parody newsletter, which began as a means of entertainment for
one of her brothers in the US Army who had been deployed to Viet Nam. Later
this newsletter grew to include another brother in the Coast Guard, cousins and
friends, until a few people asked to subscribe to it. I made enough money
just to cover printing costs, Martin laughs.
From 1979-1986, she
was editor and cartoonist for the Chronicle of Joy (published in Denver,
Colorado, now defunct), which featured authors such as Declan Madden, OFM, and
others. At the same time Martin wrote for the Denver Post and later the
Rocky Mountain News.
As a satirist, parody cartoonist, cover artist, and
columnist, Martin has been with the San Juan
Horseshoe from 1986 to present. Her fans call her the Queen of
Pseudonyms or Empress of Aliases because coming up with
absurd pseudonyms each month is part of the fun.
If there was
only one periodical left to write for, Martin says, it would be
Kevin Haley's San Juan
Horseshoe, a periodical that's been making up the news longer than Mark
While making up the news for the Horseshoe and
tracking the mysterious trail of William Julius Barney, and discovering how
fast it takes blowflies to invade a corpse, Martin also wrote other nonfiction
works, Twilight Dwellers; Suicide Legends, Homicide Rumors; and
Something in the Wind. She contributes articles, art, photography and
research to other authors' works as well, including The Encyclopedia of
Northern Kentucky, Images of America series, and more. She has also
written a novel under the pseudonym, J. Malcolm Martin, which was endorsed by
the Southern Poverty Law Center's Morris Dees.
My first love is
fiction, Martin confesses. If my curiosity didn't always lead me on
these twenty-year adventures chasing headless men and government spies, I just
might get more novels written.
list of Martin's books and books to which she contributed, along with links to
excerpts of her written work follow:
||MaryJoy Martin has
been with the San Juan Horseshoe since 1986, as
a satirist, parody cartoonist, cover artist, and columnist. For a list of her
madcap pseudonyms and examples of her stories, photos, and artwork, click
vanliga, men ovanliga människor, by Anders Smedberg,
(Finland), (2012) - MaryJoy Martin contributor, attributed; art, photos,
of Northern Kentucky, ed. Tenkotte & Claypool, University Press of
Kentucky (2009) - MaryJoy Martin contributor, attributed
||Alfred Sund - ett
emigrantöde, by Anders Smedberg, Scriptum (Finland), (2009) - MaryJoy
Martin contributor, attributed; art, photos, research
If The World Really Mattered, by Art Goodtimes, La Alameda Press (2007) -
MaryJoy Martin cover art/photo pixelation of the poet as
of America: Idaho Falls, by William Hathaway, Arcadia Publishing (2006) -
MaryJoy Martin contributor, attributed; art, research
on Boomerang Road: Telluride's War on Labor 1899-1908, by MaryJoy Martin,
Western Reflections Publishing (2004)
Sampler, ed. Andrew Gulliford, Durango Herald Small Press (2004) - MaryJoy
Martin contributor, attributed
Ghosts, Gases, & Goblins of Colorado, by MaryJoy Martin, Pruett Publishing
(2003). Third Edition from
Arts Books, Pruett Series (2009)
||Something in the
Wind: Spirits, Spooks, & Sprites of the San Juan, by MaryJoy Martin, Pruett
SID Publications (1993) - fiction; pseudonym, J. Malcolm Martin (MaryJoy
Homicide Rumors: The Griffin Mystery, by MaryJoy Martin, SID Publications
by MaryJoy Martin, Pruett Publishing (1985)