Return home

The Penguin Press



The Legend of Colton H. Bryant

Edited by Ann Godoff

Colton H. Bryant grew up in Wyoming and never once wanted to leave it. “Wyoming loves me,” he said, and it was true. Wyoming—hard-scrabble, roughneck, wild, open, and heart-searingly beautiful—loved him, and Colton loved it back. As a child sitting at his desk in school, Colton never could force himself to focus on what the teacher was talking about. In his mind he’d plan where he’d go fishing later, or wonder how many jackrabbits he might find on his favorite hunting patch, or whether the wild mare he was breaking in would ever let him ride her. “At my funeral, you’ll all feel sorry for making me waste so much time in school,” he said to his best friend Jake—and again he was right.

Two things helped Colton get through school and the neighborhood “K-mart cowboys” who chased after him on his bike yelling “retard”: His best friend Jake and his favorite mantra, a snatch of a saying he once heard on TV: Mind over matter—which meant to him: If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.

Colton and Jake grew up wanting nothing more than the freedom to drink Mountain Dew, sleep out under the great Wyoming night sky, and to be just like Jake’s dad, Bill. Bill is a strong, gentle man of few words and the kind of quiet confidence that inspires hero-worship. He can ride rodeo like nobody’s business and when he isn’t working on the oil rigs (like his own father did), he’s riding and camping out on the beautiful Wyoming land with his kids. When it was time for Colton to make money on his own, he started to work as a driller on an oil rig, as he always knew he would. His young wife begged him to quit—Colton was always joking about dying young, he’d even written a funny little song about it that he sang whenever he got himself into danger that went, “…and if I die before I wake, feed Jake”; and every day there were stories in the newspaper about drillers getting arms and legs ripped off or worse on the rigs. But Colton’s dad worked on the rig, and his dad before him, and Colton claimed it was in his blood.

Colton did die young, and he died on the rig—falling to his death because the oil company, giddy from the profits they were able to reel in during the great oil boom, had neglected to spend $2000 on the mandated safety rails that would have saved his life. His family received no compensation. But they didn’t expect to—they knew the company’s ways, and after all: Mind over matter.

In Scribbling the Cat, Alexandra Fuller brought us the examined life of a Rhodesian soldier; now—in her inimitable poetic voice and with her unerring ear for dialogue—she brings before us the life of someone much closer to home, as unfamiliar as he is familiar. The strong, sad, and in many ways quintessentially American story of Colton H. Bryant’s life could not be told without also telling the story of the land that grew him—the beautiful and tough and somehow tragic Wyoming; the land where there are still such things as cowboys roaming the plains, where it’s relationships that get you through, and where a simple, soulful, and just man named Colton H. Bryant lived and died.


Other books by Alexandra Fuller


“[Fuller’s] book—set in her new home, the high plains of Wyoming—hangs so faultlessly on its high-altitude, big-sky, oildrilling bones that it seems not so much to have been written as uncovered by the wind and weather of the American north-west.” The Economist

“Fuller is expert in evoking the stark landscape and recreating the speech and mentality of her adopted state’s native sons. Wonderfully poignant and poetic and reads more like a novel than biography….A touching portrait of a life cut short and a perceptive immersion in the environment that nurtures such men, Fuller’s volume excels.” —Publishers Weekly

“Spotlessly capturing the distinctive scenes from his life, Fuller takes readers into the Bryant family and the small-town community and oil rigs they inhabited….Fuller, with pinpoint detailing and a deadeye aim on Wyoming dialect, teases out a portrait of a young man that is staggering in its spareness, and heartbreaking in its tenderness….Fuller’s deeply moving celebration of Colton’s life is bursting with humor, love, and tragedy, like all that is best in life, and without ever having met him, you won’t soon forget Colton H. Bryant.” —Booklist (starred)

Author Q&A


Sign me up for Serious Reads


A monthly newsletter featuring new and newsworthy nonfiction titles with exclusive excerpts and content from your favorite authors.

Serious Reads

Sign me up for Serious Reads, a monthly newsletter featuring new and newsworthy nonfiction titles with exclusive excerpts and content from your favorite authors.