Local man asks council to let him keep horses at his home
Craig Lex Burton was raised on the frontier hills of Browns Park, when that land was a jigsaw of ranches and fields, not the protected nature reserve of today.
When he moved to Craig in 1965, he, his wife and their five children built a family home for themselves just north of what was, at the time, Craig city limits.
When the city annexed his property some time thereafter, Burton agreed with one condition: they allow him to keep his horses, to which the city relented, but only as long as Burton was alive to take care of them.
Now, as the pine trees he planted have grown 35 feet tall, that agreement has come under scrutiny, and Burton's traditions might come up against an insurmountable opponent: progress.
Burton is an old world person, a man who hangs on to certain ways of life now forgotten by most Americans.
In the past few decades, progress has left him somewhat behind.
Now 74, his children grown, Burton owns a lot of old things: three tractors made between 1946 and 1955, several 8-track tape players and a horse-drawn buggy he built himself.
"Oh, well, I'm fairly old," he said. "All this new doesn't bother me. I don't care for it myself. If we were still in buggies and wagons, then the world's not progressing."
However, progress came knocking on Burton's door recently when the Craig Police Department informed him he would have to remove his horses from his property on Colorado Street or be fined.
In response, he went to the Craig City Council meeting Tuesday to plead his case.
Burton told the council about his agreement with the city's former leaders, but he had no proof.
Nothing was ever signed, Burton said to the council, because he had faith in what city officials told him.
"I believed every word," Burton said. "I have no proof. That was 30 years or better when that happened.
"I firmly believe it yet today," he later added, "and I'm not dead."
Burton submitted four pages of signatures from neighbors and others who support his cause.
Some of the petitioners addressed the council, too, after they decided writing their name wasn't enough.
"It makes all the kids happy," said Cammy Winder, a neighbor of Burton's who started the petition that was submitted to the city. "He walks all his horses on leashes and lets them play with them, and he talks to them."
Removing the animals would take away what Winder and others said was something of a neighborhood institution, something that made their part of Craig special, even if it is old world.
"That's what Craig is," Winder said. "We're not big city stuff. We're the dump and animals. If we can keep the simple things for as long as possible - I know it's not going to last forever - that would be nice."
Although the council initially told Burton they had no choice but have him remove his animals, members decided to stay any fines until they could have more time to ponder the issue, with a decision possibly by their next meeting Aug. 26.
Councilor Gene Bilodeau first compared the horse issue to the city's recently resolved "Francisco fiasco" - referring to multiple court cases involving former council candidate Francisco Reina, who was cited for spending more of his own money on his campaign than allowed by the city charter. The city eventually dropped its citation and conceded that its charter violated a 1976 Supreme Court Decision.
He then told other city officials that maybe, in this case, the rules don't have to be the end of the discussion.
"It just seems to me that sometimes in the country and the world, we get bogged down in what the rules are and forget to use common sense," Bilodeau said.
Burton has no intention of being difficult if the council decides the horses aren't appropriate for city life, however.
A fight against the law is a losing battle.
"No, I'll just move them away," he said. "That's all you can do. No use in fighting them about it."
It will change things, though.
He'll no longer have the manure to fertilize his lawn and garden, which has a wide swath of vegetables from radishes to strawberries.
Most of all, though, he won't have his horses, Little Buck and Abu, to come along on another walk through the neighborhood.
"It's changing mighty fast, the world is," Burton said. "The people that come here today, they know nothing but what they might read in a book. What did this country grow from? Sheep, cattle, ranches. I've never not had a horse. I don't want to give them up."