On Dec. 11, 1966, a Sunday, 13-year-old Ted Myers was rabbit hunting on his family’s ranch off Colorado Highway 317 near Hamilton when he happened upon a unique discovery.
He hurried home and phoned the residence of Hayden Valley Press photographer Nick DeLuca.
But, DeLuca wasn’t home.
“Teddy called me Sunday afternoon and told me he had found it,” said Ruby DeLuca, Nick’s wife. “Nick wasn’t at home, but I told him about it when he got home.
“Then, we went to the hospital.”
The DeLucas were expecting a child and Ruby went into labor that Sunday night. She gave birth to their first son, Wayne, on Dec. 12, 1966.
Soon after witnessing the birth of his first child, Nick DeLuca grabbed his camera and drove to Hamilton.
“You can see where his priorities were,” Ruby DeLuca laughed. “He was a newspaperman and he loved taking pictures.”
Upon his arrival at the Myers ranch, Nick DeLuca proceeded to photograph what would become the most famous picture of his journalism career.
“Death Duel,” as he later called it, depicts two 4-point mule deer bucks that locked horns while fighting during the rut and died straddling a wire fence.
The photo appeared in The N.W. Colorado Daily Press on Thursday, Dec. 15, 1966.
Ruby DeLuca said she never found any fault in Nick leaving her at the hospital because the photo “really catapulted his journalism career” and cemented him as a permanent fixture at the Hayden Valley Press, where he served as editor from 1965 until 1976.
Fast-forward 45 years
“Death Duel,” which remains a source of pride for the DeLuca family and residents in Northwest Colorado, is the inspiration for a new exhibit coming soon to the Museum of Northwest Colorado, 590 Yampa Ave., in Craig, where the locked horns have resided for the last 21 years.
Museum Director Dan Davidson couldn’t speak definitively to the horns travels in the last four-and-a-half decades, but said they became the property of the museum in 1990.
“The intention was, and always has been, to mount the horns for an exhibit,” Davidson said. “After 21 years, it is exciting to finally have a project in the works.”
Davidson said the exhibit will be tied into the A.G. & Augusta Wallihan Wildlife Photo Exhibit “even though it’s from a different time period,” and will feature a life-size diorama recreating the photo, a video screen of bucks fighting in the rut and a historical/educational story board.
The “Death Duel” exhibit will replace the jumping mountain lion display, which was inspired by one of Wallihan’s most famous wildlife photos.
“There’s nothing wrong with that exhibit,” Davidson said. “It’s been here since the museum opened over 20 years ago, and I think it’s time for something new.”
Rand Hood, of Visual West, is working with the museum to create the exhibit.
Hood is best known for his work on the Wild Colorado and Globeology exhibits at The Wildlife Experience in Parker.
Rand estimated construction of the exhibit to cost somewhere between $16,175 and $18,175, which is going to require some challenging taxidermy work because the horns are locked and can’t be pulled apart.
Rand said he enlisted the help of local taxidermist Scott Moore of Mountain Man Taxidermy for the project.
Davidson said the museum doesn’t have a hard deadline and hopes the exhibit will be ready for public viewing before the end of the year.
However, because the taxidermy work is by far the hardest piece of the project, Davidson said first viewing falls on the skilled hands of Moore.
Although the Museum of Northwest Colorado is operated by Moffat County, Davidson said no taxpayer money helped fund the “Death Duel” exhibit.
“The museum owns mineral rights thanks to generous donations made by local residents over the years,” Davidson said. “We were able to fund 100 percent of this project with mineral lease money we made in the last year.”
Davidson said the mineral lease donation program started in 1998. He estimates 100 to 150 individuals have donated 11,000 mineral acres to the museum in the last 13 years.
“You really can’t do anything with minerals unless someone wants to develop them,” Davidson said. “We looked at it as a long-term investment and never could have imagined it would have paid off the way it has.”
Sadly, the man responsible for bringing the exhibit to Craig is no longer here to see it.
Nick DeLuca was killed in an automobile accident in April 1982 about three miles east of Hayden.
He was 52.
DeLuca was memorialized in a letter by friend and former co-worker L. Ed Williams in the May 6, 1982 edition of the Rocky Mountain News.
The letter is below:
Nick drove a car like he rode a horse, drew and shot a pistol, bowled over his elk, collared a felon or punched out a tedious adversary in a bar – with a lightning quick grace.
Not overly burdened with formal education, Nick wasn’t too troubled. Handsome, charming, cocky, ready to accept any dare or challenge in a hot minute, Nick liked his education raw – at first hand.
It was largely on chutzpah that Nick became and succeeded as a newsman.
Nick was one of the best photojournalists and worst editors I ever worked with. He could and did, however, wax eloquent in his editorials, often couched in cowboy lingo, which never left anybody in doubt as to Nick’s position.
Nick was a dynamite news photographer and a lousy editor and that corner of Colorado ain’t goin’t be like it was before Nick DeLuca’s luck ran out – and that’s for damn sure.
When asked how DeLuca would have reacted to the exhibit, granddaughter Christy Parrott said he would have considered it an honor.
“I think he would have been so proud,” Parrott said. “I’m so excited this is coming back for the younger generations to appreciate, and I think its going to remind the older folks who knew my grandfather of some fond memories.”
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