Local couple won’t stop each other’s collecting habit
1,000 pieces of history
See the Cowboy and Gunfighter Museum, from the collection of Craig resident Bill Mackin, on the second floor of the Museum of Northwest Colorado, 590 Yampa Ave. For more information, call 824-6360.
His legacy may be assured at the Museum of Northwest Colorado, but Bill Mackin, 69, still is living; and living means collecting.
Five decades in – and after a high six-figure sale to the county 10 years ago for more than 1,000 items that now make up its Cowboy and Gunfighter Museum – Mackin hasn’t had enough.
He’s a regular at the local gun show, went to a show in Phoenix this February and plans to be in Riverton, Wyo., during Memorial Day weekend for another.
The allure of antique firearms keeps a grip on Mackin, who didn’t let more than a few months pass before filling the latest gap in his private collection, a model 1775 Harpers Ferry musket, once used in an early Mormon battle.
Mackin sold that to the museum this year. He made some money, but cash is fluid for a man such as him, who can’t stand to have a hole on his family room wall.
So, last month at the Bears Ears Sportsman Spring Gun Show, he found a replacement to hang in its stead – a bayoneted 1873 Springfield .45.70 rifle – and purchased it on the spot.
It’s not hard for Mackin to explain what his wife, Mickee, termed his “fetish.”
“Westerns and pirate movies and history movies about the Civil War and matinee shows at the little theater in our neighborhood in Dallas,” he said, reflecting on his early years as a boy in Texas. “It isn’t the violence – that isn’t what it’s about. It’s the lore of the Old West.”
Mackin can look at the pieces of his collection, now behind glass at the museum on Yampa Avenue, and imagine stories of how they were used by their original owners.
“You’re cuddling an old Colt Frontier or a Winchester 73; it has a feeling about it that speaks to me,” he said. “As a gun collector, usually you’re looking for the finest condition you can afford, but many guns have a kind of mellow, used personality that shows something about where it’s been.”
His hobby is an addiction. Mackin recognizes this, and as a recovering alcoholic with a master’s degree in educational psychology from the University of Utah, he knows a few things about uncontrollable cravings.
Assault charges and divorce attorneys convinced Mackin to finally put the bottle down, he said.
By contrast, his collecting habit has been good to him. Not only did it eventually afford him the luxury of retirement – after that six-figure sale 10 years ago, the largest single deal of his life – but it also was the hook he needed to find his wife of the past 23 years, Mickee.
Their habits made them fast friends until the two finally wed in 1986.
Mickee, 65, said Bill couldn’t come over to her apartment in their early days without running up to her collection first thing and trying to talk her into one trade after another.
As most married couples do, they share old inside jokes and burst out laughing just from the memories.
For example, they were married the day after Thanksgiving, and it took five anniversaries for them to realize Thanksgiving falls on a different day every year.
Not every story or every addiction they share brings smiles, though. Both are recovering alcoholics and have stories they pause to think about before sharing candidly.
Like Bill, Mickee’s last headfirst dive into collecting came when she quit drinking for good.
Both collect things they remember from their childhood. Bill has his movies and epic stories. Mickee has the time she was 13 when her brother won a contest at Zales and gave her the diamond he brought home.
“When I was growing up, I always liked anything pretty, and I loved jewelry,” she said. “Bill laughs, because he swears to God I can smell diamonds.”
For Mickee, her quest for sobriety began, along with a fervent obsession for collecting, in the late 1970s.
“To me, it was a godsend that I made it into sobriety,” Mickee said, adding she was 30 years sober this year after once thinking she’d never make it 30 days. “I was a 24/7 drinker. I wanted to wipe out. I didn’t want to remember anything. I wanted to have no feelings.”
When Mickee started to clean up while living in Salt Lake City, she was struck with a severe case of hepatitis.
Between the disease and withdrawals, she was bedridden and couldn’t work. Visiting thrift stores, yard sales and auctions became her last outlet.
She always was enamored with jewelry and sporadically had bought other things such as furniture, art and ceramic sculptures.
“It was a salvation for me,” Mickee said. “I had nothing I could do, and I would pray to God if I could just get out of bed and outside, I’d do anything. The thrift stores gave me something to do. I’d walk around the store slowly and look at everything.”
Collecting firearms was there as something of a comfort to Bill when he sobered up, as well. It helped fill the time between when he quit drinking in 1969 and when he started dating Mickee.
However, neither credits collecting for their sober “rebirth.” While they often say they are addicted, they no longer define themselves by their habits. Prior to that time, they were “drunks” and little else.
For his turning point, Bill credits his acceptance and subsequent success at the University of Utah.
“I was really proud of that, because it gave me a job with some prestige after I’d screwed up so bad,” he said. “After I got my master’s degree in four quarters, that’s when I could say I had been reborn.”
With Mickee, collecting became a gateway to her recovery. She was able to get herself out of the house, and that took her to places where she met the people who saved her life.
“Very fortunately, the people I met through that, they helped me when I had no money and no hope,” she said. “Without them, I don’t know what would have become of me.”
Through their struggles, Bill and Mickee have come to two understandings: First, if one gets drunk, the other will leave on the spot.
“Me and Bill, we don’t try to save one another, because we know there’s no point, we won’t be able to,” Mickee said.
The second agreement: Neither will ever question the other’s purchase, no matter how ridiculous.
“We never get mad at each other over what one of us spends on collectibles,” Mickee said. “I don’t care what he buys; he knows what he’s doing.”
Neither one knows whether they’ll ever stop collecting, or whether they can.
Bill said he had planned to be done with collecting after he sold his firearms to the museum a decade ago, but he couldn’t stay on the wagon.
“Like my drinking was, it’s the engine that gets you, not the caboose,” he said. “You don’t have the first drink, and for me it was you don’t buy the first Winchester.”
After 30 years, Mickee hasn’t been able to escape the habit any better than Bill, but her addiction also has had its rewards. She now runs a small business selling jewelry, dolls, glassware, art and anything else she has in stock.
She has trouble passing a pawn shop without stopping, but it hardly seems a cause for alarm, she said.
“Good lordy, no, I don’t know that we’ll ever quit,” Mickee said. “But with a partner like Bill, why would we? We’re too good together.”
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Craig and Moffat County make the Craig Press’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User