Straight talker Medill Barnes dies - Colorado Politics

Straight talker Medill Barnes dies

Author: Morgan Smith - March 2, 2012 - Updated: March 2, 2012


“Morgan, I have some bad news.” It was former District Judge Susie Barnes on the phone. I knew immediately what she was going to say. Her husband, Medill Barnes, my friend of some 60 years had died.

We met in the early ‘50s when his family moved to the Aspen area. His father, Courtland Barnes was the driving force behind the music festival; in fact, he saved it from extinction in those early days before all the mega-money came to Aspen.

At age 14, Medill learned how to drive on our ranch, bashing around in our pickup truck. He bought Shorty, my sorrel horse. I’d paid $50 for Shorty and Medill gave me $75 for him, the only time I ever made money on a horse.

Late one summer, Bill Whatley, a rancher in DeBeque, hired us to help round up his cattle. When we gotthere, however, he assigned us several huge hayfields to mow. We spent most of a week racing around his fields with those little Ford tractors, got the hay cut but pretty well demolished the tractors in the process. He didn’t invite us back the next haying season.

Much later Medill and I were partners in the Straight Creek Journal. He had a love for politics but for politics the right way. Straight talk, sticking to your principles, keeping your word. Wally Stealey remembers him as “the last of the great contrarians” and remembers Medill with his plane flying Ken Monfort around the state on one of his campaigns and then Mark Hogan during Mark’s 1970 run for Governor. Medill was also campaign manager for Craig Barnes in his Congressional bid.

He and Susie had frequently come to Santa Fe to check on his mother who was almost 100 when she died several months ago. Recently he seemed very subdued, even turning down that traditional glass of bourbon. I thought he was in mourning but, in fact, it was physical pain. I wish he had told me that something was wrong. He had always been a stoic guy who never complained.

Over the years, he collected a number of my photographs. Photos like Semana Santa in Spain. We talked about all of us making a trip there some day. If I had pushed him for an answer, perhaps we could have caught this illness early and made the trip.

My family misses him. Julie and me but also my two tiny dogs who loved to jump up in his lap and look him in the eye. Medill always owned great big dogs but he loved our little ones as well. And they loved him too.

Morgan Smith, a former state representative and past executive director of the Colorado International Trade Office, is a photojournalist and world traveler. He can be reached at

Morgan Smith

Morgan Smith

Morgan Smith is a former Colorado state representative, commissioner of agriculture and director of the Colorado International Trade Office. He travels extensively in Latin America, particularly on the U.S.-Mexico border. He can be reached at

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