POR: Rick Dujay March 08, 2009

A man of many hats, Rick Dujay’s journey to Mesa State College has many turns

Rick Dujay, Mesa State College prof and significant part of the Western Investigations Team working in his lab at Mesa State College.

Rick Dujay has more past lives than uranium has half-lives, or so it seems.

Dujay was a college-football prospect.

He was the youngest firefighter ever hired by the Houston Fire Department when he was 18.

He was a member of the department’s hazardous-materials squad who fully expected to complete his career there.

He’s been a peace officer in Texas and a wildlife biologist in Colorado.

If it sounds as though he’s been a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king, well, that’s about the half of it.

Today, Dujay heads the Center for Electron Microscopy at Mesa State College.

He packs a Ph.D in zoology with a concentration in ecology, cell biology and population genetics from Colorado State University.

Dujay also is scientific coordinator of the Western Investigations Team, which works with the Museum of Western Colorado to apply modern forensic techniques to the West’s mysteries.

He helped build that case for Alferd Packer’s contention that he killed a crazed prospector in self defense after the prospector killed the other members of the party near what now is Lake City back in 1874.

Dujay and students at Mesa State College searched the microscopic equivalent of a square mile to find bits of lead, sulfur and wool that put some meat into Packer’s skin-and-bones tale.

Dujay’s foray into Western history might never have occurred had it not been for two collisions.

The first ruined his plans to play linebacker for Texas Christian University. When he had surgery to repair a knee injury, Dujay decided the hazards of the gridiron were too great, so he sought out a job and got one at age 18 as a firefighter with the Houston Fire Department.

Dujay’s days as a firefighter came to an end when he was flung from the top of an 18-wheeler on Oct. 5, 1985, while working on a hazardous-materials incident.

That sent him back to school and Dujay earned his master’s degree and doctorate at Colorado State University.

He joined the faculty at Mesa State College 11 years ago and one day responded when the request went out to the Mesa State science faculty to help resolve the question of whether Packer was a liar and murderer, or just a cannibal who fended off a murderous prospector.

Dujay mixed his expertise with electron microscopy and metallurgy and a healthy dollop of common sense to tease a bit of truth from what was left of the Packer prospector party. 

“Working with him over the years, I’m just amazed at how versatile he is,” said David Bailey, who represents the Museum of Western Colorado on the Western Investigations Team. “A guy with that many different careers adds a lot to us, especially when we have to be very flexible in certain situations.”

Looking back, Dujay said he missed the camaraderie of the fire department, but “all in all, it was not a challenge intellectually.”

Next up on that score, making sense of a series of pyramid-like structures found on the Kannah Creek side of the Grand Mesa.

Then there’s the question of exactly where Doc Holliday of Battle at the OK Corral fame is buried.

The gunfighter is purportedly buried in Glenwood Springs, but there is also reason to think his remains were dropped into a temporary grave and never retrieved.

Dujay wants to know whether Holliday is buried at the gravesite that bears his name and if not, then where?

And then there is the question of the death of Kid Curry, wildest member of the Wild Bunch.

Curry is said to have died in a gunfight near Parachute, but there are questions.

There are rumors that Curry survived and rebuilt his life, much as some believe his companions, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were said to have done, in Bolivia.

That bit about rebuilding a life. It’s a subject on which Dujay might have some expertise.


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