Wednesday, October 24, 2007



Isabella L. Bird
Introduction by
Ann Ronald
University of Nevada, Reno
To My Sister,
to whom
these letters were originally written,
they are now
affectionately dedicated.
Introduction, by Ann Ronald
Lake Tahoe--Morning in San Francisco--Dust--A Pacific
mail-train--Digger Indians--Cape Horn--A mountain hotel--A
pioneer--A Truckee livery stable--A mountain stream--Finding a
A lady's "get-up"--Grizzly bears--The "Gem of the Sierras"--A
tragic tale--A carnival of color.
A Temple of Morpheus--Utah--A "God-forgotten" town--A distressed
couple--Dog villages--A temperance colony--A Colorado inn
--The bug pest--Fort Collins.
A plague of flies--A melancholy charioteer--The Foot Hills--A
mountain boarding-house--A dull life--"Being agreeable"--Climate
of Colorado--Soroche and snakes.
A dateless day--"Those hands of yours"--A Puritan--Persevering
shiftlessness--The house-mother--Family worship--A grim Sunday--A
"thick-skulled Englishman"--A morning call--Another
atmosphere--The Great Lone Land--"Ill found"--A log camp--Bad
footing for horses--Accidents--Disappointment.
A bronco mare--An accident--Wonderland--A sad story--The children
of the Territories--Hard greed--Halcyon hours--Smartness--
Old-fashioned prejudices--The Chicago colony--Good luck--Three
notes of admiration--A good horse--The St. Vrain--The Rocky
Mountains at last--"Mountain Jim"--A death hug--Estes Park.
Personality of Long's Peak--"Mountain Jim"--Lake of the Lilies--A
silent forest--The camping ground--"Ring"--A lady's bower--Dawn
and sunrise--A glorious view--Links of diamonds--The ascent of
the Peak--The "Dog's Lift"--Suffering from thirst--The
descent--The bivouac.
Estes Park--Big game--"Parks" in Colorado--Magnificent
scenery--Flowers and pines--An awful road--Our log
cabin--Griffith Evans--A miniature world--Our topics--A
night alarm--A skunk--Morning glories--Daily routine--The
panic--"Wait for the wagon"--A musical evening.
"Please Ma'ams"--A desperado--A cattle hunt--The muster--A mad
cow--A snowstorm--Snowed up--Birdie--The Plains--A prairie
schooner--Denver--A find--Plum Creek--"Being
agreeable"--Snowbound--The grey mare.
A white world--Bad traveling--A millionaire's home--Pleasant
Park--Perry's Park--Stock-raising--A cattle king--The Arkansas
Divide--Birdie's sagacity--Luxury--Monument Park--Deference to
prejudice--A death scene--The Manitou--A loose shoe--The Ute
Pass--Bergens Park--A settler's home--Hayden's Divide--Sharp
criticism--Speaking the truth.
Tarryall Creek--The Red Range--Excelsior--Importunate
pedlars--Snow and heat--A bison calf--Deep drifts--South
Park--The Great Divide--Comanche Bill--Difficulties--
Hall's Gulch--A Lord Dundreary--Ridiculous fears.
Deer Valley--Lynch law--Vigilance committees--The silver
spruce--Taste and abstinence--The whisky fiend--Smartness--Turkey
Creek Canyon--The Indian problem--Public rascality--Friendly
meetings--The way to the Golden City--A rising settlement--Clear
Creek Canyon--Staging--Swearing--A mountain town.
The blight of mining--Green Lake--Golden
City--Benighted--Vertigo--Boulder Canyon--Financial straits--A
hard ride--The last cent--A bachelor's home--"Mountain Jim"--A
surprise--A night arrival--Making the best of it--Scanty fare.
A dismal ride--A desperado's tale--"Lost! Lost! Lost!"--Winter
glories--Solitude--Hard times--Intense cold--A pack of
wolves--The beaver dams--Ghastly scenes--Venison steaks--Our
A whisky slave--The pleasures of monotony--The mountain
lion--"Another mouth to feed"--A tiresome boy--An
outcast--Thanksgiving Day--The newcomer--A literary humbug--
Milking a dry cow--Trout-fishing--A snow-storm--A desperado's
A harmonious home--Intense cold--A purple sun--A grim jest--A
perilous ride--Frozen eyelids--Longmount--The pathless prairie--
Hardships of emigrant life--A trapper's advice--The Little
Thompson--Evans and "Jim."
Woman's mission--The last morning--Crossing the St.
Vrain--Miller--The St. Vrain again--Crossing the prairie--"Jim's"
dream--"Keeping strangers"--The inn kitchen--A reputed
child-eater--Notoriety--A quiet dance--"Jim's" resolve--The
frost-fall--An unfortunate introduction.
Letter I
Lake Tahoe--Morning in San Francisco--Dust--A Pacific
mail-train--Digger Indians--Cape Horn--A mountain hotel--A
pioneer--A Truckee livery stable--A mountain stream--Finding a
LAKE TAHOE, September 2.
I have found a dream of beauty at which one might look all one's
life and sigh. Not lovable, like the Sandwich Islands, but
beautiful in its own way! A strictly North American
beauty--snow-splotched mountains, huge pines, red-woods, sugar
pines, silver spruce; a crystalline atmosphere, waves of the
richest color; and a pine-hung lake which mirrors all beauty on
its surface. Lake Tahoe is before me, a sheet of water
twenty-two miles long by ten broad, and in some places 1,700 feet
deep. It lies at a height of 6,000 feet, and the snow-crowned
summits which wall it in are from 8,000 to 11,000 feet in
altitude. The air is keen and elastic. There is no sound but
the distant and slightly musical ring of the lumberer's axe.
It is a weariness to go back, even in thought, to the clang of
San Francisco, which I left in its cold morning fog early
yesterday, driving to the Oakland ferry through streets with
side-walks heaped with thousands of cantaloupe and water-melons,
tomatoes, cucumbers, squashes, pears, grapes, peaches,
apricots--all of startling size as compared with any I ever saw
before. Other streets were piled with sacks of flour, left out
all night, owing to the security from rain at this season. I
pass hastily over the early part of the journey, the crossing
the bay in a fog as chill as November, the number of "lunch
baskets," which gave the car the look of conveying a great picnic
party, the last view of the Pacific, on which I had looked for
nearly a year, the fierce sunshine and brilliant sky inland, the
look of long RAINLESSNESS, which one may not call drought, the
valleys with sides crimson with the poison oak, the dusty
vineyards, with great purple clusters thick among the leaves, and
between the vines great dusty melons lying on the dusty earth.
From off the boundless harvest fields the grain was carried in
June, and it is now stacked in sacks along the track, awaiting
freightage. California is a "land flowing with milk and honey."
The barns are bursting with fullness. In the dusty orchards the
apple and pear branches are supported, that they may not break
down under the weight of fruit; melons, tomatoes, and squashes of
gigantic size lie almost unheeded on the ground; fat cattle,
gorged almost to repletion, shade themselves under the oaks;
superb "red" horses shine, not with grooming, but with condition;
and thriving farms everywhere show on what a solid basis the
prosperity of the "Golden State" is founded. Very uninviting,
however rich, was the blazing Sacramento Valley, and very
repulsive the city of Sacramento, which, at a distance of 125
miles from the Pacific, has an elevation of only thirty feet.
The mercury stood at 103 degrees in the shade, and the fine white
dust was stifling.
In the late afternoon we began the ascent of the Sierras, whose
sawlike points had been in sight for many miles. The dusty
fertility was all left behind, the country became rocky and
gravelly, and deeply scored by streams bearing the muddy wash of
the mountain gold mines down to the muddier Sacramento. There
were long broken ridges and deep ravines, the ridges becoming
longer, the ravines deeper, the pines thicker and larger, as we
ascended into a cool atmosphere of exquisite purity, and before 6
P.M. the last traces of cultivation and the last hardwood trees
were left behind.[1]
[1] In consequence of the unobserved omission of a date to my
letters having been pointed out to me, I take this opportunity of
stating that I traveled in Colorado in the autumn and early
winter of 1873, on my way to England from the Sandwich Islands.
The letters are a faithful picture of the country and state of
society as it then was; but friends who have returned from the
West within the last six months tell me that things are rapidly
changing, that the frame house is replacing the log cabin, and
that the footprints of elk and bighorn may be sought for in vain
on the dewy slopes of Estes Park.
I. L. B.
(Author's note to the third edition, January 16, 1880.)
At Colfax, a station at a height of 2,400 feet, I got out and
walked the length of the train. First came two great gaudy
engines, the Grizzly Bear and the White Fox, with their
respective tenders loaded with logs of wood, the engines with
great, solitary, reflecting lamps in front above the cow guards,
a quantity of polished brass-work, comfortable glass houses, and
well-stuffed seats for the engine-drivers. The engines and
tenders were succeeded by a baggage car, the latter loaded with
bullion and valuable parcels, and in charge of two "express
agents." Each of these cars is forty-five feet long. Then came
two cars loaded with peaches and grapes; then two "silver palace"
cars, each sixty feet long; then a smoking car, at that time
occupied mainly by Chinamen; and then five ordinary passenger
cars, with platforms like all the others, making altogether a
train about 700 feet in length.
The platforms of the four front cars were clustered over with
Digger Indians, with their squaws, children, and gear. They are
perfect savages, without any aptitude for even aboriginal
civilization, and are altogether the most degraded of the
ill-fated tribes which are dying out before the white races.
They were all very diminutive, five feet one inch being, I should
think, about the average height, with flat noses, wide mouths,
and black hair, cut straight above the eyes and hanging lank and
long at the back and sides. The squaws wore their hair thickly
plastered with pitch, and a broad band of the same across their
noses and cheeks. They carried their infants on their backs,
strapped to boards. The clothing of both sexes was a ragged,
dirty combination of coarse woolen cloth and hide, the moccasins
being unornamented. They were all hideous and filthy, and
swarming with vermin. The men carried short bows and arrows, one
of them, who appeared to be the chief, having a lynx's skin for a
quiver. A few had fishing tackle, but the bystanders said that
they lived almost entirely upon grasshoppers. They were a
most impressive incongruity in the midst of the tokens of an
omnipotent civilization.
The light of the sinking sun from that time glorified the
Sierras, and as the dew fell, aromatic odors made the still air
sweet. On a single track, sometimes carried on a narrow ledge
excavated from the mountain side by men lowered from the top in
baskets, overhanging ravines from 2,000 to 3,000 feet deep, the
monster train SNAKED its way upwards, stopping sometimes in front
of a few frame houses, at others where nothing was to be seen but
a log cabin with a few Chinamen hanging about it, but where
trails on the sides of the ravines pointed to a gold country
above and below. So sharp and frequent are the curves on some
parts of the ascent, that on looking out of the window one could
seldom see more than a part of the train at once. At Cape Horn,
where the track curves round the ledge of a precipice 2,500 feet
in depth, it is correct to be frightened, and a fashion of
holding the breath and shutting the eyes prevails, but my fears
were reserved for the crossing of a trestle bridge over a very
deep chasm, which is itself approached by a sharp curve. This
bridge appeared to be overlapped by the cars so as to produce the
effect of looking down directly into a wild gulch, with a torrent
raging along it at an immense depth below.
Shivering in the keen, frosty air near the summit pass of the
Sierras, we entered the "snow-sheds," wooden galleries, which for
about fifty miles shut out all the splendid views of the region,
as given in dioramas, not even allowing a glimpse of "the Gem of
the Sierras," the lovely Donner Lake. One of these sheds is
twenty-seven miles long. In a few hours the mercury had fallen
from 103 degrees to 29 degrees, and we had ascended 6,987 feet in
105 miles! After passing through the sheds, we had several grand
views of a pine forest on fire before reaching Truckee at 11 P.M.
having traveled 258 miles. Truckee, the center of the "lumbering
region" of the Sierras, is usually spoken of as "a rough mountain
town," and Mr. W. had told me that all the roughs of the district
congregated there, that there were nightly pistol affrays in
bar-rooms, etc., but as he admitted that a lady was sure of
respect, and Mr. G. strongly advised me to stay and see the
lakes, I got out, much dazed, and very stupid with sleep, envying
the people in the sleeping car, who were already unconscious on
their luxurious couches. The cars drew up in a street--if street
that could be called which was only a wide, cleared space,
intersected by rails, with here and there a stump, and great
piles of sawn logs bulking big in the moonlight, and a number of
irregular clap-board, steep-roofed houses, many of them with
open fronts, glaring with light and crowded with men. We had
pulled up at the door of a rough Western hotel, with a partially
open front, being a bar-room crowded with men drinking and
smoking, and the space between it and the cars was a moving mass
of loafers and passengers. On the tracks, engines, tolling heavy
bells, were mightily moving, the glare from their cyclopean eyes
dulling the light of a forest which was burning fitfully on a
mountain side; and on open spaces great fires of pine logs were
burning cheerily, with groups of men round them. A band was
playing noisily, and the unholy sound of tom-toms was not far
off. Mountains--the Sierras of many a fireside dream--seemed to
wall in the town, and great pines stood out, sharp and clear cut,
against a sky in which a moon and stars were shining frostily.
It was a sharp frost at that great height, and when an
"irrepressible rigger," who seemed to represent the hotel
establishment, deposited me and my carpetbag in a room which
answered for "the parlor," I was glad to find some remains of
pine knots still alight in the stove. A man came in and said
that when the cars were gone he would try to get me a room, but
they were so full that it would be a very poor one. The crowd
was solely masculine. It was then 11:30 P.M., and I had not had
a meal since 6 A.M.; but when I asked hopefully for a hot supper,
with tea, I was told that no supper could be got at that hour;
but in half an hour the same man returned with a small cup of
cold, weak tea, and a small slice of bread, which looked as if it
had been much handled.
I asked the Negro factotum about the hire of horses, and
presently a man came in from the bar who, he said, could supply
my needs. This man, the very type of a Western pioneer, bowed,
threw himself into a rocking-chair, drew a spittoon beside him,
cut a fresh quid of tobacco, began to chew energetically, and put
his feet, cased in miry high boots, into which his trousers were
tucked, on the top of the stove. He said he had horses which
would both "lope" and trot, that some ladies preferred the
Mexican saddle, that I could ride alone in perfect safety; and
after a route had been devised, I hired a horse for two days.
This man wore a pioneer's badge as one of the earliest settlers
of California, but he had moved on as one place after another
had become too civilized for him, "but nothing," he added, "was
likely to change much in Truckee." I was afterwards told that
the usual regular hours of sleep are not observed there. The
accommodation is too limited for the population of 2,000,[2]
which is masculine mainly, and is liable to frequent temporary
additions, and beds are occupied continuously, though by
different occupants, throughout the greater part of the
twenty-four hours. Consequently I found the bed and room
allotted to me quite tumbled looking. Men's coats and sticks
were hanging up, miry boots were littered about, and a rifle was
in one corner. There was no window to the outer air, but I slept
soundly, being only once awoke by an increase of the same din in
which I had fallen asleep, varied by three pistol shots fired in
rapid succession.
[2] Nelson's Guide to the Central Pacific Railroad.
This morning Truckee wore a totally different aspect. The crowds
of the night before had disappeared. There were heaps of ashes
where the fires had been. A sleepy German waiter seemed the only
person about the premises, the open drinking saloons were nearly
empty, and only a few sleepy-looking loafers hung about in what
is called the street. It might have been Sunday; but they say
that it brings a great accession of throng and jollity. Public
worship has died out at present; work is discontinued on Sunday,
but the day is given up to pleasure. Putting a minimum of
indispensables into a bag, and slipping on my Hawaiian riding
dress[3] over a silk skirt, and a dust cloak over all, I
stealthily crossed the plaza to the livery stable, the largest
building in Truckee, where twelve fine horses were stabled in
stalls on each side of a broad drive. My friend of the evening
before showed me his "rig," three velvet-covered side-saddles
almost without horns. Some ladies, he said, used the horn of the
Mexican saddle, but none "in the part" rode cavalier fashion. I
felt abashed. I could not ride any distance in the conventional
mode, and was just going to give up this splendid "ravage," when
the man said, "Ride your own fashion; here, at Truckee, if
anywhere in the world, people can do as they like." Blissful
Truckee! In no time a large grey horse was "rigged out" in a
handsome silver-bossed Mexican saddle, with ornamental leather
tassels hanging from the stirrup guards, and a housing of black
bear's-skin. I strapped my silk skirt on the saddle, deposited
my cloak in the corn-bin, and was safely on the horse's back
before his owner had time to devise any way of mounting me.
Neither he nor any of the loafers who had assembled showed the
slightest sign of astonishment, but all were as respectful as
[3] For the benefit of other lady travelers, I wish to explain
that my "Hawaiian riding dress" is the "American Lady's Mountain
Dress," a half-fitting jacket, a skirt reaching to the ankles,
and full Turkish trousers gathered into frills falling over the
boots,--a thoroughly serviceable and feminine costume for
mountaineering and other rough traveling, as in the Alps or any
other part of the world.
I. L. B.
(Author's note to the second edition, November 27, 1879.)
Once on horseback my embarrassment disappeared, and I rode
through Truckee, whose irregular, steep-roofed houses and
shanties, set down in a clearing and surrounded closely by
mountain and forest, looked like a temporary encampment; passed
under the Pacific Railroad; and then for twelve miles followed
the windings of the Truckee River, a clear, rushing, mountain
stream, in which immense pine logs had gone aground not to be
floated off till the next freshet, a loud-tongued, rollicking
stream of ice-cold water, on whose banks no ferns or trailers
hang, and which leaves no greenness along its turbulent progress.
All was bright with that brilliancy of sky and atmosphere, that
blaze of sunshine and universal glitter, which I never saw till I
came to California, combined with an elasticity in the air which
removed all lassitude, and gives one spirit enough for anything.
On either side of the Truckee great sierras rose like walls,
castellated, embattled, rifted, skirted and crowned with pines of
enormous size, the walls now and then breaking apart to show some
snow-slashed peak rising into a heaven of intense, unclouded,
sunny blue. At this altitude of 6,000 feet one must learn to be
content with varieties of Coniferae, for, except for aspens,
which spring up in some places where the pines have been cleared
away, and for cotton-woods, which at a lower level fringe the
streams, there is nothing but the bear cherry, the raspberry, the
gooseberry, the wild grape, and the wild currant. None of these
grew near the Truckee, but I feasted my eyes on pines[4] which,
though not so large as the Wellingtonia of the Yosemite, are
really gigantic, attaining a height of 250 feet, their huge
stems, the warm red of cedar wood, rising straight and branchless
for a third of their height, their diameter from seven to fifteen
feet, their shape that of a larch, but with the needles long and
dark, and cones a foot long. Pines cleft the sky; they were
massed wherever level ground occurred; they stood over the
Truckee at right angles, or lay across it in prostrate grandeur.
Their stumps and carcasses were everywhere; and smooth "shoots"
on the sierras marked where they were shot down as "felled
timber," to be floated off by the river. To them this wild
region owes its scattered population, and the sharp ring of the
lumberer's axe mingles with the cries of wild beasts and the roar
of mountain torrents.
[4] Pinus Lambertina.
The track is a soft, natural, wagon road, very pleasant to ride
on. The horse was much too big for me, and had plans of his own;
but now and then, where the ground admitted to it, I tried his
heavy "lope" with much amusement. I met nobody, and passed
nothing on the road but a freight wagon, drawn by twenty-two
oxen, guided by three fine-looking men, who had some difficulty
in making room for me to pass their awkward convoy. After I had
ridden about ten miles the road went up a steep hill in the
forest, turned abruptly, and through the blue gloom of the great
pines which rose from the ravine in which the river was then hid,
came glimpses of two mountains, about 11,000 feet in height,
whose bald grey summits were crowned with pure snow. It was one
of those glorious surprises in scenery which make one feel as if
one must bow down and worship. The forest was thick, and had an
undergrowth of dwarf spruce and brambles, but as the horse had
become fidgety and "scary" on the track, I turned off in the idea
of taking a short cut, and was sitting carelessly, shortening my
stirrup, when a great, dark, hairy beast rose, crashing and
snorting, out of the tangle just in front of me. I had only a
glimpse of him, and thought that my imagination had magnified a
wild boar, but it was a bear. The horse snorted and plunged
violently, as if he would go down to the river, and then turned,
still plunging, up a steep bank, when, finding that I must come
off, I threw myself off on the right side, where the ground rose
considerably, so that I had not far to fall. I got up covered
with dust, but neither shaken nor bruised. It was truly
grotesque and humiliating. The bear ran in one direction, and
the horse in another. I hurried after the latter, and twice he
stopped till I was close to him, then turned round and cantered
away. After walking about a mile in deep dust, I picked up first
the saddle-blanket and next my bag, and soon came upon the horse,
standing facing me, and shaking all over. I thought I should
catch him then, but when I went up to him he turned round, threw
up his heels several times, rushed off the track, galloped in
circles, bucking, kicking, and plunging for some time, and then
throwing up his heels as an act of final defiance, went off at
full speed in the direction of Truckee, with the saddle over his
shoulders and the great wooden stirrups thumping his sides, while
I trudged ignominiously along in the dust, laboriously carrying
the bag and saddle-blanket.
I walked for nearly an hour, heated and hungry, when to my joy I
saw the ox-team halted across the top of a gorge, and one of the
teamsters leading the horse towards me. The young man said that,
seeing the horse coming, they had drawn the team across the road
to stop him, and remembering that he had passed them with a lady
on him, they feared that there had
been an accident, and had just saddled one of their own horses to
go in search of me. He brought me some water to wash the dust
from my face, and re-saddled the horse, but the animal snorted
and plunged for some time before he would let me mount, and then
sidled along in such a nervous and scared way, that the teamster
walked for some distance by me to see that I was "all right." He
said that the woods in the neighborhood of Tahoe had been full of
brown and grizzly bears for some days, but that no one was in
any danger from them. I took a long gallop beyond the scene of
my tumble to quiet the horse, who was most restless and
Then the scenery became truly magnificent and bright with life.
Crested blue-jays darted through the dark pines, squirrels in
hundreds scampered through the forest, red dragon-flies flashed
like "living light," exquisite chipmunks ran across the track,
but only a dusty blue lupin here and there reminded me of earth's
fairer children. Then the river became broad and still, and
mirrored in its transparent depths regal pines, straight as an
arrow, with rich yellow and green lichen clinging to their stems,
and firs and balsam pines filling up the spaces between them, the
gorge opened, and this mountain-girdled lake lay before me, with
its margin broken up into bays and promontories, most
picturesquely clothed by huge sugar pines. It lay dimpling and
scintillating beneath the noonday sun, as entirely unspoilt as
fifteen years ago, when its pure loveliness was known only to
trappers and Indians. One man lives on it the whole year round;
otherwise early October strips its shores of their few
inhabitants, and thereafter, for seven months, it is rarely
accessible except on snowshoes. It never freezes. In the dense
forests which bound it, and drape two-thirds of its gaunt
sierras, are hordes of grizzlies, brown bears, wolves, elk, deer,
chipmunks, martens, minks, skunks, foxes, squirrels, and snakes.
On its margin I found an irregular wooden inn, with a
lumber-wagon at the door, on which was the carcass of a large
grizzly bear, shot behind the house this morning. I had intended
to ride ten miles farther, but, finding that the trail in some
places was a "blind" one, and being bewitched by the beauty and
serenity of Tahoe, I have remained here sketching, reveling in
the view from the veranda, and strolling in the forest. At this
height there is frost every night of the year, and my fingers are
The beauty is entrancing. The sinking sun is out of sight behind
the western Sierras, and all the pine-hung promontories on this
side of the water are rich indigo, just reddened with lake,
deepening here and there into Tyrian purple. The peaks above,
which still catch the sun, are bright rose-red, and all the
mountains on the other side are pink; and pink, too, are the
far-off summits on which the snow-drifts rest. Indigo, red, and
orange tints stain the still water, which lies solemn and dark
against the shore, under the shadow of stately pines. An hour
later, and a moon nearly full--not a pale, flat disc, but a
radiant sphere--has wheeled up into the flushed sky. The sunset
has passed through every stage of beauty, through every glory of
color, through riot and triumph, through pathos and tenderness,
into a long, dreamy, painless rest, succeeded by the profound
solemnity of the moonlight, and a stillness broken only by the
night cries of beasts in the aromatic forests.
I. L. B.
Letter II
A lady's "get-up"--Grizzly bears--The "Gems of the Sierras"--A
tragic tale--A carnival of color.
As night came on the cold intensified, and the stove in the
parlor attracted every one. A San Francisco lady, much "got up"
in paint, emerald green velvet, Brussels lace, and diamonds,
rattled continuously for the amusement of the company, giving
descriptions of persons and scenes in a racy Western twang,
without the slightest scruple as to what she said. In a few
years Tahoe will be inundated in summer with similar vulgarity,
owing to its easiness of access. I sustained the reputation
which our country-women bear in America by looking a "perfect
guy"; and feeling that I was a salient point for the speaker's
next sally, I was relieved when the landlady, a ladylike
Englishwoman, asked me to join herself and her family in the
bar-room, where we had much talk about the neighborhood and its
wild beasts, especially bears. The forest is full of them, but
they seem never to attack people unless when wounded, or much
aggravated by dogs, or a shebear thinks you are going to molest
her young.
I dreamt of bears so vividly that I woke with a furry death hug
at my throat, but feeling quite refreshed. When I mounted my
horse after breakfast the sun was high and the air so keen and
intoxicating that, giving the animal his head, I galloped up and
down hill, feeling completely tireless. Truly, that air is the
elixir of life. I had a glorious ride back to Truckee. The road
was not as solitary as the day before. In a deep part of the
forest the horse snorted and reared, and I saw a cinnamon-colored
bear with two cubs cross the track ahead of me. I tried to keep
the horse quiet that the mother might acquit me of any designs
upon her lolloping children, but I was glad when the ungainly,
long-haired party crossed the river. Then I met a team, the
driver of which stopped and said he was glad that I had not gone
to Cornelian Bay, it was such a bad trail, and hoped I had
enjoyed Tahoe. The driver of another team stopped and asked if I
had seen any bears. Then a man heavily armed, a hunter probably,
asked me if I were the English tourist who had "happened on" a
"Grizzly" yesterday. Then I saw a lumberer taking his dinner on
a rock in the river, who "touched his hat" and brought me a
draught of ice-cold water, which I could hardly drink owing to
the fractiousness of the horse, and gathered me some mountain
pinks, which I admired. I mention these little incidents to
indicate the habit of respectful courtesy to women which prevails
in that region. These men might have been excused for speaking
in a somewhat free-and-easy tone to a lady riding alone, and in
an unwonted fashion. Womanly dignity and manly respect for women
are the salt of society in this wild West.
My horse was so excitable that I avoided the center of Truckee,
and skulked through a collection of Chinamen's shanties to the
stable, where a prodigious roan horse, standing seventeen hands
high, was produced for my ride to the Donner Lake. I asked the
owner, who was as interested in my enjoying myself as a West
Highlander might have been, if there were not ruffians about who
might make an evening ride dangerous. A story was current of a
man having ridden through Truckee two evenings before with a
chopped-up human body in a sack behind the saddle, and hosts of
stories of ruffianism are located there, rightly or wrongly.
This man said, "There's a bad breed of ruffians, but the ugliest
among them all won't touch you. There's nothing Western folk
admire so much as pluck in a woman." I had to get on a barrel
before I could reach the stirrup, and when I was mounted my feet
only came half-way down the horse's sides. I felt like a fly on
him. The road at first lay through a valley without a river, but
some swampishness nourished some rank swamp grass, the first
GREEN grass I have seen in America; and the pines, with their red
stems, looked beautiful rising out of it. I hurried along, and
came upon the Donner Lake quite suddenly, to be completely
smitten by its beauty. It is only about three miles long by one
and a half broad, and lies hidden away among mountains, with no
dwellings on its shores but some deserted lumberers' cabins.[5]
Its loneliness pleased me well. I did not see man, beast, or
bird from the time I left Truckee till I returned. The
mountains, which rise abruptly from the margin, are covered with
dense pine forests, through which, here and there, strange forms
of bare grey rock, castellated, or needle-like, protrude
themselves. On the opposite side, at a height of about 6,000
feet, a grey, ascending line, from which rumbling, incoherent
sounds occasionally proceeded, is seen through the pines. This
is one of the snow-sheds of the Pacific Railroad, which shuts out
from travelers all that I was seeing. The lake is called after
Mr. Donner, who, with his family, arrived at the Truckee River in
the fall of the year, in company with a party of emigrants bound
for California. Being encumbered with many cattle, he let the
company pass on, and, with his own party of sixteen souls, which
included his wife and four children, encamped by the lake. In
the morning they found themselves surrounded by an expanse of
snow, and after some consultation it was agreed that the whole
party except Mr. Donner who was unwell, his wife, and a German
friend, should take the horses and attempt to cross the mountain,
which, after much peril, they succeeded in doing; but, as the
storm continued for several weeks, it was impossible for any
rescue party to succor the three who had been left behind. In
the early spring, when the snow was hard enough for traveling, a
party started in quest, expecting to find the snow-bound alive
and well, as they had cattle enough for their support, and, after
weeks of toil and exposure, they scaled the Sierras and reached
the Donner Lake. On arriving at the camp they opened the rude
door, and there, sitting before the fire, they found the German,
holding a roasted human arm and hand, which he was greedily
eating. The rescue party overpowered him, and with difficulty
tore the arm from him. A short search discovered the body of the
lady, minus the arm, frozen in the snow, round, plump, and fair,
showing that she was in perfect health when she met her fate.
The rescuers returned to California, taking the German with them,
whose story was that Mr. Donner died in the fall, and that the
cattle escaped, leaving them but little food, and that when this
was exhausted Mrs. Donner died. The story never gained any
credence, and the truth oozed out that the German had murdered
the husband, then brutally murdered the wife, and had seized upon
Donner's money. There were, however, no witnesses, and the
murderer escaped with the enforced surrender of the money to the
Donner orphans.
[5] Visitors can now be accommodated at a tolerable mountain
This tragic story filled my mind as I rode towards the head of
the lake, which became every moment grander and more unutterably
lovely. The sun was setting fast, and against his golden light
green promontories, wooded with stately pines, stood out one
beyond another in a medium of dark rich blue, while grey bleached
summits, peaked, turreted, and snow slashed, were piled above
them, gleaming with amber light. Darker grew the blue gloom, the
dew fell heavily, aromatic odors floated on the air, and still
the lofty peaks glowed with living light, till in one second it
died off from them, leaving them with the ashy paleness of a dead
face. It was dark and cold under the mountain shadows, the
frosty chill of the high altitude wrapped me round, the solitude
was overwhelming, and I reluctantly turned my horse's head
towards Truckee, often looking back to the ashy summits in their
unearthly fascination. Eastwards the look of the scenery was
changing every moment, while the lake for long remained "one
burnished sheet of living gold," and Truckee lay utterly out of
sight in a hollow filled with lake and cobalt. Before long a
carnival of color began which I can only describe as delirious,
intoxicating, a hardly bearable joy, a tender anguish, an
indescribable yearning, an unearthly music, rich in love and
worship. It lasted considerably more than an hour, and though
the road was growing very dark, and the train which was to take
me thence was fast climbing the Sierras, I could not ride faster
than a walk.
The eastward mountains, which had been grey, blushed pale pink,
the pink deepened into rose, and the rose into crimson, and then
all solidity etherealized away and became clear and pure as an
amethyst, while all the waving ranges and the broken pine-clothed
ridges below etherealized too, but into a dark rich blue, and a
strange effect of atmosphere blended the whole into one perfect
picture. It changed, deepened, reddened, melted, growing more
and more wonderful, while under the pines it was night, till,
having displayed itself for an hour, the jewelled peaks suddenly
became like those of the Sierras, wan as the face of death. Far
later the cold golden light lingered in the west, with pines in
relief against its purity, and where the rose light had glowed in
the east, a huge moon upheaved itself, and the red flicker of
forest fires luridly streaked the mountain sides near and far
off. I realized that night had come with its EERINESS, and
putting my great horse into a gallop I clung on to him till I
pulled him up in Truckee, which was at the height of its evening
revelries--fires blazing out of doors, bar-rooms and saloons
crammed, lights glaring, gaming tables thronged, fiddle and banjo
in frightful discord, and the air ringing with ribaldry and
I. L. B.
Letter III
A Temple of Morpheus--Utah--A "God-forgotten" town--A distressed
couple--Dog villages--A temperance colony--A Colorado inn--The
bug pest--Fort Collins.
Precisely at 11 P.M. the huge Pacific train, with its heavy bell
tolling, thundered up to the door of the Truckee House, and on
presenting my ticket at the double door of a "Silver Palace" car,
the slippered steward, whispering low, conducted me to my
berth--a luxurious bed three and a half feet wide, with a hair
mattress on springs, fine linen sheets, and costly California
blankets. The twenty-four inmates of the car were all invisible,
asleep behind rich curtains. It was a true Temple of Morpheus.
Profound sleep was the object to which everything was dedicated.
Four silver lamps hanging from the roof, and burning low, gave
a dreamy light. On each side of the center passage, rich rep
curtains, green and crimson, striped with gold, hung from silver
bars running near the roof, and trailed on the soft Axminster
carpet. The temperature was carefully kept at 70 degrees. It
was 29 degrees outside. Silence and freedom from jolting were
secured by double doors and windows, costly and ingenious
arrangements of springs and cushions, and a speed limited to
eighteen miles an hour.
As I lay down, the gallop under the dark pines, the frosty moon,
the forest fires, the flaring lights and roaring din of Truckee
faded as dreams fade, and eight hours later a pure, pink dawn
divulged a level blasted region, with grey sage brush growing out
of a soil encrusted with alkali, and bounded on either side by
low glaring ridges. All through that day we traveled under a
cloudless sky over solitary glaring plains, and stopped twice at
solitary, glaring frame houses, where coarse, greasy meals,
infested by lazy flies, were provided at a dollar per head. By
evening we were running across the continent on a bee line, and I
sat for an hour on the rear platform of the rear car to enjoy the
wonderful beauty of the sunset and the atmosphere. Far as one
could see in the crystalline air there was nothing but desert.
The jagged Humboldt ranges flaming in the sunset, with snow in
their clefts, though forty-five miles off, looked within an easy
canter. The bright metal track, purpling like all else in the
cool distance, was all that linked one with Eastern or Western
The next morning, when the steward unceremoniously turned us out
of our berths soon after sunrise, we were running down upon the
Great Salt Lake, bounded by the white Wahsatch ranges. Along its
shores, by means of irrigation, Mormon industry has compelled the
ground to yield fine crops of hay and barley; and we passed
several cabins, from which, even at that early hour, Mormons,
each with two or three wives, were going forth to their day's
work. The women were ugly, and their shapeless blue dresses
hideous. At the Mormon town of Ogden we changed cars, and again
traversed dusty plains, white and glaring, varied by muddy
streams and rough, arid valleys, now and then narrowing into
canyons. By common consent the windows were kept closed to
exclude the fine white alkaline dust, which is very irritating to
the nostrils. The journey became more and more wearisome as we
ascended rapidly over immense plains and wastes of gravel
destitute of mountain boundaries, and with only here and there a
"knob" or "butte"[6] to break the monotony. The wheel-marks of
the trail to Utah often ran parallel with the track, and bones of
oxen were bleaching in the sun, the remains of those "whose
carcasses fell in the wilderness" on the long and drouthy
journey. The daybreak of to-day (Sunday) found us shivering at
Fort Laramie, a frontier post dismally situated at a height of
7,000 feet. Another 1,000 feet over gravelly levels brought us
to Sherman, the highest level reached by this railroad. From
this point eastward the streams fall into the Atlantic. The
ascent of these apparently level plateaus is called "crossing the
Rocky Mountains," but I have seen nothing of the range, except
two peaks like teeth lying low on the distant horizon. It became
mercilessly cold; some people thought it snowed, but I only saw
rolling billows of fog. Lads passed through the cars the whole
morning, selling newspapers, novels, cacti, lollypops, pop corn,
pea nuts, and ivory ornaments, so that, having lost all reckoning
of the days, I never knew that it was Sunday till the cars pulled
up at the door of the hotel in this detestable place.
[6] The mountains which bound the "valley of the Babbling
Waters," Utah, afford striking examples of these "knobs" or
The surrounding plains were endless and verdureless. The scanty
grasses were long ago turned into sun-cured hay by the fierce
summer heats. There is neither tree nor bush, the sky is grey,
the earth buff, the air blae and windy, and clouds of coarse
granitic dust sweep across the prairie and smother the
settlement. Cheyenne is described as "a God-forsaken,
God-forgotten place." That it forgets God is written on its
face. It owes its existence to the railroad, and has diminished
in population, but is a depot for a large amount of the
necessaries of life which are distributed through the scantily
settled districts within distances of 300 miles by "freight
wagons," each drawn by four or six horses or mules, or double
that number of oxen. At times over 100 wagons, with double that
number of teamsters, are in Cheyenne at once. A short time ago
it was a perfect pandemonium, mainly inhabited by rowdies and
desperadoes, the scum of advancing civilization; and murders,
stabbings, shooting, and pistol affrays were at times events of
almost hourly occurrence in its drinking dens. But in the West,
when things reach their worst, a sharp and sure remedy is
provided. Those settlers who find the state of matters
intolerable, organize themselves into a Vigilance Committee.
"Judge Lynch," with a few feet of rope, appears on the scene, the
majority crystallizes round the supporters of order, warnings are
issued to obnoxious people, simply bearing a scrawl of a tree
with a man dangling from it, with such words as "Clear out of
this by 6 A.M., or----." A number of the worst desperadoes are
tried by a yet more summary process than a drumhead court
martial, "strung up," and buried ignominiously. I have been told
that 120 ruffians were disposed of in this way here in a single
fortnight. Cheyenne is now as safe as Hilo, and the interval
between the most desperate lawlessness and the time when United
States law, with its corruption and feebleness, comes upon the
scene is one of comparative security and good order. Piety is
not the forte of Cheyenne. The roads resound with atrocious
profanity, and the rowdyism of the saloons and bar-rooms is
repressed, not extirpated.
The population, once 6,000, is now about 4,000. It is an
ill-arranged set of frame houses and shanties [7] and rubbish
heaps, and offal of deer and antelope, produce the foulest smells
I have smelt for a long time. Some of the houses are painted a
blinding white; others are unpainted; there is not a bush, or
garden, or green thing; it just straggles out promiscuously on
the boundless brown plains, on the extreme verge of which three
toothy peaks are seen. It is utterly slovenly-looking, and
unornamental, abounds in slouching bar-room-looking characters,
and looks a place of low, mean lives. Below the hotel window
freight cars are being perpetually shunted, but beyond the
railroad tracks are nothing but the brown plains, with their
lonely sights--now a solitary horseman at a traveling amble, then
a party of Indians in paint and feathers, but civilized up to the
point of carrying firearms, mounted on sorry ponies, the
bundled-up squaws riding astride on the baggage ponies; then a
drove of ridgy-spined, long-horned cattle, which have been
several months eating their way from Texas, with their escort of
four or five much-spurred horsemen, in peaked hats, blue-hooded
coats, and high boots, heavily armed with revolvers and repeating
rifles, and riding small wiry horses. A solitary wagon, with a
white tilt, drawn by eight oxen, is probably bearing an emigrant
and his fortunes to Colorado. On one of the dreary spaces of the
settlement six white-tilted wagons, each with twelve oxen, are
standing on their way to a distant part. Everything suggests a
[7] The discovery of gold in the Black Hills has lately given it
a great impetus, and as it is the chief point of departure for
the diggings it is increasing in population and importance.
(July, 1879)
September 9.
I have found at the post office here a circular letter of
recommendation from ex-Governor Hunt, procured by Miss Kingsley's
kindness, and another equally valuable one of "authentication"
and recommendation from Mr. Bowles, of the Springfield
Republican, whose name is a household word in all the West.
Armed with these, I shall plunge boldly into Colorado. I am
suffering from giddiness and nausea produced by the bad smells.
A "help" here says that there have been fifty-six deaths from
cholera during the last twenty days. Is common humanity lacking,
I wonder, in this region of hard greed? Can it not be bought by
dollars here, like every other commodity, votes included? Last
night I made the acquaintance of a shadowy gentleman from
Wisconsin, far gone in consumption, with a spirited wife and
young baby. He had been ordered to the Plains as a last
resource, but was much worse. Early this morning he crawled to
my door, scarcely able to speak from debility and bleeding from
the lungs, begging me to go to his wife, who, the doctor said was
ill of cholera. The child had been ill all night, and not for
love or money could he get any one to do anything for them, not
even to go for the medicine. The lady was blue, and in great
pain from cramp, and the poor unweaned infant was roaring for the
nourishment which had failed. I vainly tried to get hot water
and mustard for a poultice, and though I offered a Negro a dollar
to go for the medicine, he looked at it superciliously, hummed a
tune, and said he must wait for the Pacific train, which was not
due for an hour. Equally in vain I hunted through Cheyenne for a
feeding bottle. Not a maternal heart softened to the helpless
mother and starving child, and my last resource was to dip a
piece of sponge in some milk and water, and try to pacify the
creature. I applied Rigollot's leaves, went for the medicine,
saw the popular host--a bachelor--who mentioned a girl who, after
much difficulty, consented to take charge of the baby for two
dollars a day and attend to the mother, and having remained till
she began to amend, I took the cars for Greeley, a settlement on
the Plains, which I had been recommended to make my starting
point for the mountains.
FORT COLLINS, September 10.
It gave me a strange sensation to embark upon the Plains.
Plains, plains everywhere, plains generally level, but elsewhere
rolling in long undulations, like the waves of a sea which had
fallen asleep. They are covered thinly with buff grass, the
withered stalks of flowers, Spanish bayonet, and a small
beehive-shaped cactus. One could gallop all over them.
They are peopled with large villages of what are called prairie
dogs, because they utter a short, sharp bark, but the dogs are,
in reality, marmots. We passed numbers of villages, which are
composed of raised circular orifices, about eighteen inches in
diameter, with sloping passages leading downwards for five or six
feet. Hundreds of these burrows are placed together. On nearly
every rim a small furry reddish-buff beast sat on his hind legs,
looking, so far as head went, much like a young seal. These
creatures were acting as sentinels, and sunning themselves. As
we passed, each gave a warning yelp, shook its tail, and, with a
ludicrous flourish of its hind legs, dived into its hole. The
appearance of hundreds of these creatures, each eighteen inches
long, sitting like dogs begging, with their paws down and all
turned sunwards, is most grotesque. The Wish-ton-Wish has few
enemies, and is a most prolific animal. From its enormous
increase and the energy and extent of its burrowing operations,
one can fancy that in the course of years the prairies will be
seriously injured, as it honeycombs the ground, and renders it
unsafe for horses. The burrows seem usually to be shared by
owls, and many of the people insist that a rattlesnake is also an
inmate, but I hope for the sake of the harmless, cheery little
prairie dog, that this unwelcome fellowship is a myth.
After running on a down grade for some time, five distinct ranges
of mountains, one above another, a lurid blue against a lurid
sky, upheaved themselves above the prairie sea. An American
railway car, hot, stuffy and full of chewing, spitting Yankees,
was not an ideal way of approaching this range which had early
impressed itself upon my imagination. Still, it was truly grand,
although it was sixty miles off, and we were looking at it from a
platform 5,000 feet in height. As I write I am only twenty-five
miles from them, and they are gradually gaining possession of me.
I can look at and FEEL nothing else. At five in the afternoon
frame houses and green fields began to appear, the cars drew up,
and two of my fellow passengers and I got out and carried our own
luggage through the deep dust to a small, rough, Western tavern,
where with difficulty we were put up for the night. This
settlement is called the Greeley Temperance Colony, and was
founded lately by an industrious class of emigrants from the
East, all total abstainers, and holding advanced political
opinions. They bought and fenced 50,000 acres of land,
constructed an irrigating canal, which distributes its waters on
reasonable terms, have already a population of 3,000, and are the
most prosperous and rising colony in Colorado, being altogether
free from either laziness or crime. Their rich fields are
artificially productive solely; and after seeing regions where
Nature gives spontaneously, one is amazed that people should
settle here to be dependent on irrigating canals, with the risk
of having their crops destroyed by grasshoppers. A clause in the
charter of the colony prohibits the introduction, sale, or
consumption of intoxicating liquor, and I hear that the men of
Greeley carry their crusade against drink even beyond their
limits, and have lately sacked three houses open for the sale of
drink near their frontier, pouring the whisky upon the ground, so
that people don't now like to run the risk of bringing liquor
near Greeley, and the temperance influence is spreading over a
very large area. As the men have no bar-rooms to sit in, I
observed that Greeley was asleep at an hour when other places
were beginning their revelries. Nature is niggardly, and living
is coarse and rough, the merest necessaries of hardy life being
all that can be thought of in this stage of existence.
My first experiences of Colorado travel have been rather severe.
At Greeley I got a small upstairs room at first, but gave it up
to a married couple with a child, and then had one downstairs no
bigger than a cabin, with only a canvas partition. It was very
hot, and every place was thick with black flies. The English
landlady had just lost her "help," and was in a great fuss, so
that I helped her to get supper ready. Its chief features were
greasiness and black flies. Twenty men in working clothes fed
and went out again, "nobody speaking to nobody." The landlady
introduced me to a Vermont settler who lives in the "Foot Hills,"
who was very kind and took a great deal of trouble to get me a
horse. Horses abound, but they are either large American horses,
which are only used for draught, or small, active horses, called
broncos, said to be from a Spanish word, signifying that they can
never be broke. They nearly all "buck," and are described as
being more "ugly" and treacherous than mules. There is only one
horse in Greeley "safe for a woman to ride." I tried an Indian
pony by moonlight--such a moonlight--but found he had tender
feet. The kitchen was the only sitting room, so I shortly went
to bed, to be awoke very soon by crawling creatures apparently in
myriads. I struck a light, and found such swarms of bugs that I
gathered myself up on the wooden chairs, and dozed uneasily till
sunrise. Bugs are a great pest in Colorado. They come out of
the earth, infest the wooden walls, and cannot be got rid of by
any amount of cleanliness. Many careful housewives take their
beds to pieces every week and put carbolic acid on them.
It was a glorious, cool morning, and the great range of the Rocky
Mountains looked magnificent. I tried the pony again, but found
he would not do for a long journey; and as my Vermont
acquaintance offered me a seat in his wagon to Fort Collins,
twenty-five miles nearer the Mountains, I threw a few things
together and came here with him. We left Greeley at 10, and
arrived here at 4:30, staying an hour for food on the way. I
liked the first half of the drive; but the fierce, ungoverned,
blazing heat of the sun on the whitish earth for the last half,
was terrible even with my white umbrella, which I have not used
since I left New Zealand; it was sickening. Then the eyes have
never anything green to rest upon, except in the river bottoms,
where there is green hay grass. We followed mostly the course of
the River Cache-a-la-Poudre, which rises in the Mountains, and
after supplying Greeley with irrigation, falls into the Platte,
which is an affluent of the Missouri. When once beyond the
scattered houses and great ring fence of the vigorous Greeley
colonists, we were on the boundless prairie. Now and then
horsemen passed us, and we met three wagons with white tilts.
Except where the prairie dogs have honeycombed the ground, you
can drive almost anywhere, and the passage of a few wagons over
the same track makes a road. We forded the river, whose course
is marked the whole way by a fringe of small cotton-woods and
aspens, and traveled hour after hour with nothing to see except
some dog towns, with their quaint little sentinels; but the view
in front was glorious. The Alps, from the Lombard Plains, are
the finest mountain panorama I ever saw, but not equal to this;
for not only do five high-peaked giants, each nearly the height
of Mont Blanc, lift their dazzling summits above the lower
ranges, but the expanse of mountains is so vast, and the whole
lie in a transparent medium of the richest blue, not
haze--something peculiar to the region. The lack of foreground
is a great artistic fault, and the absence of greenery is
melancholy, and makes me recall sadly the entrancing detail of
the Hawaiian Islands. Once only, the second time we forded the
river, the cotton-woods formed a foreground, and then the
loveliness was heavenly. We stopped at a log house and got a
rough dinner of beef and potatoes, and I was amused at the five
men who shared it with us for apologizing to me for being without
their coats, as if coats would not be an enormity on the Plains.
It is the election day for the Territory, and men were galloping
over the prairie to register their votes. The three in the wagon
talked politics the whole time. They spoke openly and
shamelessly of the prices given for votes; and apparently there
was not a politician on either side who was not accused of
degrading corruption. We saw a convoy of 5,000 head of Texas
cattle traveling from southern Texas to Iowa. They had been
nine months on the way! They were under the charge of twenty
mounted vacheros, heavily armed, and a light wagon accompanied
them, full of extra rifles and ammunition, not unnecessary, for
the Indians are raiding in all directions, maddened by the
reckless and useless slaughter of the buffalo, which is their
chief subsistence. On the Plains are herds of wild horses,
buffalo, deer, and antelope; and in the Mountains, bears, wolves,
deer, elk, mountain lions, bison, and mountain sheep. You see a
rifle in every wagon, as people always hope to fall in with game.
By the time we reached Fort Collins I was sick and dizzy with the
heat of the sun, and not disposed to be pleased with a most
unpleasing place. It was a military post, but at present
consists of a few frame houses put down recently on the bare and
burning plain. The settlers have "great expectations," but of
what? The Mountains look hardly nearer than from Greeley; one
only realizes their vicinity by the loss of their higher peaks.
This house is freer from bugs than the one at Greeley, but full
of flies. These new settlements are altogether revolting,
entirely utilitarian, given up to talk of dollars as well as to
making them, with coarse speech, coarse food, coarse everything,
nothing wherewith to satisfy the higher cravings if they exist,
nothing on which the eye can rest with pleasure. The lower floor
of this inn swarms with locusts in addition to thousands of black
flies. The latter cover the ground and rise buzzing from it as
you walk.
I. L. B.
Letter IV
A plague of flies--A melancholy charioteer--The Foot Hills--A
mountain boarding-house--A dull life--"Being agreeable"--Climate
of Colorado--Soroche and snakes.
CANYON, September 12.
I was actually so dull and tired that I deliberately slept away
the afternoon in order to forget the heat and flies. Thirty men
in working clothes, silent and sad looking, came in to supper.
The beef was tough and greasy, the butter had turned to oil, and
beef and butter were black with living, drowned, and half-drowned
flies. The greasy table-cloth was black also with flies, and I
did not wonder that the guests looked melancholy and quickly
escaped. I failed to get a horse, but was strongly recommended
to come here and board with a settler, who, they said, had a
saw-mill and took boarders. The person who recommended it so
strongly gave me a note of introduction, and told me that it was
in a grand part of the mountains, where many people had been
camping out all the summer for the benefit of their health. The
idea of a boarding-house, as I know them in America, was rather
formidable in the present state of my wardrobe, and I decided on
bringing my carpet-bag, as well as my pack, lest I should be
rejected for my bad clothes.
Early the next morning I left in a buggy drawn by light broncos
and driven by a profoundly melancholy young man. He had never
been to the canyon; there was no road. We met nobody, saw
nothing except antelope in the distance, and he became more
melancholy and lost his way, driving hither and thither for
about twenty miles till we came upon an old trail which
eventually brought us to a fertile "bottom," where hay and barley
were being harvested, and five or six frame houses looked
cheerful. I had been recommended to two of these, which
professed to take in strangers, but one was full of reapers, and
in the other a child was dead. So I took the buggy on, glad to
leave the glaring, prosaic settlement behind. There was a most
curious loneliness about the journey up to that time. Except for
the huge barrier to the right, the boundless prairies were
everywhere, and it was like being at sea without a compass. The
wheels made neither sound nor indentation as we drove over the
short, dry grass, and there was no cheerful clatter of horses'
hoofs. The sky was cloudy and the air hot and still. In one
place we passed the carcass of a mule, and a number of vultures
soared up from it, to descend again immediately. Skeletons and
bones of animals were often to be seen. A range of low, grassy
hills, called the Foot Hills, rose from the plain, featureless
and monotonous, except where streams, fed by the snows of the
higher regions, had cut their way through them. Confessedly
bewildered, and more melancholy than ever, the driver turned up
one of the wildest of these entrances, and in another hour the
Foot Hills lay between us and the prairie sea, and a higher and
broken range, with pitch pines of average size, was revealed
behind them. These Foot Hills, which swell up uninterestingly
from the plains on their eastern side, on their western have the
appearance of having broken off from the next range, and the
break is abrupt, and takes the form of walls and terraces of rock
of the most brilliant color, weathered and stained by ores, and,
even under the grey sky, dazzling to the eyes. The driver
thought he had understood the directions given, but he was
stupid, and once we lost some miles by arriving at a river too
rough and deep to be forded, and again we were brought up by an
impassable canyon. He grew frightened about his horses, and said
no money would ever tempt him into the mountains again; but
average intelligence would have made it all easy.
The solitude was becoming somber, when, after driving for nine
hours, and traveling at the least forty-five miles, without any
sign of fatigue on the part of the broncos, we came to a stream,
by the side of which we drove along a definite track, till we
came to a sort of tripartite valley, with a majestic crooked
canyon 2,000 feet deep opening upon it. A rushing stream roared
through it, and the Rocky Mountains, with pines scattered over
them, came down upon it. A little farther, and the canyon became
utterly inaccessible. This was exciting; here was an inner
world. A rough and shaky bridge, made of the outsides of pines
laid upon some unsecured logs, crossed the river. The broncos
stopped and smelt it, not liking it, but some encouraging speech
induced them to go over. On the other side was a log cabin,
partially ruinous, and the very rudest I ever saw, its roof of
plastered mud being broken into large holes. It stood close to
the water among some cotton-wood trees. A little higher there
was a very primitive saw-mill, also out of repair, with some logs
lying about. An emigrant wagon and a forlorn tent, with a
camp-fire and a pot, were in the foreground, but there was no
trace of the boarding-house, of which I stood a little in dread.
The driver went for further directions to the log cabin, and
returned with a grim smile deepening the melancholy of his face
to say it was Mr. Chalmers', but there was no accommodation
for such as him, much less for me! This was truly "a sell." I
got down and found a single room of the rudest kind, with the
wall at one end partially broken down, holes in the roof, holes
for windows, and no furniture but two chairs and two unplaned
wooden shelves, with some sacks of straw upon them for beds.
There was an adjacent cabin room, with a stove, benches, and
table, where they cooked and ate, but this was all. A hard,
sad-looking woman looked at me measuringly. She said that they
sold milk and butter to parties who camped in the canyon, that
they had never had any boarders but two asthmatic old ladies, but
they would take me for five dollars per week if I "would make
myself agreeable." The horses had to be fed, and I sat down on a
box, had some dried beef and milk, and considered the matter. If
I went back to Fort Collins, I thought I was farther from a
mountain life, and had no choice but Denver, a place from which I
shrank, or to take the cars for New York. Here the life was
rough, rougher than any I had ever seen, and the people repelled
me by their faces and manners; but if I could rough it for a few
days, I might, I thought, get over canyons and all other
difficulties into Estes Park, which has become the goal of my
journey and hopes. So I decided to remain.
September 16.
Five days here, and I am no nearer Estes Park. How the days pass
I know not; I am weary of the limitations of this existence.
This is "a life in which nothing happens." When the buggy
disappeared, I felt as if I had cut the bridge behind me. I sat
down and knitted for some time--my usual resource under
discouraging circumstances. I really did not know how I should
get on. There was no table, no bed, no basin, no towel, no
glass, no window, no fastening on the door. The roof was in
holes, the logs were unchinked, and one end of the cabin was
partially removed! Life was reduced to its simplest elements. I
went out; the family all had something to do, and took no notice
of me. I went back, and then an awkward girl of sixteen, with
uncombed hair, and a painful repulsiveness of face and air, sat
on a log for half an hour and stared at me. I tried to draw her
into talk, but she twirled her fingers and replied snappishly in
monosyllables. Could I by any effort "make myself agreeable"? I
wondered. The day went on. I put on my Hawaiian dress, rolling
up the sleeves to the elbows in an "agreeable" fashion. Towards
evening the family returned to feed, and pushed some dried beef
and milk in at the door. They all slept under the trees, and
before dark carried the sacks of straw out for their bedding. I
followed their example that night, or rather watched Charles's
Wain while they slept, but since then have slept on blankets on
the floor under the roof. They have neither lamp nor candle, so
if I want to do anything after dark I have to do it by the
unsteady light of pine knots. As the nights are cold, and free
from bugs, and I do a good deal of manual labor, I sleep well.
At dusk I make my bed on the floor, and draw a bucket of ice-cold
water from the river; the family go to sleep under the trees, and
I pile logs on the fire sufficient to burn half the night, for I
assure you the solitude is eerie enough. There are unaccountable
noises, (wolves), rummagings under the floor, queer cries, and
stealthy sounds of I know not what. One night a beast (fox or
skunk) rushed in at the open end of the cabin, and fled through
the window, almost brushing my face, and on another, the head and
three or four inches of the body of a snake were protruded
through a chink of the floor close to me, to my extreme disgust.
My mirror is the polished inside of my watchcase. At sunrise
Mrs. Chalmers comes in--if coming into a nearly open shed can be
called IN--and makes a fire, because she thinks me too stupid to
do it, and mine is the family room; and by seven I am dressed,
have folded the blankets, and swept the floor, and then she puts
some milk and bread or stirabout on a box by the door. After
breakfast I draw more water, and wash one or two garments daily,
taking care that there are no witnesses of my inexperience.
Yesterday a calf sucked one into hopeless rags. The rest of the
day I spend in mending, knitting, writing to you, and the various
odds and ends which arise when one has to do all for oneself. At
twelve and six some food is put on the box by the door, and at
dusk we make up our beds. A distressed emigrant woman has just
given birth to a child in a temporary shanty by the river, and I
go to help her each day.
I have made the acquaintance of all the careworn, struggling
settlers within a walk. All have come for health, and most have
found or are finding it, even if they have not better shelter
than a wagon tilt or a blanket on sticks laid across four poles.
The climate of Colorado is considered the finest in North
America, and consumptives, asthmatics, dyspeptics, and sufferers
from nervous diseases, are here in hundreds and thousands, either
trying the "camp cure" for three or four months, or settling here
permanently. People can safely sleep out of doors for six months
of the year. The plains are from 4,000 to 6,000 feet high, and
some of the settled "parks," or mountain valleys, are from 8,000
to 10,000. The air, besides being much rarefied, is very dry.
The rainfall is far below the average, dews are rare, and fogs
nearly unknown. The sunshine is bright and almost constant, and
three-fourths of the days are cloudless. The milk, beef, and
bread are good. The climate is neither so hot in summer nor so
cold in winter as that of the States, and when the days are hot
the nights are cool. Snow rarely lies on the lower ranges, and
horses and cattle don't require to be either fed or housed during
the winter. Of course the rarefied air quickens respiration.
All this is from hearsay.[8] I am not under favorable
circumstances, either for mind or body, and at present I feel a
singular lassitude and difficulty in taking exercise, but this is
said to be the milder form of the affliction known on higher
altitudes as soroche, or "mountain sickness," and is only
temporary. I am forming a plan for getting farther into the
mountains, and hope that my next letter will be more lively. I
killed a rattlesnake this morning close to the cabin, and have
taken its rattle, which has eleven joints. My life is embittered
by the abundance of these reptiles--rattlesnakes and moccasin
snakes, both deadly, carpet snakes and "green racers," reputed
dangerous, water snakes, tree snakes, and mouse snakes, harmless
but abominable. Seven rattlesnakes have been killed just outside
the cabin since I came. A snake, three feet long, was coiled
under the pillow of the sick woman. I see snakes in all withered
twigs, and am ready to flee at "the sound of a shaken leaf." And
besides snakes, the earth and air are alive and noisy with forms
of insect life, large and small, stinging, humming, buzzing,
striking, rasping, devouring!
[8] The curative effect of the climate of Colorado can hardly be
exaggerated. In traveling extensively through the Territory
afterwards I found that nine out of every ten settlers were cured
invalids. Statistics and medical workers on the climate of the
State(as it now is) represent Colorado as the most remarkable
sanatorium in the world.
I. L. B.
Letter V
A dateless day--"Those hands of yours"--A Puritan--Persevering
shiftlessness--The house-mother--Family worship--A grim Sunday--A
"thick-skulled Englishman"--A morning call--Another
atmosphere--The Great Lone Land--"Ill found"--A log camp--Bad
footing for horses--Accidents--Disappointment.
CANYON, September.
The absence of a date shows my predicament. THEY have no
newspaper; _I_ have no almanack; the father is away for the day,
and none of the others can help me, and they look contemptuously
upon my desire for information on the subject. The monotony will
come to an end to-morrow, for Chalmers offers to be my guide over
the mountains to Estes Park, and has persuaded his wife "for once
to go for a frolic"; and with much reluctance, many growls at the
waste of time, and many apprehensions of danger and loss, she has
consented to accompany him. My life has grown less dull from
their having become more interesting to me, and as I have "made
myself agreeable," we are on fairly friendly terms. My first
move in the direction of fraternizing was, however, snubbed. A
few days ago, having finished my own work, I offered to wash up
the plates, but Mrs. C., with a look which conveyed more than
words, a curl of her nose, and a sneer in her twang, said "Guess
you'll make more work nor you'll do. Those hands of yours" (very
brown and coarse they were) "ain't no good; never done nothing, I
guess." Then to her awkward daughter: "This woman says she'll
wash up! Ha! ha! look at her arms and hands!" This was the
nearest approach to a laugh I have heard, and have never seen
even a tendency towards a smile. Since then I have risen in
their estimation by improvizing a lamp--Hawaiian fashion--by
putting a wisp of rag into a tin of fat. They have actually
condescended to sit up till the stars come out since. Another
advance was made by means of the shell-pattern quilt I am
knitting for you. There has been a tendency towards approving of
it, and a few days since the girl snatched it out of my hand,
saying, "I want this," and apparently took it to the camp. This
has resulted in my having a knitting class, with the woman, her
married daughter, and a woman from the camp, as pupils. Then I
have gained ground with the man by being able to catch and saddle
a horse. I am often reminded of my favorite couplet,--
Beware of desperate steps; the darkest day,
Live till to-morrow, will have passed away.
But oh! what a hard, narrow life it is with which I am now in
contact! A narrow and unattractive religion, which I believe
still to be genuine, and an intense but narrow patriotism, are
the only higher influences. Chalmers came from Illinois nine
years ago, pronounced by the doctors to be far gone in
consumption, and in two years he was strong. They are a queer
family; somewhere in the remote Highlands I have seen such
another. Its head is tall, gaunt, lean, and ragged, and has
lost one eye. On an English road one would think him a starving
or a dangerous beggar. He is slightly intelligent, very
opinionated, and wishes to be thought well informed, which he is
not. He belongs to the straitest sect of Reformed Presbyterians
("Psalm-singers"), but exaggerates anything of bigotry and
intolerance which may characterize them, and rejoices in truly
merciless fashion over the excision of the philanthropic Mr.
Stuart, of Philadelphia, for worshipping with congregations which
sing hymns. His great boast is that his ancestors were Scottish
Covenanters. He considers himself a profound theologian, and by
the pine logs at night discourses to me on the mysteries of the
eternal counsels and the divine decrees. Colorado, with its
progress and its future, is also a constant theme. He hates
England with a bitter, personal hatred, and regards any allusions
which I make to the progress of Victoria as a personal insult.
He trusts to live to see the downfall of the British monarchy and
the disintegration of the empire. He is very fond of talking,
and asks me a great deal about my travels, but if I speak
favorably of the climate or resources of any other country, he
regards it as a slur on Colorado.
They have one hundred and sixty acres of land, a "Squatter's
claim," and an invaluable water power. He is a lumberer, and has
a saw-mill of a very primitive kind. I notice that every day
something goes wrong with it, and this is the case throughout.
If he wants to haul timber down, one or other of the oxen cannot
be found; or if the timber is actually under way, a wheel or a
part of the harness gives way, and the whole affair is at a
standstill for days. The cabin is hardly a shelter, but is
allowed to remain in ruins because the foundation of a frame
house was once dug. A horse is always sure to be lame for want
of a shoe nail, or a saddle to be useless from a broken buckle,
and the wagon and harness are a marvel of temporary shifts,
patchings, and insecure linkings with strands of rope. Nothing
is ever ready or whole when it is wanted. Yet Chalmers is a
frugal, sober, hard-working man, and he, his eldest son, and a
"hired man" "Rise early," "going forth to their work and labor
till the evening"; and if they do not "late take rest," they
truly "eat the bread of carefulness." It is hardly surprising
that nine years of persevering shiftlessness should have resulted
in nothing but the ability to procure the bare necessaries of
Of Mrs. C. I can say less. She looks like one of the English
poor women of our childhood--lean, clean, toothless, and speaks,
like some of them, in a piping, discontented voice, which seems
to convey a personal reproach. All her waking hours are spent in
a large sun-bonnet. She is never idle for one minute, is severe
and hard, and despises everything but work. I think she suffers
from her husband's shiftlessness. She always speaks of me as
"This" or "that woman." The family consists of a grown-up son, a
shiftless, melancholy-looking youth, who possibly pines for a
wider life; a girl of sixteen, a sour, repellent-looking
creature, with as much manners as a pig; and three hard, unchild-
like younger children. By the whole family all courtesy
and gentleness of act or speech seem regarded as "works of the
flesh," if not of "the devil." They knock over all one's things
without apologizing or picking them up, and when I thank them for
anything they look grimly amazed. I feel that they think it
sinful that I do not work as hard as they do. I wish I could
show them "a more excellent way." This hard greed, and the
exclusive pursuit of gain, with the indifference to all which
does not aid in its acquisition, are eating up family love and
life throughout the West. I write this reluctantly, and after a
total experience of nearly two years in the United States. They
seem to have no "Sunday clothes," and few of any kind. The
sewing machine, like most other things, is out of order. One
comb serves the whole family. Mrs. C. is cleanly in her person
and dress, and the food, though poor, is clean. Work, work,
work, is their day and their life. They are thoroughly ungenial,
and have that air of suspicion in speaking of every one which is
not unusual in the land of their ancestors. Thomas Chalmers
is the man's ecclesiastical hero, in spite of his own severe
Puritanism. Their live stock consists of two wretched horses, a
fairly good bronco mare, a mule, four badly-bred cows, four gaunt
and famished-looking oxen, some swine of singularly active
habits, and plenty of poultry. The old saddles are tied on with
twine; one side of the bridle is a worn-out strap and the other a
rope. They wear boots, but never two of one pair, and never
blacked, of course, but no stockings. They think it quite
effeminate to sleep under a roof, except during the severest
months of the year. There is a married daughter across the
river, just the same hard, loveless, moral, hard-working being as
her mother. Each morning, soon after seven, when I have swept
the cabin, the family come in for "worship." Chalmers "wales" a
psalm, in every sense of the word wail, to the most doleful of
dismal tunes; they read a chapter round, and he prays. If his
prayer has something of the tone of the imprecatory psalms, he
has high authority in his favor; and if there be a tinge of the
Pharisaic thanksgiving, it is hardly surprising that he is
grateful that he is not as other men are when he contemplates the
general godlessness of the region.
Sunday was a dreadful day. The family kept the Commandment
literally, and did no work. Worship was conducted twice, and was
rather longer than usual. Chalmers does not allow of any books
in his house but theological works, and two or three volumes of
dull travels, so the mother and children slept nearly all day.
The man attempted to read a well-worn copy of Boston's Fourfold
State, but shortly fell asleep, and they only woke up for their
meals. Friday and Saturday had been passably cool, with frosty
nights, but on Saturday night it changed, and I have not felt
anything like the heat of Sunday since I left New Zealand, though
the mercury was not higher than 91 degrees. It was sickening,
scorching, melting, unbearable, from the mere power of the sun's
rays. It was an awful day, and seemed as if it would never come
to an end. The cabin, with its mud roof under the shade of the
trees, gave a little shelter, but it was occupied by the family,
and I longed for solitude. I took the Imitation of Christ, and
strolled up the canyon among the withered, crackling leaves, in
much dread of snakes, and lay down on a rough table which some
passing emigrant had left, and soon fell asleep. When I awoke it
was only noon. The sun looked wicked as it blazed like a white
magnesium light. A large tree-snake (quite harmless) hung from
the pine under which I had taken shelter, and looked as if it
were going to drop upon me. I was covered with black flies. The
air was full of a busy, noisy din of insects, and snakes,
locusts, wasps, flies, and grasshoppers were all rioting in the
torrid heat. Would the sublime philosophy of Thomas a Kempis,
I wondered, have given way under this? All day I seemed to hear
in mockery the clear laugh of the Hilo streams, and the drip of
Kona showers, and to see as in a mirage the perpetual Green of
windward Hawaii. I was driven back to the cabin in the late
afternoon, and in the evening listened for two hours to abuse of
my own country, and to sweeping condemnations of all religionists
outside of the brotherhood of "Psalm-singers." It is jarring and
painful, yet I would say of Chalmers, as Dr. Holland says of
If ever I shall reach the home in heaven,
For whose dear rest I humbly hope and pray,
In the great company of the forgiven
I shall be sure to meet old Daniel Gray.
The night came without coolness, but at daylight on Monday
morning a fire was pleasant. You will now have some idea of my
surroundings. It is a moral, hard, unloving, unlovely,
unrelieved, unbeautified, grinding life. These people live in a
discomfort and lack of ease and refinement which seems only
possible to people of British stock. A "foreigner" fills his
cabin with ingenuities and elegancies, and a Hawaiian or South
Sea Islander makes his grass house both pretty and tasteful. Add
to my surroundings a mighty canyon, impassable both above and
below, and walls of mountains with an opening some miles off to
the vast prairie sea.[9]
[9] I have not curtailed this description of the roughness
of a Colorado settler's life, for, with the exceptions of the
disrepair and the Puritanism, it is a type of the hard,
unornamented existence with which I came almost universally in
contact during my subsequent residence in the Territory.
An English physician is settled about half a mile from here over
a hill. He is spoken of as holding "very extreme opinions."
Chalmers rails at him for being "a thick-skulled Englishman," for
being "fine, polished," etc. To say a man is "polished" here is
to give him a very bad name. He accuses him also of holding
views subversive of all morality. In spite of all this, I
thought he might possess a map, and I induced Mrs. C. to walk
over with me. She intended it as a formal morning call, but she
wore the inevitable sun-bonnet, and had her dress tied up as when
washing. It was not till I reached the gate that I remembered
that I was in my Hawaiian riding dress, and that I still wore the
spurs with which I had been trying a horse in the morning! The
house was in a grass valley which opened from the tremendous
canyon through which the river had cut its way. The Foot Hills,
with their terraces of flaming red rock, were glowing in the
sunset, and a pure green sky arched tenderly over a soft evening
scene. Used to the meanness and baldness of settlers' dwellings.
I was delighted to see that in this instance the usual log cabin
was only the lower floor of a small house, which bore a
delightful resemblance to a Swiss chalet. It stood in a
vegetable garden fertilized by an irrigating ditch, outside of
which were a barn and cowshed. A young Swiss girl was bringing
the cows slowly home from the hill, an Englishwoman in a clean
print dress stood by the fence holding a baby, and a fine-looking
Englishman in a striped Garibaldi shirt, and trousers of the same
tucked into high boots, was shelling corn. As soon as Mrs.
Hughes spoke I felt she was truly a lady; and oh! how refreshing
her refined, courteous, graceful English manner was, as she
invited us into the house! The entrance was low, through a log
porch festooned and almost concealed by a "wild cucumber."
Inside, though plain and poor, the room looked a home, not like a
squatter's cabin. An old tin was completely covered by a
graceful clematis mixed with streamers of Virginia creeper, and
white muslin curtains, and above all two shelves of
admirably-chosen books, gave the room almost an air of elegance.
Why do I write almost? It was an oasis. It was barely three
weeks since I had left "the communion of educated men," and the
first tones of the voices of my host and hostess made me feel as
if I had been out of it for a year. Mrs. C. stayed an hour and a
half, and then went home to the cows, when we launched upon a sea
of congenial talk. They said they had not seen an educated lady
for two years, and pressed me to go and visit them. I rode home
on Dr. Hughes's horse after dark, to find neither fire nor light
in the cabin. Mrs. C. had gone back saying, "Those English
talked just like savages, I couldn't understand a word they
I made a fire, and extemporized a light with some fat and a wick
of rag, and Chalmers came in to discuss my visit and to ask me a
question concerning a matter which had roused the latent
curiosity of the whole family. I had told him, he said, that I
knew no one hereabouts, but "his woman" told him that Dr. H. and
I spoke constantly of a Mrs. Grundy, whom we both knew and
disliked, and who was settled, as we said, not far off! He had
never heard of her, he said, and he was the pioneer settler of
the canyon, and there was a man up here from Longmount who said
he was sure there was not a Mrs. Grundy in the district, unless
it was a woman who went by two names! The wife and family had
then come in, and I felt completely nonplussed. I longed to tell
Chalmers that it was he and such as he, there or anywhere, with
narrow hearts, bitter tongues, and harsh judgments, who were the
true "Mrs. Grundys," dwarfing individuality, checking lawful
freedom of speech, and making men "offenders for a word," but I
forebore. How I extricated myself from the difficulty, deponent
sayeth not. The rest of the evening has been spent in preparing
to cross the mountains. Chalmers says he knows the way well, and
that we shall sleep to-morrow at the foot of Long's Peak. Mrs.
Chalmers repents of having consented, and conjures up doleful
visions of what the family will come to when left headless, and
of disasters among the cows and hens. I could tell her that the
eldest son and the "hired man" have plotted to close the saw-mill
and go on a hunting and fishing expedition, that the cows will
stray, and that the individual spoken respectfully of as "Mr.
Skunk" will make havoc in the hen-house.
This is indeed far removed. It seems farther away from you than
any place I have been to yet, except the frozen top of the
volcano of Mauna Loa. It is so little profaned by man that if
one were compelled to live here in solitude one might truly say
of the bears, deer, and elk which abound, "Their tameness is
shocking to me." It is the world of "big game." Just now a
heavy-headed elk, with much-branched horns fully three feet long,
stood and looked at me, and then quietly trotted away. He was so
near that I heard the grass, crisp with hoar frost, crackle under
his feet. Bears stripped the cherry bushes within a few yards of
us last night. Now two lovely blue birds, with crests on their
heads, are picking about within a stone's-throw. This is "The
Great Lone Land," until lately the hunting ground of the Indians,
and not yet settled or traversed, or likely to be so, owing to
the want of water. A solitary hunter has built a log cabin up
here, which he occupies for a few weeks for the purpose of
elk-hunting, but all the region is unsurveyed, and mostly
unexplored. It is 7 A.M. The sun has not yet risen high enough
to melt the hoar frost, and the air is clear, bright, and cold.
The stillness is profound. I hear nothing but the far-off
mysterious roaring of a river in a deep canyon, which we spent
two hours last night in trying to find. The horses are lost, and
if I were disposed to retort upon my companions the term they
invariably apply to me, I should now write, with bitter emphasis,
"THAT man" and "THAT woman" have gone in search of them.
The scenery up here is glorious, combining sublimity with beauty,
and in the elastic air fatigue has dropped off from me. This is
no region for tourists and women, only for a few elk and bear
hunters at times, and its unprofaned freshness gives me new life.
I cannot by any words give you an idea of scenery so different
from any that you or I have ever seen. This is an upland valley
of grass and flowers, of glades and sloping lawns, and
cherry-fringed beds of dry streams, and clumps of pines
artistically placed, and mountain sides densely pine clad, the
pines breaking into fringes as they come down upon the "park,"
and the mountains breaking into pinnacles of bold grey rock as
they pierce the blue of the sky. A single dell of bright green
grass, on which dwarf clumps of the scarlet poison oak look like
beds of geraniums, slopes towards the west, as if it must lead to
the river which we seek. Deep, vast canyons, all trending
westwards, lie in purple gloom. Pine-clad ranges, rising into
the blasted top of Storm Peak, all run westwards too, and all the
beauty and glory are but the frame out of which
rises--heaven-piercing, pure in its pearly luster, as glorious a
mountain as the sun tinges red in either hemisphere--the
splintered, pinnacled, lonely, ghastly, imposing, double-peaked
summit of Long's Peak, the Mont Blanc of Northern Colorado.[10]
[10] Gray's Peak and Pike's Peak have their partisans, but
after seeing them all under favorable aspects, Long's Peak stands
in my memory as it does in that vast congeries of mountains,
alone in imperial grandeur.
This is a view to which nothing needs to be added. This is truly
the "lodge in some vast wilderness" for which one often sighs
when in the midst of "a bustle at once sordid and trivial." In
spite of Dr. Johnson, these "monstrous protuberances" do "inflame
the imagination and elevate the understanding." This scenery
satisfies my soul. Now, the Rocky Mountains realize--nay,
exceed--the dream of my childhood. It is magnificent, and the
air is life giving. I should like to spend some time in these
higher regions, but I know that this will turn out an abortive
expedition, owing to the stupidity and pigheadedness of Chalmers.
There is a most romantic place called Estes Park, at a height of
7,500 feet, which can be reached by going down to the plains and
then striking up the St. Vrain Canyon, but this is a distance of
fifty-five miles, and as Chalmers was confident that he could
take me over the mountains, a distance, as he supposed, of about
twenty miles, we left at mid-day yesterday, with the fervent
hope, on my part, that I might not return. Mrs. C. was busy the
whole of Tuesday in preparing what she called "grub," which,
together with "plenty of bedding," was to be carried on a pack
mule; but when we started I was disgusted to find that Chalmers
was on what should have been the pack animal, and that two
thickly-quilted cotton "spreads" had been disposed of under my
saddle, making it broad, high, and uncomfortable. Any human
being must have laughed to see an expedition start so grotesquely
"ill found." I had a very old iron-grey horse, whose lower lip
hung down feebly, showing his few teeth, while his fore-legs
stuck out forwards, and matter ran from both his nearly-blind
eyes. It is kindness to bring him up to abundant pasture. My
saddle is an old McLellan cavalry saddle, with a battered brass
peak, and the bridle is a rotten leather strap on one side and a
strand of rope on the other. The cotton quilts covered the
Rosinante from mane to tail. Mrs. C. wore an old print skirt, an
old short-gown, a print apron, and a sun-bonnet, with a flap
coming down to her waist, and looked as careworn and clean as she
always does. The inside horn of her saddle was broken; to the
outside one hung a saucepan and a bundle of clothes. The one
girth was nearly at the breaking point when we started.
My pack, with my well-worn umbrella upon it, was behind my
saddle. I wore my Hawaiian riding dress, with a handkerchief
tied over my face and the sun-cover of my umbrella folded and
tied over my hat, for the sun was very fierce. The queerest
figure of all was the would-be guide. With his one eye, his
gaunt, lean form, and his torn clothes, he looked more like a
strolling tinker than the honest worthy settler that he is. He
bestrode rather than rode a gaunt mule, whose tail had all been
shaven off, except a turf for a tassel at the end. Two flour bags
which leaked were tied on behind the saddle, two quilts were
under it, and my canvas bag, a battered canteen, a frying pan,
and two lariats hung from the horn. On one foot C. wore an old
high boot, into which his trouser was tucked, and on the other an
old brogue, through which his toes protruded.
We had an ascent of four hours through a ravine which gradually
opened out upon this beautiful "park," but we rode through it for
some miles before the view burst upon us. The vastness of this
range, like astronomical distances, can hardly be conceived of.
At this place, I suppose, it is not less than 250 miles wide, and
with hardly a break in its continuity, it stretches almost from
the Arctic Circle to the Straits of Magellan. From the top of
Long's Peak, within a short distance, twenty-two summits, each
above 12,000 feet in height, are visible, and the Snowy Range,
the backbone or "divide" of the continent, is seen snaking
distinctly through the wilderness of ranges, with its waters
starting for either ocean. From the first ridge we crossed after
leaving Canyon we had a singular view of range beyond range cleft
by deep canyons, and abounding in elliptical valleys, richly
grassed. The slopes of all the hills, as far as one could see,
were waving with fine grass ready for the scythe, but the food of
wild animals only. All these ridges are heavily timbered with
pitch pines, and where they come down on the grassy slopes they
look as if the trees had been arranged by a landscape gardener.
Far off, through an opening in a canyon, we saw the prairie
simulating the ocean. Far off, through an opening in another
direction, was the glistening outline of the Snowy Range. But
still, till we reached this place, it was monotonous, though
grand as a whole: a grey-green or buff-grey, with outbreaks of
brilliantly-colored rock, only varied by the black-green of
pines, which are not the stately pyramidal pines of the Sierra
Nevada, but much resemble the natural Scotch fir. Not many miles
from us is North Park, a great tract of land said to be rich in
gold, but those who have gone to "prospect" have seldom returned,
the region being the home of tribes of Indians who live in
perpetual hostility to the whites and to each other.
At this great height, and most artistically situated, we came
upon a rude log camp tenanted in winter by an elk hunter, but now
deserted. Chalmers without any scruple picked the padlock; we
lighted a fire, made some tea, and fried some bacon, and after
a good meal mounted again and started for Estes Park. For four
weary hours we searched hither and thither along every
indentation of the ground which might be supposed to slope
towards the Big Thompson River, which we knew had to be forded.
Still, as the quest grew more tedious, Long's Peak stood before
us as a landmark in purple glory; and still at his feet lay a
hollow filled with deep blue atmosphere, where I knew that Estes
Park must lie, and still between us and it lay never-lessening
miles of inaccessibility, and the sun was ever weltering, and the
shadows ever lengthening, and Chalmers, who had started
confident, bumptious, blatant, was ever becoming more bewildered,
and his wife's thin voice more piping and discontented, and my
stumbling horse more insecure, and I more determined (as I am at
this moment) that somehow or other I would reach that blue
hollow, and even stand on Long's Peak where the snow was
glittering. Affairs were becoming serious, and Chalmers's
incompetence a source of real peril, when, after an exploring
expedition, he returned more bumptious than ever, saying he knew
it would be all right, he had found a trail, and we could get
across the river by dark, and camp out for the night. So he led
us into a steep, deep, rough ravine, where we had to dismount,
for trees were lying across it everywhere, and there was almost
no footing on the great slabs of shelving rock. Yet there was a
trail, tolerably well worn, and the branches and twigs near the
ground were well broken back. Ah! it was a wild place. My horse
fell first, rolling over twice, and breaking off a part of the
saddle, in his second roll knocking me over a shelf of three feet
of descent. Then Mrs. C.'s horse and the mule fell on the top of
each other, and on recovering themselves bit each other savagely.
The ravine became a wild gulch, the dry bed of some awful
torrent; there were huge shelves of rock, great overhanging walls
of rock, great prostrate trees, cedar spikes and cacti to wound
the feet, and then a precipice fully 500 feet deep! The trail
was a trail made by bears in search of bear cherries, which
It was getting dusk as we had to struggle up the rough gulch we
had so fatuously descended. The horses fell several times; I
could hardly get mine up at all, though I helped him as much as I
could; I was cut and bruised, scratched and torn. A spine of a
cactus penetrated my foot, and some vicious thing cut the back of
my neck. Poor Mrs. C. was much bruised, and I pitied her, for
she got no fun out of it as I did. It was an awful climb. When
we got out of the gulch, C. was so confused that he took the
wrong direction, and after an hour of vague wandering was only
recalled to the right one by my pertinacious assertions acting on
his weak brain. I was inclined to be angry with the incompetent
braggart, who had boasted that he could take us to Estes Park
"blindfold"; but I was sorry for him too, so said nothing, even
though I had to walk during these meanderings to save my tired
horse. When at last, at dark, we reached the open, there was
a snow flurry, with violent gusts of wind, and the shelter of the
camp, dark and cold as it was, was desirable. We had no food,
but made a fire. I lay down on some dry grass, with my inverted
saddle for a pillow, and slept soundly, till I was awoke by the
cold of an intense frost and the pain of my many cuts and
bruises. Chalmers promised that we should make a fresh start
at six, so I woke him up at five, and here I am alone at
half-past eight! I said to him many times that unless he hobbled
or picketed the horses, we should lose them. "Oh," he said
"they'll be all right." In truth he had no picketing pins. Now,
the animals are merrily trotting homewards. I saw them two miles
off an hour ago with him after them. His wife, who is also after
them, goaded to desperation, said, "He's the most ignorant,
careless, good-for-nothing man I ever saw," upon which I dwelt
upon his being well meaning. There is a sort of well here, but
our "afternoon tea" and watering the horses drained it, so we
have had nothing to drink since yesterday, for the canteen, which
started without a cork, lost all its contents when the mule fell.
I have made a monstrous fire, but thirst and impatience are hard
to bear, and preventible misfortunes are always irksome. I have
found the stomach of a bear with fully a pint of cherrystones in
it, and have spent an hour in getting the kernels; and lo! now,
at half-past nine, I see the culprit and his wife coming back
with the animals.
I. L. B.
LOWER CANYON, September 21.
We never reached Estes Park. There is no trail, and horses have
never been across. We started from camp at ten, and spent four
hours in searching for the trail. Chalmers tried gulch after
gulch again, his self-assertion giving way a little after each
failure; sometimes going east when we should have gone west,
always being brought up by a precipice or other impossibility.
At last he went off by himself, and returned rejoicing, saying he
had found the trail; and soon, sure enough, we were on a
well-defined old trail, evidently made by carcasses which have
been dragged along it by hunters. Vainly I pointed out to him
that we were going north-east when we should have gone
south-west, and that we were ascending instead of descending.
"Oh, it's all right, and we shall soon come to water," he always
replied. For two hours we ascended slowly through a thicket of
aspen, the cold continually intensifying; but the trail, which
had been growing fainter, died out, and an opening showed the top
of Storm Peak not far off and not much above us, though it is
11,000 feet high. I could not help laughing. He had deliberately
turned his back on Estes Park. He then confessed that he was
lost, and that he could not find the way back. His wife sat down
on the ground and cried bitterly. We ate some dry bread, and
then I said I had had much experience in traveling, and would
take the control of the party, which was agreed to, and we began
the long descent. Soon after his wife was thrown from her horse,
and cried bitterly again from fright and mortification. Soon
after that the girth of the mule's saddle broke, and having no
crupper, saddle and addenda went over his head, and the flour was
dispersed. Next the girth of the woman's saddle broke, and she
went over her horse's head. Then he began to fumble helplessly
at it, railing against England the whole time, while I secured
the saddle, and guided the route back to an outlet of the park.
There a fire was built, and we had some bread and bacon; and then
a search for water occupied nearly two hours, and resulted in the
finding of a mudhole, trodden and defiled by hundreds of feet of
elk, bears, cats, deer, and other beasts, and containing only
a few gallons of water as thick as pea soup, with which we
watered our animals and made some strong tea.
The sun was setting in glory as we started for the four hours'
ride home, and the frost was intense, and made our bruised,
grazed limbs ache painfully. I was sorry for Mrs. Chalmers, who
had had several falls, and bore her aches patiently, and had said
several times to her husband, with a kind meaning, "I am real
sorry for this woman." I was so tired with the perpetual
stumbling of my horse, as well as stiffened with the bitter cold,
that I walked for the last hour or two; and Chalmers, as if to
cover his failure, indulged in loud, incessant talk, abusing all
other religionists, and railing against England in the coarsest
American fashion. Yet, after all, they were not bad souls; and
though he failed so grotesquely, he did his incompetent best.
The log fire in the ruinous cabin was cheery, and I kept it up
all night, and watched the stars through the holes in the roof,
and thought of Long's Peak in its glorious solitude, and resolved
that, come what might, I would reach Estes Park.
I. L. B.
Letter VI
A bronco mare--An accident--Wonderland--A sad story--The children
of the Territories--Hard greed--Halcyon hours--
Smartness--Old-fashioned prejudices--The Chicago colony--Good
luck--Three notes of admiration--A good horse--The St.
Vrain--The Rocky Mountains at last--"Mountain Jim"--A death
hug--Estes Park.
LOWER CANYON, September 25.
This is another world. My entrance upon it was signalized in
this fashion. Chalmers offered me a bronco mare for a reasonable
sum, and though she was a shifty, half-broken young thing, I came
over here on her to try her, when, just as I was going away, she
took into her head to "scare" and "buck," and when I touched her
with my foot she leaped over a heap of timber, and the girth gave
way, and the onlookers tell me that while she jumped I fell over
her tail from a good height upon the hard gravel, receiving a
parting kick on my knee. They could hardly believe that no bones
were broken. The flesh of my left arm looks crushed into a
jelly, but cold-water dressings will soon bring it right; and a
cut on my back bled profusely; and the bleeding, with many
bruises and the general shake, have made me feel weak, but
circumstances do not admit of "making a fuss," and I really think
that the rents in my riding dress will prove the most important
part of the accident.
The surroundings here are pleasing. The log cabin, on the top of
which a room with a steep, ornamental Swiss roof has been built,
is in a valley close to a clear, rushing river, which emerges a
little higher up from an inaccessible chasm of great sublimity.
One side of the valley is formed by cliffs and terraces of
porphyry as red as the reddest new brick, and at sunset blazing
into vermilion. Through rifts in the nearer ranges there are
glimpses of pine-clothed peaks, which, towards twilight, pass
through every shade of purple and violet. The sky and the earth
combine to form a Wonderland every evening--such rich, velvety
coloring in crimson and violet; such an orange, green, and
vermilion sky; such scarlet and emerald clouds; such an
extraordinary dryness and purity of atmosphere, and then the
glorious afterglow which seems to blend earth and heaven! For
color, the Rocky Mountains beat all I have seen. The air has been
cold, but the sun bright and hot during the last few days.
The story of my host is a story of misfortune. It indicates who
should NOT come to Colorado.[11] He and his wife are under
thirty-five. The son of a London physician in large practice,
with a liberal education in the largest sense of the word,
unusual culture and accomplishments, and the partner of a
physician in good practice in the second city in England, he
showed symptoms which threatened pulmonary disease. In an evil
hour he heard of Colorado with its "unrivalled climate, boundless
resources," etc., and, fascinated not only by these material
advantages, but by the notion of being able to found or reform
society on advanced social theories of his own, he became an
emigrant. Mrs. Hughes is one of the most charming, and lovable
women I have ever seen, and their marriage is an ideal one. Both
are fitted to shine in any society, but neither had the slightest
knowledge of domestic and farming details. Dr. H. did not know
how to saddle or harness a horse. Mrs. H. did not know whether
you should put an egg into cold or hot water when you meant to
boil it! They arrived at Longmount, bought up this claim, rather
for the beauty of the scenery than for any substantial
advantages, were cheated in land, goods, oxen, everything, and,
to the discredit of the settlers, seemed to be regarded as fair
game. Everything has failed with them, and though they "rise
early, and late take rest, and eat the bread of carefulness,"
they hardly keep their heads above water. A young Swiss girl,
devoted to them both, works as hard as they do. They have one
horse, no wagon, some poultry, and a few cows, but no "hired
man." It is the hardest and least ideal struggle that I have
ever seen made by educated people. They had all their experience
to learn, and they have bought it by losses and hardships. That
they have learnt so much surprises me. Dr. H. and these two
ladies built the upper room and the addition to the house without
help. He has cropped the land himself, and has learned the
difficult art of milking cows. Mrs. H. makes all the clothes
required for a family of six, and her evenings, when the hard
day's work is done and she is ready to drop from fatigue, are
spent in mending and patching. The day is one long GRIND,
without rest or enjoyment, or the pleasure of chance intercourse
with cultivated people. The few visitors who have "happened in"
are the thrifty wives of prosperous settlers, full of housewifely
pride, whose one object seems to be to make Mrs. H. feel her
inferiority to themselves. I wish she did take a more genuine
interest in the "coming-on" of the last calf, the prospects of
the squash crop, and the yield and price of butter; but though
she has learned to make excellent butter and bread, it is all
against the grain. The children are delightful. The little boys
are refined, courteous, childish gentlemen, with love and
tenderness to their parents in all their words and actions.
Never a rough or harsh word is heard within the house. But the
atmosphere of struggles and difficulties has already told on
these infants. They consider their mother in all things, going
without butter when they think the stock is low, bringing in wood
and water too heavy for them to carry, anxiously speculating on
the winter prospect and the crops, yet withal the most childlike
and innocent of children.
[11] The story is ended now. A few months after my visit
Mrs. H. died a few days after her confinement, and was buried on
the bleak hill side, leaving her husband with five children under
six years old, and Dr. H. is a prosperous man on one of the
sunniest islands of the Pacific, with the devoted Swiss friend as
his second wife.
One of the most painful things in the Western States and
Territories is the extinction of childhood. I have never seen
any children, only debased imitations of men and women, cankered
by greed and selfishness, and asserting and gaining complete
independence of their parents at ten years old. The atmosphere
in which they are brought up is one of greed, godlessness, and
frequently of profanity. Consequently these sweet things seem
like flowers in a desert.
Except for love, which here as everywhere raises life into the
ideal, this is a wretched existence. The poor crops have been
destroyed by grasshoppers over and over again, and that talent
deified here under the name of "smartness" has taken advantage of
Dr. H. in all bargains, leaving him with little except food for
his children. Experience has been dearly bought in all ways, and
this instance of failure might be a useful warning to
professional men without agricultural experience not to come and
try to make a living by farming in Colorado.
My time here has passed very delightfully in spite of my regret
and anxiety for this interesting family. I should like to stay
longer, were it not that they have given up to me their straw
bed, and Mrs. H. and her baby, a wizened, fretful child, sleep on
the floor in my room, and Dr. H. on the floor downstairs, and the
nights are frosty and chill. Work is the order of their day, and
of mine, and at night, when the children are in bed, we three
ladies patch the clothes and make shirts, and Dr. H. reads
Tennyson's poems, or we speak tenderly of that world of culture
and noble deeds which seems here "the land very far off," or Mrs.
H. lays aside her work for a few minutes and reads some favorite
passage of prose or poetry, as I have seldom heard either read
before, with a voice of large compass and exquisite tone, quick
to interpret every shade of the author's meaning, and soft,
speaking eyes, moist with feeling and sympathy. These are our
halcyon hours, when we forget the needs of the morrow, and that
men still buy, sell, cheat, and strive for gold, and that we are
in the Rocky Mountains, and that it is near midnight. But
morning comes hot and tiresome, and the never-ending work is
oppressive, and Dr. H. comes in from the field two or three times
in the day, dizzy and faint, and they condole with each other,
and I feel that the Colorado settler needs to be made of sterner
stuff and to possess more adaptability.
To-day has been a very pleasant day for me, though I have only
once sat down since 9 A.M., and it is now 5 P.M. I plotted that
the devoted Swiss girl should go to the nearest settlement with
two of the children for the day in a neighbor's wagon, and that
Dr. and Mrs. H. should get an afternoon of rest and sleep
upstairs, while I undertook to do the work and make something of
a cleaning. I had a large "wash" of my own, having been hindered
last week by my bad arm, but a clothes wringer which screws on to
the side of the tub is a great assistance, and by folding the
clothes before passing them through it, I make it serve instead
of mangle and iron. After baking the bread and thoroughly
cleaning the churn and pails, I began upon the tins and pans, the
cleaning of which had fallen into arrears, and was hard at work,
very greasy and grimy, when a man came in to know where to ford
the river with his ox team, and as I was showing him he looked
pityingly at me, saying, "Be you the new hired girl? Bless me,
you're awful small!"
Yesterday we saved three cwt. of tomatoes for winter use, and
about two tons of squash and pumpkin for the cattle, two of the
former weighing 140 lbs. I pulled nearly a quarter of an acre of
maize, but it was a scanty crop, and the husks were poorly
filled. I much prefer field work to the scouring of greasy pans
and to the wash tub, and both to either sewing or writing.
This is not Arcadia. "Smartness," which consists in
over-reaching your neighbor in every fashion which is not
illegal, is the quality which is held in the greatest repute, and
Mammon is the divinity. From a generation brought up to worship
the one and admire the other little can be hoped. In districts
distant as this is from "Church Ordinances," there are three ways
in which Sunday is spent: one, to make it a day for visiting,
hunting, and fishing; another, to spend it in sleeping and
abstinence from work; and the third, to continue all the usual
occupations, consequently harvesting and felling and hauling
timber are to be seen in progress.
Last Sunday a man came here and put up a door, and said he didn't
believe in the Bible or in a God, and he wasn't going to
sacrifice his children's bread to old-fashioned prejudices.
There is a manifest indifference to the higher obligations of the
law, "judgment, mercy and faith"; but in the main the settlers
are steady, there are few flagrant breaches of morals, industry
is the rule, life and property are far safer than in England or
Scotland, and the law of universal respect to women is still in
full force.
The days are now brilliant and the nights sharply frosty. People
are preparing for the winter. The tourists from the East are
trooping into Denver, and the surveying parties are coming down
from the mountains. Snow has fallen on the higher ranges, and my
hopes of getting to Estes Park are down at zero.
LONGMOUNT, September 25.
Yesterday was perfect. The sun was brilliant and the air cool
and bracing. I felt better, and after a hard day's work and an
evening stroll with my friends in the glorious afterglow, I went
to bed cheerful and hopeful as to the climate and its effect on
my health. This morning I awoke with a sensation of extreme
lassitude, and on going out, instead of the delicious atmosphere
of yesterday, I found intolerable suffocating heat, a BLAZING
(not BRILLIANT) sun, and a sirocco like a Victorian hot wind.
Neuralgia, inflamed eyes, and a sense of extreme prostration
followed, and my acclimatized hosts were somewhat similarly
affected. The sparkle, the crystalline atmosphere, and the glory
of color of yesterday, had all vanished. We had borrowed a
wagon, but Dr. H.'s strong but lazy horse and a feeble hired one
made a poor span; and though the distance here is only twenty-two
miles over level prairie, our tired animal, and losing the way
three times, have kept us eight and a half hours in the broiling
sun. All notions of locality fail me on the prairie, and Dr. H.
was not much better. We took wrong tracks, got entangled among
fences, plunged through the deep mud of irrigation ditches, and
were despondent. It was a miserable drive, sitting on a heap of
fodder under the angry sun. Half-way here we camped at a river,
now only a series of mud holes, and I fell asleep under the
imperfect shade of a cotton-wood tree, dreading the thought of
waking and jolting painfully along over the dusty prairie in the
dust-laden, fierce sirocco, under the ferocious sun. We never
saw man or beast the whole day.
This is the "Chicago Colony," and it is said to be prospering,
after some preliminary land swindles. It is as uninviting as
Fort Collins. We first came upon dust-colored frame houses set
down at intervals on the dusty buff plain, each with its dusty
wheat or barley field adjacent, the crop, not the product of the
rains of heaven, but of the muddy overflow of "Irrigating Ditch
No.2." Then comes a road made up of many converging wagon
tracks, which stiffen into a wide straggling street, in which
glaring frame houses and a few shops stand opposite to each
other. A two-storey house, one of the whitest and most glaring,
and without a veranda like all the others, is the "St. Vrain
Hotel," called after the St. Vrain River, out of which the ditch
is taken which enables Longmount to exist. Everything was
broiling in the heat of the slanting sun, which all day long had
been beating on the unshaded wooden rooms. The heat within was
more sickening than outside, and black flies covered everything,
one's face included. We all sat fighting the flies in my
bedroom, which was cooler than elsewhere, till a glorious sunset
over the Rocky Range, some ten miles off, compelled us to go out
and enjoy it. Then followed supper, Western fashion, without
table-cloths, and all the "unattached" men of Longmount came in
and fed silently and rapidly. It was a great treat to have tea
to drink, as I had not tasted any for a fortnight. The landlord
is a jovial, kindly man. I told him how my plans had faded, and
how I was reluctantly going on to-morrow to Denver and New York,
being unable to get to Estes Park, and he said there might yet be
a chance of some one coming in to-night who would be going up.
He soon came to my room and asked definitely what I could do--if
I feared cold, if I could "rough it," if I could "ride horseback
and lope." Estes Park and its surroundings are, he says, "the
most beautiful scenery in Colorado," and "it's a real shame," he
added, "for you not to see it." We had hardly sat down to tea
when he came, saying "You're in luck this time; two young men
have just come in and are going up to-morrow morning." I am
rather pleased, and have hired a horse for three days; but I am
not very hopeful, for I am almost ill of the smothering heat, and
still suffer from my fall, and not having been on horseback
since, thirty miles will be a long ride. Then I fear that the
accommodation is as rough as Chalmers's, and that solitude will
be impossible. We have been strolling in the street every since
it grew dark to get the little air which is moving.
ESTES PARK!!! September 28.
I wish I could let those three notes of admiration go to you
instead of a letter. They mean everything that is rapturous and
delightful--grandeur, cheerfulness, health, enjoyment, novelty,
freedom, etc., etc. I have just dropped into the very place I
have been seeking, but in everything it exceeds all my dreams.
There is health in every breath of air; I am much better already,
and get up to a seven o'clock breakfast without difficulty. It
is quite comfortable--in the fashion that I like. I have a log
cabin, raised on six posts, all to myself, with a skunk's lair
underneath it, and a small lake close to it. There is a frost
every night, and all day it is cool enough for a roaring fire.
The ranchman, who is half-hunter, half-stockman, and his wife are
jovial, hearty Welsh people from Llanberis, who laugh with loud,
cheery British laughs, sing in parts down to the youngest child,
are free hearted and hospitable, and pile the pitch-pine logs
half-way up the great rude chimney. There has been fresh meat
each day since I came, delicious bread baked daily, excellent
potatoes, tea and coffee, and an abundant supply of milk like
cream. I have a clean hay bed with six blankets, and there are
neither bugs nor fleas. The scenery is the most glorious I have
ever seen, and is above us, around us, at the very door. Most
people have advized me to go to Colorado Springs, and only one
mentioned this place, and till I reached Longmount I never saw
any one who had been here, but I saw from the lie of the country
that it must be most superbly situated. People said, however,
that it was most difficult of access, and that the season for it
was over. In traveling there is nothing like dissecting people's
statements, which are usually colored by their estimate of the
powers or likings of the person spoken to, making all reasonable
inquiries, and then pertinaciously but quietly carrying out one's
own plans. This is perfection, and all the requisites for health
are present, including plenty of horses and grass to ride on.
It is not easy to sit down to write after ten hours of hard
riding, especially in a cabin full of people, and wholesome
fatigue may make my letter flat when it ought to be enthusiastic.
I was awake all night at Longmount owing to the stifling heat,
and got up nervous and miserable, ready to give up the thought of
coming here, but the sunrise over the Plains, and the wonderful
red of the Rocky Mountains, as they reflected the eastern sky,
put spirit into me. The landlord had got a horse, but could not
give any satisfactory assurances of his being quiet, and being
much shaken by my fall at Canyon, I earnestly wished that the
Greeley Tribune had not given me a reputation for horsemanship,
which had preceded me here. The young men who were to escort me
"seemed very innocent," he said, but I have not arrived at his
meaning yet. When the horse appeared in the street at 8:30, I
saw, to my dismay, a high-bred, beautiful creature, stable kept,
with arched neck, quivering nostrils, and restless ears and eyes.
My pack, as on Hawaii, was strapped behind the Mexican saddle,
and my canvas bag hung on the horn, but the horse did not look
fit to carry "gear," and seemed to require two men to hold and
coax him. There were many loafers about, and I shrank from going
out and mounting in my old Hawaiian riding dress, though Dr. and
Mrs. H. assured me that I looked quite "insignificant and
unnoticeable." We got away at nine with repeated injunctions
from the landlord in the words, "Oh, you should be heroic!"
The sky was cloudless, and a deep brilliant blue, and though the
sun was hot the air was fresh and bracing. The ride for glory
and delight I shall label along with one to Hanalei, and another
to Mauna Kea, Hawaii. I felt better quite soon; the horse in
gait and temper turned out perfection--all spring and spirit,
elastic in his motion, walking fast and easily, and cantering
with a light, graceful swing as soon as one pressed the reins on
his neck, a blithe, joyous animal, to whom a day among the
mountains seemed a pleasant frolic. So gentle he was, that when
I got off and walked he followed me without being led, and
without needing any one to hold him he allowed me to mount on
either side. In addition to the charm of his movements he has
the catlike sure-footedness of a Hawaiian horse, and fords rapid
and rough-bottomed rivers, and gallops among stones and stumps,
and down steep hills, with equal security. I could have ridden
him a hundred miles as easily as thirty. We have only been
together two days, yet we are firm friends, and thoroughly
understand each other. I should not require another companion on
a long mountain tour. All his ways are those of an animal
brought up without curb, whip, or spur, trained by the voice, and
used only to kindness, as is happily the case with the majority
of horses in the Western States. Consequently, unless they are
broncos, they exercise their intelligence for your advantage, and
do their work rather as friends than as machines.
I soon began not only to feel better, but to be exhilarated with
the delightful motion. The sun was behind us, and puffs of a
cool elastic air came down from the glorious mountains in front.
We cantered across six miles of prairie, and then reached the
beautiful canyon of the St. Vrain, which, towards its mouth, is a
narrow, fertile, wooded valley, through which a bright rapid
river, which we forded many times, hurries along, with twists and
windings innumerable. Ah, how brightly its ripples danced in the
glittering sunshine, and how musically its waters murmured like
the streams of windward Hawaii! We lost our way over and over
again, though the "innocent" young men had been there before;
indeed, it would require some talent to master the intricacies of
that devious trail, but settlers making hay always appeared in
the nick of time to put us on the right track. Very fair it was,
after the brown and burning plains, and the variety was endless.
Cotton-wood trees were green and bright, aspens shivered in gold
tremulousness, wild grape-vines trailed their lemon-colored
foliage along the ground, and the Virginia creeper hung its
crimson sprays here and there, lightening up green and gold into
glory. Sometimes from under the cool and bowery shade of the
colored tangle we passed into the cool St. Vrain, and then were
wedged between its margin and lofty cliffs and terraces of
incredibly staring, fantastic rocks, lined, patched, and splashed
with carmine, vermilion, greens of all tints, blue, yellow,
orange, violet, deep crimson, coloring that no artist would dare
to represent, and of which, in sober prose, I scarcely dare tell.
Long's wonderful peaks, which hitherto had gleamed above the
green, now disappeared, to be seen no more for twenty miles. We
entered on an ascending valley, where the gorgeous hues of the
rocks were intensified by the blue gloom of the pitch pines, and
then taking a track to the north-west, we left the softer world
behind, and all traces of man and his works, and plunged into
the Rocky Mountains.
There were wonderful ascents then up which I led my horse; wild
fantastic views opening up continually, a recurrence of
surprises; the air keener and purer with every mile, the
sensation of loneliness more singular. A tremendous ascent among
rocks and pines to a height of 9,000 feet brought us to a passage
seven feet wide through a wall of rock, with an abrupt descent of
2,000 feet, and a yet higher ascent beyond. I never saw anything
so strange as looking back. It was a single gigantic ridge which
we had passed through, standing up knifelike, built up entirely
of great brick-shaped masses of bright red rock, some of them as
large as the Royal Institution, Edinburgh, piled one on another
by Titans. Pitch pines grew out of their crevices, but there
was not a vestige of soil. Beyond, wall beyond wall of similar
construction, and range above range, rose into the blue sky.
Fifteen miles more over great ridges, along passes dark with
shadow, and so narrow that we had to ride in the beds of the
streams which had excavated them, round the bases of colossal
pyramids of rock crested with pines, up into fair upland "parks,"
scarlet in patches with the poison oak, parks so beautifully
arranged by nature that I momentarily expected to come upon some
stately mansion, but that afternoon crested blue jays and
chipmunks had them all to themselves. Here, in the early
morning, deer, bighorn, and the stately elk, come down to feed,
and there, in the night, prowl and growl the Rocky Mountain lion,
the grizzly bear, and the cowardly wolf. There were chasms of
immense depth, dark with the indigo gloom of pines, and mountains
with snow gleaming on their splintered crests, loveliness to
bewilder and grandeur to awe, and still streams and shady pools,
and cool depths of shadow; mountains again, dense with pines,
among which patches of aspen gleamed like gold; valleys
where the yellow cotton-wood mingled with the crimson oak, and
so, on and on through the lengthening shadows, till the trail,
which in places had been hardly legible, became well defined, and
we entered a long gulch with broad swellings of grass belted with
A very pretty mare, hobbled, was feeding; a collie dog barked at
us, and among the scrub, not far from the track, there was a
rude, black log cabin, as rough as it could be to be a shelter at
all, with smoke coming out of the roof and window. We diverged
towards it; it mattered not that it was the home, or rather den,
of a notorious "ruffian" and "desperado." One of my companions
had disappeared hours before, the remaining one was a town-bred
youth. I longed to speak to some one who loved the mountains. I
called the hut a DEN--it looked like the den of a wild beast.
The big dog lay outside it in a threatening attitude and growled.
The mud roof was covered with lynx, beaver, and other furs laid
out to dry, beaver paws were pinned out on the logs, a part of
the carcass of a deer hung at one end of the cabin, a skinned
beaver lay in front of a heap of peltry just within the door, and
antlers of deer, old horseshoes, and offal of many animals, lay
about the den.
Roused by the growling of the dog, his owner came out, a broad,
thickset man, about the middle height, with an old cap on his
head, and wearing a grey hunting suit much the worse for wear
(almost falling to pieces, in fact), a digger's scarf knotted
round his waist, a knife in his belt, and "a bosom friend," a
revolver, sticking out of the breast pocket of his coat; his
feet, which were very small, were bare, except for some
dilapidated moccasins made of horse hide. The marvel was how his
clothes hung together, and on him. The scarf round his waist
must have had something to do with it. His face was remarkable.
He is a man about forty-five, and must have been strikingly
handsome. He has large grey-blue eyes, deeply set, with
well-marked eyebrows, a handsome aquiline nose, and a very
handsome mouth. His face was smooth shaven except for a dense
mustache and imperial. Tawny hair, in thin uncared-for curls,
fell from under his hunter's cap and over his collar. One eye
was entirely gone, and the loss made one side of the face
repulsive, while the other might have been modeled in marble.
"Desperado" was written in large letters all over him. I almost
repented of having sought his acquaintance. His first impulse
was to swear at the dog, but on seeing a lady he contented
himself with kicking him, and coming to me he raised his cap,
showing as he did so a magnificently-formed brow and head, and in
a cultured tone of voice asked if there were anything he could do
for me? I asked for some water, and he brought some in a
battered tin, gracefully apologizing for not having anything more
presentable. We entered into conversation, and as he spoke I
forgot both his reputation and appearance, for his manner was
that of a chivalrous gentleman, his accent refined, and his
language easy and elegant. I inquired about some beavers' paws
which were drying, and in a moment they hung on the horn of my
saddle. Apropos of the wild animals of the region, he told me
that the loss of his eye was owing to a recent encounter with a
grizzly bear, which, after giving him a death hug, tearing him
all over, breaking his arm and scratching out his eye, had left
him for dead. As we rode away, for the sun was sinking, he said,
courteously, "You are not an American. I know from your voice
that you are a countrywoman of mine. I hope you will allow me
the pleasure of calling on you."[12]
[12] Of this unhappy man, who was shot nine months later within
two miles of his cabin, I write in the subsequent letters only as
he appeared to me. His life, without doubt, was deeply stained
with crimes and vices, and his reputation for ruffianism was a
deserved one. But in my intercourse with him I saw more of his
nobler instincts than of the darker parts of his character,
which, unfortunately for himself and others, showed itself in its
worst colors at the time of his tragic end. It was not until
after I left Colorado, not indeed until after his death, that I
heard of the worst points of his character.
This man, known through the Territories and beyond them as "Rocky
Mountain Jim," or, more briefly, as "Mountain Jim," is one of the
famous scouts of the Plains, and is the original of some daring
portraits in fiction concerning Indian Frontier warfare. So far
as I have at present heard, he is a man for whom there is now no
room, for the time for blows and blood in this part of Colorado
is past, and the fame of many daring exploits is sullied by
crimes which are not easily forgiven here. He now has a
"squatter's claim," but makes his living as a trapper, and is a
complete child of the mountains. Of his genius and chivalry to
women there does not appear to be any doubt; but he is a
desperate character, and is subject to "ugly fits," when people
think it best to avoid him. It is here regarded as an evil that
he has located himself at the mouth of the only entrance to the
park, for he is dangerous with his pistols, and it would be safer
if he were not here. His besetting sin is indicated in the
verdict pronounced on him by my host: "When he's sober Jim's a
perfect gentleman; but when he's had liquor he's the most awful
ruffian in Colorado."
From the ridge on which this gulch terminates, at a height of
9,000 feet, we saw at last Estes Park, lying 1,500 feet below in
the glory of the setting sun, an irregular basin, lighted up by
the bright waters of the rushing Thompson, guarded by sentinel
mountains of fantastic shape and monstrous size, with Long's Peak
rising above them all in unapproachable grandeur, while the Snowy
Range, with its outlying spurs heavily timbered, come down upon
the park slashed by stupendous canyons lying deep in purple
gloom. The rushing river was blood red, Long's Peak was aflame,
the glory of the glowing heaven was given back from earth.
Never, nowhere, have I seen anything to equal the view into Estes
Park. The mountains "of the land which is very far off" are very
near now, but the near is more glorious than the far, and reality
than dreamland. The mountain fever seized me, and, giving my
tireless horse one encouraging word, he dashed at full gallop
over a mile of smooth sward at delirious speed.
But I was hungry, and the air was frosty, and I was wondering
what the prospects of food and shelter were in this enchanted
region, when we came suddenly upon a small lake, close to which
was a very trim-looking log cabin, with a flat mud roof, with
four smaller ones; picturesquely dotted about near it, two
corrals,[13] a long shed, in front of which a steer was being
killed, a log dairy with a water wheel, some hay piles, and
various evidences of comfort; and two men, on serviceable horses,
were just bringing in some tolerable cows to be milked. A short,
pleasant-looking man ran up to me and shook hands gleefully,
which surprised me; but he has since told me that in the evening
light he thought I was "Mountain Jim, dressed up as a woman!" I
recognized in him a countryman, and he introduced himself as
Griffith Evans, a Welshman from the slate quarries near
Llanberis. When the cabin door was opened I saw a good-sized log
room, unchinked, however, with windows of infamous glass, looking
two ways; a rough stone fireplace, in which pine logs, half as
large as I am, were burning; a boarded floor, a round table, two
rocking chairs, a carpet-covered backwoods couch; and skins,
Indian bows and arrows, wampum belts, and antlers, fitly
decorated the rough walls, and equally fitly, rifles were stuck
up in the corners. Seven men, smoking, were lying about on the
floor, a sick man lay on the couch, and a middle-aged lady sat at
the table writing. I went out again and asked Evans if he could
take me in, expecting nothing better than a shakedown; but, to my
joy, he told me he could give me a cabin to myself, two minutes'
walk from his own. So in this glorious upper world, with the
mountain pines behind and the clear lake in front, in the "blue
hollow at the foot of Long's Peak," at a height of 7,500 feet,
where the hoar frost crisps the grass every night of the year, I
have found far more than I ever dared to hope for.
[13] A corral is a fenced enclosure for cattle. This word, with
bronco, ranch, and a few others, are adaptations from the
Spanish, and are used as extensively throughout California and
the Territories as is the Spanish or Mexican saddle.
I. L. B.
Letter VII
Personality of Long's Peak--"Mountain Jim"--Lake of the Lilies--A
silent forest--The camping ground--"Ring"--A lady's bower--Dawn
and sunrise--A glorious view--Links of diamonds--The ascent of
the Peak--The "Dog's Lift"--Suffering from thirst--The
descent--The bivouac.
As this account of the ascent of Long's Peak could not
be written at the time, I am much disinclined to write it,
especially as no sort of description within my powers could
enable another to realize the glorious sublimity, the majestic
solitude, and the unspeakable awfulness and fascination of the
scenes in which I spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
Long's Peak, 14,700 feet high, blocks up one end of Estes Park,
and dwarfs all the surrounding mountains. From it on this side
rise, snow-born, the bright St. Vrain, and the Big and Little
Thompson. By sunlight or moonlight its splintered grey crest is
the one object which, in spite of wapiti and bighorn, skunk and
grizzly, unfailingly arrests the eyes. From it come all
storms of snow and wind, and the forked lightnings play round its
head like a glory. It is one of the noblest of mountains, but in
one's imagination it grows to be much more than a mountain. It
becomes invested with a personality. In its caverns and abysses
one comes to fancy that it generates and chains the strong winds,
to let them loose in its fury. The thunder becomes its voice,
and the lightnings do it homage. Other summits blush under the
morning kiss of the sun, and turn pale the next moment; but it
detains the first sunlight and holds it round its head for an
hour at least, till it pleases to change from rosy red to deep
blue; and the sunset, as if spell-bound, lingers latest on its
crest. The soft winds which hardly rustle the pine needles down
here are raging rudely up there round its motionless summit. The
mark of fire is upon it; and though it has passed into a grim
repose, it tells of fire and upheaval as truly, though not as
eloquently, as the living volcanoes of Hawaii. Here under its
shadow one learns how naturally nature worship, and the
propitiation of the forces of nature, arose in minds which had no
better light.
Long's Peak, "the American Matterhorn," as some call it, was
ascended five years ago for the first time. I thought I should
like to attempt it, but up to Monday, when Evans left for Denver,
cold water was thrown upon the project. It was too late in the
season, the winds were likely to be strong, etc.; but just before
leaving, Evans said that the weather was looking more settled,
and if I did not get farther than the timber line it would be
worth going. Soon after he left, "Mountain Jim" came in, and
said he would go up as guide, and the two youths who rode here
with me from Longmount and I caught at the proposal. Mrs.
Edwards at once baked bread for three days, steaks were cut from
the steer which hangs up conveniently, and tea, sugar, and butter
were benevolently added. Our picnic was not to be a luxurious or
"well-found" one, for, in order to avoid the expense of a pack
mule, we limited our luggage to what our saddle horses could
carry. Behind my saddle I carried three pair of camping blankets
and a quilt, which reached to my shoulders. My own boots were so
much worn that it was painful to walk, even about the park, in
them, so Evans had lent me a pair of his hunting boots, which
hung to the horn of my saddle. The horses of the two young men
were equally loaded, for we had to prepare for many degrees of
frost. "Jim" was a shocking figure; he had on an old pair of
high boots, with a baggy pair of old trousers made of deer hide,
held on by an old scarf tucked into them; a leather shirt, with
three or four ragged unbuttoned waistcoats over it; an old
smashed wideawake, from under which his tawny, neglected ringlets
hung; and with his one eye, his one long spur, his knife in his
belt, his revolver in his waistcoat pocket, his saddle covered
with an old beaver skin, from which the paws hung down; his
camping blankets behind him, his rifle laid across the saddle in
front of him, and his axe, canteen, and other gear hanging to the
horn, he was as awful-looking a ruffian as one could see. By way
of contrast he rode a small Arab mare, of exquisite beauty,
skittish, high spirited, gentle, but altogether too light for
him, and he fretted her incessantly to make her display herself.
Heavily loaded as all our horses were, "Jim" started over the
half-mile of level grass at a hard gallop, and then throwing his
mare on her haunches, pulled up alongside of me, and with a grace
of manner which soon made me forget his appearance, entered into
a conversation which lasted for more than three hours, in spite
of the manifold checks of fording streams, single file, abrupt
ascents and descents, and other incidents of mountain travel.
The ride was one series of glories and surprises, of "park" and
glade, of lake and stream, of mountains on mountains, culminating
in the rent pinnacles of Long's Peak, which looked yet grander
and ghastlier as we crossed an attendant mountain 11,000 feet
high. The slanting sun added fresh beauty every hour. There
were dark pines against a lemon sky, grey peaks reddening and
etherealizing, gorges of deep and infinite blue, floods of golden
glory pouring through canyons of enormous depth, an atmosphere of
absolute purity, an occasional foreground of cottonwood and aspen
flaunting in red and gold to intensify the blue gloom of the
pines, the trickle and murmur of streams fringed with icicles,
the strange sough of gusts moving among the pine tops--sights and
sounds not of the lower earth, but of the solitary,
beast-haunted, frozen upper altitudes. From the dry, buff grass
of Estes Park we turned off up a trail on the side of a pine-hung
gorge, up a steep pine-clothed hill, down to a small valley, rich
in fine, sun-cured hay about eighteen inches high, and enclosed
by high mountains whose deepest hollow contains a lily-covered
lake, fitly named "The Lake of the Lilies." Ah, how magical its
beauty was, as it slept in silence, while THERE the dark pines
were mirrored motionless in its pale gold, and HERE the great
white lily cups and dark green leaves rested on amethyst-colored
From this we ascended into the purple gloom of great pine forests
which clothe the skirts of the mountains up to a height of about
11,000 feet, and from their chill and solitary depths we had
glimpses of golden atmosphere and rose-lit summits, not of "the
land very far off," but of the land nearer now in all its
grandeur, gaining in sublimity by nearness--glimpses, too,
through a broken vista of purple gorges, of the illimitable
Plains lying idealized in the late sunlight, their baked, brown
expanse transfigured into the likeness of a sunset sea rolling
infinitely in waves of misty gold.
We rode upwards through the gloom on a steep trail blazed through
the forest, all my intellect concentrated on avoiding being
dragged off my horse by impending branches, or having the
blankets badly torn, as those of my companions were, by sharp
dead limbs, between which there was hardly room to pass--the
horses breathless, and requiring to stop every few yards, though
their riders, except myself, were afoot. The gloom of the dense,
ancient, silent forest is to me awe inspiring. On such an
evening it is soundless, except for the branches creaking in the
soft wind, the frequent snap of decayed timber, and a murmur in
the pine tops as of a not distant waterfall, all tending to
produce EERINESS and a sadness "hardly akin to pain." There no
lumberer's axe has ever rung. The trees die when they have
attained their prime, and stand there, dead and bare, till the
fierce mountain winds lay them prostrate. The pines grew smaller
and more sparse as we ascended, and the last stragglers wore a
tortured, warring look. The timber line was passed, but yet a
little higher a slope of mountain meadow dipped to the south-west
towards a bright stream trickling under ice and icicles, and
there a grove of the beautiful silver spruce marked our camping
ground. The trees were in miniature, but so exquisitely arranged
that one might well ask what artist's hand had planted them,
scattering them here, clumping them there, and training their
slim spires towards heaven. Hereafter, when I call up memories
of the glorious, the view from this camping ground will come up.
Looking east, gorges opened to the distant Plains, then fading
into purple grey. Mountains with pine-clothed skirts rose in
ranges, or, solitary, uplifted their grey summits, while close
behind, but nearly 3,000 feet above us, towered the bald white
crest of Long's Peak, its huge precipices red with the light of a
sun long lost to our eyes. Close to us, in the caverned side of
the Peak, was snow that, owing to its position, is eternal. Soon
the afterglow came on, and before it faded a big half-moon hung
out of the heavens, shining through the silver blue foliage of
the pines on the frigid background of snow, and turning the
whole into fairyland. The "photo" which accompanies this letter
is by a courageous Denver artist who attempted the ascent just
before I arrived, but, after camping out at the timber line for a
week, was foiled by the perpetual storms, and was driven down
again, leaving some very valuable apparatus about 3,000 feet
from the summit.
Unsaddling and picketing the horses securely, making the beds of
pine shoots, and dragging up logs for fuel, warmed us all. "Jim"
built up a great fire, and before long we were all sitting around
it at supper. It didn't matter much that we had to drink our tea
out of the battered meat tins in which it was boiled, and eat
strips of beef reeking with pine smoke without plates or forks.
"Treat Jim as a gentleman and you'll find him one," I had been
told; and though his manner was certainly bolder and freer than
that of gentlemen generally, no imaginary fault could be found.
He was very agreeable as a man of culture as well as a child of
nature; the desperado was altogether out of sight. He was very
courteous and even kind to me, which was fortunate, as the young
men had little idea of showing even ordinary civilities. That
night I made the acquaintance of his dog "Ring," said to be the
best hunting dog in Colorado, with the body and legs of a collie,
but a head approaching that of a mastiff, a noble face with a
wistful human expression, and the most truthful eyes I ever saw
in an animal. His master loves him if he loves anything, but in
his savage moods ill-treats him. "Ring's" devotion never
swerves, and his truthful eyes are rarely taken off his master's
face. He is almost human in his intelligence, and, unless he is
told to do so, he never takes notice of any one but "Jim." In a
tone as if speaking to a human being, his master, pointing to me,
said, "Ring, go to that lady, and don't leave her again
to-night." "Ring" at once came to me, looked into my face, laid
his head on my shoulder, and then lay down beside me with his
head on my lap, but never taking his eyes from "Jim's" face.
The long shadows of the pines lay upon the frosted grass, an
aurora leaped fitfully, and the moonlight, though intensely
bright, was pale beside the red, leaping flames of our pine logs
and their red glow on our gear, ourselves, and Ring's truthful
face. One of the young men sang a Latin student's song and two
Negro melodies; the other "Sweet Spirit, hear my Prayer." "Jim"
sang one of Moore's melodies in a singular falsetto, and all
together sang, "The Star-spangled Banner" and "The Red, White,
and Blue." Then "Jim" recited a very clever poem of his own
composition, and told some fearful Indian stories. A group of
small silver spruces away from the fire was my sleeping place.
The artist who had been up there had so woven and interlaced
their lower branches as to form a bower, affording at once
shelter from the wind and a most agreeable privacy. It was
thickly strewn with young pine shoots, and these, when covered
with a blanket, with an inverted saddle for a pillow, made a
luxurious bed. The mercury at 9 P.M. was 12 degrees below the
freezing point. "Jim," after a last look at the horses, made a
huge fire, and stretched himself out beside it, but "Ring" lay at
my back to keep me warm. I could not sleep, but the night passed
rapidly. I was anxious about the ascent, for gusts of ominous
sound swept through the pines at intervals. Then wild animals
howled, and "Ring" was perturbed in spirit about them. Then it
was strange to see the notorious desperado, a red-handed man,
sleeping as quietly as innocence sleeps. But, above all, it was
exciting to lie there, with no better shelter than a bower of
pines, on a mountain 11,000 feet high, in the very heart of the
Rocky Range, under twelve degrees of frost, hearing sounds of
wolves, with shivering stars looking through the fragrant canopy,
with arrowy pines for bed-posts, and for a night lamp the red
flames of a camp-fire.
Day dawned long before the sun rose, pure and lemon colored. The
rest were looking after the horses, when one of the students came
running to tell me that I must come farther down the slope, for
"Jim" said he had never seen such a sunrise. From the chill,
grey Peak above, from the everlasting snows, from the silvered
pines, down through mountain ranges with their depths of Tyrian
purple, we looked to where the Plains lay cold, in blue-grey,
like a morning sea against a far horizon. Suddenly, as a
dazzling streak at first, but enlarging rapidly into a dazzling
sphere, the sun wheeled above the grey line, a light and glory as
when it was first created. "Jim" involuntarily and reverently
uncovered his head, and exclaimed, "I believe there is a God!" I
felt as if, Parsee-like, I must worship. The grey of the Plains
changed to purple, the sky was all one rose-red flush, on which
vermilion cloud-streaks rested; the ghastly peaks gleamed like
rubies, the earth and heavens were new created. Surely "the Most
High dwelleth not in temples made with hands!" For a full hour
those Plains simulated the ocean, down to whose limitless expanse
of purple, cliff, rocks, and promontories swept down.
By seven we had finished breakfast, and passed into the ghastlier
solitudes above, I riding as far as what, rightly, or wrongly,
are called the "Lava Beds," an expanse of large and small
boulders, with snow in their crevices. It was very cold; some
water which we crossed was frozen hard enough to bear the horse.
"Jim" had advised me against taking any wraps, and my thin
Hawaiian riding dress, only fit for the tropics, was penetrated
by the keen air The rarefied atmosphere soon began to oppress our
breathing, and I found that Evans's boots were so large that I
had no foothold. Fortunately, before the real difficulty of the
ascent began, we found, under a rock, a pair of small overshoes,
probably left by the Hayden exploring expedition, which just
lasted for the day. As we were leaping from rock to rock, "Jim"
said, "I was thinking in the night about your traveling alone,
and wondering where you carried your Derringer, for I could see
no signs of it." On my telling him that I traveled unarmed, he
could hardly believe it, and adjured me to get a revolver at
On arriving at the "Notch" (a literal gate of rock), we found
ourselves absolutely on the knifelike ridge or backbone of Long's
Peak, only a few feet wide, covered with colossal boulders and
fragments, and on the other side shelving in one precipitous,
snow-patched sweep of 3,000 feet to a picturesque hollow,
containing a lake of pure green water. Other lakes, hidden among
dense pine woods, were farther off, while close above us rose the
Peak, which, for about 500 feet, is a smooth, gaunt,
inaccessible-looking pile of granite. Passing through the
"Notch," we looked along the nearly inaccessible side of the
Peak, composed of boulders and debris of all shapes and sizes,
through which appeared broad, smooth ribs of reddish-colored
granite, looking as if they upheld the towering rock mass above.
I usually dislike bird's-eye and panoramic views, but, though
from a mountain, this was not one. Serrated ridges, not much
lower than that on which we stood, rose, one beyond another, far
as that pure atmosphere could carry the vision, broken into awful
chasms deep with ice and snow, rising into pinnacles piercing the
heavenly blue with their cold, barren grey, on, on for ever, till
the most distant range upbore unsullied snow alone. There were
fair lakes mirroring the dark pine woods, canyons dark and
blue-black with unbroken expanses of pines, snow-slashed
pinnacles, wintry heights frowning upon lovely parks, watered and
wooded, lying in the lap of summer; North Park floating off into
the blue distance, Middle Park closed till another season, the
sunny slopes of Estes Park, and winding down among the mountains
the snowy ridge of the Divide, whose bright waters seek both the
Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. There, far below, links of diamonds
showed where the Grand River takes its rise to seek the
mysterious Colorado, with its still unsolved enigma, and lose
itself in the waters of the Pacific; and nearer the snow-born
Thompson bursts forth from the ice to begin its journey to the
Gulf of Mexico. Nature, rioting in her grandest mood, exclaimed
with voices of grandeur, solitude, sublimity, beauty, and
infinity, "Lord, what is man, that Thou art mindful of him? or
the son of man, that Thou visitest him?" Never-to-be-forgotten
glories they were, burnt in upon my memory by six succeeding
hours of terror.
You know I have no head and no ankles, and never ought to dream
of mountaineering; and had I known that the ascent was a real
mountaineering feat I should not have felt the slightest ambition
to perform it. As it is, I am only humiliated by my success, for
"Jim" dragged me up, like a bale of goods, by sheer force of
muscle. At the "Notch" the real business of the ascent began.
Two thousand feet of solid rock towered above us, four thousand
feet of broken rock shelved precipitously below; smooth granite
ribs, with barely foothold, stood out here and there; melted snow
refrozen several times, presented a more serious obstacle; many
of the rocks were loose, and tumbled down when touched. To
me it was a time of extreme terror. I was roped to "Jim," but it
was of no use; my feet were paralyzed and slipped on the bare
rock, and he said it was useless to try to go that way, and we
retraced our steps. I wanted to return to the "Notch," knowing
that my incompetence would detain the party, and one of the
young men said almost plainly that a woman was a dangerous
encumbrance, but the trapper replied shortly that if it were not
to take a lady up he would not go up at all. He went on to
explore, and reported that further progress on the correct line
of ascent was blocked by ice; and then for two hours we
descended, lowering ourselves by our hands from rock to rock
along a boulder-strewn sweep of 4,000 feet, patched with ice and
snow, and perilous from rolling stones. My fatigue, giddiness,
and pain from bruised ankles, and arms half pulled out of their
sockets, were so great that I should never have gone halfway had
not "Jim," nolens volens, dragged me along with a patience and
skill, and withal a determination that I should ascend the Peak,
which never failed. After descending about 2,000 feet to avoid
the ice, we got into a deep ravine with inaccessible sides,
partly filled with ice and snow and partly with large and small
fragments of rock, which were constantly giving away, rendering
the footing very insecure. That part to me was two hours of
painful and unwilling submission to the inevitable; of trembling,
slipping, straining, of smooth ice appearing when it was least
expected, and of weak entreaties to be left behind while the
others went on. "Jim" always said that there was no danger, that
there was only a short bad bit ahead, and that I should go up
even if he carried me!
Slipping, faltering, gasping from the exhausting toil in the
rarefied air, with throbbing hearts and panting lungs, we reached
the top of the gorge and squeezed ourselves between two gigantic
fragments of rock by a passage called the "Dog's Lift," when I
climbed on the shoulders of one man and then was hauled up. This
introduced us by an abrupt turn round the south-west angle of the
Peak to a narrow shelf of considerable length, rugged, uneven,
and so overhung by the cliff in some places that it is necessary
to crouch to pass at all. Above, the Peak looks nearly vertical
for 400 feet; and below, the most tremendous precipice I have
ever seen descends in one unbroken fall. This is usually
considered the most dangerous part of the ascent, but it does not
seem so to me, for such foothold as there is is secure, and one
fancies that it is possible to hold on with the hands. But
there, and on the final, and, to my thinking, the worst part of
the climb, one slip, and a breathing, thinking, human being would
lie 3,000 feet below, a shapeless, bloody heap! "Ring" refused
to traverse the Ledge, and remained at the "Lift" howling
From thence the view is more magnificent even than that from the
"Notch." At the foot of the precipice below us lay a lovely
lake, wood embosomed, from or near which the bright St. Vrain and
other streams take their rise. I thought how their clear cold
waters, growing turbid in the affluent flats, would heat under
the tropic sun, and eventually form part of that great ocean
river which renders our far-off islands habitable by impinging on
their shores. Snowy ranges, one behind the other, extended to
the distant horizon, folding in their wintry embrace the beauties
of Middle Park. Pike's Peak, more than one hundred miles off,
lifted that vast but shapeless summit which is the landmark of
southern Colorado. There were snow patches, snow slashes,
snow abysses, snow forlorn and soiled looking, snow pure and
dazzling, snow glistening above the purple robe of pine worn by
all the mountains; while away to the east, in limitless breadth,
stretched the green-grey of the endless Plains. Giants
everywhere reared their splintered crests. From thence, with a
single sweep, the eye takes in a distance of 300 miles--that
distance to the west, north, and south being made up of mountains
ten, eleven, twelve, and thirteen thousand feet in height,
dominated by Long's Peak, Gray's Peak, and Pike's Peak, all
nearly the height of Mont Blanc! On the Plains we traced the
rivers by their fringe of cottonwoods to the distant Platte, and
between us and them lay glories of mountain, canyon, and lake,
sleeping in depths of blue and purple most ravishing to the eye.
As we crept from the ledge round a horn of rock I beheld what
made me perfectly sick and dizzy to look at--the terminal Peak
itself--a smooth, cracked face or wall of pink granite, as nearly
perpendicular as anything could well be up which it was possible
to climb, well deserving the name of the "American
[14] Let no practical mountaineer be allured by my description
into the ascent of Long's Peak. Truly terrible as it was to me,
to a member of the Alpine Club it would not be a feat worth
SCALING, not climbing, is the correct term for this last ascent.
It took one hour to accomplish 500 feet, pausing for breath every
minute or two. The only foothold was in narrow cracks or on
minute projections on the granite. To get a toe in these cracks,
or here and there on a scarcely obvious projection, while
crawling on hands and knees, all the while tortured with thirst
and gasping and struggling for breath, this was the climb; but at
last the Peak was won. A grand, well-defined mountain top it is,
a nearly level acre of boulders, with precipitous sides all
round, the one we came up being the only accessible one.
It was not possible to remain long. One of the young men was
seriously alarmed by bleeding from the lungs, and the intense
dryness of the day and the rarefication of the air, at a height
of nearly 15,000 feet, made respiration very painful. There is
always water on the Peak, but it was frozen as hard as a rock,
and the sucking of ice and snow increases thirst. We all
suffered severely from the want of water, and the gasping for
breath made our mouths and tongues so dry that articulation was
difficult, and the speech of all unnatural.
From the summit were seen in unrivalled combination all the views
which had rejoiced our eyes during the ascent. It was something
at last to stand upon the storm-rent crown of this lonely
sentinel of the Rocky Range, on one of the mightiest of the
vertebrae of the backbone of the North American continent, and
to see the waters start for both oceans. Uplifted above love and
hate and storms of passion, calm amidst the eternal silences,
fanned by zephyrs and bathed in living blue, peace rested for
that one bright day on the Peak, as if it were some region
Where falls not rain, or hail, or any snow,
Or ever wind blows loudly.
We placed our names, with the date of ascent, in a tin within a
crevice, and descended to the Ledge, sitting on the smooth
granite, getting our feet into cracks and against projections,
and letting ourselves down by our hands, "Jim" going before me,
so that I might steady my feet against his powerful shoulders. I
was no longer giddy, and faced the precipice of 3,500 feet
without a shiver. Repassing the Ledge and Lift, we accomplished
the descent through 1,500 feet of ice and snow, with many falls
and bruises, but no worse mishap, and there separated, the young
men taking the steepest but most direct way to the "Notch," with
the intention of getting ready for the march home, and "Jim" and
I taking what he thought the safer route for me--a descent over
boulders for 2,000 feet, and then a tremendous ascent to the
"Notch." I had various falls, and once hung by my frock, which
caught on a rock, and "Jim" severed it with his hunting knife,
upon which I fell into a crevice full of soft snow. We were
driven lower down the mountains than he had intended by
impassable tracts of ice, and the ascent was tremendous. For the
last 200 feet the boulders were of enormous size, and the
steepness fearful. Sometimes I drew myself up on hands and
knees, sometimes crawled; sometimes "Jim" pulled me up by my arms
or a lariat, and sometimes I stood on his shoulders, or he made
steps for me of his feet and hands, but at six we stood on the
"Notch" in the splendor of the sinking sun, all color deepening,
all peaks glorifying, all shadows purpling, all peril past.
"Jim" had parted with his brusquerie when we parted from the
students, and was gentle and considerate beyond anything, though
I knew that he must be grievously disappointed, both in my
courage and strength. Water was an object of earnest desire. My
tongue rattled in my mouth, and I could hardly articulate. It is
good for one's sympathies to have for once a severe experience of
thirst. Truly, there was
Water, water, everywhere,
But not a drop to drink.
Three times its apparent gleam deceived even the mountaineer's
practiced eye, but we found only a foot of "glare ice." At last,
in a deep hole, he succeeded in breaking the ice, and by putting
one's arm far down one could scoop up a little water in one's
hand, but it was tormentingly insufficient. With great
difficulty and much assistance I recrossed the "Lava Beds," was
carried to the horse and lifted upon him, and when we reached the
camping ground I was lifted off him, and laid on the ground
wrapped up in blankets, a humiliating termination of a great
exploit. The horses were saddled, and the young men were all
ready to start, but "Jim" quietly said, "Now, gentlemen, I want a
good night's rest, and we shan't stir from here to-night." I
believe they were really glad to have it so, as one of them was
quite "finished." I retired to my arbor, wrapped myself in a
roll of blankets, and was soon asleep.
When I woke, the moon was high shining through the silvery
branches, whitening the bald Peak above, and glittering on the
great abyss of snow behind, and pine logs were blazing like a
bonfire in the cold still air. My feet were so icy cold that I
could not sleep again, and getting some blankets to sit in, and
making a roll of them for my back, I sat for two hours by the
camp-fire. It was weird and gloriously beautiful. The students
were asleep not far off in their blankets with their feet towards
the fire. "Ring" lay on one side of me with his fine head on my
arm, and his master sat smoking, with the fire lighting up the
handsome side of his face, and except for the tones of our
voices, and an occasional crackle and splutter as a pine knot
blazed up, there was no sound on the mountain side. The beloved
stars of my far-off home were overhead, the Plough and Pole Star,
with their steady light; the glittering Pleiades, looking larger
than I ever saw them, and "Orion's studded belt" shining
gloriously. Once only some wild animals prowled near the camp,
when "Ring," with one bound, disappeared from my side; and the
horses, which were picketed by the stream, broke their lariats,
stampeded, and came rushing wildly towards the fire, and it was
fully half an hour before they were caught and quiet was
restored. "Jim," or Mr. Nugent, as I always scrupulously called
him, told stories of his early youth, and of a great sorrow which
had led him to embark on a lawless and desperate life. His voice
trembled, and tears rolled down his cheek. Was it semi-conscious
acting, I wondered, or was his dark soul really stirred to its
depths by the silence, the beauty, and the memories of youth?
We reached Estes Park at noon of the following day. A more
successful ascent of the Peak was never made, and I would not now
exchange my memories of its perfect beauty and extraordinary
sublimity for any other experience of mountaineering in any part
of the world. Yesterday snow fell on the summit, and it will be
inaccessible for eight months to come.
I. L. B.
Letter VIII
Estes Park--Big game--"Parks" in Colorado--Magnificent
scenery--Flowers and pines--An awful road--Our log
cabin--Griffith Evans--A miniature world--Our topics--A
night alarm--A skunk--Morning glories--Daily routine--The
panic--"Wait for the wagon"--A musical evening.
How time has slipped by I do not know. This is a glorious
region, and the air and life are intoxicating. I live mainly out
of doors and on horseback, wear my half-threadbare Hawaiian
dress, sleep sometimes under the stars on a bed of pine boughs,
ride on a Mexican saddle, and hear once more the low music of my
Mexican spurs. "There's a stranger! Heave arf a brick at him!"
is said by many travelers to express the feeling of the new
settlers in these Territories. This is not my experience in my
cheery mountain home. How the rafters ring as I write with songs
and mirth, while the pitch-pine logs blaze and crackle in the
chimney, and the fine snow dust drives in through the chinks and
forms mimic snow wreaths on the floor, and the wind raves and
howls and plays among the creaking pine branches and snaps them
short off, and the lightning plays round the blasted top of
Long's Peak, and the hardy hunters divert themselves with the
thought that when I go to bed I must turn out and face the storm!
You will ask, "What is Estes Park?" This name, with the quiet
Midland Countries' sound, suggests "park palings" well lichened,
a lodge with a curtseying woman, fallow deer, and a Queen Anne
mansion. Such as it is, Estes Park is mine. It is unsurveyed,
"no man's land," and mine by right of love, appropriation, and
appreciation; by the seizure of its peerless sunrises and
sunsets, its glorious afterglow, its blazing noons, its
hurricanes sharp and furious, its wild auroras, its glories of
mountain and forest, of canyon, lake, and river, and the
stereotyping them all in my memory. Mine, too, in a better than
the sportsman's sense, are its majestic wapiti, which play and
fight under the pines in the early morning, as securely as fallow
deer under our English oaks; its graceful "black-tails," swift of
foot; its superb bighorns, whose noble leader is to be seen now
and then with his classic head against the blue sky on the top of
a colossal rock; its sneaking mountain lion with his hideous
nocturnal caterwaulings, the great "grizzly," the beautiful
skunk, the wary beaver, who is always making lakes, damming and
turning streams, cutting down young cotton-woods, and setting an
example of thrift and industry; the wolf, greedy and cowardly;
the coyote and the lynx, and all the lesser fry of mink, marten,
cat, hare, fox, squirrel, and chipmunk, as well as things that
fly, from the eagle down to the crested blue-jay. May their
number never be less, in spite of the hunter who kills for food
and gain, and the sportsman who kills and marauds for
But still I have not answered the natural question,[15] "What is
Estes Park?" Among the striking peculiarities of these mountains
are hundreds of high-lying valleys, large and small, at heights
varying from 6,000 to 11,000 feet. The most important are North
Park, held by hostile Indians; Middle Park, famous for hot
springs and trout; South Park is 10,000 feet high, a great
rolling prairie seventy miles long, well grassed and watered, but
nearly closed by snow in winter. But parks innumerable are
scattered throughout the mountains, most of them unnamed, and
others nicknamed by the hunters or trappers who have made them
their temporary resorts. They always lie far within the flaming
Foot Hills, their exquisite stretches of flowery pastures dotted
artistically with clumps of trees sloping lawnlike to bright
swift streams full of red-waist-coated trout, or running up in
soft glades into the dark forest, above which the snow peaks rise
in their infinite majesty. Some are bits of meadow a mile long
and very narrow, with a small stream, a beaver dam, and a pond
made by beaver industry. Hundreds of these can only be reached
by riding in the bed of a stream, or by scrambling up some narrow
canyon till it debouches on the fairy-like stretch above. These
parks are the feeding grounds of innumerable wild animals, and
some, like one three miles off, seem chosen for the process of
antler-casting, the grass being covered for at least a square
mile with the magnificent branching horns of the elk.
[15] Nor should I at this time, had not Henry Kingsley, Lord
Dunraven, and "The Field," divulged the charms and whereabouts of
these "happy hunting grounds," with the certain result of
directing a stream of tourists into the solitary, beast-haunted
Estes Park combines the beauties of all. Dismiss all thoughts of
the Midland Counties. For park palings there are mountains,
forest skirted, 9,000, 11,000, 14,000 feet high; for a lodge, two
sentinel peaks of granite guarding the only feasible entrance;
and for a Queen Anne mansion an unchinked log cabin with a vault
of sunny blue overhead. The park is most irregularly shaped, and
contains hardly any level grass. It is an aggregate of lawns,
slopes, and glades, about eighteen miles in length, but never
more than two miles in width. The Big Thompson, a bright, rapid
trout stream, snow born on Long's Peak a few miles higher, takes
all sorts of magical twists, vanishing and reappearing
unexpectedly, glancing among lawns, rushing through romantic
ravines, everywhere making music through the still, long nights.
Here and there the lawns are so smooth, the trees so artistically
grouped, a lake makes such an artistic foreground, or a waterfall
comes tumbling down with such an apparent feeling for the
picturesque, that I am almost angry with Nature for her close
imitation of art. But in another hundred yards Nature, glorious,
unapproachable, inimitable, is herself again, raising one's
thoughts reverently upwards to her Creator and ours. Grandeur
and sublimity, not softness, are the features of Estes Park. The
glades which begin so softly are soon lost in the dark primaeval
forests, with their peaks of rosy granite, and their stretches of
granite blocks piled and poised by nature in some mood of fury.
The streams are lost in canyons nearly or quite inaccessible,
awful in their blackness and darkness; every valley ends in
mystery; seven mountain ranges raise their frowning barriers
between us and the Plains, and at the south end of the park
Long's Peak rises to a height of 14,700 feet, with his bare,
scathed head slashed with eternal snow. The lowest part of the
Park is 7,500 feet high; and though the sun is hot during the
day, the mercury hovers near the freezing point every night of
the summer. An immense quantity of snow falls, but partly owing
to the tremendous winds which drift it into the deep valleys,
and partly to the bright warm sun of the winter months, the park
is never snowed up, and a number of cattle and horses are
wintered out of doors on its sun-cured saccharine grasses, of
which the gramma grass is the most valuable.
The soil here, as elsewhere in the neighborhood, is nearly
everywhere coarse, grey, granitic dust, produced probably by the
disintegration of the surrounding mountains. It does not hold
water, and is never wet in any weather. There are no thaws here
The snow mysteriously disappears by rapid evaporation. Oats
grow, but do not ripen, and, when well advanced, are cut and
stacked for winter fodder. Potatoes yield abundantly, and,
though not very large, are of the best quality, mealy throughout.
Evans has not attempted anything else, and probably the more
succulent vegetables would require irrigation. The wild flowers
are gorgeous and innumerable, though their beauty, which
culminates in July and August, was over before I arrived, and the
recent snow flurries have finished them. The time between winter
and winter is very short, and the flowery growth and blossom of a
whole year are compressed into two months. Here are dandelions,
buttercups, larkspurs, harebells, violets, roses, blue gentian,
columbine, painter's brush, and fifty others, blue and yellow
predominating; and though their blossoms are stiffened by the
cold every morning, they are starring the grass and drooping over
the brook long before noon, making the most of their brief lives
in the sunshine. Of ferns, after many a long hunt, I have only
found the Cystopteris fragilis and the Blechnum spicant, but
I hear that the Pteris aquilina is also found. Snakes and
mosquitoes do not appear to be known here. Coming almost direct
from the tropics, one is dissatisfied with the uniformity of the
foliage; indeed, foliage can hardly be written of, as the trees
properly so called at this height are exclusively Coniferae, and
bear needles instead of leaves. In places there are patches of
spindly aspens, which have turned a lemon yellow, and along the
streams bear cherries, vines, and roses lighten the gulches with
their variegated crimson leaves. The pines are not imposing,
either from their girth or height. Their coloring is blackish
green, and though they are effective singly or in groups, they
are somber and almost funereal when densely massed, as here,
along the mountain sides. The timber line is at a height of
about 11,000 feet, and is singularly well defined. The most
attractive tree I have seen is the silver spruce, Abies
Englemanii, near of kin to what is often called the balsam fir.
Its shape and color are both beautiful. My heart warms towards
it, and I frequent all the places where I can find it. It looks
as if a soft, blue, silver powder had fallen on its deep-green
needles, or as if a bluish hoar-frost, which must melt at noon,
were resting upon it. Anyhow, one can hardly believe that the
beauty is permanent, and survives the summer heat and the winter
cold. The universal tree here is the Pinus ponderosa, but it
never attains any very considerable size, and there is nothing to
compare with the red-woods of the Sierra Nevada, far less with
the sequoias of California.
As I have written before, Estes Park is thirty miles from
Longmount, the nearest settlement, and it can be reached on
horseback only by the steep and devious track by which I came,
passing through a narrow rift in the top of a precipitous ridge,
9,000 feet high, called the Devil's Gate. Evans takes a lumber
wagon with four horses over the mountains, and a Colorado
engineer would have no difficulty in making a wagon road. In
several of the gulches over which the track hangs there are the
remains of wagons which have come to grief in the attempt to
emulate Evans's feat, which without evidence, I should have
supposed to be impossible. It is an awful road. The only
settlers in the park are Griffith Evans, and a married man a mile
higher up. "Mountain Jim's" cabin is in the entrance gulch, four
miles off, and there is not another cabin for eighteen miles
toward the Plains. The park is unsurveyed, and the huge tract of
mountainous country beyond is almost altogether unexplored. Elk
hunters occasionally come up and camp out here; but the two
settlers, who, however, are only squatters, for various reasons
are not disposed to encourage such visitors. When Evans, who is
a very successful hunter, came here, he came on foot, and for
some time after settling here he carried the flour and
necessaries required by his family on his back over the
As I intend to make Estes Park my headquarters until the winter
sets in, I must make you acquainted with my surroundings and mode
of living. The "Queen Anne mansion" is represented by a log
cabin made of big hewn logs. The chinks should be filled with
mud and lime, but these are wanting. The roof is formed of
barked young spruce, then a layer of hay, and an outer coating of
mud, all nearly flat. The floors are roughly boarded. The
"living room" is about sixteen feet square, and has a rough stone
chimney in which pine logs are always burning. At one end there
is a door into a small bedroom, and at the other a door into a
small eating room, at the table of which we feed in relays. This
opens into a very small kitchen with a great American
cooking-stove, and there are two "bed closets" besides. Although
rude, it is comfortable, except for the draughts. The fine snow
drives in through the chinks and covers the floors, but sweeping
it out at intervals is both fun and exercise. There are no heaps
or rubbish places outside. Near it, on the slope under the
pines, is a pretty two-roomed cabin, and beyond that, near the
lake, is my cabin, a very rough one. My door opens into a little
room with a stone chimney, and that again into a small room with
a hay bed, a chair with a tin basin on it, a shelf and some pegs.
A small window looks on the lake, and the glories of the sunrises
which I see from it are indescribable. Neither of my doors has a
lock, and, to say the truth, neither will shut, as the wood has
swelled. Below the house, on the stream which issues from the
lake, there is a beautiful log dairy, with a water wheel outside,
used for churning. Besides this, there are a corral, a shed for
the wagon, a room for the hired man, and shelters for horses and
weakly calves. All these things are necessaries at this height.
The ranchmen are two Welshmen, Evans and Edwards, each with a
wife and family. The men are as diverse as they can be.
"Griff," as Evans is called, is short and small, and is
hospitable, careless, reckless, jolly, social, convivial,
peppery, good natured, "nobody's enemy but his own." He had the
wit and taste to find out Estes Park, where people have found him
out, and have induced him to give them food and lodging, and add
cabin to cabin to take them in. He is a splendid shot, an expert
and successful hunter, a bold mountaineer, a good rider, a
capital cook, and a generally "jolly fellow." His cheery laugh
rings through the cabin from the early morning, and is
contagious, and when the rafters ring at night with such songs as
"D'ye ken John Peel?" "Auld Lang Syne," and "John Brown," what
would the chorus be without poor "Griff's" voice? What would
Estes Park be without him, indeed? When he went to Denver lately
we missed him as we should have missed the sunshine, and perhaps
more. In the early morning, when Long's Peak is red, and the
grass crackles with the hoar-frost, he arouses me with a cheery
thump on my door. "We're going cattle-hunting, will you come?"
or, "Will you help to drive in the cattle? You can take your
pick of the horses. I want another hand." Free-hearted, lavish,
popular, poor "Griff" loves liquor too well for his prosperity,
and is always tormented by debt. He makes lots of money, but
puts it into "a bag with holes." He has fifty horses and 1,000
head of cattle, many of which are his own, wintering up here, and
makes no end of money by taking in people at eight dollars a
week, yet it all goes somehow. He has a most industrious wife, a
girl of seventeen, and four younger children, all musical, but
the wife has to work like a slave; and though he is a kind
husband, her lot, as compared with her lord's, is like that of a
squaw. Edwards, his partner, is his exact opposite, tall, thin,
and condemnatory looking, keen, industrious, saving, grave, a
teetotaler, grieved for all reasons at Evans's follies, and
rather grudging; as naturally unpopular as Evans is popular; a
"decent man," who, with his industrious wife, will certainly make
money as fast as Evans loses it.
I pay eight dollars a week, which includes the unlimited use of a
horse, when one can be found and caught. We breakfast at seven
on beef, potatoes, tea, coffee, new bread, and butter. Two
pitchers of cream and two of milk are replenished as fast as they
are exhausted. Dinner at twelve is a repetition of the
breakfast, but with the coffee omitted and a gigantic pudding
added. Tea at six is a repetition of breakfast. "Eat whenever
you are hungry, you can always get milk and bread in the
kitchen," Evans says--"eat as much as you can, it'll do you
good"--and we all eat like hunters. There is no change of food.
The steer which was being killed on my arrival is now being eaten
through from head to tail, the meat being hacked off quite
promiscuously, without any regard to joints. In this dry,
rarefied air, the outside of the flesh blackens and hardens, and
though the weather may be hot, the carcass keeps sweet for two or
three months. The bread is super excellent, but the poor wives
seem to be making and baking it all day.
The regular household living and eating together at this time
consists of a very intelligent and high-minded American couple,
Mr. and Mrs. Dewy, people whose character, culture, and society I
should value anywhere; a young Englishman, brother of a
celebrated African traveler, who, because he rides on an English
saddle, and clings to some other insular peculiarities, is called
"The Earl"; a miner prospecting for silver; a young man, the type
of intelligent, practical "Young America," whose health showed
consumptive tendencies when he was in business, and who is living
a hunter's life here; a grown-up niece of Evans; and a
melancholy-looking hired man. A mile off there is an industrious
married settler, and four miles off, in the gulch leading to the
park, "Mountain Jim," otherwise Mr. Nugent, is posted. His
business as a trapper takes him daily up to the beaver dams in
Black Canyon to look after his traps, and he generally spends
some time in or about our cabin, not, I can see, to Evans's
satisfaction. For, in truth, this blue hollow, lying solitary
at the foot of Long's Peak, is a miniature world of great
interest, in which love, jealousy, hatred, envy, pride,
unselfishness, greed, selfishness, and self-sacrifice can be
studied hourly, and there is always the unpleasantly exciting
risk of an open quarrel with the neighboring desperado, whose
"I'll shoot you!" has more than once been heard in the cabin.
The party, however, has often been increased by "campers," either
elk hunters or "prospectors" for silver or locations, who feed
with us and join us in the evening. They get little help from
Evans, either as to elk or locations, and go away disgusted and
unsuccessful. Two Englishmen of refinement and culture camped
out here prospecting a few weeks ago, and then, contrary to
advice, crossed the mountains into North Park, where gold is said
to abound, and it is believed that they have fallen victims to
the bloodthirsty Indians of the region. Of course, we never get
letters or newspapers unless some one rides to Longmount for
them. Two or three novels and a copy of Our New West are our
literature. Our latest newspaper is seventeen days old. Somehow
the park seems to become the natural limit of our interests so
far as they appear in conversation at table. The last grand
aurora, the prospect of a snow-storm, track and sign of elk and
grizzly, rumors of a bighorn herd near the lake, the canyons in
which the Texan cattle were last seen, the merits of different
rifles, the progress of two obvious love affairs, the probability
of some one coming up from the Plains with letters, "Mountain
Jim's" latest mood or escapade, and the merits of his dog "Ring"
as compared with those of Evans's dog "Plunk," are among the
topics which are never abandoned as exhausted.
On Sunday work is nominally laid aside, but most of the men go
out hunting or fishing till the evening, when we have the
harmonium and much sacred music and singing in parts. To be
alone in the park from the afternoon till the last glory of the
afterglow has faded, with no books but a Bible and Prayer-book,
is truly delightful. No worthier temple for a "Te Deum" or
"Gloria in Excelsis" could be found than this "temple not made
with hands," in which one may worship without being distracted by
the sight of bonnets of endless form, and curiously intricate
"back hair," and countless oddities of changing fashion.
I shall not soon forget my first night here.
Somewhat dazed by the rarefied air, entranced by the glorious
beauty, slightly puzzled by the motley company, whose faces
loomed not always quite distinctly through the cloud of smoke
produced by eleven pipes, I went to my solitary cabin at nine,
attended by Evans. It was very dark, and it seemed a long way
off. Something howled--Evans said it was a wolf--and owls
apparently innumerable hooted incessantly. The pole-star,
exactly opposite my cabin door, burned like a lamp. The frost
was sharp. Evans opened the door, lighted a candle, and left me,
and I was soon in my hay bed. I was frightened--that is, afraid
of being frightened, it was so eerie--but sleep soon got the
better of my fears. I was awoke by a heavy breathing, a noise
something like sawing under the floor, and a pushing and
upheaving, all very loud. My candle was all burned, and, in
truth, I dared not stir. The noise went on for an hour fully,
when, just as I thought the floor had been made sufficiently thin
for all purposes of ingress, the sounds abruptly ceased, and I
fell asleep again. My hair was not, as it ought to have been,
white in the morning!
I was dressed by seven, our breakfast hour, and when I reached
the great cabin and told my story, Evans laughed hilariously, and
Edwards contorted his face dismally. They told me that there was
a skunk's lair under my cabin, and that they dare not make any
attempt to dislodge him for fear of rendering the cabin
untenable. They have tried to trap him since, but without
success, and each night the noisy performance is repeated. I
think he is sharpening his claws on the under side of my floor,
as the grizzlies sharpen theirs upon the trees. The odor with
which this creature, truly named Mephitis, can overpower its
assailants is truly AWFUL. We were driven out of the cabin for
some hours merely by the passage of one across the corral. The
bravest man is a coward in its neighborhood. Dogs rub their
noses on the ground till they bleed when they have touched the
fluid, and even die of the vomiting produced by the effluvia.
The odor can be smelt a mile off. If clothes are touched by the
fluid they must be destroyed. At present its fur is very
valuable. Several have been killed since I came. A shot well
aimed at the spine secures one safely, and an experienced dog
can kill one by leaping upon it suddenly without being
exposed to danger. It is a beautiful beast, about the size and
length of a fox, with long thick black or dark-brown fur, and two
white streaks from the head to the long bushy tail. The claws of
its fore-feet are long and polished. Yesterday one was seen
rushing from the dairy and was shot. "Plunk," the big dog,
touched it and has to be driven into exile. The body was
valiantly removed by a man with a long fork, and carried to a
running stream, but we are nearly choked with the odor from the
spot where it fell. I hope that my skunk will enjoy a quiet
spirit so long as we are near neighbors.
October 3.
This is surely one of the most entrancing spots on earth. Oh,
that I could paint with pen or brush! From my bed I look on
Mirror Lake, and with the very earliest dawn, when objects are
not discernible, it lies there absolutely still, a purplish lead
color. Then suddenly into its mirror flash inverted peaks, at
first a dawn darker all round. This is a new sight, each morning
new. Then the peaks fade, and when morning is no longer "spread
upon the mountains," the pines are mirrored in my lake almost as
solid objects, and the glory steals downwards, and a red flush
warms the clear atmosphere of the park, and the hoar-frost
sparkles and the crested blue-jays step forth daintily on the
jewelled grass. The majesty and beauty grow on me daily. As
I crossed from my cabin just now, and the long mountain shadows
lay on the grass, and form and color gained new meanings, I was
almost false to Hawaii; I couldn't go on writing for the glory of
the sunset, but went out and sat on a rock to see the deepening
blue in the dark canyons, and the peaks becoming rose color one
by one, then fading into sudden ghastliness, the awe-inspiring
heights of Long's Peak fading last. Then came the glories of the
afterglow, when the orange and lemon of the east faded into gray,
and then gradually the gray for some distance above the horizon
brightened into a cold blue, and above the blue into a broad band
of rich, warm red, with an upper band of rose color; above it
hung a big cold moon. This is the "daily miracle" of evening, as
the blazing peaks in the darkness of Mirror Lake are the miracle
of morning. Perhaps this scenery is not lovable, but, as if it
were a strong stormy character, it has an intense fascination.
The routine of my day is breakfast at seven, then I go back and
"do" my cabin and draw water from the lake, read a little, loaf a
little, return to the big cabin and sweep it alternately with
Mrs. Dewy, after which she reads aloud till dinner at twelve.
Then I ride with Mr. Dewy, or by myself, or with Mrs. Dewy, who
is learning to ride cavalier fashion in order to accompany her
invalid husband, or go after cattle till supper at six. After
that we all sit in the living room, and I settle down to write to
you, or mend my clothes, which are dropping to pieces. Some sit
round the table playing at eucre, the strange hunters and
prospectors lie on the floor smoking, and rifles are cleaned,
bullets cast, fishing flies made, fishing tackle repaired, boots
are waterproofed, part-songs are sung, and about half-past eight
I cross the crisp grass to my cabin, always expecting to find
something in it. We all wash our own clothes, and as my stock is
so small, some part of every day has to be spent at the wash tub.
Politeness and propriety always prevail in our mixed company, and
though various grades of society are represented, true democratic
equality prevails, not its counterfeit, and there is neither
forwardness on one side nor condescension on the other.
Evans left for Denver ten days ago, taking his wife and family to
the Plains for the winter, and the mirth of our party departed
with him. Edwards is somber, except when he lies on the floor in
the evening, and tells stories of his march through Georgia with
Sherman. I gave Evans a 100-dollar note to change, and asked him
to buy me a horse for my tour, and for three days we have
expected him. The mail depends on him. I have had no letters
from you for five weeks, and can hardly curb my impatience. I
ride or walk three or four miles out on the Longmount trail two
or three times a day to look for him. Others, for different
reasons, are nearly equally anxious. After dark we start at
every sound, and every time the dogs bark all the able-bodied of
us turn out en masse. "Wait for the wagon" has become a nearly
maddening joke.
October 9.
The letter and newspaper fever has seized on every one. We have
sent at last to Longmount. The evening I rode out on the
Longmount trail towards dusk, escorted by "Mountain Jim," and in
the distance we saw a wagon with four horses and a saddle horse
behind, and the driver waved a handkerchief, the concerted signal
if I were the possessor of a horse. We turned back, galloping
down the long hill as fast as two good horses could carry us, and
gave the joyful news. It was an hour before the wagon arrived,
bringing not Evans but two "campers" of suspicious aspect, who
have pitched their camp close to my cabin! You cannot imagine
what it is to be locked in by these mountain walls, and not to
know where your letters are lying. Later on, Mr. Buchan, one of
our usual inmates, returned from Denver with papers, letters for
every one but me, and much exciting news. The financial panic
has spread out West, gathering strength on its way. The Denver
banks have all suspended business. They refuse to cash their own
checks, or to allow their customers to draw a dollar, and would
not even give green-backs for my English gold! Neither Mr.
Buchan nor Evans could get a cent. Business is suspended, and
everybody, however rich, is for the time being poor. The Indians
have taken to the "war path," and are burning ranches and killing
cattle. There is a regular "scare" among the settlers, and wagon
loads of fugitives are arriving in Colorado Springs. The Indians
say, "The white man has killed the buffalo and left them to rot
on the plains. We will be revenged." Evans had reached
Longmount, and will be here tonight.
October 10.
"Wait for the wagon" still! We had a hurricane of wind and hail
last night; it was eleven before I could go to my cabin, and I
only reached it with the help of two men. The moon was not up,
and the sky overhead was black with clouds, when suddenly Long's
Peak, which had been invisible, gleamed above the dark mountains,
all glistening with new-fallen snow, on which the moon, as yet
uprisen here, was shining. The evening before, after sunset, I
saw another novel effect. My lake turned a brilliant orange in
the twilight, and in its still mirror the mountains were
reflected a deep rich blue. It is a world of wonders. To-day we
had a great storm with flurries of fine snow; and when the clouds
rolled up at noon, the Snowy Range and all the higher mountains
were pure white. I have been hard at work all day to drown my
anxieties, which are heightened by a rumor that Evans has gone
buffalo-hunting on the Platte!
This evening, quite unexpectedly, Evans arrived with a heavy mail
in a box. I sorted it, but there was nothing for me and Evans
said he was afraid that he had left my letters, which were
separate from the others, behind at Denver, but he had written
from Longmount for them. A few hours later they were found in a
box of groceries!
All the hilarity of the house has returned with Evans, and he has
brought a kindred spirit with him, a young man who plays and
sings splendidly, has an inexhaustible repertoire, and produces
sonatas, funeral marches, anthems, reels, strathspeys, and all
else, out of his wonderful memory. Never, surely was a chamber
organ compelled to such service. A little cask of suspicious
appearance was smuggled into the cabin from the wagon, and
heightens the hilarity a little, I fear. No churlishness could
resist Evans's unutterable jollity or the contagion of his hearty
laugh. He claps people on the back, shouts at them, will do
anything for them, and makes a perpetual breeze. "My kingdom for
a horse!" He has not got one for me, and a shadow crossed his
face when I spoke of the subject. Eventually he asked for a
private conference, when he told me, with some confusion, that he
had found himself "very hard up" in Denver, and had been obliged
to appropriate my 100-dollar note. He said he would give me, as
interest for it up to November 25th, a good horse, saddle, and
bridle for my proposed journey of 600 miles. I was somewhat
dismayed, but there was no other course, as the money was gone.
[16]] I tried a horse, mended my clothes, reduced my pack to a
weight of twelve pounds, and was all ready for an early start,
when before daylight I was wakened by Evans's cheery voice at my
door. "I say, Miss B., we've got to drive wild cattle to-day; I
wish you'd lend a hand, there's not enough of us; I'll give you a
good horse; one day won't make much difference." So we've been
driving cattle all day, riding about twenty miles, and fording
the Big Thompson about as many times. Evans flatters me by
saying that I am "as much use as another man"; more than one of
our party, I hope, who always avoided the "ugly" cows.
[16] In justice to Evans, I must mention here that every cent of
the money was ultimately paid, that the horse was perfection, and
that the arrangement turned out a most advantageous one for me.
October 12.
I am still here, helping in the kitchen, driving cattle, and
riding four or five times a day. Evans detains me each morning
by saying, "Here's lots of horses for you to try," and after
trying five or six a day, I do not find one to my liking. Today,
as I was cantering a tall well-bred one round the lake, he threw
the bridle off by a toss of his head, leaving me with the reins
in my hands; one bucked, and two have tender feet, and tumbled
down. Such are some of our little varieties. Still I hope to
get off on my tour in a day or two, so at least as to be able to
compare Estes Park with some of the better-known parts of
You would be amused if you could see our cabin just now. There
are nine men in the room and three women. For want of seats most
of the men are lying on the floor; all are smoking, and the
blithe young French Canadian who plays so beautifully, and
catches about fifty speckled trout for each meal, is playing the
harmonium with a pipe in his mouth. Three men who have camped in
Black Canyon for a week are lying like dogs on the floor. They
are all over six feet high, immovably solemn, neither smiling at
the general hilarity, nor at the absurd changes which are being
rung on the harmonium. They may be described as clothed only in
boots, for their clothes are torn to rags. They stare vacantly.
They have neither seen a woman nor slept under a roof for six
months. Negro songs are being sung, and before that "Yankee
Doodle" was played immediately after "Rule Britannia," and it
made every one but the strangers laugh, it sounded so foolish
and mean. The colder weather is bringing the beasts down from
the heights. I heard both wolves and the mountain lion as I
crossed to my cabin last night.
I. L. B.
"Please Ma'ams"--A desperado--A cattle hunt--The muster--A mad
cow--A snowstorm--Snowed up--Birdie--The Plains--A prairie
schooner--Denver--A find--Plum Creek--"Being
agreeable"--Snowbound--The grey mare.
This afternoon, as I was reading in my cabin, little Sam Edwards
ran in, saying, "Mountain Jim wants to speak to you." This
brought to my mind images of infinite worry, gauche servants,
"please Ma'am," contretemps, and the habit growing out of our
elaborate and uselessly conventional life of magnifying the
importance of similar trifles. Then "things" came up, with
the tyranny they exercise. I REALLY need nothing more than this
log cabin offers. But elsewhere one must have a house and
servants, and burdens and worries--not that one may be hospitable
and comfortable, but for the "thick clay" in the shape of
"things" which one has accumulated. My log house takes me about
five minutes to "do," and you could eat off the floor, and
it needs no lock, as it contains nothing worth stealing.
But "Mountain Jim" was waiting while I made these reflections to
ask us to take a ride; and he, Mr. and Mrs. Dewy, and I, had a
delightful stroll through colored foliage, and then, when they
were fatigued, I changed my horse for his beautiful mare, and we
galloped and raced in the beautiful twilight, in the intoxicating
frosty air. Mrs. Dewy wishes you could have seen us as we
galloped down the pass, the fearful-looking ruffian on my heavy
wagon horse, and I on his bare wooden saddle, from which beaver,
mink, and marten tails, and pieces of skin, were hanging
raggedly, with one spur, and feet not in the stirrups, the mare
looking so aristocratic and I so beggarly! Mr. Nugent is what is
called "splendid company." With a sort of breezy mountain
recklessness in everything, he passes remarkably acute judgments
on men and events; on women also. He has pathos, poetry, and
humor, an intense love of nature, strong vanity in certain
directions, an obvious desire to act and speak in character, and
sustain his reputation as a desperado, a considerable
acquaintance with literature, a wonderful verbal memory, opinions
on every person and subject, a chivalrous respect for women in
his manner, which makes it all the more amusing when he suddenly
turns round upon one with some graceful raillery, a great power
of fascination, and a singular love of children. The children of
this house run to him, and when he sits down they climb on his
broad shoulders and play with his curls. They say in the house
that "no one who has been here thinks any one worth speaking to
after Jim," but I think that this is probably an opinion which
time would alter. Somehow, he is kept always before the public
of Colorado, for one can hardly take up a newspaper without
finding a paragraph about him, a contribution by him, or a
fragment of his biography. Ruffian as he looks, the first word
he speaks--to a lady, at least--places him on a level with
educated gentlemen, and his conversation is brilliant, and full
of the light and fitfulness of genius. Yet, on the whole, he is
a most painful spectacle. His magnificent head shows so plainly
the better possibilities which might have been his. His life, in
spite of a certain dazzle which belongs to it, is a ruined and
wasted one, and one asks what of good can the future have in
store for one who has for so long chosen evil?[17]
[17] September of the next year answered the question by laying
him down in a dishonored grave, with a rifle bullet in his brain.
Shall I ever get away? We were to have had a grand cattle hunt
yesterday, beginning at 6:30, but the horses were all lost.
Often out of fifty horses all that are worth anything are
marauding, and a day is lost in hunting for them in the canyons.
However, before daylight this morning Evans called through my
door, "Miss Bird, I say we've got to drive cattle fifteen miles,
I wish you'd lend a hand; there's not enough of us; I'll give you
a good horse."
The scene of the drive is at a height of 7,500 feet, watered by
two rapid rivers. On all sides mountains rise to an altitude of
from 11,000 to 15,000 feet, their skirts shaggy with pitch-pine
forests, and scarred by deep canyons, wooded and boulder strewn,
opening upon the mountain pasture previously mentioned. Two
thousand head of half-wild Texan cattle are scattered in herds
throughout the canyons, living on more or less suspicious terms
with grizzly and brown bears, mountain lions, elk, mountain
sheep, spotted deer, wolves, lynxes, wild cats, beavers, minks,
skunks, chipmunks, eagles, rattlesnakes, and all the other
two-legged, four-legged, vertebrate, and invertebrate inhabitants
of this lonely and romantic region. On the whole, they show a
tendency rather to the habits of wild than of domestic cattle.
They march to water in Indian file, with the bulls leading, and
when threatened, take strategic advantage of ridgy ground,
slinking warily along in the hollows, the bulls acting as
sentinels, and bringing up the rear in case of an attack from
dogs. Cows have to be regularly broken in for milking, being as
wild as buffaloes in their unbroken state; but, owing to the
comparative dryness of the grasses, and the system of allowing
the calf to have the milk during the daytime, a dairy of 200 cows
does not produce as much butter as a Devonshire dairy of fifty.
Some "necessary" cruelty is involved in the stockman's business,
however humane he may be. The system is one of terrorism, and
from the time that the calf is bullied into the branding pen, and
the hot iron burns into his shrinking flesh, to the day when the
fatted ox is driven down from his boundless pastures to be
slaughtered in Chicago, "the fear and dread of man" are upon him.
The herds are apt to penetrate the savage canyons which come down
from the Snowy Range, when they incur a risk of being snowed up
and starved, and it is necessary now and then to hunt them out
and drive them down to the "park." On this occasion, the whole
were driven down for a muster, and for the purpose of branding
the calves.
After a 6:30 breakfast this morning, we started, the party being
composed of my host, a hunter from the Snowy Range, two stockmen
from the Plains, one of whom rode a violent buck-jumper, and was
said by his comrade to be the "best rider in North Americay,"
and myself. We were all mounted on Mexican saddles, rode, as the
custom is, with light snaffle bridles, leather guards over our
feet, and broad wooden stirrups, and each carried his lunch in a
pouch slung on the lassoing horn of his saddle. Four big,
badly-trained dogs accompanied us. It was a ride of nearly
thirty miles, and of many hours, one of the most splendid I ever
took. We never got off our horses except to tighten the girths,
we ate our lunch with our bridles knotted over saddle horns,
started over the level at full gallops, leapt over trunks of
trees, dashed madly down hillsides rugged with rocks or strewn
with great stones, forded deep, rapid streams, saw lovely lakes
and views of surpassing magnificence, startled a herd of elk with
uncouth heads and in the chase, which for some time was
unsuccessful, rode to the very base of Long's Peak, over 14,000
feet high, where the bright waters of one of the affluents of the
Platte burst from the eternal snows through a canyon of
indescribable majesty. The sun was hot, but at a height of over
8,000 feet the air was crisp and frosty, and the enjoyment of
riding a good horse under such exhilarating circumstances was
extreme. In one wild part of the ride we had to come down a
steep hill, thickly wooded with pitch pines, to leap over the
fallen timber, and steer between the dead and living trees to
avoid being "snagged," or bringing down a heavy dead branch by an
unwary touch.
Emerging from this, we caught sight of a thousand Texan cattle
feeding in a valley below. The leaders scented us, and, taking
fright, began to move off in the direction of the open "park,"
while we were about a mile from and above them. "Head them off,
boys!" our leader shouted; "all aboard; hark away!" and with
something of the "High, tally-ho in the morning!" away we all
went at a hard gallop down-hill. I could not hold my excited
animal; down-hill, up-hill, leaping over rocks and timber, faster
every moment the pace grew, and still the leader shouted, "Go it,
boys!" and the horses dashed on at racing speed, passing and
repassing each other, till my small but beautiful bay was keeping
pace with the immense strides of the great buck-jumper ridden by
"the finest rider in North Americay," and I was dizzied and
breathless by the pace at which we were going. A shorter time
than it takes to tell it brought us close to and abreast of the
surge of cattle. The bovine waves were a grand sight: huge
bulls, shaped like buffaloes, bellowed and roared, and with great
oxen and cows with yearling calves, galloped like racers, and we
galloped alongside of them, and shortly headed them and in no
time were placed as sentinels across the mouth of the valley. It
seemed like infantry awaiting the shock of cavalry as we stood
as still as our excited horses would allow. I almost quailed as
the surge came on, but when it got close to us my comrades hooted
fearfully, and we dashed forward with the dogs, and, with
bellowing, roaring, and thunder of hoofs, the wave receded as it
came. I rode up to our leader, who received me with much
laughter. He said I was "a good cattleman," and that he had
forgotten that a lady was of the party till he saw me "come
leaping over the timber, and driving with the others."
It was not for two hours after this that the real business of
driving began, and I was obliged to change my thoroughbred for a
well-trained cattle horse--a bronco, which could double like a
hare, and go over any ground. I had not expected to work like a
vachero, but so it was, and my Hawaiian experience was very
useful. We hunted the various canyons and known "camps," driving
the herds out of them; and, until we had secured 850 head in the
corral some hours afterwards, we scarcely saw each other to speak
to. Our first difficulty was with a herd which got into some
swampy ground, when a cow, which afterwards gave me an infinity
of trouble, remained at bay for nearly an hour, tossing the dog
three times, and resisting all efforts to dislodge her. She had
a large yearling calf with her, and Evans told me that the
attachment of a cow to her first calf is sometimes so great that
she will kill her second that the first may have the milk.
I got a herd of over a hundred out of a canyon by myself, and
drove them down to the river with the aid of one badly-broken
dog, which gave me more trouble than the cattle. The getting
over was most troublesome; a few took to the water readily and
went across, but others smelt it, and then, doubling back, ran in
various directions; while some attacked the dog as he was
swimming, and others, after crossing, headed back in search of
some favorite companions which had been left behind, and one
specially vicious cow attacked my horse over and over again. It
took an hour and a half of time and much patience to gather them
all on the other side.
It was getting late in the day, and a snowstorm was impending,
before I was joined by the other drivers and herds, and as the
former had diminished to three, with only three dogs, it was very
difficult to keep the cattle together. You drive them as gently
as possible, so as not to frighten or excite them,[18] riding
first on one side, then on the other, to guide them; and if they
deliberately go in a wrong direction, you gallop in front and
head them off. The great excitement is when one breaks away from
the herd and gallops madly up and down-hill, and you gallop after
him anywhere, over and among rocks and trees, doubling when he
doubles, and heading him till you get him back again. The bulls
were quite easily managed, but the cows with calves, old or
young, were most troublesome. By accident I rode between one cow
and her calf in a narrow place, and the cow rushed at me and was
just getting her big horns under the horse, when he reared, and
spun dexterously aside. This kind of thing happened continually.
There was one very handsome red cow which became quite mad. She
had a calf with her nearly her own size, and thought every one
its enemy, and though its horns were well developed, and it was
quite able to take care of itself, she insisted on protecting it
from all fancied dangers. One of the dogs, a young, foolish
thing, seeing that the cow was excited, took a foolish pleasure
in barking at her, and she was eventually quite infuriated. She
turned to bay forty times at least; tore up the ground with her
horns, tossed and killed the calves of two other cows, and
finally became so dangerous to the rest of the herd that, just as
the drive was ending, Evans drew his revolver and shot her, and
the calf for which she had fought so blindly lamented her
piteously. She rushed at me several times mad with rage, but
these trained cattle horses keep perfectly cool, and, nearly
without will on my part, mine jumped aside at the right moment,
and foiled the assailant. Just at dusk we reached the corral--an
acre of grass enclosed by stout post-and-rail fences seven feet
high--and by much patience and some subtlety lodged the whole
herd within its shelter, without a blow, a shout, or even a crack
of a whip, wild as the cattle were. It was fearfully cold. We
galloped the last mile and a half in four and a half minutes,
reached the cabin just as the snow began to fall, and found
strong, hot tea ready.
[18] In several visits to America I have observed that the
Americans are far in advance of us and our colonial kinsmen in
their treatment of horses and other animals. This was very
apparent with regard to this Texan herd. There were no stock
whips, no needless worrying of the animals in the excitement of
sport. Any dog seizing a bullock by his tail or heels would have
been called off and punished, and quietness and gentleness were
the rule. The horses were ridden without whips, and with spurs
so blunt that they could not hurt even a human skin, and were
ruled by the voice and a slight pressure on the light snaffle
bridle. This is the usual plan, even where, as in Colorado, the
horses are bronchos, and inherit ineradicable vice. I never yet
saw a horse BULLIED into submission in the United States.
October 18.
Snow-bound for three days! I could not write yesterday, it was
so awful. People gave up all occupation, and talked of nothing
but the storm. The hunters all kept by the great fire in the
living room, only going out to bring in logs and clear the snow
from the door and windows. I never spent a more fearful night
than two nights ago, alone in my cabin in the storm, with the
roof lifting, the mud cracking and coming off, and the fine snow
hissing through the chinks between the logs, while splittings and
breaking of dead branches, wind wrung and snow laden, went on
incessantly, with screechings, howlings, thunder and lightning,
and many unfamiliar sounds besides. After snowing fiercely all
day, another foot of it fell in the early night, and, after
drifting against my door, blocked me effectually in. About
midnight the mercury fell to zero, and soon after a gale rose,
which lasted for ten hours. My window frame is swelled, and
shuts, apparently, hermetically; and my bed is six feet from it.
I had gone to sleep with six blankets on, and a heavy sheet over
my face. Between two and three I was awoke by the cabin being
shifted from underneath by the wind, and the sheet was frozen to
my lips. I put out my hands, and the bed was thickly covered
with fine snow. Getting up to investigate matters, I found the
floor some inches deep in parts in fine snow, and a gust of fine,
needle-like snow stung my face. The bucket of water was solid
ice. I lay in bed freezing till sunrise, when some of the men
came to see if I "was alive," and to dig me out. They brought a
can of hot water, which turned to ice before I could use it. I
dressed standing in snow, and my brushes, boots, and etceteras
were covered with snow. When I ran to the house, not a mountain
or anything else could be seen, and the snow on one side was
drifted higher than the roof. The air, as high as one could see,
was one white, stinging smoke of snowdrift--a terrific sight. In
the living room, the snow was driving through the chinks, and
Mrs. Dewy was shoveling it from the floor. Mr. D.'s beard was
hoary with frost in a room with a fire all night. Evans was
lying ill, with his bed covered with snow. Returning from my
cabin after breakfast, loaded with occupations for the day, I was
lifted off my feet, and deposited in a drift, and all my things,
writing book and letter included, were carried in different
directions. Some, including a valuable photograph, were
irrecoverable. The writing book was found, some hours
afterwards, under three feet of snow.
There are tracks of bears and deer close to the house, but no one
can hunt in this gale, and the drift is blinding. We have been
slightly overcrowded in our one room. Chess, music, and whist
have been resorted to. One hunter, for very ennui, has devoted
himself to keeping my ink from freezing. We all sat in great
cloaks and coats, and kept up an enormous fire, with the pitch
running out of the logs. The isolation is extreme, for we are
literally snowed up, and the other settler in the Park and
"Mountain Jim" are both at Denver. Late in the evening the storm
ceased. In some places the ground is bare of snow, while in
others all irregularities are leveled, and the drifts are forty
feet deep. Nature is grand under this new aspect. The cold is
awful; the high wind with the mercury at zero would skin any part
exposed to it.
October 19.
Evans offers me six dollars a week if I will stay into the winter
and do the cooking after Mrs. Edwards leaves! I think I should
like playing at being a "hired girl" if it were not for the
bread-making! But it would suit me better to ride after cattle.
The men don't like "baching," as it is called in the wilds--i.e.
"doing for themselves." They washed and ironed their clothes
yesterday, and there was an incongruity about the last
performance. I really think (though for the fifteenth time) that
I shall leave to-morrow. The cold has moderated, the sky is
bluer than ever, the snow is evaporating, and a hunter who has
joined us to-day says that there are no drifts on the trail which
one cannot get through.
"The Island Valley of Avillon" is left, but how shall I finally
tear myself from its freedom and enchantments? I see Long's
snowy peak rising into the night sky, and know and long after the
magnificence of the blue hollow at its base. We were to have
left at 8 but the horses were lost, so it was 9:30 before we
started, the WE being the musical young French Canadian and
myself. I have a bay Indian pony, "Birdie," a little beauty,
with legs of iron, fast, enduring, gentle, and wise; and with
luggage for some weeks, including a black silk dress, behind my
saddle, I am tolerably independent. It was a most glorious ride.
We passed through the gates of rock, through gorges where the
unsunned snow lay deep under the lemon-colored aspens; caught
glimpses of far-off, snow-clad giants rising into a sky of deep
sad blue; lunched above the Foot Hills at a cabin where two
brothers and a "hired man" were "keeping bach," where everything
was so trim, clean, and ornamental that one did not miss a woman;
crossed a deep backwater on a narrow beaver dam, because the log
bridge was broken down, and emerged from the brilliantly-colored
canyon of the St. Vrain just at dusk upon the featureless
prairies, when we had some trouble in finding Longmount in the
dark. A hospitable welcome awaited me at this inn, and an
English friend came in and spent the evening with me.
My letters on this tour will, I fear, be very dull, for after
riding all day, looking after my pony, getting supper, hearing
about various routes, and the pastoral, agricultural, mining, and
hunting gossip of the neighborhood, I am so sleepy and
wholesomely tired that I can hardly write. I left Longmount
pretty early on Tuesday morning, the day being sad, with the
blink of an impending snow-storm in the air. The evening before
I was introduced to a man who had been a colonel in the rebel
army, who made a most unfavorable impression upon me, and it was
a great annoyance to me when he presented himself on horse-back
to guide me "over the most intricate part of the journey."
Solitude is infinitely preferable to uncongeniality, and is bliss
when compared with repulsiveness, so I was thoroughly glad when I
got rid of my escort and set out upon the prairie alone. It is a
dreary ride of thirty miles over the low brown plains to Denver,
very little settled, and with trails going in all directions.
My sailing orders were "steer south, and keep to the best beaten
track," and it seemed like embarking on the ocean without a
compass. The rolling brown waves on which you see a horse a mile
and a half off impress one strangely, and at noon the sky
darkened up for another storm, the mountains swept down in
blackness to the Plains, and the higher peaks took on a ghastly
grimness horrid to behold. It was first very cold, then very
hot, and finally settled down to a fierce east-windy cold,
difficult to endure. It was free and breezy, however, and my
horse was companionable. Sometimes herds of cattle were browsing
on the sun-cured grass, then herds of horses. Occasionally I met
a horseman with a rifle lying across his saddle, or a wagon of
the ordinary sort, but oftener I saw a wagon with a white tilt,
of the kind known as a "Prairie Schooner," laboring across the
grass, or a train of them, accompanied by herds, mules, and
horsemen, bearing emigrants and their household goods in dreary
exodus from the Western States to the much-vaunted prairies of
The host and hostess of one of these wagons invited me to join
their mid-day meal, I providing tea (which they had not tasted
for four weeks) and they hominy. They had been three months on
the journey from Illinois, and their oxen were so lean and weak
that they expected to be another month in reaching Wet Mountain
Valley. They had buried a child en route, had lost several oxen,
and were rather out of heart. Owing to their long isolation and
the monotony of the march they had lost count of events, and
seemed like people of another planet. They wanted me to join
them, but their rate of travel was too slow, so we parted with
mutual expressions of good will, and as their white tilt went
"hull down" in the distance on the lonely prairie sea, I felt
sadder than I often feel on taking leave of old acquaintances.
That night they must have been nearly frozen, camping out in the
deep snow in the fierce wind. I met afterwards 2,000 lean Texan
cattle, herded by three wild-looking men on horseback, followed
by two wagons containing women, children, and rifles. They had
traveled 1,000 miles. Then I saw two prairie wolves, like
jackals, with gray fur, cowardly creatures, which fled from me
with long leaps.
The windy cold became intense, and for the next eleven miles I
rode a race with the coming storm. At the top of every prairie
roll I expected to see Denver, but it was not till nearly five
that from a considerable height I looked down upon the great
"City of the Plains," the metropolis of the Territories. There
the great braggart city lay spread out, brown and treeless, upon
the brown and treeless plain, which seemed to nourish nothing but
wormwood and the Spanish bayonet. The shallow Platte, shriveled
into a narrow stream with a shingly bed six times too large for
it, and fringed by shriveled cotton-wood, wound along by Denver,
and two miles up its course I saw a great sandstorm, which in a
few minutes covered the city, blotting it out with a dense brown
cloud. Then with gusts of wind the snowstorm began, and I had
to trust entirely to Birdie's sagacity for finding Evans's
shanty. She had been there once before only, but carried me
direct to it over rough ground and trenches. Gleefully Mrs.
Evans and the children ran out to welcome the pet pony, and I was
received most hospitably, and made warm and comfortable, though
the house consists only of a kitchen and two bed closets. My
budget of news from "the park" had to be brought out constantly,
and I wondered how much I had to tell. It was past eleven when
we breakfasted the next morning. It was cloudless with an
intense frost, and six inches of snow on the ground, and
everybody thought it too cold to get up and light the fire. I
had intended to leave Birdie at Denver, but Governor Hunt and Mr.
Byers of the Rocky Mountain News both advised me to travel on
horseback rather than by train and stage telling me that I should
be quite safe, and Governor Hunt drew out a route for me and gave
me a circular letter to the settlers along it.
Denver is no longer the Denver of Hepworth Dixon. A shooting
affray in the street is as rare as in Liverpool, and one no
longer sees men dangling to the lamp-posts when one looks out in
the morning! It is a busy place, the entrepot and distributing
point for an immense district, with good shops, some factories,
fair hotels, and the usual deformities and refinements of
civilization. Peltry shops abound, and sportsman, hunter, miner,
teamster, emigrant, can be completely rigged out at fifty
different stores. At Denver, people who come from the East to
try the "camp cure" now so fashionable, get their outfit of
wagon, driver, horses, tent, bedding, and stove, and start for
the mountains. Asthmatic people are there in such numbers as to
warrant the holding of an "asthmatic convention" of patients
cured and benefited. Numbers of invalids who cannot bear the
rough life of the mountains fill its hotels and boarding-houses,
and others who have been partially restored by a summer of
camping out, go into the city in the winter to complete the cure.
It stands at a height of 5,000 feet, on an enormous plain, and
has a most glorious view of the Rocky Range. I should hate even
to spend a week there. The sight of those glories so near and
yet out of reach would make me nearly crazy. Denver is at
present the terminus of the Kansas Pacific Railroad. It has a
line connecting it with the Union Pacific Railroad at Cheyenne,
and by means of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, open for
about 200 miles, it is expecting to reach into Mexico. It has
also had the enterprise, by means of another narrow-gauge
railroad, to push its way right up into the mining districts near
Gray's Peak. The number of "saloons" in the streets impresses
one, and everywhere one meets the characteristic loafers of a
frontier town, who find it hard even for a few days or hours to
submit to the restraints of civilization, as hard as I did to
ride sidewise to Governor Hunt's office. To Denver men go to
spend the savings of months of hard work in the maddest
dissipation, and there such characters as "Comanche Bill,"
"Buffalo Bill," "Wild Bill," and "Mountain Jim," go on the spree,
and find the kind of notoriety they seek.
A large number of Indians added to the harlequin appearance of
the Denver streets the day I was there. They belonged to the Ute
tribe, through which I had to pass, and Governor Hunt introduced
me to a fine-looking young chief, very well dressed in beaded
hide, and bespoke his courtesy for me if I needed it. The Indian
stores and fur stores and fur depots interested me most. The
crowds in the streets, perhaps owing to the snow on the ground,
were almost solely masculine. I only saw five women the whole
day. There were men in every rig: hunters and trappers in
buckskin clothing; men of the Plains with belts and revolvers, in
great blue cloaks, relics of the war; teamsters in leathern
suits; horsemen in fur coats and caps and buffalo-hide boots with
the hair outside, and camping blankets behind their huge Mexican
saddles; Broadway dandies in light kid gloves; rich English
sporting tourists, clean, comely, and supercilious looking; and
hundreds of Indians on their small ponies, the men wearing
buckskin suits sewn with beads, and red blankets, with faces
painted vermilion and hair hanging lank and straight, and squaws
much bundled up, riding astride with furs over their saddles.
Town tired and confused me, and in spite of Mrs. Evans's kind
hospitality, I was glad when a man brought Birdie at nine
yesterday morning. He said she was a little demon, she had done
nothing but buck, and had bucked him off on the bridge! I found
that he had put a curb on her, and whenever she dislikes anything
she resents it by bucking. I rode sidewise till I was well
through the town, long enough to produce a severe pain in my
spine, which was not relieved for some time even after I had
changed my position. It was a lovely Indian summer day, so warm
that the snow on the ground looked an incongruity. I rode over
the Plains for some time, then gradually reached the rolling
country along the base of the mountains, and a stream with
cottonwoods along it, and settlers' houses about every halfmile.
I passed and met wagons frequently, and picked up a muff
containing a purse with 500 dollars in it, which I afterwards had
the great pleasure of restoring to the owner. Several times I
crossed the narrow track of the quaint little Rio Grande
Railroad, so that it was a very cheerful ride.
RANCH, PLUM CREEK, October 24.
You must understand that in Colorado travel, unless on the main
road and in the larger settlements, there are neither hotels nor
taverns, and that it is the custom for the settlers to receive
travelers, charging them at the usual hotel rate for
accommodation. It is a very satisfactory arrangement. However,
at Ranch, my first halting place, the host was unwilling to
receive people in this way, I afterwards found, or I certainly
should not have presented my credentials at the door of a large
frame house, with large barns and a generally prosperous look.
The host, who opened the door, looked repellent, but his wife, a
very agreeable, lady-like-looking woman, said they could give me
a bed on a sofa. The house was the most pretentious I have yet
seen, being papered and carpeted, and there were two "hired
girls." There was a lady there from Laramie, who kindly offered
to receive me into her room, a very tall, elegant person,
remarkable as being the first woman who had settled in the Rocky
Mountains. She had been trying the "camp cure" for three months,
and was then on her way home. She had a wagon with beds, tent,
tent floor, cooking-stove, and every camp luxury, a light buggy,
a man to manage everything, and a most superior "hired girl."
She was consumptive and frail in strength, but a very attractive
person, and her stories of the perils and limitation of her early
life at Fort Laramie were very interesting. Still I "wearied,"
as I had arrived early in the afternoon, and could not out of
politeness retire and write to you. At meals the three "hired
men" and two "hired girls" eat with the family. I soon found
that there was a screw loose in the house, and was glad to leave
early the next morning, although it was obvious that a storm
was coming on.
I saw the toy car of the Rio Grande Railroad whirl past, all
cushioned and warm, and rather wished I were in it, and not out
among the snow on the bleak hill side. I only got on four miles
when the storm came on so badly that I got into a kitchen where
eleven wretched travelers were taking shelter, with the snow
melting on them and dripping on the floor. I had learned the art
of "being agreeable" so well at the Chalmers's, and practiced it
so successfully during the two hours I was there, by paring
potatoes and making scones, that when I left, though the hosts
kept "an accommodation house for travelers," they would take
nothing for my entertainment, because they said I was such "good
company"! The storm moderated a little, and at one I saddled
Birdie, and rode four more miles, crossing a frozen creek, the
ice of which broke and let the pony through, to her great alarm.
I cannot describe my feelings on this ride, produced by the utter
loneliness, the silence and dumbness of all things, the snow
falling quietly without wind, the obliterated mountains, the
darkness, the intense cold, and the unusual and appalling aspect
of nature. All life was in a shroud, all work and travel
suspended. There was not a foot-mark or wheel-mark. There was
nothing to be afraid of; and though I can't exactly say that I
enjoyed the ride, yet there was the pleasant feeling of gaining
health every hour.
When the snow darkness began to deepen towards evening, the track
became quite illegible, and when I found myself at this
romantically situated cabin, I was thankful to find that they
could give me shelter. The scene was a solemn one, and reminded
me of a description in Whittier's Snow-Bound. All the stock came
round the cabin with mute appeals for shelter. Sheep dogs got
in, and would not be kicked out. Men went out muffled up, and
came back shivering and shaking the snow from their feet. The
churn was put by the stove. Later on, a most pleasant settler,
on his way to Denver, came in his wagon having been snow blocked
two miles off, where he had been obliged to leave it and bring
his horses on here. The "Grey Mare" had a stentorian voice,
smoked a clay pipe which she passed to her children, raged at
English people, derided the courtesy of English manners, and
considered that "Please," "Thank you," and the like, were "all
bosh" when life was so short and busy. And still the snow fell
softly, and the air and earth were silent.
Letter X
A white world--Bad traveling--A millionaire's home--Pleasant
Park--Perry's Park--Stock-raising--A cattle king--The
Arkansas Divide--Birdie's sagacity--Luxury--Monument
Park--Deference to prejudice--A death scene--The Manitou--A loose
shoe--The Ute Pass--Bergens Park--A settler's home--Hayden's
Divide--Sharp criticism--Speaking the truth.
It is difficult to make this anything of a letter. I have
been riding for a whole week, seeing wonders and greatly enjoying
the singular adventurousness and novelty of my tour, but ten
hours or more daily spent in the saddle in this rarefied,
intoxicating air, disposes one to sleep rather than to write in
the evening, and is far from conducive to mental brilliancy. The
observing faculties are developed, and the reflective lie
That night on which I last wrote was the coldest I have yet felt.
I pulled the rag carpet from the floor and covered myself with
it, but could not get warm. The sun rose gloriously on a
shrouded earth. Barns, road, shrubs, fences, river, lake, all
lay under the glittering snow. It was light and powdery, and
sparkled like diamonds. Not a breath of wind stirred, there was
not a sound. I had to wait till a passing horseman had broken
the track, but soon after I set off into the new, shining world.
I soon lost the horseman's foot-marks, but kept on near the road
by means of the innumerable foot-prints of birds and ground
squirrels, which all went in one direction. After riding for an
hour I was obliged to get off and walk for another, for the snow
balled in Birdie's feet to such an extent that she could hardly
keep up even without my weight on her, and my pick was not strong
enough to remove it. Turning off the road to ask for a chisel, I
came upon the cabin of the people whose muff I had picked up a
few days before, and they received me very warmly, gave me a
tumbler of cream, and made some strong coffee. They were "old
Country folk," and I stayed too long with them. After leaving
them I rode twelve miles, but it was "bad traveling," from the
balling of the snow and the difficulty of finding the track.
There was a fearful loneliness about it. The track was
untrodden, and I saw neither man nor beast. The sky became
densely clouded, and the outlook was awful. The great Divide of
the Arkansas was in front, looming vaguely through a heavy snow
cloud, and snow began to fall, not in powder, but in heavy
flakes. Finding that there would be risk in trying to ride till
nightfall, in the early afternoon I left the road and went two
miles into the hills by an untrodden path, where there were gates
to open, and a rapid steep-sided creek to cross; and at the entrance
to a most fantastic gorge I came upon an elegant frame
house belonging to Mr. Perry, a millionaire, to whom I had an
introduction which I did not hesitate to present, as it was
weather in which a traveler might almost ask for shelter without
Mr. Perry was away, but his daughter, a very bright-looking,
elegantly-dressed girl, invited me to dine and remain. They had
stewed venison and various luxuries on the table, which was
tasteful and refined, and an adroit, colored table-maid waited,
one of five attached Negro servants who had been their slaves
before the war. After dinner, though snow was slowly falling, a
gentleman cousin took me a ride to show me the beauties of
Pleasant Park, which takes rank among the finest scenery of
Colorado, and in good weather is very easy of access. It did
look very grand as we entered it by a narrow pass guarded by two
buttes, or isolated upright masses of rock, bright red, and about
300 feet in height. The pines were very large, and the narrow
canyons which came down on the park gloomily magnificent. It is
remarkable also from a quantity of "monumental" rocks, from 50 to
300 feet in height, bright vermilion, green, buff, orange, and
sometimes all combined, their gay tinting a contrast to the
disastrous-looking snow and the somber pines. Bear Canyon, a
gorge of singular majesty, comes down on the park, and we crossed
the Bear Creek at the foot of this on the ice, which gave way,
and both our horses broke through into pretty deep and very cold
water, and shortly afterwards Birdie put her foot into a prairie
dog's hole which was concealed by the snow, and on recovering
herself fell three times on her nose. I thought of Bishop
Wilberforce's fatal accident from a smaller stumble, and felt
sure that he would have kept his seat had he been mounted, as I
was, on a Mexican saddle. It was too threatening for a long
ride, and on returning I passed into a region of vivacious
descriptions of Egypt, Palestine, Asia Minor, Turkey, Russia, and
other countries, in which Miss Perry had traveled with her family
for three years.
Perry's Park is one of the great cattle-raising ranches in
Colorado. This, the youngest State in the Union, a Territory
until quite recently, has an area of about 68,000,000 acres, a
great portion of which, though rich in mineral wealth, is
worthless either for stock or arable farming, and the other or
eastern part is so dry that crops can only be grown profitably
where irrigation is possible. This region is watered by the
South Fork of the Platte and its affluents, and, though subject
to the grasshopper pest, it produces wheat of the finest quality,
the yield varying according to the mode of cultivation from
eighteen to thirty bushels per acre. The necessity for
irrigation, however, will always bar the way to an indefinite
extension of the area of arable farms. The prospects of
cattle-raising seem at present practically unlimited. In 1876
Colorado had 390,728, valued at L2:13s. per head, about half of
which were imported as young beasts from Texas. The climate is
so fine and the pasturage so ample that shelter and hand-feeding
are never resorted to except in the case of imported breeding
stock from the Eastern States, which sometimes in severe winters
need to be fed in sheds for a short time. Mr. Perry devotes
himself mainly to the breeding of graded shorthorn bulls, which
he sells when young for L6 per head.
The cattle run at large upon the prairies; each animal being
branded, they need no herding, and are usually only mustered,
counted, and the increase branded in the summer. In the fall,
when three or four years old, they are sold lean or in tolerable
condition to dealers who take them by rail to Chicago, or
elsewhere, where the fattest lots are slaughtered for tinning or
for consumption in the Eastern cities, while the leaner are sold
to farmers for feeding up during the winter. Some of the
wealthier stockmen take their best lots to Chicago themselves.
The Colorado cattle are either pure Texan or Spanish, or crosses
between the Texan and graded shorthorns. They are nearly all
very inferior animals, being bony and ragged. The herds mix on
the vast plains at will; along the Arkansas valley 80,000 roam
about with the freedom of buffaloes, and of this number about
16,000 are exported every fall. Where cattle are killed for use
in the mining districts their average price is three cents per
lb. In the summer thousands of yearlings are driven up from
Texas, branded, and turned loose on the prairies, and are not
molested again till they are sent east at three or four years
old. These pure Texans, the old Spanish breed, weigh from 900 to
1,000 pounds, and the crossed Colorado cattle from 1,000 to 1,200
The "Cattle King" of the State is Mr. Iliff, of South Platte, who
owns nine ranches, with runs of 15,000 acres, and 35,000 cattle.
He is improving his stock; and, indeed, the opening of the
dead-meat trade with this country is giving a great impetus to
the improvement of the breed of cattle among all the larger and
richer stock-owners. For this enormous herd 40 men are employed
in summer, about 12 in winter, and 200 horses. In the rare case
of a severe and protracted snowstorm the cattle get a little hay.
Owners of 6,000, 8,000 and 10,000 head of cattle are quite common
in Colorado. Sheep are now raised in the State to the extent of
half a million, and a chronic feud prevails between the "sheep
men" and the "cattle men." Sheep-raising is said to be a very
profitable business, but its risks and losses are greater, owing
to storms, while the outlay for labor, dipping materials, etc.,
is considerably larger, and owing to the comparative inability of
sheep to scratch away the snow from the grass, hay has to be
provided to meet the emergency of very severe snow-storms. The
flocks are made up mostly of pure and graded Mexicans; but though
some flocks which have been graded carefully for some years show
considerable merit, the average sheep is a leggy, ragged beast.
Wether mutton, four and five years old, is sold when there is any
demand for it; but except at Charpiot's, in Denver, I never saw
mutton on any table, public or private, and wool is the great
source of profit, the old ewes being allowed to die off. The
best flocks yield an average of seven pounds. The shearing
season, which begins in early June, lasts about six weeks.
Shearers get six and a half cents a head for inferior sheep, and
seven and a half cents for the better quality, and a good hand
shears from sixty to eighty in a day. It is not likely that
sheep-raising will attain anything of the prominence which
cattle-raising is likely to assume. The potato beetle "scare" is
not of much account in the country of the potato beetle. The
farmers seem much depressed by the magnitude and persistency of
the grasshopper pest which finds their fields in the morning "as
the garden of Eden," and leaves them at night "a desolate
It was so odd and novel to have a beautiful bed room, hot water,
and other luxuries. The snow began to fall in good earnest at
six in the evening, and fell all night, accompanied by intense
frost, so that in the morning there were eight inches of it
glittering in the sun. Miss P. gave me a pair of men's socks to
draw on over my boots, and I set out tolerably early, and broke
my own way for two miles. Then a single wagon had passed, making
a legible track for thirty miles, otherwise the snow was
pathless. The sky was absolutely cloudless, and as I made the
long ascent of the Arkansas Divide, the mountains, gashed by deep
canyons, came sweeping down to the valley on my right, and on my
left the Foot Hills were crowned with colored fantastic rocks
like castles. Everything was buried under a glittering shroud of
snow. The babble of the streams was bound by fetters of ice. No
branches creaked in the still air. No birds sang. No one passed
or met me. There were no cabins near or far. The only sound was
the crunch of the snow under Birdie's feet. We came to a river
over which some logs were laid with some young trees across them.
Birdie put one foot on this, then drew it back and put another
on, then smelt the bridge noisily. Persuasions were useless; she
only smelt, snorted, held back, and turned her cunning head and
looked at me. It was useless to argue the point with so
sagacious a beast. To the right of the bridge the ice was much
broken, and we forded the river there; but as it was deep enough
to come up to her body, and was icy cold to my feet, I wondered
at her preference. Afterwards I heard that the bridge was
dangerous. She is the queen of ponies, and is very gentle,
though she has not only wild horse blood, but is herself the wild
horse. She is always cheerful and hungry, never tired, looks
intelligently at everything, and her legs are like rocks. Her
one trick is that when the saddle is put on she swells herself to
a very large size, so that if any one not accustomed to her
saddles her I soon find the girth three or four inches too large.
When I saddle her a gentle slap on her side, or any slight start
which makes her cease to hold her breath, puts it all right. She
is quite a companion, and bathing her back, sponging her
nostrils, and seeing her fed after my day's ride, is always my
first care.
At last I reached a log cabin where I got a feed for us both and
further directions. The rest of the day's ride was awful enough.
The snow was thirteen inches deep, and grew deeper as I ascended
in silence and loneliness, but just as the sun sank behind a
snowy peak I reached the top of the Divide, 7,975 feet above the
sea level. There, in unspeakable solitude, lay a frozen lake.
Owls hooted among the pines, the trail was obscure, the country
was not settled, the mercury was 9 degrees below zero, my feet
had lost all sensation, and one of them was frozen to the wooden
stirrup. I found that owing to the depth of the snow I had only
ridden fifteen miles in eight and a half hours, and must look
about for a place to sleep in. The eastern sky was unlike
anything I ever saw before. It had been chrysoprase, then it
turned to aquamarine, and that to the bright full green of an
emerald. Unless I am color-blind, this is true. Then suddenly
the whole changed, and flushed with the pure, bright, rose color
of the afterglow. Birdie was sliding at every step, and I was
nearly paralyzed with the cold when I reached a cabin which had
been mentioned to me, but they said that seventeen snow-bound men
were lying on the floor, and they advised me to ride half a mile
farther, which I did, and reached the house of a German from
Eisenau, with a sweet young wife and a venerable mother-in-law.
Though the house was very poor, it was made attractive by
ornaments, and the simple, loving, German ways gave it a sweet
home atmosphere. My room was reached by a ladder, but I had it
to myself and had the luxury of a basin to wash in. Under the
kindly treatment of the two women my feet came to themselves, but
with an amount of pain that almost deserved the name of torture.
The next morning was gray and sour, but brightened and warmed as
the day went on. After riding twelve miles I got bread and milk
for myself and a feed for Birdie at a large house where there
were eight boarders, each one looking nearer the grave than the
other, and on remounting was directed to leave the main road and
diverge through Monument Park, a ride of twelve miles among
fantastic rocks, but I lost my way, and came to an end of all
tracks in a wild canyon. Returning about six miles, I took
another track, and rode about eight miles without seeing a
creature. I then came to strange gorges with wonderful upright
rocks of all shapes and colors, and turning through a gate of
rock, came upon what I knew must be Glen Eyrie, as wild and
romantic a glen as imagination ever pictured. The track then
passed down a valley close under some ghastly peaks, wild, cold,
awe-inspiring scenery. After fording a creek several times, I
came upon a decayed-looking cluster of houses bearing the
arrogant name of Colorado City, and two miles farther on, from
the top of one of the Foot Hill ridges, I saw the bleak-looking
scattered houses of the ambitious watering place of Colorado
Springs, the goal of my journey of 150 miles. I got off, put on
a long skirt, and rode sidewise, though the settlement scarcely
looked like a place where any deference to prejudices was
necessary. A queer embryo-looking place it is, out on the bare
Plains, yet it is rising and likely to rise, and has some big
hotels much resorted to. It has a fine view of the mountains,
specially of Pike's Peak, but the celebrated springs are at
Manitou, three miles off, in really fine scenery. To me no place
could be more unattractive than Colorado Springs, from its utter
I found the -----s living in a small room which served for
parlor, bedroom, and kitchen, and combined the comforts of all.
It is inhabited also by two prairie dogs, a kitten, and a
deerhound. It was truly homelike. Mrs. ----- walked with me to
the boarding-house where I slept, and we sat some time in the
parlor talking with the landlady. Opposite to me there was a
door wide open into a bed room, and on a bed opposite to the door
a very sick-looking young man was half-lying, half-sitting, fully
dressed, supported by another, and a very sick-looking young man
much resembling him passed in and out occasionally, or leaned on
the chimney piece in an attitude of extreme dejection. Soon the
door was half-closed, and some one came to it, saying rapidly,
"Shields, quick, a candle!" and then there were movings about in
the room. All this time the seven or eight people in the room in
which I was were talking, laughing, and playing backgammon, and
none laughed louder than the landlady, who was sitting where she
saw that mysterious door as plainly as I did. All this time, and
during the movings in the room, I saw two large white feet
sticking up at the end of the bed. I watched and watched, hoping
those feet would move, but they did not; and somehow, to my
thinking, they grew stiffer and whiter, and then my horrible
suspicion deepened, and while we were sitting there a human
spirit untended and desolate had passed forth into the night.
Then a man came out with a bundle of clothes, and then the sick
young man, groaning and sobbing, and then a third, who said to
me, with some feeling, that the man who had just died was the
sick young man's only brother. And still the landlady laughed
and talked, and afterwards said to me, "It turns the house upside
down when they just come here and die; we shall be half the night
laying him out." I could not sleep for the bitter cold and the
sound of the sobs and groans of the bereaved brother. The next
day the landlady, in a fashionably-made black dress, was bustling
about, proud of the prospective arrival of a handsome coffin. I
went into the parlor to get a needle, and the door of THAT room
was open, and children were running in and out, and the landlady,
who was sweeping there, called cheerily to me to come in for the
needle, and there, to my horror, not even covered with a face
cloth, and with the sun blazing in through the unblinded window,
lay that thing of terror, a corpse, on some chairs which were not
even placed straight. It was buried in the afternoon, and from
the looks of the brother, who continued to sob and moan, his end
cannot be far off.
The -----s say that many go to the Springs in the last stage of
consumption, thinking that the Colorado climate will cure them,
without money enough to pay for even the coarsest board. We
talked most of that day, and I equipped myself with arctics and
warm gloves for the mountain tour which has been planned for me,
and I gave Birdie the Sabbath she was entitled to on Tuesday, for
I found, on arriving at the Springs, that the day I crossed the
Arkansas Divide was Sunday, though I did not know it. Several
friends of Miss Kingsley called on me; she is much remembered and
beloved. This is not an expensive tour; we cost about ten
shillings a day, and the five days which I have spent en route
from Denver have cost something less than the fare for the few
hours' journey by the cars. There are no real difficulties. It
is a splendid life for health and enjoyment. All my luggage
being in a pack, and my conveyance being a horse, we can go
anywhere where we can get food and shelter.
This is a highly picturesque place, with several springs, still
and effervescing, the virtues of which were well known to the
Indians. Near it are places, the names of which are familiar to
every one--the Garden of the Gods, Glen Eyrie, Pike's Peak,
Monument Park, and the Ute Pass. It has two or three immense
hotels, and a few houses picturesquely situated. It is thronged
by thousands of people in the summer who come to drink the
waters, try the camp cure, and make mountain excursions; but it
is all quiet now, and there are only a few lingerers in this
immense hotel. There is a rushing torrent in a valley, with
mountains, covered with snow and rising to a height of nearly
15,000 feet, overhanging it. It is grand and awful, and has a
strange, solemn beauty like death. And the Snowy Mountains are
pierced by the torrent which has excavated the Ute Pass, by
which, to-morrow, I hope to go into the higher regions. But all
may be "lost for want of a horseshoe nail." One of Birdie's
shoes is loose, and not a nail is to be got here, or can be got
till I have ridden for ten miles up the Pass. Birdie amuses
every one with her funny ways. She always follows me closely,
and to-day got quite into a house and pushed the parlor door
open. She walks after me with her head laid on my shoulder,
licking my face and teasing me for sugar, and sometimes, when any
one else takes hold of her, she rears and kicks, and the vicious
bronco soul comes into her eyes. Her face is cunning and pretty,
and she makes a funny, blarneying noise when I go up to her. The
men at all the stables make a fuss with her, and call her "Pet."
She gallops up and down hill, and never stumbles even on the
roughest ground, or requires even a touch with a whip.
The weather is again perfect, with a cloudless sky and a hot sun,
and the snow is all off the plains and lower valleys. After
lunch, the -----s in a buggy, and I on Birdie, left Colorado
Springs, crossing the Mesa, a high hill with a table top, with a
view of extraordinary laminated rocks, LEAVES of rock a bright
vermilion color, against a background of snowy mountains,
surmounted by Pike's Peak. Then we plunged into cavernous Glen
Eyrie, with its fantastic needles of colored rock, and were
entertained at General Palmer's "baronial mansion," a perfect
eyrie, the fine hall filled with buffalo, elk, and deer heads,
skins of wild animals, stuffed birds, bear robes, and numerous
Indian and other weapons and trophies. Then through a gate of
huge red rocks, we passed into the valley, called fantastically,
Garden of the Gods, in which, were I a divinity, I certainly
would not choose to dwell. Many places in this neighborhood are
also vulgarized by grotesque names. From this we passed into a
ravine, down which the Fountain River rushed, and there I left my
friends with regret, and rode into this chill and solemn gorge,
from which the mountains, reddening in the sunset, are only seen
afar off. I put Birdie up at a stable, and as there was no place
to put myself up but this huge hotel, I came here to have a last
taste of luxury. They charge six dollars a day in the season,
but it is now half-price; and instead of four hundred fashionable
guests there are only fifteen, most of whom are speaking in the
weak, rapid accents of consumption, and are coughing their hearts
out. There are seven medicinal springs. It is strange to have
the luxuries of life in my room. It will be only the fourth
night in Colorado that I have slept on anything better than hay
or straw. I am glad that there are so few inns. As it is, I get
a good deal of insight into the homes and modes of living of the
BERGENS PARK, October 31.
This cabin was so dark, and I so sleepy last night, that I could
not write; but the frost during the night has been very severe,
and I am detained until the bright, hot sun melts the ice and
renders traveling safe. I left the great Manitou at ten
yesterday. Birdie, who was loose in the stable, came trotting
down the middle of it when she saw me for her sugar and biscuits.
No nails could be got, and her shoe was hanging by two, which
doomed me to a foot's pace and the dismal clink of a loose shoe
for three hours. There was not a cloud on the bright blue sky
the whole day, and though it froze hard in the shade, it was
summer heat in the sun. The mineral fountains were sparkling in
their basins and sending up their full perennial jets but the
snow-clad, pine-skirted mountains frowned and darkened over the
Ute Pass as I entered it to ascend it for twenty miles. A narrow
pass it is, with barely room for the torrent and the wagon road
which has been blasted out of its steep sides. All the time I
was in sight of the Fountain River, brighter than any stream,
because it tumbles over rose-red granite, rocky or disintegrated,
a truly fair stream, cutting and forcing its way through hard
rocks, under arches of alabaster ice, through fringes of
crystalline ice, thumping with a hollow sound in cavernous
recesses cold and dark, or leaping in foam from heights with rush
and swish; always bright and riotous, never pausing in still
pools to rest, dashing through gates of rock, pine hung, pine
bridged, pine buried; twinkling and laughing in the sunshine,
or frowning in "dowie dens" in the blue pine gloom. And there,
for a mile or two in a sheltered spot, owing to the more southern
latitude, the everlasting northern pine met the trees of other
climates. There were dwarf oaks, willows, hazel, and spruce; the
white cedar and the trailing juniper jostled each other for a
precarious foothold; the majestic redwood tree of the Pacific met
the exquisite balsam pine of the Atlantic slopes, and among them
all the pale gold foliage of the large aspen trembled (as the
legend goes) in endless remorse. And above them towered the
toothy peaks of the glittering mountains, rising in pure white
against the sunny blue. Grand! glorious! sublime! but not
lovable. I would give all for the luxurious redundance of one
Hilo gulch, or for one day of those soft dreamy "skies whose
very tears are balm."
Bergens Park
Up ever! the road being blasted out of the red rock which often
overhung it, the canyon only from fifteen to twenty feet wide,
the thunder of the Fountain, which is crossed eight times, nearly
deafening. Sometimes the sun struck the road, and then it was
absolutely hot; then one entered unsunned gorges where the snow
lay deep, and the crowded pines made dark twilight, and the river
roared under ice bridges fringed by icicles. At last the Pass
opened out upon a sunlit upland park, where there was a forge,
and with Birdie's shoe put on, and some shoe nails in my purse, I
rode on cheerfully, getting food for us both at a ranch belonging
to some very pleasant people, who, like all Western folk, when
they are not taciturn, asked a legion of questions. There I met
a Colonel Kittridge, who said that he believed his valley, twelve
miles off the track, to be the loveliest valley in Colorado, and
invited me to his house. Leaving the road, I went up a long
ascent deep in snow, but as it did not seem to be the way, I tied
up the pony, and walked on to a cabin at some distance, which I
had hardly reached when I found her trotting like a dog by my
side, pulling my sleeve and laying her soft gray nose on my
shoulder. Does it all mean sugar? We had eight miles farther to
go--most of the way through a forest, which I always dislike when
alone, from the fear of being frightened by something which may
appear from behind a tree. I saw a beautiful white fox, several
skunks, some chipmunks and gray squirrels, owls, crows, and
crested blue-jays. As the sun was getting low I reached Bergens
Park, which was to put me out of conceit with Estes Park. Never!
It is long and featureless, and its immediate surroundings are
mean. It reminded me in itself of some dismal Highland
strath--Glenshee, possibly. I looked at it with special
interest, as it was the place at which Miss Kingsley had
suggested that I might remain. The evening was glorious, and the
distant views were very fine. A stream fringed with cotton-wood
runs through the park; low ranges come down upon it. The south
end is completely closed up, but at a considerable distance, by
the great mass of Pike's Peak, while far beyond the other end are
peaks and towers, wonderful in blue and violet in the lovely
evening, and beyond these, sharply defined against the clear
green sky, was the serrated ridge of the Snowy Range, said to be
200 miles away. Bergens Park had been bought by Dr. Bell, of
London, but its present occupant is Mr. Thornton, an English
gentleman, who has a worthy married Englishman as his manager.
Mr. Thornton is building a good house, and purposes to build
other cabins, with the intention of making the park a resort for
strangers. I thought of the blue hollow lying solitary at the
foot of Long's Peak, and rejoiced that I had "happened into it."
The cabin is long, low, mud roofed, and very dark. The middle
place is full of raw meat, fowls, and gear. One end, almost
dark, contains the cooking-stove, milk, crockery, a long deal
table, two benches, and some wooden stools; the other end houses
the English manager or partner, his wife, and three children,
another cooking-stove, gear of all kinds, and sacks of beans and
flour. They put up a sheet for a partition, and made me a
shake-down on the gravel floor of this room. Ten hired men sat
down to meals with us. It was all very rough, dark, and
comfortless, but Mr. T., who is not only a gentleman by birth,
but an M.A. of Cambridge, seems to like it. Much in this way (a
little smoother if a lady is in the case) every man must begin
life here. Seven large dogs--three of them with cats upon their
backs--are usually warming themselves at the fire.
I did not leave Mr. Thornton's till ten, because of the
slipperiness. I rode four miles along a back trail, and then was
so tired that I stayed for two hours at a ranch, where I heard,
to my dismay, that I must ride twenty-four miles farther before I
could find any place to sleep at. I did not enjoy yesterday's
ride. I was both tired and rheumatic, and Birdie was not so
sprightly as usual. After starting again I came on a hideous
place, of which I had not heard before, Hayden's Divide, one of
the great back-bones of the region, a weary expanse of deep snow
eleven miles across, and fearfully lonely. I saw nothing the
whole way but a mule lately dead lying by the road. I was very
nervous somehow, and towards evening believed that I had lost the
road, for I came upon wild pine forests, with huge masses of rock
from 100 to 700 feet high, cast here and there among them; beyond
these pine-sprinkled grass hills; these, in their turn, were
bounded by interminable ranges, ghastly in the lurid evening,
with the Spanish Peaks quite clear, and the colossal summit of
Mount Lincoln, the King of the Rocky Mountains, distinctly
visible, though seventy miles away. It seemed awful to be alone
on that ghastly ridge, surrounded by interminable mountains, in
the deep snow, knowing that a party of thirty had been lost here
a month ago. Just at nightfall the descent of a steep hill took
me out of the forest and upon a clean log cabin, where, finding
that the proper halting place was two miles farther on, I
remained. A truly pleasing, superior-looking woman placed me in
a rocking chair; would not let me help her otherwise than by
rocking the cradle, and made me "feel at home." The room, though
it serves them and their two children for kitchen, parlor, and
bed room, is the pattern of brightness, cleanliness, and comfort.
At supper there were canned raspberries, rolls, butter, tea,
venison, and fried rabbit, and at seven I went to bed in a
carpeted log room, with a thick feather bed on a mattress,
sheets, ruffled pillow slips, and a pile of warm white blankets!
I slept for eleven hours. They discourage me much about the
route which Governor Hunt has projected for me. They think that
it is impassable, owing to snow, and that another storm is
HALL'S GULCH, November 6.
I have ridden 150 miles since I wrote last. On leaving Twin Rock
on Saturday I had a short day's ride to Colonel Kittridge's cabin
at Oil Creek, where I spent a quiet Sunday with agreeable people.
The ride was all through parks and gorges, and among pine-clothed
hills, about 9,000 feet high, with Pike's Peak always in sight.
I have developed much sagacity in finding a trail, or I should
not be able to make use of such directions as these: "Keep along
a gulch four or five miles till you get Pike's Peak on your left,
then follow some wheel-marks till you get to some timber, and
keep to the north till you come to a creek, where you'll find a
great many elk tracks; then go to your right and cross the creek
three times, then you'll see a red rock to your left," etc., etc.
The K's cabin was very small and lonely, and the life seemed a
hard grind for an educated and refined woman. There were snow
flurries after I arrived, but the first Sunday of November was as
bright and warm as June, and the atmosphere had resumed its
exquisite purity. Three peaks of Pike's Peak are seen from Oil
Creek, above the nearer hills, and by them they tell the time.
We had been in the evening shadows for half an hour before those
peaks ceased to be transparent gold.
On leaving Colonel Kittridge's hospitable cabin I dismounted, as
I had often done before, to lower a bar, and, on looking round,
Birdie was gone! I spent an hour in trying to catch her, but she
had taken an "ugly fit," and would not let me go near her; and I
was getting tired and vexed, when two passing trappers, on mules,
circumvented and caught her. I rode the twelve miles back to
Twin Rock, and then went on, a kindly teamster, who was going in
the same direction, taking my pack. I must explain that every
mile I have traveled since leaving Colorado Springs has taken me
farther and higher into the mountains. That afternoon I rode
through lawnlike upland parks, with the great snow mass of Pike's
Peak behind, and in front mountains bathed in rich atmospheric
coloring of blue and violet, all very fine, but threatening to
become monotonous, when the wagon road turned abruptly to the
left, and crossed a broad, swift, mountain river, the headwaters
of the Platte. There I found the ranch to which I had
been recommended, the quarters of a great hunter named Link,
which much resembled a good country inn. There was a pleasant,
friendly woman, but the men were all away, a thing I always
regret, as it gives me half an hour's work at the horse before I
can write to you. I had hardly come in when a very pleasant
German lady, whom I met at Manitou, with three gentlemen,
arrived, and we were as sociable as people could be. We had a
splendid though rude supper. While Mrs. Link was serving us, and
urging her good things upon us, she was orating on the greediness
of English people, saying that "you would think they traveled
through the country only to gratify their palates"; and addressed
me, asking me if I had not observed it! I am nearly always taken
for a Dane or a Swede, never for an Englishwoman, so I often hear
a good deal of outspoken criticism.
In the evening Mr. Link returned, and there was a most vehement
discussion between him, an old hunter, a miner, and the teamster
who brought my pack, as to the route by which I should ride
through the mountains for the next three or four days--because at
that point I was to leave the wagon road--and it was renewed
with increased violence the next morning, so that if my nerves
had not been of steel I should have been appalled. The old
hunter acrimoniously said he "must speak the truth," the miner
was directing me over a track where for twenty-five miles there
was not a house, and where, if snow came on, I should never be
heard of again. The miner said he "must speak the truth," the
hunter was directing me over a pass where there were five feet of
snow, and no trail. The teamster said that the only road
possible for a horse was so-and-so, and advised me to take the
wagon road into South Park, which I was determined not to do.
Mr. Link said he was the oldest hunter and settler in the
district, and he could not cross any of the trails in snow. And
so they went on. At last they partially agreed on a route--"the
worst road in the Rocky Mountains," the old hunter said, with two
feet of snow upon it, but a hunter had hauled an elk over part of
it, at any rate. The upshot of the whole you shall have in my
next letter.
I. L. B.
Letter XI
Tarryall Creek--The Red Range--Excelsior--Importunate
pedlars--Snow and heat--A bison calf--Deep drifts--South
Park--The Great Divide--Comanche Bill--Difficulties--Hall's
Gulch--A Lord Dundreary--Ridiculous fears.
It was another cloudless morning, one of the many here on which
one awakes early, refreshed, and ready to enjoy the fatigues of
another day. In our sunless, misty climate you do not know the
influence which persistent fine weather exercises on the spirits.
I have been ten months in almost perpetual sunshine, and now a
single cloudy day makes me feel quite depressed. I did not leave
till 9:30, because of the slipperiness, and shortly after
starting turned off into the wilderness on a very dim trail.
Soon seeing a man riding a mile ahead, I rode on and overtook
him, and we rode eight miles together, which was convenient to
me, as without him I should several times have lost the trail
altogether. Then his fine American horse, on which he had only
ridden two days, broke down, while my "mad, bad bronco," on which
I had been traveling for a fortnight, cantered lightly over the
snow. He was the only traveler I saw in a day of nearly twelve
hours. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of that ride. I
concentrated all my faculties of admiration and of locality, for
truly the track was a difficult one. I sometimes thought it
deserved the bad name given to it at Link's. For the most part
it keeps in sight of Tarryall Creek, one of the large affluents
of the Platte, and is walled in on both sides by mountains, which
are sometimes so close together as to leave only the narrowest
canyon between them, at others breaking wide apart, till, after
winding and climbing up and down for twenty-five miles, it
lands one on a barren rock-girdled park, watered by a rapid
fordable stream as broad as the Ouse at Huntingdon, snow fed and
ice fringed, the park bordered by fantastic rocky hills, snow
covered and brightened only by a dwarf growth of the beautiful
silver spruce. I have not seen anything hitherto so thoroughly
wild and unlike the rest of these parts.
I rode up one great ascent where hills were tumbled about
confusedly; and suddenly across the broad ravine, rising above
the sunny grass and the deep green pines, rose in glowing and
shaded red against the glittering blue heaven a magnificent and
unearthly range of mountains, as shapely as could be seen, rising
into colossal points, cleft by deep blue ravines, broken up into
sharks' teeth, with gigantic knobs and pinnacles rising from
their inaccessible sides, very fair to look upon--a glowing,
heavenly, unforgettable sight, and only four miles off.
Mountains they looked not of this earth, but such as one sees in
dreams alone, the blessed ranges of "the land which is very far
off." They were more brilliant than those incredible colors in
which painters array the fiery hills of Moab and the Desert, and
one could not believe them for ever uninhabited, for on them
rose, as in the East, the similitude of stately fortresses, not
the gray castellated towers of feudal Europe, but gay, massive,
Saracenic architecture, the outgrowth of the solid rock. They
were vast ranges, apparently of enormous height, their color
indescribable, deepest and reddest near the pine-draped bases,
then gradually softening into wonderful tenderness, till the
highest summits rose all flushed, and with an illusion of
transparency, so that one might believe that they were taking on
the hue of sunset. Below them lay broken ravines of fantastic
rocks, cleft and canyoned by the river, with a tender unearthly
light over all, the apparent warmth of a glowing clime, while I
on the north side was in the shadow among the pure unsullied
With us the damp, the chill, the gloom;
With them the sunset's rosy bloom.
The dimness of earth with me, the light of heaven with them.
Here, again, worship seemed the only attitude for a human spirit,
and the question was ever present, "Lord, what is man, that Thou
art mindful of him; or the son of man, that Thou visitest him?"
I rode up and down hills laboriously in snow-drifts, getting off
often to ease my faithful Birdie by walking down ice-clad slopes,
stopping constantly to feast my eyes upon that changeless glory,
always seeing some new ravine, with its depths of color or
miraculous brilliancy of red, or phantasy of form. Then below,
where the trail was locked into a deep canyon where there was
scarcely room for it and the river, there was a beauty of another
kind in solemn gloom. There the stream curved and twisted
marvellously, widening into shallows, narrowing into deep boiling
eddies, with pyramidal firs and the beautiful silver spruce
fringing its banks, and often falling across it in artistic
grace, the gloom chill and deep, with only now and then a light
trickling through the pines upon the cold snow, when suddenly
turning round I saw behind, as if in the glory of an eternal
sunset, those flaming and fantastic peaks. The effect of the
combination of winter and summer was singular. The trail ran on
the north side the whole time, and the snow lay deep and pure
white, while not a wreath of it lay on the south side, where
abundant lawns basked in the warm sun.
The pitch pine, with its monotonous and somewhat rigid form, had
disappeared; the white pine became scarce, both being displayed
by the slim spires and silvery green of the miniature silver
spruce. Valley and canyon were passed, the flaming ranges were
left behind, the upper altitudes became grim and mysterious. I
crossed a lake on the ice, and then came on a park surrounded by
barren contorted hills, overtopped by snow mountains. There, in
some brushwood, we crossed a deepish stream on the ice, which
gave way, and the fearful cold of the water stiffened my limbs
for the rest of the ride. All these streams become bigger as you
draw nearer to their source, and shortly the trail disappeared
in a broad rapid river, which we forded twice. The trail was
very difficult to recover. It ascended ever in frost and snow,
amidst scanty timber dwarfed by cold and twisted by storms,
amidst solitudes such as one reads of in the High Alps; there
were no sounds to be heard but the crackle of ice and snow, the
pitiful howling of wolves, and the hoot of owls. The sun to me
had long set; the peaks which had blushed were pale and sad; the
twilight deepened into green; but still "Excelsior!" There were
no happy homes with light of household fires; above, the spectral
mountains lifted their cold summits. As darkness came on I began
to fear that I had confused the cabin to which I had been
directed with the rocks. To confess the truth, I was cold, for
my boots and stockings had frozen on my feet, and I was hungry
too, having eaten nothing but raisins for fourteen hours. After
riding thirty miles I saw a light a little way from the track,
and found it to be the cabin of the daughter of the pleasant
people with whom I had spent the previous night. Her husband had
gone to the Plains, yet she, with two infant children, was living
there in perfect security. Two pedlars, who were peddling their
way down from the mines, came in for a night's shelter soon after
I arrived--ill-looking fellows enough. They admired Birdie in a
suspicious fashion, and offered to "swop" their pack horse for
her. I went out the last thing at night and the first thing in
the morning to see that "the powny" was safe, for they were very
importunate on the subject of the "swop." I had before been
offered 150 dollars for her. I was obliged to sleep with the
mother and children, and the pedlars occupied a room within ours.
It was hot and airless. The cabin was papered with the
Phrenological Journal, and in the morning I opened my eyes on the
very best portrait of Dr. Candlish I ever saw, and grieved truly
that I should never see that massive brow and fantastic face
Mrs. Link was an educated and very intelligent young woman. The
pedlars were Irish Yankees, and the way in which they "traded"
was as amusing as "Sam Slick." They not only wanted to "swop" my
pony, but to "trade" my watch. They trade their souls, I know.
They displayed their wares for an hour with much dexterous
flattery and persuasiveness, but Mrs. Link was untemptable, and I
was only tempted into buying a handkerchief to keep the sun off.
There was another dispute about my route. It was the most
critical day of my journey. If a snowstorm came on, I might be
detained in the mountains for many weeks; but if I got through
the snow and reached the Denver wagon road, no detention would
signify much. The pedlars insisted that I could not get through,
for the road was not broken. Mrs. L. thought I could, and
advised me to try, so I saddled Birdie and rode away.
More than half of the day was far from enjoyable. The morning
was magnificent, but the light too dazzling, the sun too fierce.
As soon as I got out I felt as if I should drop off the horse.
My large handkerchief kept the sun from my neck, but the fierce
heat caused soul and sense, brain and eye, to reel. I never saw
or felt the like of it. I was at a height of 12,000 feet, where,
of course, the air was highly rarefied, and the snow was so pure
and dazzling that I was obliged to keep my eyes shut as much as
possible to avoid snow blindness. The sky was a different and
terribly fierce color; and when I caught a glimpse of the sun, he
was white and unwinking like a lime-ball light, yet threw off
wicked scintillations. I suffered so from nausea, exhaustion,
and pains from head to foot, that I felt as if I must lie down in
the snow. It may have been partly the early stage of soroche, or
mountain sickness. We plodded on for four hours, snow all round,
and nothing else to be seen but an ocean of glistening peaks
against that sky of infuriated blue. How I found my way I shall
never know, for the only marks on the snow were occasional
footprints of a man, and I had no means of knowing whether they
led in the direction I ought to take. Earlier, before the snow
became so deep, I passed the last great haunt of the magnificent
mountain bison, but, unfortunately, saw nothing but horns and
bones. Two months ago Mr. Link succeeded in separating a calf
from the herd, and has partially domesticated it. It is a very
ugly thing at seven months old, with a thick beard, and a short,
thick, dark mane on its heavy shoulders. It makes a loud grunt
like a pig. It can outrun their fastest horse, and it sometimes
leaps over the high fence of the corral, and takes all the milk
of five cows.
The snow grew seriously deep. Birdie fell thirty times, I am
sure. She seemed unable to keep up at all, so I was obliged to
get off and stumble along in her footmarks. By that time my
spirit for overcoming difficulties had somewhat returned, for I
saw a lie of country which I knew must contain South Park, and we
had got under cover of a hill which kept off the sun. The trail
had ceased; it was only one of those hunter's tracks which
continually mislead one. The getting through the snow was awful
work. I think we accomplished a mile in something over two
hours. The snow was two feet eight inches deep, and once we went
down in a drift the surface of which was rippled like sea sand,
Birdie up to her back, and I up to my shoulders!
At last we got through, and I beheld, with some sadness, the goal
of my journey, "The Great Divide," the Snowy Range, and between
me and it South Park, a rolling prairie seventy-five miles long
and over 10,000 feet high, treeless, bounded by mountains, and so
rich in sun-cured hay that one might fancy that all the herds
of Colorado could find pasture there. Its chief center is the
rough mining town of Fairplay, but there are rumors of great
mineral wealth in various quarters. The region has been
"rushed," and mining camps have risen at Alma and elsewhere, so
lawless and brutal that vigilance committees are forming as a
matter of necessity. South Park is closed, or nearly so, by snow
during an ordinary winter; and just now the great freight wagons
are carrying up the last supplies of the season, and taking down
women and other temporary inhabitants. A great many people come
up here in the summer. The rarefied air produces great
oppression on the lungs, accompanied with bleeding. It is said
that you can tell a new arrival by seeing him go about holding a
blood-stained handkerchief to his mouth. But I came down upon it
from regions of ice and snow; and as the snow which had fallen on
it had all disappeared by evaporation and drifting, it looked to
me quite lowland and livable, though lonely and indescribably
mournful, "a silent sea," suggestive of "the muffled oar." I
cantered across the narrow end of it, delighted to have got
through the snow; and when I struck the "Denver stage road" I
supposed that all the difficulties of mountain travel were at an
end, but this has not turned out to be exactly the case.
A horseman shortly joined me and rode with me, got me a fresh
horse, and accompanied me for ten miles. He was a picturesque
figure and rode a very good horse. He wore a big slouch hat,
from under which a number of fair curls hung nearly to his waist.
His beard was fair, his eyes blue, and his complexion ruddy.
There was nothing sinister in his expression, and his manner was
respectful and frank. He was dressed in a hunter's buckskin suit
ornamented with beads, and wore a pair of exceptionally big brass
spurs. His saddle was very highly ornamented. What was unusual
was the number of weapons he carried. Besides a rifle laid
across his saddle and a pair of pistols in the holsters, he
carried two revolvers and a knife in his belt, and a carbine
slung behind him. I found him what is termed "good company." He
told me a great deal about the country and its wild animals, with
some hunting adventures, and a great deal about Indians and their
cruelty and treachery. All this time, having crossed South Park,
we were ascending the Continental Divide by what I think is
termed the Breckenridge Pass, on a fairly good wagon road. We
stopped at a cabin, where the woman seemed to know my companion,
and, in addition to bread and milk, produced some venison steaks.
We rode on again, and reached the crest of the Divide (see
engraving), and saw snow-born streams starting within a quarter
of a mile from each other, one for the Colorado and the Pacific,
the other for the Platte and the Atlantic. Here I wished the
hunter good-bye, and reluctantly turned north-east. It was not
wise to go up the Divide at all, and it was necessary to do it in
haste. On my way down I spoke to the woman at whose cabin I had
dined, and she said, "I am sure you found Comanche Bill a real
gentleman"; and I then knew that, if she gave me correct
information, my intelligent, courteous companion was one of the
most notorious desperadoes of the Rocky Mountains, and the
greatest Indian exterminator on the frontier--a man whose father
and family fell in a massacre at Spirit Lake by the hands of
Indians, who carried away his sister, then a child of eleven.
His life has since been mainly devoted to a search for this
child, and to killing Indians wherever he can find them.
After riding twenty miles, which made the distance for that day
fifty, I remounted Birdie to ride six miles farther, to a house
which had been mentioned to me as a stopping place. The road
ascended to a height of 11,000 feet, and from thence I looked my
last at the lonely, uplifted prairie sea. "Denver stage road!"
The worst, rudest, dismallest, darkest road I have yet traveled
on, nothing but a winding ravine, the Platte canyon, pine crowded
and pine darkened, walled in on both sides for six miles by
pine-skirted mountains 12,000 feet high! Along this abyss for
fifty miles there are said to be only five houses, and were it
not for miners going down, and freight wagons going up, the
solitude would be awful. As it was, I did not see a creature.
It was four when I left South Park, and between those mountain
walls and under the pines it soon became quite dark, a darkness
which could be felt. The snow which had melted in the sun had
re-frozen, and was one sheet of smooth ice. Birdie slipped so
alarmingly that I got off and walked, but then neither of us
could keep our feet, and in the darkness she seemed so likely to
fall upon me, that I took out of my pack the man's socks which
had been given me at Perry's Park, and drew them on over her
fore-feet--an expedient which for a time succeeded admirably, and
which I commend to all travelers similarly circumstanced. It was
unutterably dark, and all these operations had to be performed by
the sense of touch only. I remounted, allowed her to take her
own way, as I could not see even her ears, and though her hind
legs slipped badly, we contrived to get along through the
narrowest part of the canyon, with a tumbling river close to the
road. The pines were very dense, and sighed and creaked
mournfully in the severe frost, and there were other EERIE noises
not easy to explain. At last, when the socks were nearly worn
out, I saw the blaze of a camp-fire, with two hunters sitting by
it, on the hill side, and at the mouth of a gulch something which
looked like buildings. We got across the river partly on ice and
partly by fording, and I found that this was the place where, in
spite of its somewhat dubious reputation, I had been told that I
could put up.
A man came out in the sapient and good-natured stage of
intoxication, and, the door being opened, I was confronted by a
rough bar and a smoking, blazing kerosene lamp without a chimney.
This is the worst place I have put up at as to food, lodging, and
general character; an old and very dirty log cabin, not chinked,
with one dingy room used for cooking and feeding, in which a
miner was lying very ill of fever; then a large roofless shed
with a canvas side, which is to be an addition, and then the bar.
They accounted for the disorder by the building operations. They
asked me if I were the English lady written of in the Denver
News, and for once I was glad that my fame had preceded me, as it
seemed to secure me against being quietly "put out of the way."
A horrible meal was served--dirty, greasy, disgusting. A
celebrated hunter, Bob Craik, came in to supper with a young man
in tow, whom, in spite of his rough hunter's or miner's dress, I
at once recognized as an English gentleman. It was their
camp-fire which I had seen on the hill side. This gentleman was
lording it in true caricature fashion, with a Lord Dundreary
drawl and a general execration of everything; while I sat in the
chimney corner, speculating on the reason why many of the upper
class of my countrymen--"High Toners," as they are called out
here--make themselves so ludicrously absurd. They neither know
how to hold their tongues or to carry their personal pretensions.
An American is nationally assumptive, an Englishman personally
so. He took no notice of me till something passed which showed
him I was English, when his manner at once changed into courtesy,
and his drawl was shortened by a half. He took pains to let me
know that he was an officer in the Guards, of good family, on
four months' leave, which he was spending in slaying buffalo and
elk, and also that he had a profound contempt for everything
American. I cannot think why Englishmen put on these broad,
mouthing tones, and give so many personal details. They retired
to their camp, and the landlord having passed into the sodden,
sleepy stage of drunkenness, his wife asked if I should be afraid
to sleep in the large canvas-sided, unceiled, doorless shed, as
they could not move the sick miner. So, I slept there on a
shake-down, with the stars winking overhead through the roof, and
the mercury showing 30 degrees of frost.
I never told you that I once gave an unwary promise that I would
not travel alone in Colorado unarmed, and that in consequence I
left Estes Park with a Sharp's revolver loaded with ball
cartridge in my pocket, which has been the plague of my life.
Its bright ominous barrel peeped out in quiet Denver shops,
children pulled it out to play with, or when my riding dress hung
up with it in the pocket, pulled the whole from the peg to the
floor; and I cannot conceive of any circumstances in which I
could feel it right to make any use of it, or in which it could
do me any possible good. Last night, however, I took it out,
cleaned and oiled it, and laid it under my pillow, resolving to
keep awake all night. I slept as soon as I lay down, and never
woke till the bright morning sun shone through the roof, making
me ridicule my own fears and abjure pistols for ever.
I. L. B.
Letter XII
Deer Valley--Lynch law--Vigilance committees--The silver
spruce--Taste and abstinence--The whisky fiend--Smartness--
Turkey creek Canyon--The Indian problem--Public
rascality--Friendly meetings--The way to the Golden City--A
rising settlement--Clear Creek Canyon--Staging--Swearing--A
mountain town.
DEER VALLEY, November.
To-night I am in a beautiful place like a Dutch farm--large,
warm, bright, clean, with abundance of clean food, and a clean,
cold little bedroom to myself. But it is very hard to write, for
two free-tongued, noisy Irish women, who keep a miners'
boarding-house in South Park, and are going to winter quarters in
a freight wagon, are telling the most fearful stories of
violence, vigilance committees, Lynch law, and "stringing," that
I ever heard. It turns one's blood cold only to think that where
I travel in perfect security, only a short time ago men were
being shot like skunks. At the mining towns up above this nobody
is thought anything of who has not killed a man--i.e. in a
certain set. These women had a boarder, only fifteen, who
thought he could not be anything till he had shot somebody, and
they gave an absurd account of the lad dodging about with a
revolver, and not getting up courage enough to insult any one,
till at last he hid himself in the stable and shot the first
Chinaman who entered. Things up there are just in that initial
state which desperadoes love. A man accidentally shoves another
in a saloon, or says a rough word at meals, and the challenge,
"first finger on the trigger," warrants either in shooting the
other at any subsequent time without the formality of a duel.
Nearly all the shooting affrays arise from the most trivial
causes in saloons and bar-rooms. The deeper quarrels, arising
from jealousy or revenge, are few, and are usually about some
woman not worth fighting for. At Alma and Fairplay vigilance
committees have been lately formed, and when men act outrageously
and make themselves generally obnoxious they receive a letter
with a drawing of a tree, a man hanging from it, and a coffin
below, on which is written "Forewarned." They "git" in a few
When I said I spent last night at Hall's Gulch there was quite a
chorus of exclamations. My host there, they all said, would be
"strung" before long. Did I know that a man was "strung" there
yesterday? Had I not seen him hanging? He was on the big tree
by the house, they said. Certainly, had I known what a ghastly
burden that tree bore, I would have encountered the ice and gloom
of the gulch rather than have slept there. They then told me a
horrid tale of crime and violence. This man had even shocked the
morals of the Alma crowd, and had a notice served on him by the
vigilants, which had the desired effect, and he migrated to
Hall's Gulch. As the tale runs, the Hall's Gulch miners were
resolved either not to have a groggery or to limit the number of
such places, and when this ruffian set one up he was
"forewarned." It seems, however, to have been merely a pretext
for getting rid of him, for it was hardly a crime of which even
Lynch law could take cognizance. He was overpowered by numbers,
and, with circumstances of great horror, was tried and strung on
that tree within an hour.[19]
[19] Public opinion approved this execution, regarding it
as a fitting retribution for a series of crimes.
I left the place this morning at ten, and have had a very
pleasant day, for the hills shut out the hot sun. I only rode
twenty-two miles, for the difficulty of riding on ice was great,
and there is no blacksmith within thirty-five miles of Hall's
Gulch. I met two freighters just after I left, who gave me the
unwelcome news that there were thirty-miles of ice between that
and Denver. "You'll have a tough trip," they said. The road
runs up and down hill, walled in along with a rushing river by
high mountains. The scenery is very grand, but I hate being shut
into these deep gorges, and always expect to see some startling
object moving among the trees. I met no one the whole day after
passing the teams except two men with a "pack-jack," Birdie hates
jacks, and rears and shies as soon as she sees one. It was a bad
road, one shelving sheet of ice, and awfully lonely, and between
the peril of the mare breaking her leg on the ice and that of
being crushed by windfalls of timber, I had to look out all day.
Towards sunset I came to a cabin where they "keep travelers," but
the woman looked so vinegar faced that I preferred to ride four
miles farther, up a beautiful road winding along a sunny gulch
filled with silver spruce, bluer and more silvery than any I have
yet seen, and then crossed a divide, from which the view in all
the ecstasy of sunset color was perfectly glorious. It was
enjoyment also in itself to get out of the deep chasm in which I
had been immured all day. There is a train of twelve freight
wagons here, each wagon with six horses, but the teamsters carry
their own camping blankets and sleep either in their wagons or
on the floor, so the house is not crowded.
It is a pleasant two-story log house, not only chinked but lined
with planed timber. Each room has a great open chimney with logs
burning in it; there are pretty engravings on the walls, and
baskets full of creepers hanging from the ceiling. This is the
first settler's house I have been in in which the ornamental has
had any place. There is a door to each room, the oak chairs
are bright with rubbing, and the floor, though unplaned, is so
clean that one might eat off it. The table is clean and
abundant, and the mother and daughter, though they do all the
work, look as trim as if they did none, and actually laugh
heartily. The ranchman neither allows drink to be brought into
the house nor to be drunk outside, and on this condition only he
"keeps travelers." The freighters come in to supper quite well
washed, and though twelve of them slept in the kitchen, by nine
o'clock there was not a sound. This freighting business is most
profitable. I think that the charge is three cents per pound
from Denver to South Park, and there much of the freight is
transferred to "pack-jacks" and carried up to the mines. A
railroad, however, is contemplated. I breakfasted with the
family after the freight train left, and instead of sitting down
to gobble up the remains of a meal, they had a fresh table-cloth
and hot food. The buckets are all polished oak, with polished
brass bands; the kitchen utensils are bright as rubbing can make
them; and, more wonderful still, the girls black their boots.
Blacking usually is an unused luxury, and frequently is not kept
in houses. My boots have only been blacked once during the last
two months.
DENVER, November 9.
I could not make out whether the superiority of the Deer Valley
settlers extended beyond material things, but a teamster I met in
the evening said it "made him more of a man to spend a night in
such a house." In Colorado whisky is significant of all evil and
violence and is the cause of most of the shooting affrays in the
mining camps. There are few moderate drinkers; it is seldom
taken except to excess. The great local question in the
Territory, and just now the great electoral issue, is drink or no
drink, and some of the papers are openly advocating a prohibitive
liquor law. Some of the districts, such as Greeley, in which
liquor is prohibited, are without crime, and in several of the
stock-raising and agricultural regions through which I have
traveled where it is practically excluded the doors are never
locked, and the miners leave their silver bricks in their wagons
unprotected at night. People say that on coming from the Eastern
States they hardly realize at first the security in which they
live. There is no danger and no fear. But the truth of the
proverbial saying, "There is no God west of the Missouri" is
everywhere manifest. The "almighty dollar" is the true divinity,
and its worship is universal. "Smartness" is the quality thought
most of. The boy who "gets on" by cheating at his lessons is
praised for being a "smart boy," and his satisfied parents
foretell that he will make a "smart man." A man who overreaches
his neighbor, but who does it so cleverly that the law cannot
take hold of him, wins an envied reputation as a "smart man," and
stories of this species of smartness are told admiringly round
every stove. Smartness is but the initial stage of swindling,
and the clever swindler who evades or defines the weak and often
corruptly administered laws of the States excites unmeasured
admiration among the masses.[20]
[20] May, 1878.--I am copying this letter in the city of San
Francisco, and regretfully add a strong emphasis to what I have
written above. The best and most thoughtful among Americans
would endorse these remarks with shame and pain.--I. L. B.
I left Deer Valley at ten the next morning on a glorious day,
with rich atmospheric coloring, had to spend three hours sitting
on a barrel in a forge after I had ridden twelve miles, waiting
while twenty-four oxen were shod, and then rode on twenty-three
miles through streams and canyons of great beauty till I reached
a grocery store, where I had to share a room with a large family
and three teamsters; and being almost suffocated by the curtain
partition, got up at four, before any one was stirring, saddled
Birdie, and rode away in the darkness, leaving my money on the
table! It was a short eighteen miles' ride to Denver down the
Turkey Creek Canyon, which contains some magnificent scenery, and
then the road ascends and hangs on the ledge of a precipice 600
feet in depth, such a narrow road that on meeting a wagon I had
to dismount for fear of hurting my feet with the wheels. From
thence there was a wonderful view through the rolling Foot Hills
and over the gray-brown plains to Denver. Not a tree or shrub
was to be seen, everything was rioting in summer heat and
drought, while behind lay the last grand canyon of the mountains,
dark with pines and cool with snow. I left the track and took a
short cut over the prairie to Denver, passing through an
encampment of the Ute Indians about 500 strong, a disorderly and
dirty huddle of lodges, ponies, men, squaws, children, skins,
bones, and raw meat.
The Americans will never solve the Indian problem till the Indian
is extinct. They have treated them after a fashion which has
intensified their treachery and "devilry" as enemies, and as
friends reduces them to a degraded pauperism, devoid of the very
first elements of civilization. The only difference between the
savage and the civilized Indian is that the latter carries
firearms and gets drunk on whisky. The Indian Agency has been a
sink of fraud and corruption; it is said that barely thirty per
cent of the allowance ever reaches those for whom it is voted;
and the complaints of shoddy blankets, damaged flour, and
worthless firearms are universal. "To get rid of the Injuns" is
the phrase used everywhere. Even their "reservations" do not
escape seizure practically; for if gold "breaks out" on them they
are "rushed," and their possessors are either compelled to accept
land farther west or are shot off and driven off. One of the
surest agents in their destruction is vitriolized whisky. An
attempt has recently been made to cleanse the Augean stable of
the Indian Department, but it has met with signal failure, the
usual result in America of every effort to purify the official
atmosphere. Americans specially love superlatives. The phrases
"biggest in the world," "finest in the world," are on all lips.
Unless President Hayes is a strong man they will soon come to
boast that their government is composed of the "biggest
scoundrels" in the world.
As I rode into Denver and away from the mountains the view became
glorious, as range above range crowned with snow came into sight.
I was sure that three glistening peaks seventy miles north were
the peerless shapeliness of Long's Peak, the king of the Rocky
Mountains, and the "mountain fever" returned so severely that I
grudged every hour spent on the dry, hot plains. The Range
looked lovelier and sublimer than when I first saw it from
Greeley, all spiritualized in the wonderful atmosphere. I went
direct to Evans's house, where I found a hearty welcome, as they
had been anxious about my safety, and Evans almost at once
arrived from Estes Park with three elk, one grizzly, and one
bighorn in his wagon. Regarding a place and life one likes (in
spite of all lessons) one is sure to think, "To-morrow shall be
as this day, and much more abundant"; and all through my tour I
had thought of returning to Estes Park and finding everything
just as it was. Evans brought the unwelcome news that the goodly
fellowship was broken up. The Dewys and Mr. Waller were in
Denver, and the house was dismantled, Mr. and Mrs. Edwards alone
remaining, who were, however, expecting me back. Saturday,
though like a blazing summer day, was wonderful in its beauty,
and after sunset the afterglow was richer and redder than I have
ever seen it, but the heavy crimson betokened severe heat, which
came on yesterday, and was hardly bearable.
I attended service twice at the Episcopal church, where the
service was beautifully read and sung; but in a city in which men
preponderate the congregation was mainly composed of women, who
fluttered their fans in a truly distracting way. Except for the
church-going there were few perceptible signs of Sunday in
Denver, which was full of rowdies from the mountain mining camps.
You can hardly imagine the delight of joining in those grand old
prayers after so long a deprivation. The "Te Deum" sounded
heavenly in its magnificence; but the heat was so tremendous that
it was hard to "warstle" through the day. They say that they
have similar outbreaks of solar fury all through the winter.
GOLDEN CITY, November 13.
Pleasant as Denver was, with the Dewys and so many kind friends
there, it was too much of the "wearying world" either for my
health or taste, and I left for my sixteen miles' ride to this
place at four on Monday afternoon with the sun still hot.
Passing by a bare, desolate-looking cemetery, I asked a
sad-looking woman who was leaning on the gate if she could direct
me to Golden City. I repeated the question twice before I got an
answer, and then, though easily to be accounted for, it was wide
of the mark. In most doleful tones she said, "Oh, go to the
minister; I might tell you, may be, but it's too great a
responsibility; go to the ministers, they can tell you!" And she
returned to her tears for some one whose spirit she was doubtless
thinking of as in the Golden City of our hopes. That sixteen
miles seemed like one mile, after sunset, in the rapturous
freshness of the Colorado air, and Birdie, after her two days'
rest and with a lightened load, galloped across the prairie as if
she enjoyed it. I did not reach this gorge till late, and it was
an hour after dark before I groped my way into this dark,
unlighted mining town, where, however, we were most fortunate
both as to stable and accommodation for myself.
BOULDER, November 16.
I fear you will grow tired of the details of these journal
letters. To a person sitting quietly at home, Rocky Mountain
traveling, like Rocky Mountain scenery, must seem very
monotonous; but not so to me, to whom the pure, dry mountain air
is the elixir of life. At Golden City I parted for a time from
my faithful pony, as Clear Creek Canyon, which leads from it to
Idaho, is entirely monopolized by a narrow-gauge railroad, and is
inaccessible for horses or mules. To be without a horse in these
mountains is to be reduced to complete helplessness. My great
wish was to see Green Lake, situated near the timber line above
Georgetown (said to be the highest town in the United States), at
a height of 9,000 feet. A single day took me from the heat of
summer into the intense cold of winter.
Golden City by daylight showed its meanness and belied its name.
It is ungraded, with here and there a piece of wooden sidewalk,
supported on posts, up to which you ascend by planks. Brick,
pine, and log houses are huddled together, every other house is a
saloon, and hardly a woman is to be seen. My landlady apologized
for the very exquisite little bedroom which she gave me by saying
"it was not quite as she would like it, but she had never had a
lady in her house before." The young "lady" who waited at
breakfast said, "I've been thinking about you, and I'm certain
sure you're an authoress." The day, as usual, was glorious.
Think of November half through and scarcely even a cloud in the
sky, except the vermilion cloudlets which accompany the sun at
his rising and setting! They say that winter never "sets in"
there in the Foot Hills, but that there are spells of cold,
alternating with bright, hot weather, and that the snow never
lies on the ground so as to interfere with the feed of cattle.
Golden City rang with oaths and curses, especially at the depot.
Americans are given over to the most atrocious swearing, and the
blasphemous use of our Savior's name is peculiarly revolting.
Golden City stands at the mouth of Toughcuss, otherwise Clear
Creek Canyon, which many people think the grandest scenery in the
mountains, as it twists and turns marvellously, and its
stupendous sides are nearly perpendicular, while farther progress
is to all appearance continually blocked by great masses of rock
and piles of snow-covered mountains. Unfortunately, its sides
have been almost entirely denuded of timber, mining operations
consuming any quantity of it. The narrow-gauge, steel-grade
railroad, which runs up the canyon for the convenience of the
rich mining districts of Georgetown, Black Hawk, and Central
City, is a curiosity of engineering. The track has partly been
blasted out of the sides of the canyon, and has partly been
"built" by making a bed of stones in the creek itself, and laying
the track across them. I have never seen such churlishness and
incivility as in the officials of that railroad and the state
lines which connect with it, or met with such preposterous
charges. They have handsome little cars on the route, but though
the passengers paid full fare, they put us into a baggage car
because the season was over, and in order to see anything I was
obliged to sit on the floor at the door. The singular grandeur
cannot be described. It is a mere gash cut by the torrent,
twisted, walled, chasmed, weather stained with the most brilliant
coloring, generally dark with shadow, but its utter desolation
occasionally revealed by a beam of intense sunshine. A few
stunted pines and cedars, spared because of their inaccessiblity,
hung here and there out of the rifts. Sometimes the walls of the
abyss seemed to meet overhead, and then widening out, the rocks
assumed fantastic forms, all grandeur, sublimity, and almost
terror. After two hours of this, the track came to an end, and
the canyon widened sufficiently for a road, all stones, holes,
and sidings. There a great "Concord coach" waited for us,
intended for twenty passengers, and a mountain of luggage in
addition, and the four passengers without any luggage sat on the
seat behind the driver, so that the huge thing bounced and swung
upon the straps on which it was hung so as to recall the worst
horrors of New Zealand staging. The driver never spoke without
an oath, and though two ladies were passengers, cursed his
splendid horses the whole time. Formerly, even the most profane
men intermitted their profanity in the presence of women, but
they "have changed all that." Every one I saw up there seemed in
a bad temper. I suspect that all their "smart tricks" in mining
shares had gone wrong.
The road pursued the canyon to Idaho Springs, a fashionable
mountain resort in the summer, but deserted now, where we took a
superb team of six horses, with which we attained a height of
10,000 feet, and then a descent of 1,000 took us into Georgetown,
crowded into as remarkable a gorge as was ever selected for the
site of a town, the canyon beyond APPARENTLY terminating in
precipitous and inaccessible mountains, sprinkled with pines up
to the timber line, and thinly covered with snow. The area on
which it is possible to build is so circumcised and steep, and
the unpainted gable-ended houses are so perched here and there,
and the water rushes so impetuously among them, that it reminded
me slightly of a Swiss town. All the smaller houses are shored
up with young pines on one side, to prevent them from being blown
away by the fierce gusts which sweep the canyon. It is the only
town I have seen in America to which the epithet picturesque
could be applied. But truly, seated in that deep hollow in the
cold and darkness, it is in a terrible situation, with the alpine
heights towering round it. I arrived at three, but its sun had
set, and it lay in deep shadow. In fact, twilight seemed coming
on, and as I had been unable to get my circular notes cashed at
Denver, I had no money to stay over the next day, and much feared
that I should lose Green Lake, the goal of my journey. We drove
through the narrow, piled-up, irregular street, crowded with
miners standing in groups, or drinking and gaming under the
verandas, to a good hotel declivitously situated, where I at once
inquired if I could get to Green Lake. The landlord said he
thought not; the snow was very deep, and no one had been up for
five weeks, but for my satisfaction he would send to a stable and
inquire. The amusing answer came back, "If it's the English lady
traveling in the mountains, she can have a horse, but not any one
Letter XIII
The blight of mining--Green Lake--Golden
City--Benighted--Vertigo--Boulder Canyon--Financial straits--A
hard ride--The last cent--A bachelor's home--"Mountain Jim"--A
surprise--A night arrival--Making the best of it--Scanty fare.
BOULDER, November.
The answer regarding a horse (at the end of my former letter) was
given to the landlord outside the hotel, and presently he came in
and asked my name and if I were the lady who had crossed from
Link's to South Park by Tarryall Creek; so news travels fast. In
five minutes the horse was at the door, with a clumsy two-horned
side-saddle, and I started at once for the upper regions. It was
an exciting ride, much spiced with apprehension. The evening
shadows had darkened over Georgetown, and I had 2,000 feet to
climb, or give up Green Lake. I shall forget many things, but
never the awfulness and hugeness of the scenery. I went up a
steep track by Clear Creek, then a succession of frozen
waterfalls in a widened and then narrowed valley, whose frozen
sides looked 5,000 feet high. That is the region of enormous
mineral wealth in silver. There are the "Terrible" and other
mines whose shares you can see quoted daily in the share lists in
the Times, sometimes at cent per cent premium, and then down to
25 discount.
These mines, with their prolonged subterranean workings, their
stamping and crushing mills, and the smelting works which have
been established near them, fill the district with noise, hubbub,
and smoke by night and day; but I had turned altogether aside
from them into a still region, where each miner in solitude was
grubbing for himself, and confiding to none his finds or
disappointments. Agriculture restores and beautifies, mining
destroys and devastates, turning the earth inside out, making it
hideous, and blighting every green thing, as it usually blights
man's heart and soul. There was mining everywhere along that
grand road, with all its destruction and devastation, its
digging, burrowing, gulching, and sluicing; and up all along the
seemingly inaccessible heights were holes with their roofs log
supported, in which solitary and patient men were selling their
lives for treasure. Down by the stream, all among the icicles,
men were sluicing and washing, and everywhere along the heights
were the scars of hardly-passable trails, too steep even for
pack-jacks, leading to the holes, and down which the miner packs
the ore on his back. Many a heart has been broken for the few
finds which have been made along those hill sides. All the
ledges are covered with charred stumps, a picture of desolation,
where nature had made everything grand and fair. But even from
all this I turned. The last miner I saw gave me explicit
directions, and I left the track and struck upwards into the icy
solitudes--sheets of ice at first, then snow, over a foot deep,
pure and powdery, then a very difficult ascent through a pine
forest, where it was nearly dark, the horse tumbling about in
deep snowdrifts. But the goal was reached, and none too soon.
At a height of nearly 12,000 feet I halted on a steep declivity,
and below me, completely girdled by dense forests of pines, with
mountains red and glorified in the sunset rising above them, was
Green Lake, looking like water, but in reality a sheet of ice two
feet thick. From the gloom and chill below I had come up into
the pure air and sunset light, and the glory of the unprofaned
works of God. It brought to my mind the verse, "The darkness is
past, and the true light now shineth"; and, as if in commentary
upon it, were the hundreds and thousands of men delving in dark
holes in the gloom of the twilight below.
O earth, so full of dreary noises!
O men, with wailing in your voices,
O delved gold, the wailer's heap,
God strikes a silence through you all,
He giveth His beloved sleep.
It was something to reach that height and see the far off glory
of the sunset, and by it to be reminded that neither God nor His
sun had yet deserted the world. But the sun was fast going down,
and even as I gazed upon the wonderful vision the glory vanished,
and the peaks became sad and grey. It was strange to be the only
human being at that glacial altitude, and to descend again
through a foot of untrodden snow and over sloping sheets of ice
into the darkness, and to see the hill sides like a firmament of
stars, each showing the place where a solitary man in his hole
was delving for silver. The view, as long as I could see it, was
quite awful. It looked as if one could not reach Georgetown
without tumbling down a precipice. Precipices there were in
plenty along the road, skirted with ice to their verge. It was
the only ride which required nerve that I have taken in Colorado,
and it was long after dark when I returned from my exploit.
I left Georgetown at eight the next morning on the Idaho stage,
in glorious cold. In this dry air it is quite warm if there are
only a few degrees of frost. The sun does not rise in Georgetown
till eleven now; I doubt if it rises there at all in the winter!
After four hours' fearful bouncing, the baggage car again
received us, but this time the conductor, remarking that he
supposed I was just traveling to see the country, gave me his
chair and put it on the platform, so that I had an excellent view
of that truly sublime canyon. For economy I dined in a
restaurant in Golden City, and at three remounted my trusty
Birdie, intending to arrive here that night. The adventure I met
with is almost too silly to tell.
When I left Golden City it was a brilliant summer afternoon, and
not too hot. They could not give any directions at the stable,
and told me to go out on the Denver track till I met some one who
could direct me, which started me off wrong from the first.
After riding about two miles I met a man who told me I was all
wrong, and directed me across the prairie till I met another, who
gave me so many directions that I forgot them, and was
irretrievably lost. The afterglow, seen to perfection on the
open plain, was wonderful. Just as it grew dark I rode after a
teamster who said I was then four miles farther from Boulder than
when I left Golden, and directed me to a house seven miles off.
I suppose he thought I should know, for he told me to cross the
prairie till I came to a place where three tracks are seen, and
there to take the best-traveled one, steering all the time by the
north star. His directions did bring me to tracks, but it was
then so dark that I could see nothing, and soon became so dark
that I could not even see Birdie's ears, and was lost and
benighted. I rode on, hour after hour, in the darkness and
solitude, the prairie all round and a firmament of frosty stars
overhead. The prairie wolf howled now and then, and occasionally
the lowing of cattle gave me hope of human proximity. But there
was nothing but the lone wild plain. You can hardly imagine the
longing to see a light, to hear a voice, the intensely eerie
feeling of being alone in that vast solitude. It was freezing
very sharply and was very cold, and I was making up my mind to
steer all night for the pole-star, much fearing that I should be
brought up by one of the affluents of the Platte, or that Birdie
would tire, when I heard the undertoned bellowing of a bull,
which, from the snorting rooting up of earth, seemed to be
disputing the right of way, and the pony was afraid to pass.
While she was scuffling about, I heard a dog bark and a man
swear; then I saw a light, and in another minute found myself at
a large house, where I knew the people, only eleven miles from
Denver! It was nearly midnight, and light, warmth, and a good
bed were truly welcome.
You can form no idea of what the glory on the Plains is just
before sunrise. Like the afterglow, for a great height above the
horizon there is a shaded band of the most intense and glowing
orange, while the mountains which reflect the yet unrisen sun
have the purple light of amethysts. I left early, but soon lost
the track and was lost; but knowing that a sublime gash in the
mountains was Bear Canyon, quite near Boulder, I struck across
the prairie for it, and then found the Boulder track. "The
best-laid schemes of men and mice gang aft agley," and my
exploits came to an untimely end to-day. On arriving here,
instead of going into the mountains, I was obliged to go to bed
in consequence of vertigo, headache, and faintness, produced by
the intense heat of the sun. In all that weary land there was no
"shadow of a great rock" under which to rest. The gravelly,
baked soil reflected the fiery sun, and it was nearly maddening
to look up at the cool blue of the mountains, with their
stretches of pines and their deep indigo shadows. Boulder is a
hideous collection of frame
houses on the burning plain, but it aspires to be a "city" in
virtue of being a "distributing point" for the settlements up the
Boulder Canyon, and of the discovery of a coal seam.
LONGMOUNT, November.
I got up very early this morning, and on a hired horse went nine
miles up the Boulder Canyon, which is much extolled, but I was
greatly disappointed with everything except its superb wagon
road, and much disgusted with the laziness of the horse. A ride
of fifteen miles across the prairie brought me here early in the
afternoon, but of the budget of letters which I expected there is
not one. Birdie looks in such capital condition that my host
here can hardly believe that she has traveled over 500 miles. I
am feeling "the pinch of poverty" rather severely. When I have
paid my bill here I shall have exactly twenty-six cents left.
Evans was quite unable to pay the hundred dollars which he owed
me, and, to save themselves, the Denver banks, though they remain
open, have suspended payment, and would not
cash my circular notes. The financial straits are very serious,
and the unreasoning panic which has set in makes them worse. The
present state of matters is--nobody has any money, so nothing is
worth anything. The result to me is that, nolens volens, I must
go up to Estes Park, where I can live without ready money, and
remain there till things change for the better. It does not seem
a very hard fate! Long's Peak rises in purple gloom, and I long
for the cool air and unfettered life of the solitary blue hollow
at its base.
ESTES PARK, November 20.
Would that three notes of admiration were all I need give to my
grand, solitary, uplifted, sublime, remote, beast-haunted lair,
which seems more indescribable than ever; but you will wish to
know how I have sped, and I wish you to know my present singular
circumstances. I left Longmount at eight on Saturday morning,
rather heavily loaded, for in addition to my own luggage I was
asked to carry the mail-bag, which was heavy with newspapers.
Edwards, with his wife and family, were still believed to be
here. A heavy snow-storm was expected, and all the sky--that
vast dome which spans the Plains--was overcast; but over the
mountains it was a deep, still, sad blue, into which snowy peaks
rose sunlighted. It was a lonely, mournful-looking morning, but
when I reached the beautiful canyon of the St. Vrain, the sad
blue became brilliant, and the sun warm and scintillating. Ah,
how beautiful and incomparable the ride up here is, infinitely
more beautiful than the much-vaunted parts I have seen elsewhere.
There is, first, this beautiful hill-girdled valley of fair
savannas, through which the bright St. Vrain curves in and out
amidst a tangle of cotton-wood and withered clematis and Virginia
creeper, which two months ago made the valley gay with their
scarlet and gold. Then the canyon, with its
fantastically-stained walls; then the long ascent through
sweeping foot hills to the gates of rock at a height of 9,000
feet; then the wildest and most wonderful scenery for twenty
miles, in which you cross thirteen ranges from 9,000 to 11,000
feet high, pass through countless canyons and gulches, cross
thirteen dark fords, and finally descend, through M'Ginn's Gulch,
upon this, the gem of the Rocky Mountains. It was a weird ride.
I got on very slowly. The road is a hard one for any horse,
specially for a heavily-loaded one, and at the end of several
weeks of severe travel. When I had ridden fifteen miles I
stopped at the ranch where people usually get food, but it was
empty, and the next was also deserted. So I was compelled to go
to the last house, where two young men are "baching."
There I had to decide between getting a meal for myself or a feed
for the pony; but the young man, on hearing of my sore poverty,
trusted me "till next time." His house, for order and neatness,
and a sort of sprightliness of cleanliness--the comfort of
cleanliness without its severity--is a pattern to all women,
while the clear eyes and manly self-respect which the habit of
total abstinence gives in this country are a pattern to all men.
He cooked me a splendid dinner, with good tea. After dinner I
opened the mail-bag, and was delighted to find an accumulation of
letters from you; but I sat much too long there, forgetting that
I had twenty miles to ride, which could hardly be done in less
than six hours. It was then brilliant. I had not realized the
magnificence of that ride when I took it before, but the pony was
tired, and I could not hurry her, and the distance seemed
interminable, as after every range I crossed another range. Then
came a region of deep, dark, densely-wooded gulches, only a few
feet wide, and many fords, and from their cold depths I saw the
last sunlight fade from the brows of precipices 4,000 feet high.
It was eerie, as darkness came on, to wind in and out in the
pine-shadowed gloom, sometimes on ice, sometimes in snow, at the
bottom of these tremendous chasms. Wolves howled in all
directions. This is said to denote the approach of a storm.
During this twenty-mile ride I met a hunter with an elk packed on
his horse, and he told me not only that the Edwardses were at the
cabin yesterday, but that they were going to remain for two
weeks longer, no matter how uncongenial. The ride did seem
endless after darkness came on. Finally the last huge range was
conquered, the last deep chasm passed, and with an eeriness which
craved for human companionship, I rode up to "Mountain Jim's"
den, but no light shone through the chinks, and all was silent.
So I rode tediously down M'Ginn's Gulch, which was full of
crackings and other strange mountain noises, and was pitch dark,
though the stars were bright overhead.
Soon I heard the welcome sound of a barking dog. I supposed it
to denote strange hunters, but calling "Ring" at a venture, the
noble dog's large paws and grand head were in a moment on my
saddle, and he greeted me with all those inarticulate but
perfectly comprehensible noises with which dogs welcome their
human friends. Of the two men on horses who accompanied him, one
was his master, as I knew by the musical voice and grace of
manner, but it was too dark to see anyone, though he struck a
light to show me the valuable furs with which one of the horses
was loaded. The desperado was heartily glad to see me, and
sending the man and fur-laden horse on to his cabin, he turned
with me to Evans's; and as the cold was very severe, and Birdie
was very tired, we dismounted and walked the remaining three
miles. All my visions of a comfortable reception and good meal
after my long ride vanished with his first words. The Edwardses
had left for the winter on the previous morning, but had not
passed through Longmount; the cabin was dismantled, the stores
were low, and two young men, Mr. Kavan, a miner, and Mr. Buchan,
whom I was slightly acquainted with before, were "baching" there
to look after the stock until Evans, who was daily expected,
returned. The other settler and his wife had left the park, so
there was not a woman within twenty-five miles. A fierce wind
had arisen, and the cold was awful, which seemed to make matters
darker. I did not care in the least about myself. I could rough
it, and enjoy doing so, but I was very sorry for the young men,
who, I knew, would be much embarrassed by the sudden appearance
of a lady for an indefinite time. But the difficulty had to be
faced, and I walked in and took them by surprise as they were
sitting smoking by the fire in the living room, which was
dismantled, unswept, and wretched looking.
The young men did not show any annoyance, but exerted themselves
to prepare a meal, and courteously made Jim share it. After he
had gone, I boldly confessed my impecunious circumstances, and
told them that I must stay there till things changed, that I
hoped not to inconvenience them in any way, and that by dividing
the work among us they would be free to be out hunting. So we
agreed to make the best of it. (Our arrangements, which we
supposed would last only two or three days, extended over nearly
a month. Nothing could exceed the courtesy and good feeling
which these young men showed. It was a very pleasant time on the
whole and when we separated they told me that though they were
much "taken aback" at first, they felt at last that we could get
on in the same way for a year, in which I cordially agreed.)
Sundry practical difficulties had to be faced and overcome.
There was one of the common spring mattresses of the country in
the little room which opened from the living room, but nothing
upon it. This was remedied by making a large bag and filling it
with hay. Then there were neither sheets, towels, nor
table-clothes. This was irremediable, and I never missed the
first or last. Candles were another loss, and we had only one
paraffin lamp. I slept all night in spite of a gale which blew
all Sunday and into Monday afternoon, threatening to lift the
cabin from the ground, and actually removing part of the roof
from the little room between the kitchen and living room, in
which we used to dine. Sunday was brilliant, but nearly a
hurricane, and I dared not stir outside the cabin. The parlor
was two inches deep in the mud from the roof. We nominally
divide the cooking. Mr. Kavan makes the best bread I ever ate;
they bring in wood and water, and wash the supper things, and I
"do" my room and the parlor, wash the breakfast things, and
number of etceteras. My room is easily "done," but the parlor
is a never-ending business. I have swept shovelfuls of mud out
of it three times to-day. There is nothing to dust it with but a
buffalo's tail, and every now and then a gust descends the open
chimney and drives the wood ashes all over the room. However, I
have found an old shawl which answers for a table-cloth, and have
made our "parlor" look a little more habitable. Jim came in
yesterday in a silent mood, and sat looking vacantly into the
fire. The young men said that this mood was the usual precursor
of an "ugly fit."
Food is a great difficulty. Of thirty milch cows only one is
left, and she does not give milk enough for us to drink. The
only meat is some pickled pork, very salt and hard, which I
cannot eat, and the hens lay less than one egg a day. Yesterday
morning I made some rolls, and made the last bread into a
bread-and-butter pudding, which we all enjoyed. To-day I found
part of a leg of beef hanging in the wagon shed, and we were
elated with the prospect of fresh meat, but on cutting into it we
found it green and uneatable. Had it not been for some tea which
was bestowed upon me at the inn at Longmount we should have had
none. In this superb air and physically active life I can eat
everything but pickled pork. We breakfast about nine, dine at
two, and have supper at seven, but our MENU never varies.
To-day I have been all alone in the park, as the men left to hunt
elk after breakfast, after bringing in wood and water. The sky
is brilliant and the light intense, or else the solitude would be
oppressive. I keep two horses in the corral so as to be able to
explore, but except Birdie, who is turned out, none of the
animals are worth much now from want of shoes, and tender feet.
Letter XIV
A dismal ride--A desperado's tale--"Lost! Lost! Lost!"--Winter
glories--Solitude--Hard times--Intense cold--A pack of
wolves--The beaver dams--Ghastly scenes--Venison steaks--Our
I must attempt to put down the trifling events of each day just
as they occur. The second time that I was left alone Mr. Nugent
came in looking very black, and asked me to ride with him to see
the beaver dams on the Black Canyon. No more whistling or
singing, or talking to his beautiful mare, or sparkling repartee.
His mood was as dark as the sky overhead, which was black with
an impending snowstorm. He was quite silent, struck his horse
often, started off on a furious gallop, and then throwing his
mare on her haunches close to me, said, "You're the first man or
woman who's treated me like a human being for many a year." So
he said in this dark mood, but Mr. and Mrs. Dewy, who took a very
deep interest in his welfare, always treated him as a rational,
intelligent gentleman, and in his better moments he spoke of them
with the warmest appreciation. "If you want to know," he
continued, "how nearly a man can become a devil, I'll tell you
now." There was no choice, and we rode up the canyon, and I
listened to one of the darkest tales of ruin I have ever heard or
Its early features were very simple. His father was a British
officer quartered at Montreal, of a good old Irish family. From
his account he was an ungovernable boy, imperfectly educated, and
tyrannizing over a loving but weak mother. When seventeen years
old he saw a young girl at church whose appearance he described
as being of angelic beauty, and fell in love with her with all
the intensity of an uncontrolled nature. He saw her three times,
but scarcely spoke to her. On his mother opposing his wish and
treating it as a boyish folly, he took to drink "to spite her,"
and almost as soon as he was eighteen, maddened by the girl's
death, he ran away from home, entered the service of the Hudson's
Bay Company, and remained in it for several years, only leaving
it because he found even that lawless life too strict for him.
Then, being as I suppose about twenty-seven, he entered the
service of the United States Government, and became one of the
famous Indian scouts of the Plains, distinguishing himself by
some of the most daring deeds on record, and some of the
bloodiest crimes. Some of these tales I have heard before, but
never so terribly told. Years must have passed in that service,
till he became a character known through all the West, and much
dreaded for his readiness to take offence, and his equal
readiness with his revolver. Vain, even in his dark mood, he
told me that he was idolized by women, and that in his worst
hours he was always chivalrous to good women. He described
himself as riding through camps in his scout's dress with a red
scarf round his waist, and sixteen golden curls, eighteen inches
long, hanging over his shoulders. The handsome, even superbly
handsome, side of his face was towards me as he spoke. As a
scout and as an armed escort of emigrant parties he was evidently
implicated in all the blood and broil of a lawless region and
period, and went from bad to worse, varying his life by drunken
sprees, which brought nothing but violence and loss.
The narrative seemed to lack some link, for I next found him on a
homestead in Missouri, from whence he came to Colorado a few
years ago. There, again, something was dropped out, but I
suspect, and not without reason, that he joined one or more of
those gangs of "border ruffians" which for so long raided through
Kansas, perpetrating such massacres and outrages as that of the
Marais du Cygne. His fame for violence and ruffianism preceded
him into Colorado, where his knowledge of and love of the
mountains have earned him the sobriquet he now bears. He has a
squatter's claim and forty head of cattle, and is a successful
trapper besides, but envy and vindictiveness are raging within
him. He gets money, goes to Denver, and spends large sums in the
maddest dissipation, making himself a terror, and going beyond
even such desperadoes as "Texas Jack" and "Wild Bill"; and when
the money is done returns to his mountain den, full of hatred and
self-scorn, till the next time. Of course I cannot give details.
The story took three hours to tell, and was crowded with terrific
illustrations of a desperado's career, told with a rush of wild
eloquence that was truly thrilling.
When the snow, which for some time had been falling, compelled
him to break off and guide me to a sheltered place from which I
could make my own way back again, he stopped his horse and said,
"Now you see a man who has made a devil of himself! Lost! Lost!
Lost! I believe in God. I've given Him no choice but to put me
with 'the devil and his angel.' I'm afraid to die. You've
stirred the better nature in me too late. I can't change. If
ever a man were a slave, I am. Don't speak to me of repentance
and reformation. I can't reform. Your voice reminded me of
-----." Then in feverish tones, "How dare you ride with me? You
won't speak to me again, will you?" He made me promise to keep
one or two things secret whether he were living or dead, and I
promised, for I had no choice; but they come between me and the
sunshine sometimes, and I wake at night to think of them. I wish
I had been spared the regret and excitement of that afternoon. A
less ungovernable nature would never have spoken as he did, nor
told me what he did; but his proud, fierce soul all poured itself
out then, with hatred and self-loathing, blood on his hands and
murder in his heart, though even then he could not be altogether
other than a gentleman, or altogether divest himself of
fascination, even when so tempestuously revealing the darkest
points of his character. My soul dissolved in pity for his dark,
lost, self-ruined life, as he left me and turned away in the
blinding storm to the Snowy Range, where he said he was going to
camp out for a fortnight; a man of great abilities, real genius,
singular gifts, and with all the chances in life which other men
have had. How far more terrible than the "Actum est: periisti"
of Cowper is his exclamation, "Lost! Lost! Lost!"
The storm was very severe, and the landmarks being blotted out, I
lost my way in the snow, and when I reached the cabin after dark
I found it still empty, for the two hunters, on returning,
finding that I had gone out, had gone in search of me. The snow
cleared off late, and intense frost set in. My room is nearly
the open air, being built of unchinked logs, and, as in the open
air, one requires to sleep with the head buried in blankets, or
the eyelids and breath freeze. The sunshine has been brilliant
to-day. I took a most beautiful ride to Black Canyon to look for
the horses. Every day some new beauty, or effect of snow and
light, is to be seen. Nothing that I have seen in Colorado
compares with Estes Park; and now that the weather is
magnificent, and the mountain tops above the pine woods are pure
white, there is nothing of beauty or grandeur for which the heart
can wish that is not here; and it is health giving, with pure
air, pure water, and absolute dryness. But there is something
very solemn, at times almost overwhelming, in the winter
solitude. I have never experienced anything like it even when I
lived on the slopes of Hualalai. When the men are out hunting
I know not where, or at night, when storms sweep down from Long's
Peak, and the air is full of stinging, tempest-driven snow, and
there is barely a probability of any one coming, or of my
communication with the world at all, then the stupendous mountain
ranges which lie between us and the Plains grow in height till
they become impassable barriers, and the bridgeless rivers grow
in depth, and I wonder if all my life is to be spent here in
washing and sweeping and baking.
To-day has been one of manual labor. We did not breakfast till
9:30, then the men went out, and I never sat down till two. I
cleaned the living room and the kitchen, swept a path through the
rubbish in the passage room, washed up, made and baked a batch of
rolls and four pounds of sweet biscuits, cleaned some tins and
pans, washed some clothes, and gave things generally a "redding
up." There is a little thick buttermilk, fully six weeks old, at
the bottom of a churn, which I use for raising the rolls; but Mr.
Kavan, who makes "lovely" bread, puts some flour and water to
turn sour near the stove, and this succeeds admirably.
I also made a most unsatisfactory investigation into the state of
my apparel. I came to Colorado now nearly three months ago, with
a small carpet-bag containing clothes, none of them new; and
these, by legitimate wear, the depredations of calves, and the
necessity of tearing some of them up for dish-cloths, are reduced
to a single change! I have a solitary pocket handkerchief and
one pair of stockings, such a mass of darns that hardly a trace
of the original wool remains. Owing to my inability to get money
in Denver I am almost without shoes, have nothing but a pair of
slippers and some "arctics." For outer garments--well, I have a
trained black silk dress, with a black silk polonaise! and
nothing else but my old flannel riding suit, which is quite
threadbare, and requires such frequent mending that I am
sometimes obliged to "dress" for supper, and patch and darn it
during the evening. You will laugh, but it is singular that one
can face the bitter winds with the mercury at zero and below it,
in exactly the same clothing which I wore in the tropics! It is
only the extreme dryness of the air which renders it possible to
live in such clothing. We have arranged the work better. Mr.
Buchan was doing too much, and it was hard for him, as he is very
delicate. You will wonder how three people here in the
wilderness can have much to do. There are the horses which we
keep in the corral to feed on sheaf oats and take to water twice
a day, the fowls and dogs to feed, the cow to milk, the bread to
make, and to keep a general knowledge of the whereabouts of the
stock in the event of a severe snow-storm coming on. Then there
is all the wood to cut, as there is no wood pile, and we burn a
great deal, and besides the cooking, washing, and mending, which
each one does, the men must hunt and fish for their living. Then
two sick cows have had to be attended to.
We were with one when it died yesterday. It suffered terribly,
and looked at us with the pathetically pleading eyes of a
creature "made subject to vanity." The disposal of its carcass
was a difficulty. The wagon horses were in Denver, and when we
tried to get the others to pull the dead beast away, they only
kicked and plunged, so we managed to get it outside the shed,
and according to Mr. Kavan's prediction, a pack of wolves came
down, and before daylight nothing was left but the bones. They
were so close to the cabin that their noise was most disturbing,
and on looking out several times I could see them all in a heap
wrangling and tumbling over each other. They are much larger
than the prairie wolf, but equally cowardly, I believe. This
morning was black with clouds, and a snowstorm was threatened,
and about 700 cattle and a number of horses came in long files
from the valleys and canyons where they maraud, their instinct
teaching them to seek the open and the protection of man.
I was alone in the cabin this afternoon when Mr. Nugent, whom we
believed to be on the Snowy Range, walked in very pale and
haggard looking, and coughing severely. He offered to show me
the trail up one of the grandest of the canyons, and I could not
refuse to go. The Fall River has had its source completely
altered by the operations of the beavers. Their engineering
skill is wonderful. In one place they have made a lake by
damming up the stream; in another their works have created an
island, and they have made several falls. Their storehouses, of
course, are carefully concealed. By this time they are about
full for the winter. We saw quantities of young cotton-wood and
aspen trees, with stems about as thick as my arm, lying where
these industrious creatures have felled them ready for their use.
They always work at night and in concert. Their long, sharp
teeth are used for gnawing down the trees, but their mason-work
is done entirely with their flat, trowel-like tails. In its
natural state the fur is very durable, and is as full of long
black hairs as that of the sable, but as sold, all these hairs
have been plucked out of it.
The canyon was glorious, ah! glorious beyond any other, but it
was a dismal and depressing ride. The dead past buried its dead.
Not an allusion was made to the conversation previously. "Jim's"
manner was courteous, but freezing, and when I left home on my
return he said he hardly thought he should be back from the
Snowy Range before I left. Essentially an actor, was he, I
wonder, posing on the previous day in the attitude of desperate
remorse, to impose on my credulity or frighten me; or was it a
genuine and unpremeditated outburst of passionate regret for the
life which he had thrown away? I cannot tell, but I think it was
the last. As I cautiously rode back, the sunset glories were
reddening the mountain tops, and the park lay in violet gloom.
It was wonderfully magnificent, but oh, so solemn, so lonely! I
rode a very large, well-bred mare, with three shoes loose and one
off, and she fell with me twice and was very clumsy in crossing
the Thompson, which was partly ice and partly a deep ford, but
when we reached comparatively level grassy ground I had a gallop
of nearly two miles which I enjoyed thoroughly, her great
swinging stride being so easy and exhilarating after Birdie's
short action.
This is a piteous day, quite black, freezing hard, and with a
fierce north-east wind. The absence of sunshine here, where it
is nearly perpetual, has a very depressing effect, and all the
scenery appears in its grimness of black and gray. We have lost
three horses, including Birdie, and have nothing to entice them
with, and not an animal to go and drive them in with. I put my
great mare in the corral myself, and Mr. Kavan put his in
afterwards and secured the bars, but the wolves were holding a
carnival again last night, and we think that the horses were
scared and stampeded, as otherwise they would not have leaped the
fence. The men are losing their whole day in looking for them.
On their return they said that they had seen Mr. Nugent returning
to his cabin by the other side and the lower ford of the
Thompson, and that he had "an awfully ugly fit on him," so that
they were glad that he did not come near us. The evening is
setting in sublime in its blackness. Late in the afternoon I
caught a horse which was snuffing at the sheaf oats, and had a
splendid gallop on the Longmount trail with the two great hunting
dogs. In returning, in the grimness of the coming storm, I had
that view of the park which I saw first in the glories of an
autumn sunset. Life was all dead; the dragon-flies no longer
darted in the sunshine, the cotton-woods had shed their last
amber leaves, the crimson trailers of the wild vines were bare,
the stream itself had ceased its tinkle and was numb in fetters
of ice, a few withered flower stalks only told of the brief
bright glory of the summer. The park never had looked so utterly
walled in; it was fearful in its loneliness, the ghastliest of
white peaks lay sharply outlined against the black snow clouds,
the bright river was ice bound, the pines were all black, the
world was absolutely shut out. How can you expect me to write
letters from such a place, from a life "in which nothing
happens"? It really is strange that neither Evans nor Edwards
come back. The young men are grumbling, for they were asked to
stay here for five days, and they have been here five weeks, and
they are anxious to be away camping out for the hunting, on which
they depend. There are two calves dying, and we don't know what
to do for them; and if a very severe snow-storm comes on, we
can't bring in and feed eight hundred head of cattle.
The snow began to fall early this morning, and as it is
unaccompanied by wind we have the novel spectacle of a smooth
white world; still it does not look like anything serious. We
have been gradually growing later at night and later in the
morning. To-day we did not breakfast till ten. We have been
becoming so disgusted with the pickled pork, that we were glad to
find it just at an end yesterday, even though we were left
without meat for which in this climate the system craves. You
can fancy my surprise, on going into the kitchen, to find a dish
of smoking steaks of venison on the table. We ate like famished
people, and enjoyed our meal thoroughly. Just before I came the
young men had shot an elk, which they intended to sell in Denver,
and the grand carcass, with great branching antlers, hung outside
the shed. Often while vainly trying to swallow some pickled pork
I had looked across to the tantalizing animal, but it was not to
be thought of. However, this morning, as the young men felt the
pinch of hunger even more than I did, and the prospects of
packing it to Denver became worse, they decided on cutting into
one side, so we shall luxuriate in venison while it lasts. We
think that Edwards will surely be up to-night, but unless he
brings supplies our case is looking serious. The flour is
running low, there is only coffee for one week, and I have only a
scanty three ounces of tea left. The baking powder is nearly at
an end. We have agreed to economize by breakfasting very late,
and having two meals a day instead of three. The young men
went out hunting as usual, and I went out and found Birdie, and
on her brought in four other horses, but the snow balled so badly
that I went out and walked across the river on a very passable
ice bridge, and got some new views of the unique grandeur of this
Our evenings are social and pleasant. We finish supper about
eight, and make up a huge fire. The men smoke while I write to
you. Then we draw near the fire and I take my endless mending,
and we talk or read aloud. Both are very intelligent, and Mr.
Buchan has very extended information and a good deal of insight
into character. Of course our circumstances, the likelihood of
release, the prospects of snow blocking us in and of our supplies
holding out, the sick calves, "Jim's" mood, the possible
intentions of a man whose footprints we have found and traced for
three miles, are all topics that often recur, and few of which
can be worn threadbare.
Letter XV
A whisky slave--The pleasures of monotony--The mountain
lion--"Another mouth to feed"--A tiresome boy--An outcast--
Thanksgiving Day--The newcomer--A literary humbug--Milking a dry
cow--Trout-fishing--A snow-storm--A desperado's den.
A trapper passing last night brought us the news that Mr. Nugent
is ill; so, after washing up the things after our late breakfast,
I rode to his cabin, but I met him in the gulch coming down to
see us. He said he had caught cold on the Range, and was
suffering from an old arrow wound in the lung. We had a long
conversation without adverting to the former one, and he told me
some of the present circumstances of his ruined life. It is
piteous that a man like him, in the prime of life, should be
destitute of home and love, and live a life of darkness in a den
with no companions but guilty memories, and a dog which many
people think is the nobler animal of the two. I urged him to
give up the whisky which at present is his ruin, and his answer
had the ring of a sad truth in it: "I cannot, it binds me hand
and foot--I cannot give up the only pleasure I have." His ideas
of right are the queerest possible. He says that he believes in
God, but what he knows or believes of God's law I know not. To
resent insult with your revolver, to revenge yourself on those
who have injured you, to be true to a comrade and share your last
crust with him, to be chivalrous to good women, to be generous
and hospitable, and at the last to die game--these are the
articles of his creed, and I suppose they are received by men of
his stamp. He hates Evans with a bitter hatred, and Evans
returns it, having undergone much provocation from Jim in his
moods of lawlessness and violence, and being not a little envious
of the fascination which his manners and conversation have for
the strangers who come up here.
On returning down the gulch the view was grander than I have ever
seen it, the gulch in dark shadow, the park below lying in
intense sunlight, with all the majestic canyons which sweep down
upon it in depths of infinite blue gloom, and above, the pearly
peaks, dazzling in purity and glorious in form, cleft the
turquoise blue of the sky. How shall I ever leave this "land
which is very far off"? How CAN I ever leave it? is the real
question. We are going on the principle, "Let us eat and drink,
for to-morrow we die," and the stores are melting away. The two
meals are not an economical plan, for we are so much more hungry
that we eat more than when we had three. We had a good deal of
sacred music to-day, to make it as like Sunday as possible. The
"faint melancholy" of this winter loneliness is very fascinating.
How glorious the amber fires of the winter dawns are, and how
gloriously to-night the crimson clouds descended just to the
mountain tops and were reflected on the pure surface of the snow!
The door of this room looks due north, and as I write the Pole
Star blazes, and a cold crescent moon hangs over the ghastliness
of Long's Peak.
We have lost count of time, and can only agree on the fact that
the date is somewhere near the end of November. Our life has
settled down into serenity, and our singular and enforced
partnership is very pleasant. We might be three men living
together, but for the unvarying courtesy and consideration which
they show to me. Our work goes on like clockwork; the only
difficulty which ever arises is that the men do not like me to do
anything that they think hard or unsuitable, such as saddling a
horse or bringing in water. The days go very fast; it was 3:30
today before I knew that it was 1. It is a calm life without
worries. The men are so easy to live with; they never fuss, or
grumble, or sigh, or make a trouble of anything. It would amuse
you to come into our wretched little kitchen before our
disgracefully late breakfast, and find Mr. Kavan busy at the
stove frying venison, myself washing the supper dishes, and Mr.
Buchan drying them, or both the men busy at the stove while I
sweep the floor. Our food is a great object of interest to us,
and we are ravenously hungry now that we have only two meals a
day. About sundown each goes forth to his "chores"--Mr. K. to
chop wood, Mr. B. to haul water, I to wash the milk pans and
water the horses. On Saturday the men shot a deer, and on going
for it to-day they found nothing but the hind legs, and following
a track which they expected would lead them to a beast's hole,
they came quite carelessly upon a large mountain lion, which,
however, took itself out of their reach before they were
sufficiently recovered from their surprise to fire at it. These
lions, which are really a species of puma, are bloodthirsty as
well as cowardly. Lately one got into a sheepfold in the canyon
of the St. Vrain, and killed thirty sheep, sucking the blood from
their throats.
November ?
This has been a day of minor events, as well as a busy one. I
was so busy that I never sat down from 10:30 till 1:30. I had
washed my one change of raiment, and though I never iron my
clothes, I like to bleach them till they are as white as snow,
and they were whitening on the line when some furious gusts
came down from Long's Peak, against which I could not stand, and
when I did get out all my clothes were blown into strips from an
inch to four inches in width, literally destroyed! One learns
how very little is necessary either for comfort or happiness. I
made a four-pound spiced ginger cake, baked some bread, mended
my riding dress, cleaned up generally, wrote some letters with
the hope that some day they might be posted and took a
magnificent walk, reaching the cabin again in the melancholy
glory which now immediately precedes the darkness.
We were all busy getting our supper ready when the dogs began to
bark furiously, and we heard the noise of horses. "Evans at
last!" we exclaimed, but we were wrong. Mr. Kavan went out, and
returned saying that it was a young man who had come up with
Evans's wagon and team, and that the wagon had gone over into
a gulch seven miles from here. Mr. Kavan looked very grave.
"It's another mouth to feed," he said. They asked no questions,
and brought the lad in, a slangy, assured fellow of twenty, who,
having fallen into delicate health at a theological college, had
been sent up here by Evans to work for his board. The men were
too courteous to ask him what he was doing up here, but I boldly
asked him where he lived, and to our dismay he replied, "I've
come to live here." We discussed the food question gravely, as
it presented a real difficulty. We put him into a bed-closet
opening from the kitchen, and decided to see what he was fit for
before giving him work. We were very much amazed, in truth, at
his coming here. He is evidently a shallow, arrogant youth.
We have decided that to-day is November 26th; to-morrow is
Thanksgiving Day, and we are planning a feast, though Mr. K. said
to me again this morning, with a doleful face, "You see there's
another mouth to feed." This "mouth" has come up to try the
panacea of manual labor, but he is town bred, and I see that he
will do nothing. He is writing poetry, and while I was busy
to-day began to read it aloud to me, asking for my criticism. He
is just at the age when everything literary has a fascination,
and every literary person is a hero, specially Dr. Holland. Last
night was fearful from the lifting of the cabin and the breaking
of the mud from the roof. We sat with fine gravel driving in our
faces, and this morning I carried four shovelfuls of mud out of
my room. After breakfast, Mr. Kavan, Mr. Lyman, and I, with the
two wagon horses, rode the seven miles to the scene of
yesterday's disaster in a perfect gale of wind. I felt like a
servant going out for a day's "pleasuring," hurrying "through my
dishes," and leaving my room in disorder. The wagon lay half-way
down the side of a ravine, kept from destruction by having caught
on some trees.
It was too cold to hang about while the men hauled it up and
fixed it, so I went slowly back, encountering Mr. Nugent in a
most bitter mood--almost in an "ugly fit" --hating everybody, and
contrasting his own generosity and reckless kindness with the
selfishness and carefully-weighed kindnesses of others. People
do give him credit for having "as kind a heart as ever beat."
Lately a child in the other cabin was taken ill, and though there
were idle men and horses at hand, it was only the "desperado" who
rode sixty miles in "the shortest time ever made" to bring the
doctor. While we were talking he was sitting on a stone outside
his den mending a saddle, shins, bones, and skulls lying about
him, "Ring" watching him with jealous and idolatrous affection,
the wind lifting his thin curls from as grand a head as was ever
modeled--a ruin of a man. Yet the sun which shines "on the evil
and the good" was lighting up the gold of his hair. May our
Father which is in heaven yet show mercy to His outcast child!
Mr. Kavan soon overtook me, and we had an exciting race of two
miles, getting home just before the wind fell and the snow began.
Thanksgiving Day. The thing dreaded has come at last, a
snow-storm, with a north-east wind. It ceased about midnight,
but not till it had covered my bed. Then the mercury fell below
zero, and everything froze. I melted a tin of water for washing
by the fire, but it was hard frozen before I could use it. My
hair, which was thoroughly wet with the thawed snow of yesterday,
is hard frozen in plaits. The milk and treacle are like rock,
the eggs have to be kept on the coolest part of the stove to keep
them fluid. Two calves in the shed were frozen to death. Half
our floor is deep in snow, and it is so cold that we cannot open
the door to shovel it out. The snow began again at eight this
morning, very fine and hard. It blows in through the chinks and
dusts this letter while I write. Mr. Kavan keeps my ink bottle
close to the fire, and hands it to me every time that I need to
dip my pen. We have a huge fire, but cannot raise the
temperature above 20 degrees. Ever since I returned the lake has
been hard enough to bear a wagon, but to-day it is difficult to
keep the water hole open by the constant use of the axe. The
snow may either melt or block us in. Our only anxiety is about
the supplies. We have tea and coffee enough to last over
to-morrow, the sugar is just done, and the flour is getting low.
It is really serious that we have "another mouth to feed," and
the newcomer is a ravenous creature, eating more than the three
of us. It dismays me to see his hungry eyes gauging the supply
at breakfast, and to see the loaf disappear. He told me this
morning that he could eat the whole of what was on the table. He
is mad after food, and I see that Mr. K. is starving himself to
make it hold out. Mr. Buchan is very far from well, and dreads
the prospect of "half rations." All this sounds laughable, but
we shall not laugh if we have to look hunger in the face! Now in
the evening the snow clouds, which have blotted out all things,
are lifting, and the winter scene is wonderful. The mercury is 5
degrees below zero, and the aurora is glorious. In my unchinked
room the mercury is 1 degrees below zero. Mr. Buchan can hardly
get his breath; the dryness is intense. We spent the afternoon
cooking the Thanksgiving dinner. I made a wonderful pudding, for
which I had saved eggs and cream for days, and dried and stoned
cherries supplied the place of currants. I made a bowl of
custard for sauce, which the men said was "splendid"; also a
rolled pudding, with molasses; and we had venison steak and
potatoes, but for tea we were obliged to use the tea leaves of
the morning again. I should think that few people in America
have enjoyed their Thanksgiving dinner more. We had urged Mr.
Nugent to join us, but he refused, almost savagely, which we
regretted. My four-pound cake made yesterday is all gone! This
wretched boy confesses that he was so hungry in the night that he
got up and ate nearly half of it. He is trying to cajole me into
making another.
November 29.
Before the boy came I had mistaken some faded cayenne pepper for
ginger, and had made a cake with it. Last evening I put half of
it into the cupboard and left the door open. During the night we
heard a commotion in the kitchen and much choking, coughing, and
groaning, and at breakfast the boy was unable to swallow food
with his usual ravenousness. After breakfast he came to me
whimpering, and asking for something soothing for his throat,
admitting that he had seen the "gingerbread," and "felt so
starved" in the night that he got up to eat it.
I tried to make him feel that it was "real mean" to eat so much
and be so useless, and he said he would do anything to help me,
but the men were so "down on him." I never saw men so patient
with a lad before. He is a most vexing addition to our party,
yet one cannot help laughing at him. He is not honorable,
though. I dare not leave this letter lying on the table, as he
would read it. He writes for two Western periodicals (at least
he says so), and he shows us long pieces of his published poetry.
In one there are twenty lines copied (as Mr. Kavan has shown me)
without alteration from Paradise Lost; in another there are two
stanzas from Resignation, with only the alteration of "stray" for
"dead"; and he has passed the whole of Bonar's Meeting-place off
as his own. Again, he lent me an essay by himself, called The
Function of the Novelist, which is nothing but a mosaic of
unacknowledged quotations. The men tell me that he has "bragged"
to them that on his way here he took shelter in Mr. Nugent's
cabin, found out where he hides his key, opened his box, and read
his letters and MSS. He is a perfect plague with his ignorance
and SELF-sufficiency. The first day after he came while I was
washing up the breakfast things he told me that he intended to do
all the dirty work, so I left the knives and forks in the tub and
asked him to wipe and lay them aside. Two hours afterwards I
found them untouched. Again the men went out hunting, and he
said he would chop the wood for several days' use, and after a
few strokes, which were only successful in chipping off some
shavings, he came in and strummed on the harmonium, leaving me
without any wood with which to make the fire for supper. He
talked about his skill with the lasso, but could not even catch
one of our quietest horses. Worse than all, he does not know one
cow from another. Two days ago he lost our milch cow in driving
her in to be milked, and Mr. Kavan lost hours of valuable time in
hunting for her without success. To-day he told us triumphantly
that he had found her, and he was sent out to milk her. After
two hours he returned with a rueful face and a few drops of
whitish fluid in the milk pail, saying that that was all he could
get. On Mr. K. going out, he found, instead of our "calico" cow,
a brindled one that had been dry since the spring! Our cow has
gone off to the wild cattle, and we are looking very grim at
Lyman, who says that he expected he should live on milk. I told
him to fill up the four-gallon kettle, and an hour afterwards
found it red-hot on the stove. Nothing can be kept from him
unless it is hidden in my room. He has eaten two pounds of dried
cherries from the shelf, half of my second four-pound spice loaf
before it was cold, licked up my custard sauce in the night, and
privately devoured the pudding which was to be for supper. He
confesses to it all, and says, "I suppose you think me a cure."
Mr. K. says that the first thing he said to him this morning was,
"Will Miss B. make us a nice pudding to-day?" This is all
harmless, but the plagiarism and want of honor are disgusting,
and quite out of keeping with his profession of being a
theological student.
This life is in some respects like being on board ship--there are
no mails, and one knows nothing beyond one's little world, a very
little one in this case. We find each other true, and have
learnt to esteem and trust each other. I should, for instance,
go out of this room leaving this book open on the table, knowing
that the men would not read my letter. They are discreet,
reticent, observant, and on many subjects well informed, but they
are of a type which has no antitype at home. All women work in
this region, so there is no fuss about my working, or saying,
"Oh, you mustn't do that," or "Oh, let me do that."
November 30.
We sat up till eleven last night, so confident were we that
Edwards would leave Denver the day after Thanksgiving and get up
here. This morning we came to the resolution that we must break
up. Tea, coffee, and sugar are done, the venison is turning
sour, and the men have only one month left for the hunting on
which their winter living depends. I cannot leave the Territory
till I get money, but I can go to Longmount for the mail and hear
whether the panic is abating. Yesterday I was alone all day, and
after riding to the base of Long's Peak, made two roly-poly
puddings for supper, having nothing else. The men, however, came
back perfectly loaded with trout, and we had a feast. Epicures
at home would have envied us. Mr. Kavan kept the frying pan with
boiling butter on the stove, butter enough thoroughly to cover
the trout, rolled them in coarse corn meal, plunged them into the
butter, turned them once, and took them out, thoroughly done,
fizzing, and lemon colored. For once young Lyman was satisfied,
for the dish was replenished as often as it was emptied. They
caught 40 lbs., and have packed them in ice until they can be
sent to Denver for sale. The winter fishing is very rich. In
the hardest frost, men who fish not for sport, but gain, take
their axes and camping blankets, and go up to the hard-frozen
waters which lie in fifty places round the park, and choosing a
likely spot, a little sheltered from the wind, hack a hole in the
ice, and fastening a foot-link to a cotton-wood tree, bait the
hook with maggots or bits of easily-gotten fresh meat. Often the
trout are caught as fast as the hook can be baited, and looking
through the ice hole in the track of a sunbeam, you see a mass of
tails, silver fins, bright eyes, and crimson spots, a perfect
shoal of fish, and truly beautiful the crimson-spotted creatures
look, lying still and dead on the blue ice under the sunshine.
Sometimes two men bring home 60 lbs. of trout as the result of
one day's winter fishing. It is a cold and silent sport,
How a cook at home would despise our scanty appliances, with
which we turn out luxuries. We have only a cooking-stove, which
requires incessant feeding with wood, a kettle, a frying pan, a
six-gallon brass pan, and a bottle for a rolling pin. The cold
has been very severe, but I do not suffer from it even in my
insufficient clothing. I take a piece of granite made very hot
to bed, draw the blankets over my head and sleep eight hours,
though the snow often covers me. One day of snow, mist, and
darkness was rather depressing, and yesterday a hurricane began
about five in the morning, and the whole park was one swirl of
drifting snow, like stinging wood smoke. My bed and room were
white, and the frost was so intense that water brought in a
kettle hot from the fire froze as I poured it into the basin.
Then the snow ceased, and a fierce wind blew most of it out of
the park, lifting it from the mountains in such clouds as to make
Long's Peak look like a smoking volcano. To-day the sky has
resumed its delicious blue, and the park its unrivalled beauty.
I have cleaned all the windows, which, ever since I have been
here, I supposed were of discolored glass, so opaque and dirty
they were; and when the men came home from fishing they found a
cheerful new world. We had a great deal of sacred music and
singing on Sunday. Mr. Buchan asked me if I knew a tune called
"America," and began the grand roll of our National Anthem to the
My country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty, etc.
December 1.
I was to have started for Canyon to-day, but was awoke by snow as
stinging as pinpoints beating on my hand. We all got up early,
but it did not improve until nearly noon. In the afternoon Lyman
and I rode to Mr. Nugent's cabin. I wanted him to read and
correct my letter to you, giving the account of our ascent of
Long's Peak, but he said he could not, and insisted on our
going in for which young Lyman was more anxious than I was, as
Mr. Kavan had seen "Jim" in the morning, and departed from his
usual reticence so far as to say, "There's something wrong with
that man; he'll either shoot himself or somebody else." However,
the "ugly fit" had passed off, and he was so very pleasant and
courteous that we remained the whole afternoon. Lyman's one
thought was that he could make capital out of the interview, and
write an account of the celebrated desperado for a Western paper.
The interior of the den was frightful, yet among his black and
hideous surroundings the grace of his manner and the genius of
his conversation were only more apparent. I read my letter
aloud--or rather "The Ascent of Long's Peak," which I have
written for Out West--and was sincerely interested with the taste
and acumen of his criticisms on the style. He is a true child of
nature; his eye brightened and his whole face became radiant, and
at last tears rolled down his cheek when I read the account of
the glory of the sunrise. Then he read us a very able paper on
Spiritualism which he was writing. The den was dense with smoke,
and very dark, littered with hay, old blankets, skins, bones,
tins, logs, powder flasks, magazines, old books, old moccasins,
horseshoes, and relics of all kinds. He had no better seat to
offer me than a log, but offered it with a graceful
unconsciousness that it was anything less luxurious than an easy
chair. Two valuable rifles and a Sharp's revolver hung on the
wall, and the sash and badge of a scout. I could not help
looking at "Jim" as he stood talking to me. He goes mad with
drink at times, swears fearfully, has an ungovernable temper. He
has formerly led a desperate life, and is at times even now
undoubtedly a ruffian. There is hardly a fireside in Colorado
where fearful stories of him as an Indian fighter are not told;
mothers frighten their naughty children by telling them that
"Mountain Jim" will get them, and doubtless his faults are
glaring, but he is undoubtedly fascinating, and enjoys a
popularity or notoriety which no other person has. He offered to
be my guide to the Plains when I go away. Lyman asked me if I
should not be afraid of being murdered, but one could not be
safer than with him I have often been told.
The cold was truly awful. I had caught a chill in the morning
from putting on my clothes before they were dry, and the warmth
of the smoky den was most agreeable; but we had a fearful ride
back in the dusk, a gale nearly blowing us off our horses,
drifting snow nearly blinding us, and the mercury below zero. I
felt as if I were going to be laid up with a severe cold, but the
men suggested a trapper's remedy--a tumbler of hot water, with a
pinch of cayenne pepper in it--which proved a very rapid cure.
They kindly say that if the snow detains me here they also will
remain. They tell me that they were horrified when I arrived, as
they thought that they could not make me comfortable, and that I
had never been used to do anything for myself, and then we
complimented each other all round. To-morrow, weather
permitting, I set off for a ride of 100 miles, and my next letter
will be my last from the Rocky Mountains.
I. L. B.
Letter XVI
A harmonious home--Intense cold--A purple sun--A grim jest--A
perilous ride--Frozen eyelids--Longmount--The pathless
prairie--Hardships of emigrant life--A trapper's advice--The
Little Thompson--Evans and "Jim."
Once again here, in refined and cultured society, with harmonious
voices about me, and dear, sweet, loving children whose winning
ways make this cabin a true English home. "England, with all thy
faults, I love thee still!" I can truly say,
Where'er I roam, whatever realms I see.
My heart, untraveled, fondly turns to thee.
If it swerved a little in the Sandwich Islands, it is true to the
Pole now! Surely one advantage of traveling is that, while it
removes much prejudice against foreigners and their customs, it
intensifies tenfold one's appreciation of the good at home, and,
above all, of the quietness and purity of English domestic life.
These reflections are forced upon me by the sweet child-voices
about me, and by the exquisite consideration and tenderness which
are the atmosphere (some would call it the hothouse atmosphere)
of this house. But with the bare, hard life, and the bare, bleak
mountains around, who could find fault with even a hothouse
atmosphere, if it can nourish such a flower of Paradise as sacred
human love?
The mercury is eleven degrees below zero, and I have to keep my
ink on the stove to prevent it from freezing. The cold is
intense--a clear, brilliant, stimulating cold, so dry that even
in my threadbare flannel riding dress I do not suffer from it. I
must now take up my narrative of the nothings which have all the
interest of SOMETHINGS to me. We all got up before daybreak on
Tuesday, and breakfasted at seven. I have not seen the dawn for
some time, with its amber fires deepening into red, and the snow
peaks flushing one by one, and it seemed a new miracle. It was a
west wind, and we all thought it promised well. I took only two
pounds of luggage, some raisins, the mailbag, and an additional
blanket under my saddle. I had not been up from the park at
sunrise before, and it was quite glorious, the purple depths of
M'Ginn's Gulch, from which at a height of 9,000 feet you look
down on the sunlit park 1,500 feet below, lying in a red haze,
with its pearly needle-shaped peaks, framed by mountain sides
dark with pines--my glorious, solitary, unique mountain home!
The purple sun rose in front. Had I known what made it purple I
should certainly have gone no farther. Then clouds, the morning
mist as I supposed, lifted themselves up rose lighted, showing
the sun's disc as purple as one of the jars in a chemist's
window, and having permitted this glimpse of their king, came
down again as a dense mist, the wind chopped round, and the mist
began to freeze hard. Soon Birdie and myself were a mass of
acicular crystals; it was a true easterly fog. I galloped on,
hoping to get through it, unable to see a yard before me; but it
thickened, and I was obliged to subside into a jog-trot.
As I rode on, about four miles from the cabin, a human figure,
looking gigantic like the spectre of the Brocken, with long hair
white as snow, appeared close to me, and at the same moment there
was the flash of a pistol close to my ear, and I recognized
"Mountain Jim" frozen from head to foot, looking a century old
with his snowy hair. It was "ugly" altogether certainly, a
"desperado's" grim jest, and it was best to accept it as such,
though I had just cause for displeasure. He stormed and scolded,
dragged me off the pony--for my hands and feet were numb with
cold--took the bridle, and went off at a rapid stride, so that I
had to run to keep them in sight in the darkness, for we were off
the road in a thicket of scrub, looking like white branch coral,
I knew not where. Then we came suddenly on his cabin, and dear
old "Ring," white like all else; and the "ruffian" insisted on my
going in, and he made a good fire, and heated some coffee, raging
all the time. He said everything against my going forward,
except that it was dangerous; all he said came true, and here I
am safe! Your letters, however, outweighed everything but
danger, and I decided on going on, when he said, "I've seen many
foolish people, but never one so foolish as you--you haven't a
grain of sense. Why, I, an old mountaineer, wouldn't go down to
the Plains to-day." I told him he could not, though he would
like it very much, for that he had turned his horses loose; on
which he laughed heartily, and more heartily still at the stories
I told him of young Lyman, so that I have still a doubt how much
of the dark moods I have lately seen was assumed.
He took me back to the track; and the interview which began with
a pistol shot, ended quite pleasantly. It was an eerie ride, one
not to be forgotten, though there was no danger. I could not
recognize any localities. Every tree was silvered, and the
fir-tree tufts of needles looked like white chrysanthemums. The
snow lay a foot deep in the gulches, with its hard, smooth
surface marked by the feet of innumerable birds and beasts. Ice
bridges had formed across all the streams, and I crossed them
without knowing when. Gulches looked fathomless abysses, with
clouds boiling up out of them, and shaggy mountain summits, half
seen for a moment through the eddies, as quickly vanished.
Everything looked vast and indefinite. Then a huge creation,
like one of Dore's phantom illustrations, with much breathing of
wings, came sailing towards me in a temporary opening in the
mist. As with a strange rustle it passed close over my head, I
saw, for the first time, the great mountain eagle, carrying a
good-sized beast in his talons. It was a noble vision. Then
there were ten miles of metamorphosed gulches--silent,
awful--many ice bridges, then a frozen drizzle, and then the
winds changed from east to north-east. Birdie was covered with
exquisite crystals, and her long mane and the long beard which
covers her throat were pure white. I saw that I must give up
crossing the mountains to this place by an unknown trail; and I
struck the old trail to the St. Vrain, which I had never traveled
before, but which I knew to be more legible than the new one.
The fog grew darker and thicker, the day colder and windier, the
drifts deeper; but Birdie, whose four cunning feet had carried me
600 miles, and who in all difficulties proves her value, never
flinched or made a false step, or gave me reason to be sorry that
I had come on.
I got down to the St. Vrain Canyon in good time, and stopped at a
house thirteen miles from Longmount to get oats. I was white
from head to foot, and my clothes were frozen stiff. The women
gave me the usual invitation, "Put your feet in the oven"; and I
got my clothes thawed and dried, and a delicious meal consisting
of a basin of cream and bread. They said it would be worse on
the plains, for it was an easterly storm; but as I was so used to
riding, I could get on, so we started at 2:30. Not far off I met
Edwards going up at last to Estes Park, and soon after the
snow-storm began in earnest--or rather I entered the storm, which
had been going on there for several hours. By that time I had
reached the prairie, only eight miles from Longmount, and pushed
on. It was simply fearful. It was twilight from the thick snow,
and I faced a furious east wind loaded with fine, hard-frozen
crystals, which literally made my face bleed. I could only see a
very short distance anywhere; the drifts were often two feet
deep, and only now and then, through the blinding whirl, I caught
a glimpse of snow through which withered sunflowers did not
protrude, and then I knew that I was on the track. But reaching
a wild place, I lost it, and still cantered on, trusting to the
pony's sagacity. It failed for once, for she took me on a lake
and we fell through the ice into the water, 100 yards from land,
and had a hard fight back again. It grew worse and worse. I had
wrapped up my face, but the sharp, hard snow beat on my eyes--the
only exposed part--bringing tears into them, which froze and
closed up my eye-lids at once. You cannot imagine what that was.
I had to take off one glove to pick one eye open, for as to the
other, the storm beat so savagely against it that I left it
frozen, and drew over it the double piece of flannel which
protected my face. I could hardly keep the other open by picking
the ice from it constantly with my numb fingers, in doing which I
got the back of my hand slightly frostbitten. It was truly awful
at the time. I often thought, "Suppose I am going south instead
of east? Suppose Birdie should fail? Suppose it should grow
quite dark?" I was mountaineer enough to shake these fears off
and keep up my spirits, but I knew how many had perished on the
prairie in similar storms. I calculated that if I did not reach
Longmount in half an hour it would be quite dark, and that I
should be so frozen or paralyzed with cold that I should fall
Not a quarter of an hour after I had wondered how long I could
hold on I saw, to my surprise, close to me, half-smothered in
snow, the scattered houses and blessed lights of Longmount, and
welcome, indeed, its wide, dreary, lifeless, soundless road
looked! When I reached the hotel I was so benumbed that I could
not get off, and the worthy host lifted me off and carried me in.
Not expecting any travelers, they had no fire except in the
bar-room, so they took me to the stove in their own room, gave me
a hot drink and plenty of blankets and in half an hour I was all
right and ready for a ferocious meal. "If there's a traveler on
the prairie to-night, God help him!" the host had said to his
wife just before I came in.
I found Evans there, storm stayed, and that--to his great credit
at the time--my money matters were all right. After the sound
and refreshing sleep which one gets in this splendid climate, I
was ready for an early start, but, warned by yesterday's
experience, waited till twelve to be sure of the weather. The
air was intensely clear, and the mercury SEVENTEEN DEGREES BELOW
ZERO! The snow sparkled and snapped under one's feet. It was
gloriously beautiful! In this climate, if you only go out for a
short time you do not feel cold even without a hat, or any
additional wrappings. I bought a cardigan for myself, however,
and some thick socks, got some stout snow-shoes for Birdie's hind
feet, had a pleasant talk with some English friends, did some
commissions for the men in the park, and hung about waiting for a
freight train to break the track, but eventually, inspirited by
the good news from you, left Longmount alone, and for the last
time. I little thought that miserable, broiling day on which I
arrived at it with Dr. and Mrs. Hughes, of the glories of which
it was the gate, and of the "good times" I should have. Now I am
at home in it; every one in it and along the St. Vrain Canyon
addresses me in a friendly way by name; and the newspapers, with
their intolerable personality, have made me and my riding
exploits so notorious, that travelers speak courteously to me
when they meet me on the prairie, doubtless wishing to see what
sort of monster I am! I have met nothing but civility, both of
manner and speech, except that distraught pistol shot. It looked
icily beautiful, the snow so pure and the sky such a bright,
sharp blue! The snow was so deep and level that after a few
miles I left the track, and steering for Storm Peak, rode sixteen
miles over the pathless prairie without seeing man, bird, or
beast--a solitude awful even in the bright sunshine. The cold,
always great, became piteous. I increased the frostbite of
yesterday by exposing my hand in mending the stirrup; and when
the sun sank in indescribable beauty behind the mountains, and
color rioted in the sky, I got off and walked the last four
miles, and stole in here in the colored twilight without any one
seeing me.
The life of which I wrote before is scarcely less severe, though
lightened by a hope of change, and this weather brings out some
special severities. The stove has to be in the living-room, the
children cannot go out, and, good and delightful as they are, it
is hard for them to be shut up all day with four adults. It is
more of a trouble than you would think for a lady in precarious
health that before each meal, eggs, butter, milk, preserves, and
pickles have to be unfrozen. Unless they are kept on the stove,
there is no part of the room in which they do not freeze. It is
uninteresting down here in the Foot Hills. I long for the
rushing winds, the piled-up peaks, the great pines, the wild
night noises, the poetry and the prose of the free, jolly life of
my unrivalled eyrie. I can hardly realize that the river which
lies ice bound outside this house is the same which flashes
through Estes Park, and which I saw snow born on Long's Peak.
Yesterday morning the mercury had disappeared, so it was 20
degrees below zero at least. I lay awake from cold all night,
but such is the wonderful effect of the climate, that when I got
up at half-past five to waken the household for my early start, I
felt quite refreshed. We breakfasted on buffalo beef, and I left
at eight to ride forty-five miles before night, Dr. Hughes and a
gentleman who was staying there convoying me the first fifteen
miles. I did like that ride, racing with the other riders,
careering through the intoxicating air in that indescribable
sunshine, the powdery snow spurned from the horses' feet like
dust! I was soon warm. We stopped at a trapper's ranch to feed,
and the old trapper amused me by seeming to think Estes Park
almost inaccessible in winter. The distance was greater than I
had been told, and he said that I could not get there before
eleven at night, and not at all if there was much drift. I
wanted the gentlemen to go on with me as far as the Devil's Gate,
but they could not because their horses were tired; and when the
trapper heard that he exclaimed, indignantly, "What! that woman
going into the mountains alone? She'll lose the track or be
froze to death!" But when I told him I had ridden the trail in
the storm of Tuesday, and had ridden over 600 miles alone in the
mountains, he treated me with great respect as a fellow
mountaineer, and gave me some matches, saying, "You'll have to
camp out anyhow; you'd better make a fire than be froze to
death." The idea of my spending the night in the forest alone,
by a fire, struck me as most grotesque.
We did not start again till one, and the two gentlemen rode the
first two miles with me. On that track, the Little Thompson,
there a full stream, has to be crossed eighteen times, and they
had been hauling wood across it, breaking it, and it had broken
and refrozen several times, making thick and thin places--indeed,
there were crossings which even I thought bad, where the ice let
us through, and it was hard for the horses to struggle upon it
again; and one of the gentlemen who, though a most accomplished
man, was not a horseman, was once or twice in the ludicrous
position of hesitating on the bank with an anxious face, not
daring to spur his horse upon the ice. After they left me I had
eight more crossings, and then a ride of six miles, before I
reached the old trail; but though there were several drifts up to
the saddle, and no one had broken a track, Birdie showed such a
pluck, that instead of spending the night by a camp-fire, or not
getting in till midnight, I reached Mr. Nugent's cabin, four
miles from Estes Park, only an hour after dark, very cold, and
with the pony so tired that she could hardly put one foot before
another. Indeed, I walked the last three miles. I saw light
through the chinks but, hearing an earnest conversation within,
was just about to withdraw, when "Ring" barked, and on his master
coming to the door I found that the solitary man was talking to
his dog. He was looking out for me, and had some coffee ready,
and a large fire, which were very pleasant; and I was very glad
to get the latest news from the park. He said that Evans told
him that it would be most difficult for any one of them to take
me down to the Plains, but that he would go, which is a great
relief. According to the Scotch proverb, "Better a finger off
than aye wagging," and as I cannot live here (for you would not
like the life or climate), the sooner I leave the better.
The solitary ride to Evans's was very eerie. It was very dark,
and the noises were unintelligible. Young Lyman rushed out to
take my horse, and the light and warmth within were delightful,
but there was a stiffness about the new regime. Evans, though
steeped in difficulties, was as hearty and generous as ever; but
Edwards, who had assumed the management, is prudent, if not
parsimonious, thinks we wasted the supplies recklessly, and the
limitations as to milk, etc., are painfully apparent. A young
ex-Guardsman has come up with Evans, of whom the sanguine
creature forms great expectations, to be disappointed doubtless.
In the afternoon of yesterday a gentleman came who I thought was
another stranger, strikingly handsome, well dressed, and barely
forty, with sixteen shining gold curls falling down his collar;
he walked in, and it was only after a careful second look that I
recognized in our visitor the redoubtable "desperado." Evans
courteously pressed him to stay and dine with us, and not only
did he show the most singular conversational dexterity in talking
with the stranger, who was a very well-informed man, and had seen
a great deal of the world, but, though he lives and eats like a
savage, his manners and way of eating were as refined as
possible. I notice that Evans is never quite himself or
perfectly comfortable when he is there; and on the part of the
other there is a sort of stiffly-assumed cordiality, significant,
I fear of lurking hatred on both sides. I was in the kitchen
after dinner making rolled puddings, young Lyman was eating up
the relics as usual, "Jim" was singing one of Moore's melodies,
the others being in the living-room, when Mr. Kavan and Mr.
Buchan came from "up the creek" to wish me good-bye. They said
it was not half so much like home now, and recalled the "good
time" we had had for three weeks. Lyman having lost the ow, we
have no milk. No one makes bread; they dry the venison into
chips, and getting the meals at all seems a work of toil and
difficulty, instead of the pleasure it used to be to us. Evans,
since tea, has told me all his troubles and worries. He is a
kind, generous, whole-hearted, unsuspicious man, a worse enemy to
himself, I believe, than to any other; but I feel sadly that the
future of a man who has not stronger principles than he has must
be at the best very insecure.
I. L. B.
Letter XVII
Woman's mission--The last morning--Crossing the St.
Vrain--Miller--The St. Vrain again--Crossing the prairie--"Jim's"
dream--"Keeping strangers"--The inn kitchen--A reputed
child-eater--Notoriety--A quiet dance--"Jim's" resolve--The
frost-fall--An unfortunate introduction.
The last evening came. I did not wish to realize it, as I looked
at the snow-peaks glistening in the moonlight. No woman will be
seen in the park till next May. Young Lyman talked in a
"hifalutin" style, but with some truth in it, of the influence of
a woman's presence, how "low, mean, vulgar talk" had died out on
my return, how they had "all pulled themselves up," and how Mr.
Kavan and Mr. Buchan had said they would like always to be as
quiet and gentlemanly as when a lady was with them. "By May," he
said, "we shall be little better than brutes, in our manners at
least." I have seen a great deal of the roughest class of men
both on sea and land during the last two years, and the more
important I think the "mission" of every quiet, refined,
self-respecting woman--the more mistaken I think those who would
forfeit it by noisy self-assertion, masculinity, or fastness. In
all this wild West the influence of woman is second only in its
benefits to the influence of religion, and where the last
unhappily does not exist the first continually exerts its
restraining power. The last morning came. I cleaned up my room
and sat at the window watching the red and gold of one of the
most glorious of winter sunrises, and the slow lighting-up of one
peak after another. I have written that this scenery is not
lovable, but I love it.
I left on Birdie at 11 o'clock, Evans riding with me as far as
Mr. Nugent's. He was telling me so many things, that at the top
of the hill I forgot to turn round and take a last look at my
colossal, resplendent, lonely, sunlit den, but it was needless,
for I carry it away with me. I should not have been able to
leave if Mr. Nugent had not offered his services. His chivalry
to women is so well known, that Evans said I could be safer and
better cared for with no one. He added, "His heart is good and
kind, as kind a heart as ever beat. He's a great enemy of his
own, but he's been living pretty quietly for the last four
years." At the door of his den I took leave of Birdie, who had
been my faithful companion for more than 700 miles of traveling,
and of Evans, who had been uniformly kind to me and just in all
his dealings, even to paying to me at that moment the very last
dollar he owed me. May God bless him and his! He was obliged to
return before I could get off, and as he commended me to Mr.
Nugent's care, the two men shook hands kindly.[21]
[21]Some months later "Mountain Jim" fell by Evans's hand, shot
from Evans's doorstep while riding past his cabin. The story of
the previous weeks is dark, sad, and evil. Of the five differing
versions which have been written to me of the act itself and its
immediate causes, it is best to give none. The tragedy is too
painful to dwell upon. "Jim" lived long enough to give his own
statement, and to appeal to the judgment of God, but died in low
delirium before the case reached a human tribunal.
Rich spoils of beavers' skins were lying on the cabin floor, and
the trapper took the finest, a mouse-colored kitten beaver's
skin, and presented it to me. I hired his beautiful Arab mare,
whose springy step and long easy stride was a relief after
Birdie's short sturdy gait. We had a very pleasant ride, and I
seldom had to walk. We took neither of the trails, but cut right
through the forest to a place where, through an opening in the
Foot Hills, the Plains stretched to the horizon covered with
snow, the surface of which, having melted and frozen, reflected
as water would the pure blue of the sky, presenting a complete
optical illusion. It required my knowledge of fact to assure me
that I was not looking at the ocean. "Jim" shortened the way by
repeating a great deal of poetry, and by earnest, reasonable
conversation, so that I was quite surprised when it grew dark.
He told me that he never lay down to sleep without prayer--prayer
chiefly that God would give him a happy death. He had previously
promised that he would not hurry or scold, but "fyking" had not
been included in the arrangement, and when in the early darkness
we reached the steep hill, at whose foot the rapid deep St. Vrain
flows, he "fyked" unreasonably about me, the mare, and the
crossing generally, and seemed to think I could not get through,
for the ice had been cut with an axe, and we could not see
whether "glaze" had formed since or not.
I was to have slept at the house of a woman farther down the
canyon, who never ceases talking, but Miller, the young man whose
attractive house and admirable habits I have mentioned before,
came out and said his house was "now fixed for ladies," so we
stayed there, and I was "made as comfortable" as could be. His
house is a model. He cleans everything as soon as it is used, so
nothing is ever dirty, and his stove and cooking gear in their
bright parts look like polished silver. It was amusing to hear
the two men talk like two women about various ways of making
bread and biscuits, one even writing out a recipe for the other.
It was almost grievous that a solitary man should have the power
of making a house so comfortable! They heated a stone for my
feet, warmed a blanket for me to sleep in, and put logs enough on
the fire to burn all night, for the mercury was eleven below
zero. The stars were intensely bright, and a well-defined
auroral arch, throwing off fantastic coruscations, lighted the
whole northern sky. Yet I was only in the Foot Hills, and Long's
glorious Peak was not to be seen. Miller had all his things
"washed up" and his "pots and pans" cleaned in ten minutes after
supper, and then had the whole evening in which to smoke and
enjoy himself--a poor woman would probably have been "fussing
round" till 10 o'clock about the same work. Besides Ring there
was another gigantic dog craving for notice, and two large cats,
which, the whole evening, were on their master's knee. Cold as
the night was, the house was chinked, and the rooms felt quite
warm. I even missed the free currents of air which I had been
used to! This was my last evening in what may be called a
mountainous region.
The next morning, as soon as the sun was well risen, we left for
our journey of 30 miles, which had to be done nearly at a foot's
pace, owing to one horse being encumbered with my luggage. I did
not wish to realize that it was my last ride, and my last
association with any of the men of the mountains whom I had
learned to trust, and in some respects to admire. No more
hunters' tales told while the pine knots crack and blaze; no more
thrilling narratives of adventures with Indians and bears; and
never again shall I hear that strange talk of Nature and her
doings which is the speech of those who live with her and her
alone. Already the dismalness of a level land comes over me.
The canyon of the St. Vrain was in all its glory of color, but we
had a remarkably ugly crossing of that brilliant river, which was
frozen all over, except an unpleasant gap of about two feet in
the middle. Mr. Nugent had to drive the frightened horses
through, while I, having crossed on some logs lower down, had to
catch them on the other side as they plunged to shore trembling
with fear. Then we emerged on the vast expanse of the glittering
Plains, and a sudden sweep of wind made the cold so intolerable
that I had to go into a house to get warm. This was the last
house we saw till we reached our destination that night. I never
saw the mountain range look so beautiful--uplifted in every shade
of transparent blue, till the sublimity of Long's Peak, and the
lofty crest of Storm Peak, bore only unsullied snow against the
sky. Peaks gleamed in living light; canyons lay in depths of
purple shade; 100 miles away Pike's Peak rose a lump of blue, and
over all, through that glorious afternoon, a veil of blue
spiritualized without dimming the outlines of that most glorious
range, making it look like the dreamed-of mountains of "the land
which is very far off," till at sunset it stood out sharp in
glories of violet and opal, and the whole horizon up to a great
height was suffused with the deep rose and pure orange of the
afterglow. It seemed all dream-like as we passed through the
sunlit solitude, on the right the prairie waves lessening towards
the far horizon, while on the left they broke in great snowy
surges against the Rocky Mountains. All that day we neither saw
man, beast, nor bird. "Jim" was silent mostly. Like all true
children of the mountains, he pined even when temporarily absent
from them.
At sunset we reached a cluster of houses called Namaqua, where,
to my dismay, I heard that there was to be a dance at the one
little inn to which we were going at St. Louis. I pictured to
myself no privacy, no peace, no sleep, drinking, low sounds, and
worse than all, "Jim" getting into a quarrel and using his
pistols. He was uncomfortable about it for another reason. He
said he had dreamt the night before that there was to be a dance,
and that he had to shoot a man for making "an unpleasant remark."
For the last three miles which we accomplished after sunset the
cold was most severe, but nothing could exceed the beauty of the
afterglow, and the strange look of the rolling plains of snow
beneath it. When we got to the queer little place where they
"keep strangers" at St. Louis, they were very civil, and said
that after supper we could have the kitchen to ourselves. I
found a large, prononcee, competent, bustling widow, hugely
stout, able to manage all men and everything else, and a very
florid sister like herself, top heavy with hair. There were
besides two naughty children in the kitchen, who cried
incessantly, and kept opening and shutting the door. There was
no place to sit down but a wooden chair by the side of the
kitchen stove, at which supper was being cooked for ten men. The
bustle and clatter were indescribable, and the landlady asked
innumerable questions, and seemed to fill the whole room. The
only expedient for me for the night was to sleep on a shake-down
in a very small room occupied by the two women and the children,
and even this was not available till midnight, when the dance
terminated; and there was no place in which to wash except a bowl
in the kitchen. I sat by the stove till supper, wearying of the
noise and bustle after the quiet of Estes Park.
The landlady asked, with great eagerness, who the gentleman was
who was with me, and said that the men outside were saying that
they were sure that it was "Rocky Mountain Jim," but she was sure
it was not. When I told her that the men were right, she
exclaimed, "Do tell! I want to know! that quiet, kind
gentleman!" and she said she used to frighten her children when
they were naughty by telling them that "he would get them, for he
came down from the mountains every week, and took back a child
with him to eat!" She was as proud of having him in her house as
if he had been the President, and I gained a reflected
importance! All the men in the settlement assembled in the front
room, hoping he would go and smoke there, and when he remained in
the kitchen they came round the window and into the doorway to
look at him. The children got on his knee, and, to my great
relief, he kept them good and quiet, and let them play with his
curls, to the great delight of the two women, who never took
their eyes off him. At last the bad-smelling supper was served,
and ten silent men came in and gobbled it up, staring steadily at
"Jim" as they gobbled. Afterwards, there seemed no hope of
quiet, so we went to the post-office, and while waiting for
stamps were shown into the prettiest and most ladylike-looking
room I have seen in the West, created by a pretty and
refined-looking woman. She made an opportunity for asking me if
it were true that the gentleman with me was "Mountain Jim," and
added that so very gentlemanly a person could not be guilty of
the misdeeds attributed to him.
When we returned, the kitchen was much quieter. It was cleared
by eight, as the landlady promised; we had it to ourselves till
twelve, and could scarcely hear the music. It was a most
respectable dance, a fortnightly gathering got up by the
neighboring settlers, most of them young married people, and
there was no drinking at all. I wrote to you for some time,
while Mr. Nugent copied for himself the poems "In the Glen" and
the latter half of "The River without a Bridge," which he recited
with deep feeling. It was altogether very quiet and peaceful.
He repeated to me several poems of great merit which he had
composed, and told me much more about his life. I knew that no
one else could or would speak to him as I could, and for the last
time I urged upon him the necessity of a reformation in his life,
beginning with the giving up of whisky, going so far as to tell
him that I despised a man of his intellect for being a slave to
such a vice. "Too late! too late!" he always answered, "for such
a change." Ay, TOO LATE. He shed tears quietly. "It might have
been once," he said. Ay, MIGHT have been. He has excellent
sense for every one but himself, and, as I have seen him with a
single exception, a gentleness, propriety, and considerateness of
manner surprising in any man, but especially so in a man
associating only with the rough men of the West. As I looked at
him, I felt a pity such as I never before felt for a human being.
My thought at the moment was, Will not our Father in heaven, "who
spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all," be far
more pitiful? For the time a desire for self-respect, better
aspirations, and even hope itself, entered his dark life; and he
said, suddenly, that he had made up his mind to give up whisky
and his reputation as a desperado. But it is "too late." A
little before twelve the dance was over, and I got to the crowded
little bedroom, which only allowed of one person standing in it
at a time, to sleep soundly and dream of "ninety-and-nine just
persons who need no repentance." The landlady was quite taken up
with her "distinguished guest." "That kind, quiet gentleman,
Mountain Jim! Well, I never! he must be a very good man!"
Yesterday morning the mercury was 20 degrees below zero. I think
I never saw such a brilliant atmosphere. That curious phenomenon
called frost-fall was occurring, in which, whatever moisture may
exist in the air, somehow aggregates into feathers and fern
leaves, the loveliest of creations, only seen in rarefied air and
intense cold. One breath and they vanish. The air was filled
with diamond sparks quite intangible. They seemed just glitter
and no more. It was still and cloudless, and the shapes of
violet mountains were softened by a veil of the tenderest blue.
When the Greeley stage wagon came up, Mr. Fodder, whom I met at
Lower Canyon, was on it. He had expressed a great wish to go to
Estes Park, and to hunt with "Mountain Jim," if it would be safe
to do the latter. He was now dressed in the extreme of English
dandyism, and when I introduced them, he put out a small hand
cased in a perfectly-fitting lemon-colored kid glove.[22] As the
trapper stood there in his grotesque rags and odds and ends of
apparel, his gentlemanliness of deportment brought into relief
the innate vulgarity of a rich parvenu. Mr. Fodder rattled so
amusingly as we drove away that I never realized that my Rocky
Mountain life was at an end, not even when I saw "Mountain Jim,"
with his golden hair yellow in the sunshine, slowly leading the
beautiful mare over the snowy Plains back to Estes Park, equipped
with the saddle on which I had ridden 800 miles!
[22] This was a truly unfortunate introduction. It was the first
link in the chain of circumstances which brought about Mr.
Nugent's untimely end, and it was at this person's instigation
(when overcome by fear) that Evans fired the shot which proved
A drive of several hours over the Plains brought us to Greeley,
and a few hours later, in the far blue distance, the Rocky
Mountains, and all that they enclose, went down below the prairie
I. L. B.

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