Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella L. Bird

Part 4 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.4 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

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.

Book of the day: