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

A LADY’S LIFE IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS 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. Contents Introduction, by Ann Ronald 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
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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 bear–Tahoe.


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 evenings.


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 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 bear–Tahoe.

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 possible.

[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 troublesome.

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 benumbed.

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 hotel.

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 profanity.
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 civilization.

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 “buttes.”

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 beyond.

[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 life.

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, un- child-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 another:–

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 said.”

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 abounded!

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