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

Letter 6

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.

This is another world. My entrance upon it was signalized in this fashion. Chalmers offered me a bronco mare for a reasonable sum, and though she was a shifty, half-broken young thing, I came over here on her to try her, when, just as I was going away, she took into her head to “scare” and “buck,” and when I touched her with my foot she leaped over a heap of timber, and the girth gave way, and the onlookers tell me that while she jumped I fell over her tail from a good height upon the hard gravel, receiving a parting kick on my knee. They could hardly believe that no bones were broken. The flesh of my left arm looks crushed into a jelly, but cold-water dressings will soon bring it right; and a cut on my back bled profusely; and the bleeding, with many bruises and the general shake, have made me feel weak, but circumstances do not admit of “making a fuss,” and I really think that the rents in my riding dress will prove the most important part of the accident. The surroundings here are pleasing. The log cabin, on the top of which a room with a steep, ornamental Swiss roof has been built, is in a valley close to a clear, rushing river, which emerges a little higher up from an inaccessible chasm of great sublimity. One side of the valley is formed by cliffs and terraces of porphyry as red as the reddest new brick, and at sunset blazing into vermilion. Through rifts in the nearer ranges there are glimpses of pine-clothed peaks, which, towards twilight, pass through every shade of purple and violet. The sky and the earth combine to form a Wonderland every evening — such rich, velvety coloring in crimson and violet; such an orange, green, and vermilion sky; such scarlet and emerald clouds; such an extraordinary dryness and purity of atmosphere, and then the glorious afterglow which seems to blend earth and heaven! For color, the Rocky Mountains beat all I have seen. The air has been cold, but the sun bright and hot during the last few days. The story of my host is a story of misfortune. It indicates who should NOT come to Colorado.11 He and his wife are under thirty-five. The son of a London physician in large practice, with a liberal education in the largest sense of the word, unusual culture and accomplishments, and the partner of a physician in good practice in the second city in England, he showed symptoms which threatened pulmonary disease. In an evil hour he heard of Colorado with its “unrivalled climate, boundless resources,” etc., and, fascinated not only by these material advantages, but by the notion of being able to found or reform society on advanced social theories of his own, he became an emigrant. Mrs. Hughes is one of the most charming, and lovable women I have ever seen, and their marriage is an ideal one. Both are fitted to shine in any society, but neither had the slightest knowledge of domestic and farming details. Dr. H. did not know how to saddle or harness a horse. Mrs. H. did not know whether you should put an egg into cold or hot water when you meant to boil it! They arrived at Longmount, bought up this claim, rather for the beauty of the scenery than for any substantial advantages, were cheated in land, goods, oxen, everything, and, to the discredit of the settlers, seemed to be regarded as fair game. Everything has failed with them, and though they “rise early, and late take rest, and eat the bread of carefulness,” they hardly keep their heads above water. A young Swiss girl, devoted to them both, works as hard as they do. They have one horse, no wagon, some poultry, and a few cows, but no “hired man.” It is the hardest and least ideal struggle that I have ever seen made by educated people. They had all their experience to learn, and they have bought it by losses and hardships. That they have learnt so much surprises me. Dr. H. and these two ladies built the upper room and the addition to the house without help. He has cropped the land himself, and has learned the difficult art of milking cows. Mrs. H. makes all the clothes required for a family of six, and her evenings, when the hard day’s work is done and she is ready to drop from fatigue, are spent in mending and patching. The day is one long GRIND, without rest or enjoyment, or the pleasure of chance intercourse with cultivated people. The few visitors who have “happened in” are the thrifty wives of prosperous settlers, full of housewifely pride, whose one object seems to be to make Mrs. H. feel her inferiority to themselves. I wish she did take a more genuine interest in the “coming-on” of the last calf, the prospects of the squash crop, and the yield and price of butter; but though she has learned to make excellent butter and bread, it is all against the grain. The children are delightful. The little boys are refined, courteous, childish gentlemen, with love and tenderness to their parents in all their words and actions. Never a rough or harsh word is heard within the house. But the atmosphere of struggles and difficulties has already told on these infants. They consider their mother in all things, going without butter when they think the stock is low, bringing in wood and water too heavy for them to carry, anxiously speculating on the winter prospect and the crops, yet withal the most childlike and innocent of children.

11 The story is ended now. A few months after my visit Mrs. H. died a few days after her confinement, and was buried on the bleak hill side, leaving her husband with five children under six years old, and Dr. H. is a prosperous man on one of the sunniest islands of the Pacific, with the devoted Swiss friend as his second wife.

One of the most painful things in the Western States and Territories is the extinction of childhood. I have never seen any children, only debased imitations of men and women, cankered by greed and selfishness, and asserting and gaining complete independence of their parents at ten years old. The atmosphere in which they are brought up is one of greed, godlessness, and frequently of profanity. Consequently these sweet things seem like flowers in a desert. Except for love, which here as everywhere raises life into the ideal, this is a wretched existence. The poor crops have been destroyed by grasshoppers over and over again, and that talent deified here under the name of “smartness” has taken advantage of Dr. H. in all bargains, leaving him with little except food for his children. Experience has been dearly bought in all ways, and this instance of failure might be a useful warning to professional men without agricultural experience not to come and try to make a living by farming in Colorado. My time here has passed very delightfully in spite of my regret and anxiety for this interesting family. I should like to stay longer, were it not that they have given up to me their straw bed, and Mrs. H. and her baby, a wizened, fretful child, sleep on the floor in my room, and Dr. H. on the floor downstairs, and the nights are frosty and chill. Work is the order of their day, and of mine, and at night, when the children are in bed, we three ladies patch the clothes and make shirts, and Dr. H. reads Tennyson’s poems, or we speak tenderly of that world of culture and noble deeds which seems here “the land very far off,” or Mrs. H. lays aside her work for a few minutes and reads some favorite passage of prose or poetry, as I have seldom heard either read before, with a voice of large compass and exquisite tone, quick to interpret every shade of the author’s meaning, and soft, speaking eyes, moist with feeling and sympathy. These are our halcyon hours, when we forget the needs of the morrow, and that men still buy, sell, cheat, and strive for gold, and that we are in the Rocky Mountains, and that it is near midnight. But morning comes hot and tiresome, and the never-ending work is oppressive, and Dr. H. comes in from the field two or three times in the day, dizzy and faint, and they condole with each other, and I feel that the Colorado settler needs to be made of sterner stuff and to possess more adaptability. To-day has been a very pleasant day for me, though I have only once sat down since 9 A.M., and it is now 5 P.M. I plotted that the devoted Swiss girl should go to the nearest settlement with two of the children for the day in a neighbor’s wagon, and that Dr. and Mrs. H. should get an afternoon of rest and sleep upstairs, while I undertook to do the work and make something of a cleaning. I had a large “wash” of my own, having been hindered last week by my bad arm, but a clothes wringer which screws on to the side of the tub is a great assistance, and by folding the clothes before passing them through it, I make it serve instead of mangle and iron. After baking the bread and thoroughly cleaning the churn and pails, I began upon the tins and pans, the cleaning of which had fallen into arrears, and was hard at work, very greasy and grimy, when a man came in to know where to ford the river with his ox team, and as I was showing him he looked pityingly at me, saying, “Be you the new hired girl? Bless me, you’re awful small!” Yesterday we saved three cwt. of tomatoes for winter use, and about two tons of squash and pumpkin for the cattle, two of the former weighing 140 lbs. I pulled nearly a quarter of an acre of maize, but it was a scanty crop, and the husks were poorly filled. I much prefer field work to the scouring of greasy pans and to the wash tub, and both to either sewing or writing. This is not Arcadia. “Smartness,” which consists in over-reaching your neighbor in every fashion which is not illegal, is the quality which is held in the greatest repute, and Mammon is the divinity. From a generation brought up to worship the one and admire the other little can be hoped. In districts distant as this is from “Church Ordinances,” there are three ways in which Sunday is spent: one, to make it a day for visiting, hunting, and fishing; another, to spend it in sleeping and abstinence from work; and the third, to continue all the usual occupations, consequently harvesting and felling and hauling timber are to be seen in progress.

Last Sunday a man came here and put up a door, and said he didn’t believe in the Bible or in a God, and he wasn’t going to sacrifice his children’s bread to old-fashioned prejudices. There is a manifest indifference to the higher obligations of the law, “judgment, mercy and faith”; but in the main the settlers are steady, there are few flagrant breaches of morals, industry is the rule, life and property are far safer than in England or Scotland, and the law of universal respect to women is still in full force. The days are now brilliant and the nights sharply frosty. People are preparing for the winter. The tourists from the East are trooping into Denver, and the surveying parties are coming down from the mountains. Snow has fallen on the higher ranges, and my hopes of getting to Estes Park are down at zero.

Yesterday was perfect. The sun was brilliant and the air cool and bracing. I felt better, and after a hard day’s work and an evening stroll with my friends in the glorious afterglow, I went to bed cheerful and hopeful as to the climate and its effect on my health. This morning I awoke with a sensation of extreme lassitude, and on going out, instead of the delicious atmosphere of yesterday, I found intolerable suffocating heat, a BLAZING (not BRILLIANT) sun, and a sirocco like a Victorian hot wind. Neuralgia, inflamed eyes, and a sense of extreme prostration followed, and my acclimatized hosts were somewhat similarly affected. The sparkle, the crystalline atmosphere, and the glory of color of yesterday, had all vanished. We had borrowed a wagon, but Dr. H.‘s strong but lazy horse and a feeble hired one made a poor span; and though the distance here is only twenty-two miles over level prairie, our tired animal, and losing the way three times, have kept us eight and a half hours in the broiling sun. All notions of locality fail me on the prairie, and Dr. H. was not much better. We took wrong tracks, got entangled among fences, plunged through the deep mud of irrigation ditches, and were despondent. It was a miserable drive, sitting on a heap of fodder under the angry sun. Half-way here we camped at a river, now only a series of mud holes, and I fell asleep under the imperfect shade of a cotton-wood tree, dreading the thought of waking and jolting painfully along over the dusty prairie in the dust-laden, fierce sirocco, under the ferocious sun. We never saw man or beast the whole day. This is the “Chicago Colony,” and it is said to be prospering, after some preliminary land swindles. It is as uninviting as Fort Collins. We first came upon dust-colored frame houses set down at intervals on the dusty buff plain, each with its dusty wheat or barley field adjacent, the crop, not the product of the rains of heaven, but of the muddy overflow of “Irrigating Ditch No.2.” Then comes a road made up of many converging wagon tracks, which stiffen into a wide straggling street, in which glaring frame houses and a few shops stand opposite to each other. A two-storey house, one of the whitest and most glaring, and without a veranda like all the others, is the “St. Vrain Hotel,” called after the St. Vrain River, out of which the ditch is taken which enables Longmount to exist. Everything was broiling in the heat of the slanting sun, which all day long had been beating on the unshaded wooden rooms. The heat within was more sickening than outside, and black flies covered everything, one’s face included. We all sat fighting the flies in my bedroom, which was cooler than elsewhere, till a glorious sunset over the Rocky Range, some ten miles off, compelled us to go out and enjoy it. Then followed supper, Western fashion, without table-cloths, and all the “unattached” men of Longmount came in and fed silently and rapidly. It was a great treat to have tea to drink, as I had not tasted any for a fortnight. The landlord is a jovial, kindly man. I told him how my plans had faded, and how I was reluctantly going on tomorrow to Denver and New York, being unable to get to Estes Park, and he said there might yet be a chance of some one coming in to-night who would be going up. He soon came to my room and asked definitely what I could do — if I feared cold, if I could “rough it,” if I could “ride horseback and lope.” Estes Park and its surroundings are, he says, “the most beautiful scenery in Colorado,” and “it’s a real shame,” he added, “for you not to see it.” We had hardly sat down to tea when he came, saying “You’re in luck this time; two young men have just come in and are going up tomorrow morning.” I am rather pleased, and have hired a horse for three days; but I am not very hopeful, for I am almost ill of the smothering heat, and still suffer from my fall, and not having been on horseback since, thirty miles will be a long ride. Then I fear that the accommodation is as rough as Chalmers’s, and that solitude will be impossible. We have been strolling in the street every since it grew dark to get the little air which is moving.

I wish I could let those three notes of admiration go to you instead of a letter. They mean everything that is rapturous and delightful — grandeur, cheerfulness, health, enjoyment, novelty, freedom, etc., etc. I have just dropped into the very place I have been seeking, but in everything it exceeds all my dreams. There is health in every breath of air; I am much better already, and get up to a seven o’clock breakfast without difficulty. It is quite comfortable — in the fashion that I like. I have a log cabin, raised on six posts, all to myself, with a skunk’s lair underneath it, and a small lake close to it. There is a frost every night, and all day it is cool enough for a roaring fire. The ranchman, who is half-hunter, half-stockman, and his wife are jovial, hearty Welsh people from Llanberis, who laugh with loud, cheery British laughs, sing in parts down to the youngest child, are free hearted and hospitable, and pile the pitch-pine logs half-way up the great rude chimney. There has been fresh meat each day since I came, delicious bread baked daily, excellent potatoes, tea and coffee, and an abundant supply of milk like cream. I have a clean hay bed with six blankets, and there are neither bugs nor fleas. The scenery is the most glorious I have ever seen, and is above us, around us, at the very door. Most people have advized me to go to Colorado Springs, and only one mentioned this place, and till I reached Longmount I never saw any one who had been here, but I saw from the lie of the country that it must be most superbly situated. People said, however, that it was most difficult of access, and that the season for it was over. In traveling there is nothing like dissecting people’s statements, which are usually colored by their estimate of the powers or likings of the person spoken to, making all reasonable inquiries, and then pertinaciously but quietly carrying out one’s own plans. This is perfection, and all the requisites for health are present, including plenty of horses and grass to ride on. It is not easy to sit down to write after ten hours of hard riding, especially in a cabin full of people, and wholesome fatigue may make my letter flat when it ought to be enthusiastic. I was awake all night at Longmount owing to the stifling heat, and got up nervous and miserable, ready to give up the thought of coming here, but the sunrise over the Plains, and the wonderful red of the Rocky Mountains, as they reflected the eastern sky, put spirit into me. The landlord had got a horse, but could not give any satisfactory assurances of his being quiet, and being much shaken by my fall at Canyon, I earnestly wished that the Greeley Tribune had not given me a reputation for horsemanship, which had preceded me here. The young men who were to escort me “seemed very innocent,” he said, but I have not arrived at his meaning yet. When the horse appeared in the street at 8:30, I saw, to my dismay, a high-bred, beautiful creature, stable kept, with arched neck, quivering nostrils, and restless ears and eyes. My pack, as on Hawaii, was strapped behind the Mexican saddle, and my canvas bag hung on the horn, but the horse did not look fit to carry “gear,” and seemed to require two men to hold and coax him. There were many loafers about, and I shrank from going out and mounting in my old Hawaiian riding dress, though Dr. and Mrs. H. assured me that I looked quite “insignificant and unnoticeable.” We got away at nine with repeated injunctions from the landlord in the words, “Oh, you should be heroic!” The sky was cloudless, and a deep brilliant blue, and though the sun was hot the air was fresh and bracing. The ride for glory and delight I shall label along with one to Hanalei, and another to Mauna Kea, Hawaii. I felt better quite soon; the horse in gait and temper turned out perfection — all spring and spirit, elastic in his motion, walking fast and easily, and cantering with a light, graceful swing as soon as one pressed the reins on his neck, a blithe, joyous animal, to whom a day among the mountains seemed a pleasant frolic. So gentle he was, that when I got off and walked he followed me without being led, and without needing any one to hold him he allowed me to mount on either side. In addition to the charm of his movements he has the catlike sure-footedness of a Hawaiian horse, and fords rapid and rough-bottomed rivers, and gallops among stones and stumps, and down steep hills, with equal security. I could have ridden him a hundred miles as easily as thirty. We have only been together two days, yet we are firm friends, and thoroughly understand each other. I should not require another companion on a long mountain tour. All his ways are those of an animal brought up without curb, whip, or spur, trained by the voice, and used only to kindness, as is happily the case with the majority of horses in the Western States. Consequently, unless they are broncos, they exercise their intelligence for your advantage, and do their work rather as friends than as machines. I soon began not only to feel better, but to be exhilarated with the delightful motion. The sun was behind us, and puffs of a cool elastic air came down from the glorious mountains in front. We cantered across six miles of prairie, and then reached the beautiful canyon of the St. Vrain, which, towards its mouth, is a narrow, fertile, wooded valley, through which a bright rapid river, which we forded many times, hurries along, with twists and windings innumerable. Ah, how brightly its ripples danced in the glittering sunshine, and how musically its waters murmured like the streams of windward Hawaii! We lost our way over and over again, though the “innocent” young men had been there before; indeed, it would require some talent to master the intricacies of that devious trail, but settlers making hay always appeared in the nick of time to put us on the right track. Very fair it was, after the brown and burning plains, and the variety was endless. Cotton-wood trees were green and bright, aspens shivered in gold tremulousness, wild grape-vines trailed their lemon-colored foliage along the ground, and the Virginia creeper hung its crimson sprays here and there, lightening up green and gold into glory. Sometimes from under the cool and bowery shade of the colored tangle we passed into the cool St. Vrain, and then were wedged between its margin and lofty cliffs and terraces of incredibly staring, fantastic rocks, lined, patched, and splashed with carmine, vermilion, greens of all tints, blue, yellow, orange, violet, deep crimson, coloring that no artist would dare to represent, and of which, in sober prose, I scarcely dare tell. Long’s wonderful peaks, which hitherto had gleamed above the green, now disappeared, to be seen no more for twenty miles. We entered on an ascending valley, where the gorgeous hues of the rocks were intensified by the blue gloom of the pitch pines, and then taking a track to the north-west, we left the softer world behind, and all traces of man and his works, and plunged into the Rocky Mountains. There were wonderful ascents then up which I led my horse; wild fantastic views opening up continually, a recurrence of surprises; the air keener and purer with every mile, the sensation of loneliness more singular. A tremendous ascent among rocks and pines to a height of 9,000 feet brought us to a passage seven feet wide through a wall of rock, with an abrupt descent of 2,000 feet, and a yet higher ascent beyond. I never saw anything so strange as looking back. It was a single gigantic ridge which we had passed through, standing up knifelike, built up entirely of great brick-shaped masses of bright red rock, some of them as large as the Royal Institution, Edinburgh, piled one on another by Titans. Pitch pines grew out of their crevices, but there was not a vestige of soil. Beyond, wall beyond wall of similar construction, and range above range, rose into the blue sky. Fifteen miles more over great ridges, along passes dark with shadow, and so narrow that we had to ride in the beds of the streams which had excavated them, round the bases of colossal pyramids of rock crested with pines, up into fair upland “parks,” scarlet in patches with the poison oak, parks so beautifully arranged by nature that I momentarily expected to come upon some stately mansion, but that afternoon crested blue jays and chipmunks had them all to themselves. Here, in the early morning, deer, bighorn, and the stately elk, come down to feed, and there, in the night, prowl and growl the Rocky Mountain lion, the grizzly bear, and the cowardly wolf. There were chasms of immense depth, dark with the indigo gloom of pines, and mountains with snow gleaming on their splintered crests, loveliness to bewilder and grandeur to awe, and still streams and shady pools, and cool depths of shadow; mountains again, dense with pines, among which patches of aspen gleamed like gold; valleys where the yellow cotton-wood mingled with the crimson oak, and so, on and on through the lengthening shadows, till the trail, which in places had been hardly legible, became well defined, and we entered a long gulch with broad swellings of grass belted with pines. A very pretty mare, hobbled, was feeding; a collie dog barked at us, and among the scrub, not far from the track, there was a rude, black log cabin, as rough as it could be to be a shelter at all, with smoke coming out of the roof and window. We diverged towards it; it mattered not that it was the home, or rather den, of a notorious “ruffian” and “desperado.” One of my companions had disappeared hours before, the remaining one was a town-bred youth. I longed to speak to some one who loved the mountains. I called the hut a DEN— it looked like the den of a wild beast. The big dog lay outside it in a threatening attitude and growled. The mud roof was covered with lynx, beaver, and other furs laid out to dry, beaver paws were pinned out on the logs, a part of the carcass of a deer hung at one end of the cabin, a skinned beaver lay in front of a heap of peltry just within the door, and antlers of deer, old horseshoes, and offal of many animals, lay about the den. Roused by the growling of the dog, his owner came out, a broad, thickset man, about the middle height, with an old cap on his head, and wearing a grey hunting suit much the worse for wear (almost falling to pieces, in fact), a digger’s scarf knotted round his waist, a knife in his belt, and “a bosom friend,” a revolver, sticking out of the breast pocket of his coat; his feet, which were very small, were bare, except for some dilapidated moccasins made of horse hide. The marvel was how his clothes hung together, and on him. The scarf round his waist must have had something to do with it. His face was remarkable. He is a man about forty-five, and must have been strikingly handsome. He has large grey-blue eyes, deeply set, with well-marked eyebrows, a handsome aquiline nose, and a very handsome mouth. His face was smooth shaven except for a dense mustache and imperial. Tawny hair, in thin uncared-for curls, fell from under his hunter’s cap and over his collar. One eye was entirely gone, and the loss made one side of the face repulsive, while the other might have been modeled in marble. “Desperado” was written in large letters all over him. I almost repented of having sought his acquaintance. His first impulse was to swear at the dog, but on seeing a lady he contented himself with kicking him, and coming to me he raised his cap, showing as he did so a magnificently-formed brow and head, and in a cultured tone of voice asked if there were anything he could do for me? I asked for some water, and he brought some in a battered tin, gracefully apologizing for not having anything more presentable. We entered into conversation, and as he spoke I forgot both his reputation and appearance, for his manner was that of a chivalrous gentleman, his accent refined, and his language easy and elegant. I inquired about some beavers’ paws which were drying, and in a moment they hung on the horn of my saddle. Apropos of the wild animals of the region, he told me that the loss of his eye was owing to a recent encounter with a grizzly bear, which, after giving him a death hug, tearing him all over, breaking his arm and scratching out his eye, had left him for dead. As we rode away, for the sun was sinking, he said, courteously, “You are not an American. I know from your voice that you are a countrywoman of mine. I hope you will allow me the pleasure of calling on you.”12

12 Of this unhappy man, who was shot nine months later within two miles of his cabin, I write in the subsequent letters only as he appeared to me. His life, without doubt, was deeply stained with crimes and vices, and his reputation for ruffianism was a deserved one. But in my intercourse with him I saw more of his nobler instincts than of the darker parts of his character, which, unfortunately for himself and others, showed itself in its worst colors at the time of his tragic end. It was not until after I left Colorado, not indeed until after his death, that I heard of the worst points of his character.

This man, known through the Territories and beyond them as “Rocky Mountain Jim,” or, more briefly, as “Mountain Jim,” is one of the famous scouts of the Plains, and is the original of some daring portraits in fiction concerning Indian Frontier warfare. So far as I have at present heard, he is a man for whom there is now no room, for the time for blows and blood in this part of Colorado is past, and the fame of many daring exploits is sullied by crimes which are not easily forgiven here. He now has a “squatter’s claim,” but makes his living as a trapper, and is a complete child of the mountains. Of his genius and chivalry to women there does not appear to be any doubt; but he is a desperate character, and is subject to “ugly fits,” when people think it best to avoid him. It is here regarded as an evil that he has located himself at the mouth of the only entrance to the park, for he is dangerous with his pistols, and it would be safer if he were not here. His besetting sin is indicated in the verdict pronounced on him by my host: “When he’s sober Jim’s a perfect gentleman; but when he’s had liquor he’s the most awful ruffian in Colorado.” From the ridge on which this gulch terminates, at a height of 9,000 feet, we saw at last Estes Park, lying 1,500 feet below in the glory of the setting sun, an irregular basin, lighted up by the bright waters of the rushing Thompson, guarded by sentinel mountains of fantastic shape and monstrous size, with Long’s Peak rising above them all in unapproachable grandeur, while the Snowy Range, with its outlying spurs heavily timbered, come down upon the park slashed by stupendous canyons lying deep in purple gloom. The rushing river was blood red, Long’s Peak was aflame, the glory of the glowing heaven was given back from earth. Never, nowhere, have I seen anything to equal the view into Estes Park. The mountains “of the land which is very far off” are very near now, but the near is more glorious than the far, and reality than dreamland. The mountain fever seized me, and, giving my tireless horse one encouraging word, he dashed at full gallop over a mile of smooth sward at delirious speed. But I was hungry, and the air was frosty, and I was wondering what the prospects of food and shelter were in this enchanted region, when we came suddenly upon a small lake, close to which was a very trim-looking log cabin, with a flat mud roof, with four smaller ones; picturesquely dotted about near it, two corrals,13 a long shed, in front of which a steer was being killed, a log dairy with a water wheel, some hay piles, and various evidences of comfort; and two men, on serviceable horses, were just bringing in some tolerable cows to be milked. A short, pleasant-looking man ran up to me and shook hands gleefully, which surprised me; but he has since told me that in the evening light he thought I was “Mountain Jim, dressed up as a woman!” I recognized in him a countryman, and he introduced himself as Griffith Evans, a Welshman from the slate quarries near Llanberis. When the cabin door was opened I saw a good-sized log room, unchinked, however, with windows of infamous glass, looking two ways; a rough stone fireplace, in which pine logs, half as large as I am, were burning; a boarded floor, a round table, two rocking chairs, a carpet-covered backwoods couch; and skins, Indian bows and arrows, wampum belts, and antlers, fitly decorated the rough walls, and equally fitly, rifles were stuck up in the corners. Seven men, smoking, were lying about on the floor, a sick man lay on the couch, and a middle-aged lady sat at the table writing. I went out again and asked Evans if he could take me in, expecting nothing better than a shakedown; but, to my joy, he told me he could give me a cabin to myself, two minutes’ walk from his own. So in this glorious upper world, with the mountain pines behind and the clear lake in front, in the “blue hollow at the foot of Long’s Peak,” at a height of 7,500 feet, where the hoar frost crisps the grass every night of the year, I have found far more than I ever dared to hope for.

13 A corral is a fenced enclosure for cattle. This word, with bronco, ranch, and a few others, are adaptations from the Spanish, and are used as extensively throughout California and the Territories as is the Spanish or Mexican saddle.

I. L. B.


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52