“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.
ESTES PARK, COLORADO.
This afternoon, as I was reading in my cabin, little Sam Edwards ran in, saying, “Mountain Jim wants to speak to you.” This brought to my mind images of infinite worry, gauche servants, “please Ma’am,” contretemps, and the habit growing out of our elaborate and uselessly conventional life of magnifying the importance of similar trifles. Then “things” came up, with the tyranny they exercise. I REALLY need nothing more than this log cabin offers. But elsewhere one must have a house and servants, and burdens and worries — not that one may be hospitable and comfortable, but for the “thick clay” in the shape of “things” which one has accumulated. My log house takes me about five minutes to “do,” and you could eat off the floor, and it needs no lock, as it contains nothing worth stealing.
But “Mountain Jim” was waiting while I made these reflections to ask us to take a ride; and he, Mr. and Mrs. Dewy, and I, had a delightful stroll through colored foliage, and then, when they were fatigued, I changed my horse for his beautiful mare, and we galloped and raced in the beautiful twilight, in the intoxicating frosty air. Mrs. Dewy wishes you could have seen us as we galloped down the pass, the fearful-looking ruffian on my heavy wagon horse, and I on his bare wooden saddle, from which beaver, mink, and marten tails, and pieces of skin, were hanging raggedly, with one spur, and feet not in the stirrups, the mare looking so aristocratic and I so beggarly! Mr. Nugent is what is called “splendid company.” With a sort of breezy mountain recklessness in everything, he passes remarkably acute judgments on men and events; on women also. He has pathos, poetry, and humor, an intense love of nature, strong vanity in certain directions, an obvious desire to act and speak in character, and sustain his reputation as a desperado, a considerable acquaintance with literature, a wonderful verbal memory, opinions on every person and subject, a chivalrous respect for women in his manner, which makes it all the more amusing when he suddenly turns round upon one with some graceful raillery, a great power of fascination, and a singular love of children. The children of this house run to him, and when he sits down they climb on his broad shoulders and play with his curls. They say in the house that “no one who has been here thinks any one worth speaking to after Jim,” but I think that this is probably an opinion which time would alter. Somehow, he is kept always before the public of Colorado, for one can hardly take up a newspaper without finding a paragraph about him, a contribution by him, or a fragment of his biography. Ruffian as he looks, the first word he speaks — to a lady, at least — places him on a level with educated gentlemen, and his conversation is brilliant, and full of the light and fitfulness of genius. Yet, on the whole, he is a most painful spectacle. His magnificent head shows so plainly the better possibilities which might have been his. His life, in spite of a certain dazzle which belongs to it, is a ruined and wasted one, and one asks what of good can the future have in store for one who has for so long chosen evil?17
17 September of the next year answered the question by laying him down in a dishonored grave, with a rifle bullet in his brain.
Shall I ever get away? We were to have had a grand cattle hunt yesterday, beginning at 6:30, but the horses were all lost. Often out of fifty horses all that are worth anything are marauding, and a day is lost in hunting for them in the canyons. However, before daylight this morning Evans called through my door, “Miss Bird, I say we’ve got to drive cattle fifteen miles, I wish you’d lend a hand; there’s not enough of us; I’ll give you a good horse.” The scene of the drive is at a height of 7,500 feet, watered by two rapid rivers. On all sides mountains rise to an altitude of from 11,000 to 15,000 feet, their skirts shaggy with pitch-pine forests, and scarred by deep canyons, wooded and boulder strewn, opening upon the mountain pasture previously mentioned. Two thousand head of half-wild Texan cattle are scattered in herds throughout the canyons, living on more or less suspicious terms with grizzly and brown bears, mountain lions, elk, mountain sheep, spotted deer, wolves, lynxes, wild cats, beavers, minks, skunks, chipmunks, eagles, rattlesnakes, and all the other two-legged, four-legged, vertebrate, and invertebrate inhabitants of this lonely and romantic region. On the whole, they show a tendency rather to the habits of wild than of domestic cattle. They march to water in Indian file, with the bulls leading, and when threatened, take strategic advantage of ridgy ground, slinking warily along in the hollows, the bulls acting as sentinels, and bringing up the rear in case of an attack from dogs. Cows have to be regularly broken in for milking, being as wild as buffaloes in their unbroken state; but, owing to the comparative dryness of the grasses, and the system of allowing the calf to have the milk during the daytime, a dairy of 200 cows does not produce as much butter as a Devonshire dairy of fifty. Some “necessary” cruelty is involved in the stockman’s business, however humane he may be. The system is one of terrorism, and from the time that the calf is bullied into the branding pen, and the hot iron burns into his shrinking flesh, to the day when the fatted ox is driven down from his boundless pastures to be slaughtered in Chicago, “the fear and dread of man” are upon him. The herds are apt to penetrate the savage canyons which come down from the Snowy Range, when they incur a risk of being snowed up and starved, and it is necessary now and then to hunt them out and drive them down to the “park.” On this occasion, the whole were driven down for a muster, and for the purpose of branding the calves. After a 6:30 breakfast this morning, we started, the party being composed of my host, a hunter from the Snowy Range, two stockmen from the Plains, one of whom rode a violent buck-jumper, and was said by his comrade to be the “best rider in North Americay,” and myself. We were all mounted on Mexican saddles, rode, as the custom is, with light snaffle bridles, leather guards over our feet, and broad wooden stirrups, and each carried his lunch in a pouch slung on the lassoing horn of his saddle. Four big, badly-trained dogs accompanied us. It was a ride of nearly thirty miles, and of many hours, one of the most splendid I ever took. We never got off our horses except to tighten the girths, we ate our lunch with our bridles knotted over saddle horns, started over the level at full gallops, leapt over trunks of trees, dashed madly down hillsides rugged with rocks or strewn with great stones, forded deep, rapid streams, saw lovely lakes and views of surpassing magnificence, startled a herd of elk with uncouth heads and in the chase, which for some time was unsuccessful, rode to the very base of Long’s Peak, over 14,000 feet high, where the bright waters of one of the affluents of the Platte burst from the eternal snows through a canyon of indescribable majesty. The sun was hot, but at a height of over 8,000 feet the air was crisp and frosty, and the enjoyment of riding a good horse under such exhilarating circumstances was extreme. In one wild part of the ride we had to come down a steep hill, thickly wooded with pitch pines, to leap over the fallen timber, and steer between the dead and living trees to avoid being “snagged,” or bringing down a heavy dead branch by an unwary touch. Emerging from this, we caught sight of a thousand Texan cattle feeding in a valley below. The leaders scented us, and, taking fright, began to move off in the direction of the open “park,” while we were about a mile from and above them. “Head them off, boys!” our leader shouted; “all aboard; hark away!” and with something of the “High, tally-ho in the morning!” away we all went at a hard gallop down-hill. I could not hold my excited animal; down-hill, up-hill, leaping over rocks and timber, faster every moment the pace grew, and still the leader shouted, “Go it, boys!” and the horses dashed on at racing speed, passing and repassing each other, till my small but beautiful bay was keeping pace with the immense strides of the great buck-jumper ridden by “the finest rider in North Americay,” and I was dizzied and breathless by the pace at which we were going. A shorter time than it takes to tell it brought us close to and abreast of the surge of cattle. The bovine waves were a grand sight: huge bulls, shaped like buffaloes, bellowed and roared, and with great oxen and cows with yearling calves, galloped like racers, and we galloped alongside of them, and shortly headed them and in no time were placed as sentinels across the mouth of the valley. It seemed like infantry awaiting the shock of cavalry as we stood as still as our excited horses would allow. I almost quailed as the surge came on, but when it got close to us my comrades hooted fearfully, and we dashed forward with the dogs, and, with bellowing, roaring, and thunder of hoofs, the wave receded as it came. I rode up to our leader, who received me with much laughter. He said I was “a good cattleman,” and that he had forgotten that a lady was of the party till he saw me “come leaping over the timber, and driving with the others.” It was not for two hours after this that the real business of driving began, and I was obliged to change my thoroughbred for a well-trained cattle horse — a bronco, which could double like a hare, and go over any ground. I had not expected to work like a vachero, but so it was, and my Hawaiian experience was very useful. We hunted the various canyons and known “camps,” driving the herds out of them; and, until we had secured 850 head in the corral some hours afterwards, we scarcely saw each other to speak to. Our first difficulty was with a herd which got into some swampy ground, when a cow, which afterwards gave me an infinity of trouble, remained at bay for nearly an hour, tossing the dog three times, and resisting all efforts to dislodge her. She had a large yearling calf with her, and Evans told me that the attachment of a cow to her first calf is sometimes so great that she will kill her second that the first may have the milk. I got a herd of over a hundred out of a canyon by myself, and drove them down to the river with the aid of one badly-broken dog, which gave me more trouble than the cattle. The getting over was most troublesome; a few took to the water readily and went across, but others smelt it, and then, doubling back, ran in various directions; while some attacked the dog as he was swimming, and others, after crossing, headed back in search of some favorite companions which had been left behind, and one specially vicious cow attacked my horse over and over again. It took an hour and a half of time and much patience to gather them all on the other side. It was getting late in the day, and a snowstorm was impending, before I was joined by the other drivers and herds, and as the former had diminished to three, with only three dogs, it was very difficult to keep the cattle together. You drive them as gently as possible, so as not to frighten or excite them,18 riding first on one side, then on the other, to guide them; and if they deliberately go in a wrong direction, you gallop in front and head them off. The great excitement is when one breaks away from the herd and gallops madly up and down-hill, and you gallop after him anywhere, over and among rocks and trees, doubling when he doubles, and heading him till you get him back again. The bulls were quite easily managed, but the cows with calves, old or young, were most troublesome. By accident I rode between one cow and her calf in a narrow place, and the cow rushed at me and was just getting her big horns under the horse, when he reared, and spun dexterously aside. This kind of thing happened continually. There was one very handsome red cow which became quite mad. She had a calf with her nearly her own size, and thought every one its enemy, and though its horns were well developed, and it was quite able to take care of itself, she insisted on protecting it from all fancied dangers. One of the dogs, a young, foolish thing, seeing that the cow was excited, took a foolish pleasure in barking at her, and she was eventually quite infuriated. She turned to bay forty times at least; tore up the ground with her horns, tossed and killed the calves of two other cows, and finally became so dangerous to the rest of the herd that, just as the drive was ending, Evans drew his revolver and shot her, and the calf for which she had fought so blindly lamented her piteously. She rushed at me several times mad with rage, but these trained cattle horses keep perfectly cool, and, nearly without will on my part, mine jumped aside at the right moment, and foiled the assailant. Just at dusk we reached the corral — an acre of grass enclosed by stout post-and-rail fences seven feet high — and by much patience and some subtlety lodged the whole herd within its shelter, without a blow, a shout, or even a crack of a whip, wild as the cattle were. It was fearfully cold. We galloped the last mile and a half in four and a half minutes, reached the cabin just as the snow began to fall, and found strong, hot tea ready.
18 In several visits to America I have observed that the Americans are far in advance of us and our colonial kinsmen in their treatment of horses and other animals. This was very apparent with regard to this Texan herd. There were no stock whips, no needless worrying of the animals in the excitement of sport. Any dog seizing a bullock by his tail or heels would have been called off and punished, and quietness and gentleness were the rule. The horses were ridden without whips, and with spurs so blunt that they could not hurt even a human skin, and were ruled by the voice and a slight pressure on the light snaffle bridle. This is the usual plan, even where, as in Colorado, the horses are bronchos, and inherit ineradicable vice. I never yet saw a horse BULLIED into submission in the United States.
Snow-bound for three days! I could not write yesterday, it was so awful. People gave up all occupation, and talked of nothing but the storm. The hunters all kept by the great fire in the living room, only going out to bring in logs and clear the snow from the door and windows. I never spent a more fearful night than two nights ago, alone in my cabin in the storm, with the roof lifting, the mud cracking and coming off, and the fine snow hissing through the chinks between the logs, while splittings and breaking of dead branches, wind wrung and snow laden, went on incessantly, with screechings, howlings, thunder and lightning, and many unfamiliar sounds besides. After snowing fiercely all day, another foot of it fell in the early night, and, after drifting against my door, blocked me effectually in. About midnight the mercury fell to zero, and soon after a gale rose, which lasted for ten hours. My window frame is swelled, and shuts, apparently, hermetically; and my bed is six feet from it. I had gone to sleep with six blankets on, and a heavy sheet over my face. Between two and three I was awoke by the cabin being shifted from underneath by the wind, and the sheet was frozen to my lips. I put out my hands, and the bed was thickly covered with fine snow. Getting up to investigate matters, I found the floor some inches deep in parts in fine snow, and a gust of fine, needle-like snow stung my face. The bucket of water was solid ice. I lay in bed freezing till sunrise, when some of the men came to see if I “was alive,” and to dig me out. They brought a can of hot water, which turned to ice before I could use it. I dressed standing in snow, and my brushes, boots, and etceteras were covered with snow. When I ran to the house, not a mountain or anything else could be seen, and the snow on one side was drifted higher than the roof. The air, as high as one could see, was one white, stinging smoke of snowdrift — a terrific sight. In the living room, the snow was driving through the chinks, and Mrs. Dewy was shoveling it from the floor. Mr. D.‘s beard was hoary with frost in a room with a fire all night. Evans was lying ill, with his bed covered with snow. Returning from my cabin after breakfast, loaded with occupations for the day, I was lifted off my feet, and deposited in a drift, and all my things, writing book and letter included, were carried in different directions. Some, including a valuable photograph, were irrecoverable. The writing book was found, some hours afterwards, under three feet of snow. There are tracks of bears and deer close to the house, but no one can hunt in this gale, and the drift is blinding. We have been slightly overcrowded in our one room. Chess, music, and whist have been resorted to. One hunter, for very ennui, has devoted himself to keeping my ink from freezing. We all sat in great cloaks and coats, and kept up an enormous fire, with the pitch running out of the logs. The isolation is extreme, for we are literally snowed up, and the other settler in the Park and “Mountain Jim” are both at Denver. Late in the evening the storm ceased. In some places the ground is bare of snow, while in others all irregularities are leveled, and the drifts are forty feet deep. Nature is grand under this new aspect. The cold is awful; the high wind with the mercury at zero would skin any part exposed to it.
Evans offers me six dollars a week if I will stay into the winter and do the cooking after Mrs. Edwards leaves! I think I should like playing at being a “hired girl” if it were not for the bread-making! But it would suit me better to ride after cattle. The men don’t like “baching,” as it is called in the wilds — i.e. “doing for themselves.” They washed and ironed their clothes yesterday, and there was an incongruity about the last performance. I really think (though for the fifteenth time) that I shall leave tomorrow. The cold has moderated, the sky is bluer than ever, the snow is evaporating, and a hunter who has joined us today says that there are no drifts on the trail which one cannot get through.
LONGMOUNT, COLORADO, October 20.
“The Island Valley of Avillon” is left, but how shall I finally tear myself from its freedom and enchantments? I see Long’s snowy peak rising into the night sky, and know and long after the magnificence of the blue hollow at its base. We were to have left at 8 but the horses were lost, so it was 9:30 before we started, the WE being the musical young French Canadian and myself. I have a bay Indian pony, “Birdie,” a little beauty, with legs of iron, fast, enduring, gentle, and wise; and with luggage for some weeks, including a black silk dress, behind my saddle, I am tolerably independent. It was a most glorious ride. We passed through the gates of rock, through gorges where the unsunned snow lay deep under the lemon-colored aspens; caught glimpses of far-off, snow-clad giants rising into a sky of deep sad blue; lunched above the Foot Hills at a cabin where two brothers and a “hired man” were “keeping bach,” where everything was so trim, clean, and ornamental that one did not miss a woman; crossed a deep backwater on a narrow beaver dam, because the log bridge was broken down, and emerged from the brilliantly-colored canyon of the St. Vrain just at dusk upon the featureless prairies, when we had some trouble in finding Longmount in the dark. A hospitable welcome awaited me at this inn, and an English friend came in and spent the evening with me.
GREAT PLATTE CANYON, October 23.
My letters on this tour will, I fear, be very dull, for after riding all day, looking after my pony, getting supper, hearing about various routes, and the pastoral, agricultural, mining, and hunting gossip of the neighborhood, I am so sleepy and wholesomely tired that I can hardly write. I left Longmount pretty early on Tuesday morning, the day being sad, with the blink of an impending snow-storm in the air. The evening before I was introduced to a man who had been a colonel in the rebel army, who made a most unfavorable impression upon me, and it was a great annoyance to me when he presented himself on horse-back to guide me “over the most intricate part of the journey.” Solitude is infinitely preferable to uncongeniality, and is bliss when compared with repulsiveness, so I was thoroughly glad when I got rid of my escort and set out upon the prairie alone. It is a dreary ride of thirty miles over the low brown plains to Denver, very little settled, and with trails going in all directions. My sailing orders were “steer south, and keep to the best beaten track,” and it seemed like embarking on the ocean without a compass. The rolling brown waves on which you see a horse a mile and a half off impress one strangely, and at noon the sky darkened up for another storm, the mountains swept down in blackness to the Plains, and the higher peaks took on a ghastly grimness horrid to behold. It was first very cold, then very hot, and finally settled down to a fierce east-windy cold, difficult to endure. It was free and breezy, however, and my horse was companionable. Sometimes herds of cattle were browsing on the sun-cured grass, then herds of horses. Occasionally I met a horseman with a rifle lying across his saddle, or a wagon of the ordinary sort, but oftener I saw a wagon with a white tilt, of the kind known as a “Prairie Schooner,” laboring across the grass, or a train of them, accompanied by herds, mules, and horsemen, bearing emigrants and their household goods in dreary exodus from the Western States to the much-vaunted prairies of Colorado. The host and hostess of one of these wagons invited me to join their mid-day meal, I providing tea (which they had not tasted for four weeks) and they hominy. They had been three months on the journey from Illinois, and their oxen were so lean and weak that they expected to be another month in reaching Wet Mountain Valley. They had buried a child en route, had lost several oxen, and were rather out of heart. Owing to their long isolation and the monotony of the march they had lost count of events, and seemed like people of another planet. They wanted me to join them, but their rate of travel was too slow, so we parted with mutual expressions of good will, and as their white tilt went “hull down” in the distance on the lonely prairie sea, I felt sadder than I often feel on taking leave of old acquaintances. That night they must have been nearly frozen, camping out in the deep snow in the fierce wind. I met afterwards 2,000 lean Texan cattle, herded by three wild-looking men on horseback, followed by two wagons containing women, children, and rifles. They had traveled 1,000 miles. Then I saw two prairie wolves, like jackals, with gray fur, cowardly creatures, which fled from me with long leaps. The windy cold became intense, and for the next eleven miles I rode a race with the coming storm. At the top of every prairie roll I expected to see Denver, but it was not till nearly five that from a considerable height I looked down upon the great “City of the Plains,” the metropolis of the Territories. There the great braggart city lay spread out, brown and treeless, upon the brown and treeless plain, which seemed to nourish nothing but wormwood and the Spanish bayonet. The shallow Platte, shriveled into a narrow stream with a shingly bed six times too large for it, and fringed by shriveled cotton-wood, wound along by Denver, and two miles up its course I saw a great sandstorm, which in a few minutes covered the city, blotting it out with a dense brown cloud. Then with gusts of wind the snowstorm began, and I had to trust entirely to Birdie’s sagacity for finding Evans’s shanty. She had been there once before only, but carried me direct to it over rough ground and trenches. Gleefully Mrs. Evans and the children ran out to welcome the pet pony, and I was received most hospitably, and made warm and comfortable, though the house consists only of a kitchen and two bed closets. My budget of news from “the park” had to be brought out constantly, and I wondered how much I had to tell. It was past eleven when we breakfasted the next morning. It was cloudless with an intense frost, and six inches of snow on the ground, and everybody thought it too cold to get up and light the fire. I had intended to leave Birdie at Denver, but Governor Hunt and Mr. Byers of the Rocky Mountain News both advised me to travel on horseback rather than by train and stage telling me that I should be quite safe, and Governor Hunt drew out a route for me and gave me a circular letter to the settlers along it. Denver is no longer the Denver of Hepworth Dixon. A shooting affray in the street is as rare as in Liverpool, and one no longer sees men dangling to the lamp-posts when one looks out in the morning! It is a busy place, the entrepot and distributing point for an immense district, with good shops, some factories, fair hotels, and the usual deformities and refinements of civilization. Peltry shops abound, and sportsman, hunter, miner, teamster, emigrant, can be completely rigged out at fifty different stores. At Denver, people who come from the East to try the “camp cure” now so fashionable, get their outfit of wagon, driver, horses, tent, bedding, and stove, and start for the mountains. Asthmatic people are there in such numbers as to warrant the holding of an “asthmatic convention” of patients cured and benefited. Numbers of invalids who cannot bear the rough life of the mountains fill its hotels and boarding-houses, and others who have been partially restored by a summer of camping out, go into the city in the winter to complete the cure. It stands at a height of 5,000 feet, on an enormous plain, and has a most glorious view of the Rocky Range. I should hate even to spend a week there. The sight of those glories so near and yet out of reach would make me nearly crazy. Denver is at present the terminus of the Kansas Pacific Railroad. It has a line connecting it with the Union Pacific Railroad at Cheyenne, and by means of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, open for about 200 miles, it is expecting to reach into Mexico. It has also had the enterprise, by means of another narrow-gauge railroad, to push its way right up into the mining districts near Gray’s Peak. The number of “saloons” in the streets impresses one, and everywhere one meets the characteristic loafers of a frontier town, who find it hard even for a few days or hours to submit to the restraints of civilization, as hard as I did to ride sidewise to Governor Hunt’s office. To Denver men go to spend the savings of months of hard work in the maddest dissipation, and there such characters as “Comanche Bill,” “Buffalo Bill,” “Wild Bill,” and “Mountain Jim,” go on the spree, and find the kind of notoriety they seek. A large number of Indians added to the harlequin appearance of the Denver streets the day I was there. They belonged to the Ute tribe, through which I had to pass, and Governor Hunt introduced me to a fine-looking young chief, very well dressed in beaded hide, and bespoke his courtesy for me if I needed it. The Indian stores and fur stores and fur depots interested me most. The crowds in the streets, perhaps owing to the snow on the ground, were almost solely masculine. I only saw five women the whole day. There were men in every rig: hunters and trappers in buckskin clothing; men of the Plains with belts and revolvers, in great blue cloaks, relics of the war; teamsters in leathern suits; horsemen in fur coats and caps and buffalo-hide boots with the hair outside, and camping blankets behind their huge Mexican saddles; Broadway dandies in light kid gloves; rich English sporting tourists, clean, comely, and supercilious looking; and hundreds of Indians on their small ponies, the men wearing buckskin suits sewn with beads, and red blankets, with faces painted vermilion and hair hanging lank and straight, and squaws much bundled up, riding astride with furs over their saddles. Town tired and confused me, and in spite of Mrs. Evans’s kind hospitality, I was glad when a man brought Birdie at nine yesterday morning. He said she was a little demon, she had done nothing but buck, and had bucked him off on the bridge! I found that he had put a curb on her, and whenever she dislikes anything she resents it by bucking. I rode sidewise till I was well through the town, long enough to produce a severe pain in my spine, which was not relieved for some time even after I had changed my position. It was a lovely Indian summer day, so warm that the snow on the ground looked an incongruity. I rode over the Plains for some time, then gradually reached the rolling country along the base of the mountains, and a stream with cottonwoods along it, and settlers’ houses about every halfmile. I passed and met wagons frequently, and picked up a muff containing a purse with 500 dollars in it, which I afterwards had the great pleasure of restoring to the owner. Several times I crossed the narrow track of the quaint little Rio Grande Railroad, so that it was a very cheerful ride.
RANCH, PLUM CREEK, October 24.
You must understand that in Colorado travel, unless on the main road and in the larger settlements, there are neither hotels nor taverns, and that it is the custom for the settlers to receive travelers, charging them at the usual hotel rate for accommodation. It is a very satisfactory arrangement. However, at Ranch, my first halting place, the host was unwilling to receive people in this way, I afterwards found, or I certainly should not have presented my credentials at the door of a large frame house, with large barns and a generally prosperous look. The host, who opened the door, looked repellent, but his wife, a very agreeable, lady-like-looking woman, said they could give me a bed on a sofa. The house was the most pretentious I have yet seen, being papered and carpeted, and there were two “hired girls.” There was a lady there from Laramie, who kindly offered to receive me into her room, a very tall, elegant person, remarkable as being the first woman who had settled in the Rocky Mountains. She had been trying the “camp cure” for three months, and was then on her way home. She had a wagon with beds, tent, tent floor, cooking-stove, and every camp luxury, a light buggy, a man to manage everything, and a most superior “hired girl.” She was consumptive and frail in strength, but a very attractive person, and her stories of the perils and limitation of her early life at Fort Laramie were very interesting. Still I “wearied,” as I had arrived early in the afternoon, and could not out of politeness retire and write to you. At meals the three “hired men” and two “hired girls” eat with the family. I soon found that there was a screw loose in the house, and was glad to leave early the next morning, although it was obvious that a storm was coming on. I saw the toy car of the Rio Grande Railroad whirl past, all cushioned and warm, and rather wished I were in it, and not out among the snow on the bleak hill side. I only got on four miles when the storm came on so badly that I got into a kitchen where eleven wretched travelers were taking shelter, with the snow melting on them and dripping on the floor. I had learned the art of “being agreeable” so well at the Chalmers’s, and practiced it so successfully during the two hours I was there, by paring potatoes and making scones, that when I left, though the hosts kept “an accommodation house for travelers,” they would take nothing for my entertainment, because they said I was such “good company”! The storm moderated a little, and at one I saddled Birdie, and rode four more miles, crossing a frozen creek, the ice of which broke and let the pony through, to her great alarm. I cannot describe my feelings on this ride, produced by the utter loneliness, the silence and dumbness of all things, the snow falling quietly without wind, the obliterated mountains, the darkness, the intense cold, and the unusual and appalling aspect of nature. All life was in a shroud, all work and travel suspended. There was not a foot-mark or wheel-mark. There was nothing to be afraid of; and though I can’t exactly say that I enjoyed the ride, yet there was the pleasant feeling of gaining health every hour. When the snow darkness began to deepen towards evening, the track became quite illegible, and when I found myself at this romantically situated cabin, I was thankful to find that they could give me shelter. The scene was a solemn one, and reminded me of a description in Whittier’s Snow–Bound. All the stock came round the cabin with mute appeals for shelter. Sheep dogs got in, and would not be kicked out. Men went out muffled up, and came back shivering and shaking the snow from their feet. The churn was put by the stove. Later on, a most pleasant settler, on his way to Denver, came in his wagon having been snow blocked two miles off, where he had been obliged to leave it and bring his horses on here. The “Grey Mare” had a stentorian voice, smoked a clay pipe which she passed to her children, raged at English people, derided the courtesy of English manners, and considered that “Please,” “Thank you,” and the like, were “all bosh” when life was so short and busy. And still the snow fell softly, and the air and earth were silent.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:48