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Izzy Bird, but not lovable

Isabella is in Bergens Park for this night. A horseshoe nail was never found in Manitou, so she made slow progress because of the loose shoe.

She had plenty of time to absorb the scenery.

“The mineral fountains were sparkling in their basins and sending up their full perennial jets but the snow-clad, pine-skirted mountains frowned and darkened over the Ute Pass… A narrow pass it is, with barely room for the torrent and the wagon road which has been blasted out of its steep sides.”

There are pine trees pretty much as far as the eye can see but, for a mile or two, in a microclimate,* “the everlasting northern pine” gave way to “dwarf oaks, willows, hazel, and spruce; the white cedar and the trailing juniper jostled each other for a precarious foothold; the majestic redwood tree of the Pacific met the exquisite balsam pine of the Atlantic slopes, and among them all the pale gold foliage of the large aspen trembled (as the legend goes) in endless remorse.”

This part of the country, she says, is “grand! Glorious! Sublime! But not lovable.”


* my word, not hers. I have no idea if the label of “microclimate” existed in 1873.

Izzy Bird, ten shillings

Isabella still processing how many visitors to Colorado Springs wind up dead.

“The —s say that many go to the Springs in the last stage of consumption, thinking that the Colorado climate will cure them, without money enough to pay for even the coarsest board. We talked most of that day.”

She doesn’t elaborate on the conversation, however, and changes the topic to the logistics of the rest of her long ride into the mountains. It’s been an inexpensive trip thus far.* She’s obtained “arctics” and warm gloves. Birdie has been given a day off.

“It is a splendid life for health and enjoyment. All my luggage being in a pack, and my conveyance being a horse, we can go anywhere where we can get food and shelter.”

The next part of the letter comes from Great Gorge of the Manitou, which is home to Pike’s Peak, the garden of the Gods, and the Ute Pass. There are immense hotels here, even in the 1870s, and thousands flock each summer to take the waters. It is, of course, scenic AF. “It is grand and awful, and has a strange, column beauty like death.”

Her hope is to push on to higher regions the next day but one of Birdie’s shoes is loose and no one has nails.** Still, she and the horse are getting along well.

“She always follows me closely, and today got quite into a house and pushed the parlor door open. She walks after me with her head laid on my shoulder, licking my face and teasing me for sugar, and, sometimes, when any one else takes hold of her, she rears and kicks, and the vicious bronco soul comes into her eyes.”

I kinda love Birdie, you guys. Like, a lot.


* about ten shillings per day, for those who feel like doing the math.

** even she notes the old saying about “want of a nail.”

Izzy Bird, it's not all horses

As promised: more about tuberculosis and other breathing diseases.

Isabella has stopped at home outside of Colorado Springs. She names them only with —s.*

“I found the —s living in a small room which served for parlor, bedroom, and kitchen and combined the comforts of all. It is inhabited also by two prairie dogs,** a kitten, and a deerhound. It is truly homelike.”

The wife of the family walked her over to a boarding house, which they spent some time in that parlor talking to the landlady. Opposite Isabella is the door to a bedroom. It is open enough that she can see the people within.

“On a bed opposite the door a very sick-looking young man was half-lying, half-sitting, fully dressed, supported by another, and a very sick-looking young man much resembling him passing in and out occasionally, or leaned on the chimney piece in an attitude of extreme dejection. Soon the door was half-closed, and some one came to it saying rapidly, ‘Shields, quick, a candle!’ And then there were movings about in the room.”

All this time, Isabella says, the 7 or 8 people in the parlor talking and laughing.

In the bedroom, “I saw two large white feet sticking up at the end of the bed. I watched and watched, hoping those feet would move, but they did not; and somehow, to my thinking, they grew stiffer and whiter, and then a horrible suspicion deepened, and while we were sitting there a human spirit untended and desolate had passed forth into the night.”

And, indeed, that is what had happened.

The next morning, when Isabella entered the parlor, the landlady was wearing a “fashionable” black dress. “… and there, to my horror, not even covered with a face cloth, and with the sun blazing in through the unblinded window, lay that thing of terror, a corpse, on some chairs which were not even placed straight. It was buried in the afternoon, and from the looks of the brother, who continued to sob and moan, his end cannot be far off.”


* She’s usually happy to put a family name to a house, btw. This is out of character.

** as one does?

Izzy Bird, Colorado Springs

Isabella and Birdie on still on the “road” to Colorado Springs.

They left bright and early. The day started “gray and sour” but “brightened and warmed” as she rode. After 12 miles, she stopped at for bread, milk, and horse feed at a house where there were also 8 boarders, “each one looking nearer the grave than the other.” This is the usual route consumptives take to the sanitaria in the Springs. Some, as you’d imagine, perish along the way.

Isabella detours a little through Monument Park, just because she’d heard that it wasn’t to be missed. She rode through “strange gorges with wonderful upright rocks of all shapes and colors, and turning through a gate of rock, came upon what I knew must be Glen Eyrie, as wild and romantic a glen as imagination pictured.”

She rode through a “decayed-looking cluster of houses bearing the arrogant name of Colorado City,” then saw the “ambitious watering place of Colorado Springs” from the top of a ridge. Rather than charge on, she stopped to put a long skirt on, then rode sidewise, “though the settlement looked like a place where any deference to prejudices was necessary. A queer embryo-looking place it is, out on the bare plains, yet it is rising and like to rise…it has a fine view of the mountains, but the celebrated springs are in Manitou, three miles off, in really fine scenery.”

On Monday: more about consumption!*


* Don’t say I don’t know a good time.

Izzy Bird, 17 men

Isabella have been riding on. She is near the top of the Arkansas Divide. The snow is 13” deep and it is 9 below zero.*
“My feet had lost all sensation, and one of them was frozen to the wooden stirrup….I had only ride 15 miles in 8 and a half hours, and must look for a place to sleep in. The eastern sky was unlike anything I ever saw before. It had been chrysoprase,** then it turned to aquamarine, and that to the bright full green of an emerald. Unless I am color-blind, this is true. Then suddenly the whole changed, and flushed with the pure, bright, rose color of the afterglow.”
Birdie was sliding all over the place and Isabella was nearly frozen so she stopped at the first cabin she saw. It was already contained 17 snow-bound men, so she pressed a half-mile further on.
She “reached the house of a German from Eisenau, with a sweet young wife and a venerable mother-in-law. Though the house was very poor, it was made attractive by ornaments, and the simple, loving, German ways*** gave it a sweet home atmosphere. My room was reached by a ladder, but I had it to myself and had the luxury of a basin to wash in. Under the kindly treatment of the two women, my feet came to themselves, but with an amount of pain that almost deserved the name of torture.”
*F, not C.
** It’s a gemstone. Photo attached.
*** lots of kartoffoln, I suspect, with maybe some yelling and schnapps.

Izzy Bird, true love

After a night’s sleep in a “beautiful bed room” at the Perry Ranch, Isabella is on the move again. It is still snowing. Fortunately, a wagon had just passed on the main road and she can ride in the wheel rut.
“Everything was buried under a glittering shroud of snow. The babble of the streams was bound by fetters of ice. No branches creaked in the still air. No birds sang. No one passed or met me. There were no cabins near or far. The only sound was the crunch of the snow under Birdie’s feet.”
Speaking of Birdie, she and Isabella came to a makeshift log bridge that crossed an icy cold river. “Birdie put one foot on this, then drew it back, then put another on, then smelt the bridge noisily. Persuasions were useless; she only smelt, snorted, held back, and turned her cunning head and looked at me. It was useless to argue the point with so sagacious a beast.”
Birdie crossed the river by walking through it. It was deep enough that Isabella’s feet got wet, too, which made her wonder why the horse chose this way. Later she learned that the bridge was dangerous.*
Regardless, Isabella is smitten with her horse. “She is the queen of ponies, and is very gentle, though she has not only wild horse blood, but is herself a wild horse. She is always cheerful and hungry,*** never tired, looks intelligently at everything, and her legs are like rocks. She is quite a companion, and bathing her back, sponging her nostrils, and seeing her fed after my day’s ride, is always my first care.”
My wish for you: may you have someone in your life with whom you share the same bond.
* I’m of two minds. Maybe Birdie sensed a real danger and opted to stay safe. Or, because I’ve spent some time around horses, she got the idea in her head that it was dangerous for no real reason** and opted to be stubborn.
** I knew a horse with an unshakeable fear of umbrellas, which had never caused him harm. I think he couldn’t quite understand how they could look like sticks or like giant kites of terror all at a moment’s notice.
*** same.

Izzy Birds, cattle minutia

Isabella takes some time to explain to her sister how cattle ranching works in the Western United States.

Young animals are imported from Texas, she says, and “the climate is so fine and the pasturage* so ample that shelter and hand-feeding are never resorted to except in the case of imported breeding stock from the Eastern States, which sometimes in severe winters need to be fed in sheds for a short time.”

Unlike in England, the cattle here “run at large upon the prairies; each animal being branded, they need no herding, and are usually only mustered, counted, and the increase branded in the summer. In the fall, when three or four years old, they are sold lean or in tolerable condition to dealers who take them by rail to Chicago” where they are slaughtered for tinning or consumption out East.**

She goes on to talk about the current king of cattle in Colorado (Mr. Iliff of South Platte) and his breeding operations. She describes the feud between the “cattle men” and “sheep men,” with the latter business said to be more profitable and more risky. Even then, American eating habits were evident. Isabella only seems mutton or lamb on a menu once in her entire Western trip. Most sheep are farmed for their wool, which is as it should be.

* Colorado is mostly terrible at growing crops other than wheat — and even wheat requires extensive irrigation in most parts of the state. Grasshoppers** are a constant menace. Grasslands for ruminants, however, are plentiful and pest-free.

** “The farmers seem much depressed by the magnitude and persistency of the grasshopper pest which finds their fields in the morning ‘as the garden of Eden,’ and leaves them at night ‘a desolate wilderness.’”

*** While some Western ranchers still do this, most … do not. I still wonder what Isabella would think of a modern, centralized feeding operation. I imagine her response would not be kind.

Izzy Bird, the observing faculties

Isabella is in Colorado Springs and attempting to describe the last seven days to her sister.

“I have been riding for a whole week, seeing wonders and greatly enjoying the singular adventurousness and novelty of my tour, but ten hours or more daily spent in the saddle in this rarefied, intoxicating air, disposes one to sleep rather than to write in the evening, and is far from conducive to mental brilliancy.* The observing faculties are developed, and the reflexive lie dormant.”

The weather has been snowy, which makes travel hard. Balls of ice and snow keep getting caught up in Birdie’s hooves and it makes for slow going.

One night, as giant snowflakes fell, Isabella opts to stop riding early and turned onto an untrodden path. She knows the Perry Ranch is at the end of it. She has a letter of introduction from the governor, which all but insures a night’s hospitality.

Mr Perry was away, but his daughter welcomed her in for dinner and a bed.

“They had stewed venison and various luxuries on the table, which was tasteful and refined, and an adroit colored table-maid waited, one of five attached Negro servants who had been slaves before the war,” she writes. After dinner, a “gentleman cousin” took her on a ride to show her Pleasant Park, which lives up to its name.

“It did look very grand as we entered it by a narrow pass guarded by two buttes, or isolated upright masses of rock, bright red, and about 300 feet in height.” Unfortunately, the weather is “too threatening for a long ride” and they returned to the ranch.


* this is also true of a pandemic.

izzy bird, paring potatoes

Isabella has left the Plum Creek ranch — the one that she says has a “screw loose” — but only makes it four miles before the storm makes travel impossible. Fortunately, there is a boarding house, where she and 11 other “wretched travelers” are able to take shelter.

Because she has learned the fine art of making herself useful, she spent the two hours she is there “paring potatoes and making scones.” When she left, her hosts would accept no money in exchange for her time indoors.

The storm did let up long enough for Isabella to re-saddle Birdie and ride four more miles. When she crossed a frozen creek, “the ice … broke and let the pony through, to her great alarm.* I cannot describe my feelings on this ride, produced by utter loneliness, the silence and dumbness of all things, the snow failing quietly without wind, the obliterated mountains, the darkness, the intense cold, and the unusual and appalling aspect of nature. There was nothing to be afraid of; and though I can’t exactly say I enjoyed the ride, yet there was the pleasant feeling of gaining health every hour.”

Who hasn’t been there?

Fortunately, Isabella found a “most romantically situated” cabin in which to spend the night. There were 11 men, plus the family, all in the cabin. Plus all the dogs and some of the smaller livestock because it was so cold.

“And still the snow fell softly,” she wrote, “and the air and earth were silent."

* fair

Izzy Bird, Plum Creek weirdos

Screen Shot 2020-09-17 at 2.44.00 PM

Isabella is on the move. She has collected Birdie* and ridden out from the Mrs Evans’ shanty. “Town tired and confused me,” she said. I think we can all understand perfectly.

It was the custom in these times and in this land to present yourself to any large house in the area and receive room and board for the night. Hotels and taverns are few and far between. On this first night, Isabella discovered that it is a custom not all in the country follow. She has stopped at a ranch near Plum Creek and found “the host was unwilling to receive people in this way…the host looked repellent, but his wife, a very agreeable, lady-like-looking woman, said they could give me a bed on a sofa.”

While there, Isabella met a lady from Laramie, who had been trying the camp cure** but found it unsuccessful. “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.’” There is no word on what made this hired girl better than average. Still, I find it interesting how much stuff some would travel with — but probably had to when actual places to stay were so sparse.

Isabella spends one night at the ranch and skedaddles. She does not dig the vibe at the Plum Creek Ranch. “I soon found out there was a screw loose in the house, and was glad to leave early the next morning, although it was obvious a storm was coming on.”


* there’s a whole side story here about how the stableman called Birdie a “little demon” who had bucked him off of a bridge. It is not a thing she does with Isabella, mind, because they seem to be perfect for each other. Isabella rides out of town sidesaddle, which is just long enough to make her back hurt, then switches to astride for the rest of the ride. She passed wagons frequently, and found a purse with $500 in it. But reunited it with its owner so all ended well.

** for her TB