Izzy Bird, damn beautiful

Isabella is deep in the mountains still. I’m just going to share this passage* as is, because she is 100% smitten with the scenery:

“I rode up one great ascent where hills were tumbled about confusedly; and suddenly across the broad ravine, rising above the sunny grass and the deep green pines, rose in glowing and shaded red against the glittering blue heaven magnificent and unearthly range of mountains, as shapely as could be seen, rising into colossal points, cleft by blue ravines, broken up into sharks’ teen, with gigantic knobs and pinnacles rising from their inaccessible sides, very fair to look upon — a glowing, heavenly, unforgettable sight, and only four miles off.

“Mountains they looked not of this earth, but such as one sees in dreams alone, the blessed ranges of ‘the land which is very far off.’”

“They were more brilliant than those incredible colors in which painters array the fiery hills of Moab and Desert, and one could not believe them for ever uninhabited, for on them rose, as in the East, the similitude of stately fortresses, not the gray castellated towers of feudal Europe, but the gay, massive, Saracenic** architecture, the outgrowth of solid rock.”

Reader: I want to go there.


* which I dare you to diagram

** “Islamic architecture consisting chiefly of mosques and tombs and characterized by decorated surfaces, bulbous domes, and horseshoe, pointed, and multifoil arches”

Izzy Bird, fatigues of another day

Isabella is writing from Hall’s Gulch and recounting her trip through the snow-beclothed mountains.

“It was another cloudless morning, one of the many here on which one awakes early, refreshed, and ready to enjoy the fatigues of another day.* In our sunless, misty climate** you do not know the influence which persistent fine weather exercises on the spirits. I have been ten months*** in almost perpetual sunshine, and now a single cloudy day makes me feel quite depressed.”

She left the Link’s cabin in the mid-morning. She saw man riding a little ahead of her and caught up to him. They rode eight miles together, “which was convenient to me, as without him, I should several times have lost the trail altogether. Then his fine American horse, on which he had only ridden two days, broke down, while my ‘mad, bad bronco,’ on which I had been traveling for a fortnight, cantered lightly over the snow.”

The track, she agrees, deserves every horrible thing said about it at the Link’s.

“I have not seen anything hitherto so thoroughly wild and unlike the rest of these parts.”


* I love this phrase, btw.

** I presume she is referring to Britain here. If so, can confirm.

*** She was in Australia, New Zealand, and the Hawaiian Islands before the Rocky Mountains.

Izzy Bird, men are arguing


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Isabella is in the Link’s cabin. It is dinner time.

One of the ways people pass the time in these parts is to talk about roads and weather.* The folks around the table — Mr Link, an old hunter, a miner, and a teamster — are in a heated discussion about the route Isabella should take in the morning. Even after everyone goes to bed that night, the discussion kicked back up before she left “with increased violence, so that if my nerves had not been of steel I should have been appalled.

“The old hunter acrimoniously said he ‘must speak the truth,’ the miner was directing me over a track where for 25 miles there was not a house, and where, if snow came on, I should never be heard of again. The miner said he ‘must speak the truth,’ the hunter was directing me over a pass where there were five feet of snow and no trail.”

The teamster weighed in, of course, and advised her to “take the road into South Park,** which I was determined not to do. Mr Link said he was the oldest hunter and settler in the district, and he could not cross any of the trails in snow. And so they went on.”

They did agree on part of one route, which contains “the worst road in the Rocky Mountains.” It has two feet of snow on it — but a hunter had jus hauled an elk over park of it so maybe it wasn’t so bad?

“The upshot of the whole,” she tells her sister, “you shall have in my next letter.”

* This is how humans pass the time in many parts. Glad to see it’s not a new phenomenon.

** same place as the show? Anyone?

Izzy Bird, 150 miles

In the last five days, Isabella has ridden 150 miles.
Shortly after she left the lovely cabin near Hayden’s Divide, she spent a “quiet Sunday with agreeable people” at Colonel Kittridge’s cabin.* Her one comment about the place was that it “was very small and lonely, and the life seemed a hard grind for an educated and refined woman.”
The view, however, contains three peaks of Pike’s Peak and is agreeable.
When she left the next morning, she slid off of Birdie’s back to open a gate, turned around, and Birdie was gone.** “I spent an hour trying to catch her, but she had taken an ‘ugly fit,’ and would not let me go near her; I was getting tired and vexed, when two passing trappers, on mules, circumvented and caught her.”
The pair rode on. They crossed the headwaters of the Platte River and found a ranch owned by “a great hunter named Link, which much resembled a good county inn.” They had a splendid if rustic supper. “While Mrs Link was serving us… she was orating on the greediness of English people, saying that ‘you would think they traveled through the country only to gratify their palates’; and addressed me, asking if I had not observed it! I am nearly always taken for a Dane or a Swede, never for an Englishwoman, so I often hear a good deal of outspoken criticism.”
*Remember him?
** I KNOW.

Izzy Bird, 11 miles and a dead mule

Isabella is in Hayden’s Divide, which she calls “a hideous place.” During her passage through this “weary expanse of deep snow 11 miles across,” she sees nothing of interest save a dead mule.* She briefly wonders if she’s lost the trail but can spy Mount Lincoln** and knows she’s on the right path.
Things pick up even more when she comes out of the forest and finds her stopping place. It’s a clean log cabin where “a truly pleasing, superior-looking woman placed [her] in a rocking chair.” The only labor Isabella must do to earn her stay is rock the cradle nearby.
“The room, though it serves them and their two children for kitchen, parlor, and bed room, is the pattern of brightness, cleanliness, and comfort. At supper, there were canned raspberries, rolls, butter, tea, venison, and fried rabbit, and at seven I went to be in a carpeted log room, with a thick feather bed on a mattress, sheets, ruffled pillow slips, and a pile of warm white blankets! I slept for 11 hours.”
In the morning, she shows the adults of the house her proposed route. They declare it impassible because of the snow and warn her that another storm is on the way.
* FWIW: we might be in the Hayden’s Divide of 2020.
** the “King of the Rocky Mountains”

Izzy Bird, 8 miles in

At a pass in Bergens Park, Isabella finds a forge. Not only do they fix Birdie’s shoe, they also have extras for sale. Isabella is keeping the spare nails in her purse.
She stopped at a ranch for lunch. There she met Colonel Kittridge, another lunch guest, who said that his valley, which is 12 miles away, is the loveliest in all of Colorado. It’s off the main road. He invites her to come see it.*
“I went up a long ascent in deep snow, but as it did not seem to be the way, I tied up the pony, and walked on to a cabin at some distance, which I had hardly reached when I found her trotting like a dog by my side, pulling at my sleeve and laying her soft grey nose on my shoulder. … We had eight miles farther to go — most of the way through a forest, which I always dislike when alone, from the fear of being frightened by something which may appear from behind a tree.”**
She comes upon a cabin, which is occupied by a Mr. Thornton, an English gentleman, who has “a worthy married Englishman as his manager.” Other cabins are being built and he hopes to make it a resort.
The current cabin is “long, low, mud roofed, and very dark.” It is divided into three sections. The middle one is full of raw meat and gear. The other end contains the kitchen and eating area, including sacks of beans and flour. The opposite end is where the long-term residents live.
They put up a sheet as a partition for Isabella and “made me a shake-down on the gravel floor.” It was all very rough and comfortless, but Mr. T, who is not only a gentleman by birth, but an M.A. of Cambridge, seems to like it. … Seven large dogs, three of them with cats upon their backs, are usually warming themselves by the fire.”
* To me, this sounds like a “why don’t you come up to my room to see some etchings” situation but Isabella seems unconcerned.
** Aha! She can feel fear. And like all courageous people, presses on despite it.

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?