Isabella has arrived in Greeley, Colorado. Or, as it was known then, the Greeley Temperance Colony. More info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_Colony_of_Colorado
This was 1873, remember, well before the U.S. tried its hand at banning drink entirely. With, one must observe, completely anticipated results. Isabella is pro-temperance, by the way, and will only lean into the movement more as time passes.
Greeley was founded by “emigrants from the East*, all totally abstainers, and holding advanced political opinions.” They bought and fenced 50,000 acres of land complete with an irrigation canal. The population is 3,000 and are the “most prosperous and rising colony in Colorado, being altogether free of laziness and crime.”**
The men of Greeley recently sacked three houses near their enclave that were selling the demon drink and smashed the whisky barrels. Which I’m sure makes them super popular on the frontier.
Still, it is not the perfect town. Dinner at her rooming house involved mostly grease and black flies. The kitchen is the only sitting room — given that there are no bars to hang out in — and she goes to bed early, where she strikes a light and finds “such swarms of bugs that I gathered myself up on the wooden chairs, and dozed uneasily till sunrise.”
The next morning, she lights out for Fort Collins, following the course of the river Cache-a-la-Poudre. The views are lovely.
More importantly, it is election day in the territory and men*** are galloping all over the prairie so that they can register their votes. “They spoke openly and shamelessly of the prices given for votes; and apparently was not a politician on either side who was not accused of degrading corruption.”
She does not note, however, who wins this particular contest.
* I’m assuming she means the U.S. East Coast, not Asia.
** I mean. Sure. We can go with that, even though it seems highly unlikely.
*** and, yes, just men.
I ran the trifecta of the modern writer's bucket list during the week Somebody's Gotta Do It came out. There was a New York Times review. I was made into a meme. And Hillary Clinton tweeted about my work. It would have been enough.
But there is more to the story. I've not told it because a) I can't quite believe it happened and b) it felt too tender and personal to share. However, now is the time.
After the tweet, a little bird at the publisher's office told me that HRC herself would like an autographed copy. With it, the wee avian suggested, toss in a personal note and something small from your region, because she really loves this part of the state. Which is what I did, after 48 hours of agonizing about what to say and what to send. Like one does.
Then a pandemic happened. It's the same one that continues to happen so we have that, at least, because a new pandemic on top of this one might break me. While I have had more than a few moments where I wonder what the sales numbers on my book would look like if the momentum of the first week wasn't interrupted by chaos and death, most of my mind has been on much more important things, not the least of which was what was happening on the county government level. It has been ... rough.
About a month ago, my Elder Teenager yelled up the stairs that a letter for the "Honorable Adrienne Martini" was in the pile of mail on the table. I assumed it was from someone who wanted to let me know that I was going to hell or a worthless shill for "King Cuomo" or the like. I get these often enough that they no longer phase me. I also don't rush to open them.
Oddly, all three of the other humans who live in the house were downstairs when I opened the letter. Those same humans also got to hear the string of very adult words I said when I realized who the letter was from:
It just came back from Artware in Oneonta, the best frame shop in the region. I don't know where I will hang it but need it to be somewhere I'll see it when the work is feeling harder than usual and I've convinced myself none of it is worth all of the aggravation.
Isabella has had her mind blown by Colorado.
There is the notable terrain: “Plains, plains, everywhere, plains generally level, but elsewhere rolling in long undulations, like the waves of a sea which had fallen asleep.”* Mostly, tho, she’s flipped over the concept of prairie dogs.
The plains “are peopled with large villages of what are called prairie dogs, because they utter a short, sharp bark, but the dogs are, in reality, marmots.** Hundreds of burrows are placed together. On nearly every rim, a small furry reddish-buff beast sat on his hind legs, looking, so far as the head went, much like a young seal. These creatures were acting as sentinels, and sunning themselves. As we passed, each gave a warning yelp, shook its tail, and, with a ludicrous flourish of its hind legs, dived into its hole. The appearance of hundreds of these creatures, each 18 inches long, sitting like a dog begging, with their paws down and all turned sunward, is most grotesque.”
She also opines that with so many burrowing marmots that the prairies will be seriously injured and rendered completely unsafe for horses. It’s good that she never lived to see strip malls and CAFOs.***
The burrows, she is told, are also shared by owls. Many people insist to her that they are also shared by rattlesnakes, “but I hope for the sake of the harmless, cheery little prairie dog, that this unwelcome fellowship is a myth.”
* This is followed by a detailed description of all of the grasses on said plains but I’ll spare you.
** Thanks for spoiling the magic, Izzy.
*** concentrating animal feeding operations, which are truly grotesque
Isabella is leaving Cheyenne as quickly as she can. The reason is hauntingly familiar.
“A ‘help’ here says that there have been 56 deaths from cholera during the last 20 days. Is common humanity lacking, I wonder, in this region of hard greed? Can it not be bought by dollars here, like every other commodity, votes included?”
Just sit for a second with that phrase: region of hard greed. The more things change, etc.
But wait. There’s more.
“Last night I made the acquaintance of a shadowy gentleman from Wisconsin, far gone in consumption, with a spirited wife and young baby. He had been ordered to the Plains as a last resource,* but was much worse. Early this morning he crawled to my door, scarcely able to speak from debility and bleeding from the lungs, begging me to go to his wife, who, the doctor said was ill of cholera. The child had been ill all night, and not for love or money could he get any one to do anything for them, not even go for medicine. The lady was blue, and in great pain from cramp, and the poor unweaned infant was roaring for nourishment which had failed.”
Isabella does what she can, including searching for a “feeding bottle.” She has no success and resorts to a sponge in some milk and water. She also finds a random local girl to take charge of the infant for $2 a day.**
With that matter as settled as it is going to be, Isabella heads to Greeley, which will be her staging area for a trip into the mountains.
* Today I learned that moving to Colorado was often suggested as a cure for all kinds of lung ailments. Which is interesting, if only because I would worry about what the altitude would do to my ability to breathe.
** which seems like a lot?
- IF YOU READ NOTHING ELSE: To Comptroller DiNapoli I say: No Shit. This really deserves its own post but, dang, I'm so tired of talking about collapsing county budgets ... and, yet, they keep collapsing and it's increasingly clear we are on our own.
- The main take-away from this thorough and clear piece about Covid-19: if we had a real administration, it could have been contained. Absolutely none of this had to happen.
- The only chart you need right now.
- Yet another reason why you should care about coroners.
- Lessons from the kink community.
- You should be watching Home Game.
- Problem Areas was ahead of its time and just what we need now. Also: Wyatt Cenac shows you how interviews should be done. You can tell that he's really listening and responding sincerely.
Isabella is not in love with Cheyenne but admits it is useful because it is a depot for all of those who live within 300 miles. It is a “god-forsaken, god-forgotten” place according to some. Yet, as she says, “that forgets that God is written on its face.”
A short time ago, the place was inhabited only by “rowdies and desperados, the scum of advancing civilization; and murders, stabbings, shooting, and pistol affrays were at times events of almost hourly occurrence in its drinking dens.”* The good people of Cheyenne cleared the place out by running said ruffians out of town and/or hanging them without benefit of trial.**
The population is about 4,000 in an assortment of shanties and frame houses. The place produces “the foulest smells I have smelt for a long time… there is not a bush, or garden, or green thing; it just straggles out promiscuously on the boundless brown plains, on the extreme verge of which three toothy peaks are seen. It is utterly slovenly looking, and unornamental, abounds in slouching bar-room-looking characters, and looks a place of low, mean lives.”
The population bounced up a couple of years after her visit because gold was discovered nearby. The character of the town changed, Isabella adds in a footnote. Still, I don’t think she’ll find work for the tourist board any time soon.
* for more one this, watch Deadwood. It’s so good.
** I don’t advocate this, mind.