Imagine riding through the Rocky Mountains of Colorado on horseback on a brisk autumn or early winter’s day in 1873. Now imagine that instead of being an American out on that ride, you are a cultured Englishwoman whose first taste of the continent came from the sunny shores of Hawaii. Sound like a bit of a culture shock?
A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella L. Bird is an account of the author’s stay in the West, written in the form of letters to her sister back in England. As might be expected, an Englishwoman has a unique perspective on mountain life, but Bird’s love of nature, interest in people, and sense of humor enable her to enjoy her travels and come to appreciate the Rocky Mountains.
The descriptions of the people, places, and animals Bird encounters during her travels are truly delightful. The reader can almost see the glories of the mountain sunset, and the characters are irresistibly appealing, from Chalmers the hapless homesteader to Edwards and Evans, two ranching partners as different from each other as night is from day. Besides pointing out the work of God’s hand in the scenery of the Estes Park area, Bird tells of her many adventures, some exciting, such as rounding up a half-wild herd of longhorns; some humorous, such as horseback riding with makeshift tack and a completely disoriented guide; and some that can only be classified as unique, such as mountain climbing with a kind-hearted desperado for an escort. Equally interesting are the stories of how the pioneers coped with the harsh mountain winter. (Would you have thought of putting socks on a horse to give it traction on ice?)
Although parents may want to preview the brief, but somewhat graphic, retelling of the infamous Donner episode, all readers are sure to enjoy the rest of the book. A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, available free online, is guaranteed to provide a flavor of the time, some thought-provoking character insights, and a few good laughs, as well.