Rocky Mountain National Park
A History
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Chapter 3:

"It became evident that we were not to be left monarchs of all we surveyed. Folks were drifting in prospecting, fossicking, preempting, making claims; so we prepared for civilization."
The Earl of Dunraven in
Past Times and Pastimes [1]

A VISIT to the Rockies always seems to inspire the writing of post cards or letters to those back home. Whether the scenery sparks creativity, or new adventures warrant chatter, or excitement needs to be shared, people have been writing about their experiences in these mountains for many years. But of all those card and letter writers, few ever achieved the level of lasting fame accorded the adventurous English traveler Isabella L. Bird.

No one would ever suggest that Isabella Bird changed the course of Rocky Mountain history. After all, her 1873 visit lasted less than three months. She bought no land; she built no cabins; she started no famous hotels; she did not propose the establishment of a park. She merely wrote about what she saw and experienced. And she never returned in the remaining three decades of her life. Nevertheless, her description of an adventuresome climb up Longs Peak remains a minor classic. Her romantic imagination and descriptive pen painted vivid portraits of the region's inhabitants and its natural features. But even more valuable to us, her letters to her sister provide us with a glimpse at the changes sweeping across this mountainous landscape in the decade after Joel Estes and his family sold and moved out. Those were the years when William Byers attempted another climb of Longs Peak, a time that brought official government explorers, more mountain climbers, more hunters, more subsistence ranchers and settlers. It was a time that saw a flurry of health seekers, promoters, and literate tourists like Isabella Bird herself. After entering the region, she wrote on September 28th, 1873: "I have just dropped into the very place I have been seeking, but in everything it exceeds all my dreams." [2]

At the same time pioneers and prospectors attempted to scratch a living out of the Rockies, curious and affluent vacationers invaded the region. (RMNPHC)

By 1867, people newly settled in Colorado had discovered that their mountains held more than gold. Although obsessed with gaining mineral wealth, noted observer Ovando Hollister in his book The Mines of Colorado, Coloradans also found that "rambles in the Mountains, riding, hunting, bathing, fishing, berrying, camping out, living on air, puts new cheeks on old bones and paints them the richest brown." Wilderness would work its wonders. Even with dynamite, Hollister predicted, man could hardly ever alter these mountains. "Silence and solitude are the inheritance of these forest wilds," he wrote, "where even the loudest explosions rouse only a faint, short echo, and where the song of the winds is an eternal and subdued sigh." [3]

At the same time another enthusiastic traveler, Bayard Taylor, suggested that much of Colorado would soon become a perfect summer resort. In his book Colorado: A Summer Trip, published in 1867, Taylor noted dozens of reasons why "Colorado will soon be recognized as our Switzerland." Among Colorado's glories was its air, "more delicious to breathe," according to Taylor; yet "it is neither too sedative nor too exciting; but has that pure, sweet, flexible quality which seems to support all one's happiest and healthiest moods." [4] Clearly, a mere visit to these mountains would start a person on the path to health.

In the late 1860s a man seeking better health became Grand Lake's first permanent resident. Joseph Wescott suffered from crippling rheumatism and had come to find a cure in the waters of Hot Sulphur Springs in Middle Park. Hot Sulphur Springs was just then an infant resort hoping to become a major spa. Feeling sufficiently cured to fend for himself, Wescott moved to Grand Lake to hunt and fish and also build a cabin. But harsh weather and deep snows in the winter of 1867 almost killed him. Fishing and hunting were poor if not impossible and Wescott nearly starved to death. "In desperation," local historian Nell Pauly reported, "he cut the deer hide from the seat of his chair and boiled it to a glutinous mixture, adding, for seasoning, a few herbs he was able to dig from the ground under the snow." After supposedly eating his shoes in a similar manner, "he kept a spark of life in his starving body until he was rescued by a hunting party which stumbled upon his lonely cabin." There, "almost demented and delirious from undernourishment," Wescott was saved. [5] And at Grand Lake he would remain, earning pioneer status in that community after having survived his first winter. With Wescott's arrival, progress came quickly, for occasional trappers soon gave way to tourists who began arriving during the summer of 1868.

East of the Divide, claims to the land of Estes Park rapidly changed hands as the harsh realities of ranching in the mountains became known. Among those making an effort to subsist in Estes Park during the late 1860s was a Welshman named Griffith Evans. Like other pioneers, he was persistent. Evans was ranching on the old Estes property in 1873 when Isabella Bird made her visit. "The ranchman, who is half-hunter, half-stockman," Mrs. Bird wrote describing Evans, "and his wife are jovial, hearty Welsh people from Llanberis, who laugh with loud, cheery British laughs, sing in parts down to the youngest child, are free hearted and hospitable, and pile the pitch-pine logs half-way up the great rude chimney." Hunting, ranching, and catering to a few visitors allowed the Evans family a lean living in Estes Park. Basic items such as food and shelter took on greater significance here. "There has been fresh meat each day since I came," Isabella Bird chirped, "delicious bread baked daily, excellent potatoes, tea and coffee, and an abundant supply of milk like cream. I have a clean hay bed with six blankets, and there are neither bugs nor fleas." What more could any frontier traveler ask? "The scenery is the most glorious I have ever seen," she added, as if noting a bonus, "and it is above us, around us, at the very door." [6]

While the Evans family hoped to exploit the mountains and assist a few travelers, William N. Byers returned to fulfill his dream of conquering the famed Longs Peak. As the pioneering editor of The Rocky Mountain News, Byers acquired a habit of tramping through the gold fields, wandering throughout Colorado, and promoting this developing territory in print. His failure to reach the Longs Peak summit in 1864 must have gnawed away at his adventurous pride. As he went about his tasks in Denver, Longs Peak probably loomed like a failure on his horizon. For early in the 1860s, William Byers had successfully defeated his early opponents in the Denver newspaper business. He was an ambitious man and his ambition would not allow Longs Peak to remain unclimbed.

Byers's second chance for a Longs Peak climb came in 1868. In that year John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran, a geology professor at Wesleyan University in Illinois, and a self-styled explorer, came on his second trip to Colorado. That summer Powell brought a group of about thirty students, constituting what they called the Colorado Scientific Exploring Expedition (given its pretentious name because it was partially sponsored by the Illinois State Natural History Society). One year earlier, in 1867, Powell came West on a similar trip and scrambled to the top of Pikes Peak with ease. There he remarked: "The trouble with climbing a mountain is that you can't stay on top." [7] The euphoria of being atop Pikes Peak and seeing unconquered Longs Peak 103 miles to the north must have given Powell another goal. Professor Powell was just as ambitious as editor Byers.

The adventurous editor of the Rocky Mountain News, William N. Byers attempted to climb Longs Peak in 1864, but failed. In 1868 he joined geologist John Wesley Powell and together they succeeded in leading the first known ascent to the summit. (RMNPHC)

So in August of 1868, William Byers joined Powell and his students at their camp in Middle Park. From there they decided to ascend Longs Peak. Powell and Byers, along with Powell's younger brother Walter, Byers's brother-in-law Jack Sumner, and three students, left their base camp at Grand Lake on August 20th. Starting on horseback, they took a mule loaded with ten days' rations and "each man carried his bedding under or behind his saddle, a pistol at his belt, and those not encumbered with instruments took their guns." They followed ridges southeastward, gradually moving toward timberline and meeting an "impassible precipice." Forced to leave their horses behind on August 22nd, they moved upward afoot, following ridges that appeared to lead toward the Peak but only ended at "impassible chasms." But finally a route was discovered. Late that day one of the students, L. W. Keplinger, scrambled upward ahead of the rest and scouted a usable route to the summit. Forced to wait until the next morning, the seven men spent a windy, wet night and "shivered the long hours through." [8]

On August 23rd, "the day dawned fair," Byers later wrote, "and at six o'clock we were facing the mountain." Although the route chosen by Keplinger appeared impossible ("a great block of granite, perfectly smooth and unbroken") the climbers "were most agreeably surprised to find a passable way, though it required great caution, coolness, and infinite labor to make headway; life often depending upon a grasp of the fingers in a crevice that would hardly admit them." [9] By ten o'clock that morning they stood on the summit. Capping their success with relief, L. W. Keplinger noted: "There were no indications of any prior ascents." [10]

William Byers found his wish fulfilled; he was among the first party ever to climb Longs Peak. Even more important, he became the first to describe its summit in print. "The Peak is a nearly level surface, paved with irregular blocks of granite, and without any vegetation of any kind, except a little gray lichen," he wrote. "The outline is nearly a parallelogram—east and west—widening a little toward the western extremity, and five or six acres in extent." [11] Then, according to L. W. Keplinger, a moving event took place on the mountain. "As we were about to leave the summit Major Powell took off his hat and made a little talk," Keplinger recalled. "He said, in substance, that we had now accomplished an undertaking in the material or physical field which had hitherto been deemed impossible, but that there were mountains more formidable in other fields of effort which were before us, and expressed hope and predicted that what we had that day accomplished was but an augury of yet greater achievements in such other fields." [12] After their three-hour stay on the summit, they stuffed mementos and notes in a tin can to be left on top. Then they unfurled a flag and left it waving in the breeze as they began their descent.

The troupe spent another night out in the open, without blankets. That evening they suffered even more, "because we were out of 'grub.'" On August 24th, they returned to their old camp on Grand Lake, weary but basking in their success. William Byers recalled: "We had only been gone five days; had been eminently successful, and of course were satisfied; the more so because the mountain had always been pronounced inaccessible, and ours was the first party that had ever set foot upon its summit." [13]

William Byers became a booster for the region in general while John Wesley Powell gained credit as the first of the "official" government explorers to enter the region. But Powell did not tarry in these mountains; his sights were already set on a trip down the Colorado River, a venture that was to bring him national fame and make his speech atop Longs Peak nearly prophetic. Powell and Byers introduced the era of scientific investigation and geographical exploration, soon to be followed by a series of surveys entering the area.

Above: William Henry Jackson photographed members of the Hayden survey party in 1873. (RMNPHC)

Within the next several years, detachments from two major government surveys entered the mountains. Following the Civil War, Congress displayed a growing curiosity about the American West, funding extensive geological and topographical surveys. "The results of this quest for knowledge," notes historian Richard Bartlett, "were four geographical and geological surveys conducted over large areas of the West from 1867 until 1879, when the U.S. Geological Survey which is still in existence, took over." [14] In 1867, for example, Congress funded a geological survey of Nebraska to be led by Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden. Soon Hayden expanded his efforts to become the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories. Major Powell received $12,000 from Congress in 1870 to continue a survey in the Colorado River country. In addition, two surveys under the War Department were also authorized. One of these, the U.S. Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel, under the direction of Clarence King, tended to overlap the territory covered by the Hayden survey. These great surveys became, to some degree, great rivalries. The leaders, aside from being serious scientists, were ambitious men who tended to be egotistical. One place in the West where these surveys overlapped was Rocky Mountain National Park. Perhaps, as we saw with Major Powell, Longs Peak challenged men of ambition. Clarence King arrived in 1871 and Hayden would follow in 1873.

Gathering geographic and geologic data meant scampering to numerous mountain summits. Longs Peak was merely one of many mountains in the area receiving attention from surveyors lugging their triangulation equipment along to determine distance and elevation measurements.

In 1871, for example, Arnold Hague's party, a subdivision of King's Fortieth Parallel Survey, entered Estes Park. Most members of these teams were young men, mountaineering enthusiasts, and notably literate. With this crew came Henry Adams, a descendant of two presidents and a noted scholar. Slightly in awe of his companions, Adams described the men's work as they "held under their hammers a thousand miles of mineral country with all its riddles to solve, and its stores of possible wealth to mark." While Hague's men pecked and pawed at the flanks of Longs Peak, Henry Adams went fishing. "The day was fine," Adams recalled, "and hazy with the smoke of forest fires a thousand miles away; the park stretched its English beauties off to the base of its bordering mountains in natural landscape and archaic peace; the stream was just fishy enough to tempt lingering along its banks." And it was "lingering" that caused Henry Adams to fish until dark, lose his trail back to camp, and force him to backtrack upon his mule down to Evans's cabin. There Adams found Clarence King and became enchanted with this scientist-explorer of the West. The two men were soon provided with a sparse cabin where they "shared the room and the bed, and talked till far towards dawn." "King's abnormal energy had already won him great success," Adams observed. "None of his contemporaries had done so much, single-handed, or were likely to leave so deep a trail." [15]

Dr. Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden (seated) confers with an assistant in an 1872 camp near Golden. (RMNPHC)

Scaling mountains and describing geologic mysteries, not fishing, were the general tasks of these surveyors. Many peaks were climbed, careful maps and geologic charts were drawn, elevations were calculated with barometers, and details of flora and fauna were noted. In 1873, James T. Gardner of the Hayden Survey moved through Middle Park, carefully describing its natural features, observing its infant towns and mining camps, following the Grand (now Colorado) River into its upper reaches. Although scientifically dry reading, Gardner's reports were significant for their collection of details. After men such as Gardner or Hague passed through an area, few could argue that the West remained unexplored.

Working their way through the mountains, Gardner and his men carried their scientific instruments to the summit of Longs Peak as well as to ten other mountains and six passes within the region. Just at that time, another well-known lecturer and writer (and avid mountain climber), Anna Dickinson, happened to be climbing mountains in Colorado and met Gardner and his crew hard at work near Longs Peak. These were "men who ought to be immortal if superhuman perserverance and courage are guarantees of immortality," she wrote. Dickinson watched them go about their tasks in awe of their determination. "I remember that after supper when we were camping at timber line, Gardner took one of his instruments and trotted up the side of the mountain to make some observations. He expected to be gone half an hour, and was gone, by reason of the clouds, nearer three hours, 'but,' as he quietly said when he came back, speaking of the clouds, 'I conquered them at last.'" [16]

All these government surveys helped bring national (if not Congressional) attention to the mountains and parks of Colorado. For just like William N. Byers, men such as Hayden, King, and Powell were always conscious of publicity. Thus it was not mere chance that led James Gardner and Professor Hayden to invite both Anna Dickinson and William N. Byers to accompany them on their September 1873 climb of Longs Peak. Naturally, these writers eagerly agreed; stories of adventure filled with colorful characters always excite a grateful public readership. But an added reward came to Miss Dickinson for her climbing efforts. For although several other ladies started out on this ascent with the Hayden party, Anna Dickinson was the only woman to make the summit that day and became the first of her sex to claim that achievement. Apparently the climb impressed her less than the men she met, for she barely mentioned Longs Peak at all in her autobiography. Interestingly, a more exuberant Isabella Bird made her ascent only a month later with a small blessing from her predecessor. Finding the boots she had borrowed from Griff Evans too large and uncomfortable, she discovered "a pair of small overshoes, probably left by the Hayden exploring expedition," which she conveniently and happily used, even though they "just lasted for the day." [17]

William Henry Jackson's 1873 photograph of Estes Park captured a scene of virtual wilderness. Even though fourteen years had passed since Joel Estes homesteaded this valley, hardly a trace of human habitation is in evidence.

Aside from assuring that a steady stream of glowing prose poured from both explorers and journalists, Hayden made certain that pictures of the landscape were produced, a practice that characterized most major surveys of the West. The man hired to promote both the West and the Hayden Survey was photographer William Henry Jackson. In late May of 1873 his party of seven men left Denver and headed for Estes Park. There they made their base camp near Mount Olympus, not far from the Evans ranch. In spite of the rainy weather that plagued them, Jackson and his crew tramped into Black Canyon, visited Gem Lake, and wandered into the Bear Lake and Dream Lake regions. Within a few days he managed to capture the essence of the area upon his fragile glass plates. His photography was not only remarkable because he led where thousands upon thousands of camera buffs would follow, but also because of the excellence of the pictures he produced. After a few days, Jackson moved his crew southward, heading toward the mining camp of Ward and other regions of Colorado. In 1874 Jackson toured Middle Park on a similar photographic mission, capturing Grand Lake at that time. William Byers's poignant description was now matched by art. "Imagine a great mirror," Byers had written, "a mile wide and two miles long, bordered all around with thick timber, and beyond that with stupendous mountains, flecked with patches and great fields of snow, except one narrow, scarce noticable notch through which the river escapes, and you have Grand Lake." [18]

Frontier photographer William Henry Jackson packed his bulky camera equipment throughout the Rockies, recording majestic panoramas on fragile glass plates. (RMNPHC)

While Grand Lake received accolades from the press, a steadily increasing number of fishermen, and summertime visitors, and while Longs Peak brought explorers and climbers, Estes Park itself drew a man who helped to shape the destiny of the entire region. Just after Christmas in 1872, a party of English sportsmen visiting Denver decided to try hunting in the mountains above Estes Park. Leading this band of gentlemen was Windham Thomas Wyndham Quin, also known as the fourth Earl of Dunraven and Mountearl in the Peerage of Ireland, second Baron Kenry of the United Kingdom, Knight of the Order of St. Patrick, and Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Aside from being linked to English nobility, the Earl of Dunraven was enormously wealthy. In 1872, at age thirty-one, he already owned forty thousand acres of land and four homes, including Dunraven Castle at Glamorgan. Prior to his Estes Park visit the Earl had traveled widely in Europe, the Middle East, and in Africa. He served in the First Life Guards, was an excellent horseman, and had a nervous energy that led him to become a war correspondent during a conflict in Abyssinia and during the Franco-Prussian War.

He first came to the United States on his honeymoon in 1869, visiting only the East Coast. In the autumn of 1871 he returned to America, this time to venture into the West. The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 made his trip a bit easier. There he hunted elk in the region of the North Platte River under the guidance of Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack Omohondro. Like other English aristocrats who ventured into the wilderness, the Earl traveled in style, even bringing a personal physician, Dr. George Henry Kingsley. The Earl planned to live an adventurous life. As historian Dave Hicks notes, he "enjoyed a good pipe, good liquor, good food, women and sports. But not necessarily in that order." [19]

Dressed in his yachting uniform, the Earl of Dunraven displayed the aristocratic demeanor of a man of wealth and position. Here was a man who nearly succeeded in owning all of Estes Park. (Estes Park Trail-Gazette)

Once again, in 1872, the Earl of Dunraven returned to hunt, this time in Nebraska, Wyoming, and in Colorado's South Park. While relaxing among the night spots of Denver, the Earl met Theodore Whyte. Mr. Whyte, then twenty-six years old, had arrived in Colorado during the late 1860s. Originally from Devonshire, England, he had trapped for the Hudson's Bay Company for three years and had tried his hand in the Colorado mines. During some of his earlier rambles, Whyte became familiar with Estes Park. Whyte, much like Isabella Bird and the Earl of Dunraven, represents a then developing English interest in the Rockies. This was a distinctly curious generation of people, investigating regions for adventure or excitement as eagerly as Hayden or Powell explored for science. In Westward the Briton, historian Robert Athearn claims that "the state of Colorado drew more of these curious observers than any other western state or territory. So many of them came to visit, and even to stay, that the state has been called 'England beyond the Missouri.'" [20]

"It was sport," the Earl later recalled, "or, as it would be called in the States, hunting—that led me first to visit Estes Park." [21] Theodore Whyte sang the praises of the area, telling the Earl about the abundance of deer, elk, and bear just perfect for "sport." But very little convincing was necessary. Soon the Earl and a few friends were heading into the foothills, following the crude cattle trail leading toward Estes Park. Once there, they stayed with Griff Evans, another of their countrymen and a man eager to please the nobility of his homeland. In the ensuing days, the Earl hunted elk in Black Canyon, along the Fall River, and in the Bear Lake area. "Sport" and the mountains themselves combined to impress this well-traveled man. "Everything is huge and stupendous," he observed. "Nature is formed in a larger mould than in other lands. She is robust and strong, all her actions full of vigor and young life." [22]

The attractions of Estes Park brought the Earl back for a second trip in 1873. Its atmosphere proved addicting. "The air is scented with the sweet-smelling sap of the pines," he wrote, "whose branches welcome many feathered visitors from southern climes; an occasional humming-bird whirrs among the shrubs, trout leap in the creeks, insects buzz in the air; all nature is active and exuberant with life." [23] "The climate is health-giving," he argued, sounding much like a local booster, "unsurpassed (as I believe) anywhere—giving to the jaded spirit, the unstrung nerves and weakened body a stimulant, a tone and vigor so delightful that none can appreciate it except those who have had the good fortune to experience it themselves." [24]

At some point during his visits, the Earl decided he would attempt to acquire ownership of all of Estes Park. Fits of greed, after all, strike at most people; many have had similar desires to possess this land, perhaps wishing to exclude others and control it for selfish purposes. But only the Earl of Dunraven had both the wealth and the will to try to buy it. Only a handful of squatters stood in his way and within a few short years the Earl came close to owning everything.

Assisted by his new friend Theodore Whyte and several Denver bankers and lawyers, the Earl first arranged to have the park legally surveyed. Once that formality was accomplished, the Earl and his agents used a scheme, common among other speculators, exploiting the Homestead Law to their advantage. They found local men in Front Range towns willing—for a price—to stake 160-acre claims throughout the park. More than thirty-five men filed claims using this ploy. Then, Dunraven's "Estes Park Company, Ltd." (or the English Company as it was called locally) proceeded to buy all those parcels at a nominal price, estimated at five dollars per acre. Between 1874 and 1880, the Earl managed to purchase 8,200 acres of land. In addition, the Company controlled another 7,000 acres because of the lay of the land and the ownership of springs and streams.

Exactly what the Earl intended for his Estes Park estate is not clear. The most obvious future for the land was its continued use for ranching. At that time Griff Evans herded about a thousand head of cattle there, some of which belonged to two Denver investors. But Griff Evans, just like a number of other homesteaders, quickly traded his land for English cash. The Earl explained his goal simply: "Herbage was plentiful, and cattle could feed all winter, for the snow never lay. It was an ideal cattle-ranch, and to that purpose we put it." [25] Whether it was going to be developed as a private hunting preserve for the exclusive use of the Earl and a few of his English friends was a subject for much speculation and popular debate.

Soon additional plans were announced in the Denver newspapers. In July of 1874, reports came that a sawmill would be built, Swiss cattle were to be introduced, ranching would be expanded, and a hunting lodge would be constructed in Dunraven Glade on the North Fork of the Big Thompson. Theodore Whyte was chosen to serve as the Earl's agent and manager in Colorado.

As soon as the Earl began his effort to acquire and develop Estes Park, a bitterness developed between those settlers who had no intention of selling and leaving and the powerful forces of the English Company. Reverend Elkanah Lamb, for example, had earlier chosen a homesite just east of Longs Peak. He loudly voiced his disgust at those who sold out. "Griff Evans," Reverend Lamb recalled nearly four decades later, "being of a good natured genial turn of mind, liking other drinks than water and tempted by the shining and jingle of English gold, Dunraven very soon influenced him to relinquish his claim and all of his rights in the park for $900." Lamb also believed that the Earl's land-grabbing was fraudulent: Dunraven picked up men of the baser sort, irresponsible fellows not regarding oaths as of much importance, when contrasted with gold." Those who cooperated with the Earl, according to Reverend Lamb, "prepared to sell their souls for a mess of pottage at the dictation of a foreign lord." [26]

Bitterness led to outright confrontations and violence became inevitable. A man reportedly antagonistic to the English Earl and his scheme was James Nugent, better known as Rocky Mountain Jim. Typical of some frontiersmen, Rocky Mountain Jim had a shady, somewhat mysterious past, so conflicting in detail that it is now impossible for us to construct his tale with accuracy. Isabella Bird took care to describe his looks. "His face was remarkable," she began. "He is a man about forty-five, and must have been strikingly handsome. He has large grey-blue eyes, deeply set, with well-marked eyebrows, a handsome aquiline nose, and a very handsome mouth." Her elaborate description included the fact that half of his face and one missing eye had been repulsively mauled by a grizzly bear only a short time before. "Desperado," she concluded, "was written in large letters all over him." [27] Furthermore, he bore the kind of reputation a mother could easily use to frighten her children.

Like other squatters in the area, Jim trapped for a living and also kept a small herd of cattle. Unlike the others, he controlled some very important real estate: his cabin sat at the head of Muggins Gulch, dominating the main entrance to Estes Park. Ill feelings began developing between Griff Evans and Mountain Jim, probably over the idea of land being sold to the Earl, possibly over Jim's glances toward Evans's teenaged daughter, and perhaps enhanced by liquor in both men. Isabella Bird realized the discord between these two men. "For, in truth," she wrote, "this blue hollow, lying solitary at the foot of Long's Peak, is a miniature world of great interest, in which love, jealousy, hatred, envy, pride, unselfishness, greed, selfishness, and self-sacrifice can be studied hourly, and there is always the unpleasantly exciting risk of an open quarrel with the neighboring desperado, whose 'I'll shoot you!' has more than once been heard in the cabin." [28]

No less than five different versions have been told regarding the shooting of Rocky Mountain Jim. None can be regarded as unbiased accounts, since factions had already formed both for and against the English Company. And Englishmen were involved in the shooting. That shots were fired on June 19, 1874 seems fairly certain; that Griff Evans probably pointed the shotgun and pulled the trigger seems equally true. The immediate cause is a mystery. Reverend Lamb, clearly hostile to the Earl, argued that Jim asked for trouble when he "declined to permit this fraternity of English snobs and aristocrats to pass through his sacred precincts any more, there being at the time no other way in or out of the Park." [29] Dunraven himself presented the killing differently: "Evans and Jim had a feud, as per usual about a woman—Evans' daughter." [30] Dr. George Kingsley, the Earl's physician, described the scene when Mountain Jim came toward the Evans ranch that day in June. "Jim's on the shoot!" someone yelled, hoping to warn Evans. Griff Evans, rudely awakened from a nap, bounded to his feet, grabbed his double-barreled shotgun loaded with "blue whistlers," charged out of the cabin, aimed at Jim, and blasted away. But he missed Jim completely. An associate of the Earl, a Mr. Haigh, then cried, "Give him another barrel!" and Evans obliged. This second blast killed Jim's horse outright and knocked "the great ruffian" to the ground. Five of the "blue whistlers" found their mark in Jim's head. [31]

Jim was down but not dead. In fact, he lived for three more months, lingering with a pellet lodged in his brain. While Jim was being tended by Dr. Kingsley, Evans supposedly rode thirty miles to sign out a complaint against Jim for assault. Later, Evans himself was arrested and charged with the shooting. Mountain Jim remained alive until September, being nursed in Fort Collins but finally dying of his wounds. Evans's trials was not scheduled until July of 1875 and then the case was speedily dismissed for lack of witnesses. Not surprisingly, the Earl treated the matter of Jim's lingering lightly: "But it is hard to die in the wonderful air of that great altitude . . . and before many weeks had passed he was packed down to the settlements, where some months later he did die." On Evans's escape from trial, the Earl interpreted "the result of the verdict to the effect that Evans was quite justified, and that it was a pity he had not done it sooner." [32]

So it really did not matter whether it was land ownership or a personal squabble that led to Mountain Jim's death; he was conveniently removed from the scene. Jim, after all, was only a minor annoyance. The English Earl had plenty of power to continue with his plans. But the continuing arrival of more settlers by the mid-1870s—people who would dispute English Company claims—helped produce a more realistic plan for Estes Park. Any dreams of a private hunting preserve soon vanished. "I well remember the commencement of civilization," the Earl recalled in 1879. It arrived with "an aged gentleman on a diminutive donkey." The Earl sat enjoying a hot summer's evening on the stoop of a log cabin. There this stranger approached the Earl and asked, "Say, is this a pretty good place to drink whiskey in?" The Earl replied, "Yes" and then continued, "naturally, for I have never heard of a spot that was not considered favorable for the consumption of whiskey, Maine not excepted." So the fellow queried, "Well, have you any to sell?" "No," the Earl replied, "got none." [33]

As the old codger disappeared, "puzzled at the idea of a man and a house but no whiskey," thoughts of building a hotel and catering to a growing public demand for shelter and sustenance must have taken form in the Earl's mind. Ideas about serving travelers in Estes Park were not original with Dunraven. The Estes family assisted the handful of people who visited the region in the 1860s, especially those parties attempting to climb Longs Peak. Mrs. Estes prepared a few meals for guests. Griff Evans continued that sporadic service and even thought about building a hotel in 1871. But Evans opted for smaller, cheaper cabins placed near his own. It was the Earl of Dunraven who decided upon a grander project. In 1876, Colorado attained statehood; perhaps the Earl responded to this vision of a new era with his own view of what progress should bring.

In the autumn of 1876, the Earl again returned to Estes Park, this time bringing the noted artist Albert Bierstadt. The Earl commissioned Bierstadt to paint a large landscape of Estes Park and Longs Peak. Once completed, the Earl reportedly paid Bierstadt $15,000 and the painting was transported to Europe to adorn the walls of Dunraven Castle. While in the area, Bierstadt was also asked to use his artistic eye to help select a site for the Earl's hotel. Dunraven made his decision and had the wealth to insure speedy construction. By mid-January of 1877, Bierstadt had completed the sketches for his painting and had helped select a hotel site on the eastern side of Estes Park, near Fish Creek. Soon after, work was under way on the building of The Estes Park Hotel, locally called The English Hotel. The lodge opened in the summer of 1877 and the tourist industry of the area entered a new phase.

Although cattle ranching was the main enterprise on the Earl of Dunraven's domain, the resort business also received attention. The Estes Park Hotel, called The English Hotel by local residents, began catering to vacationers in 1877. (RMNPHC)

Within a few fleeting years, Estes Park had changed from a primitive ranching area to the scene of a publicized resort. "The marks of carriage wheels are more plentiful than elk signs," the Earl soon boasted, "and you are not now so likely to be scared by the human-like track of a gigantic bear as by the approaching impress of a number eleven boot." Dunraven believed that the beauties of Estes Park destined it to become a pleasuring ground. "There is plenty of room elsewhere for wild beasts," he argued, "and nature's beauties should be enjoyed by man." [34]

In her own eccentric fashion, Isabella Lucy Bird slipped into Estes Park just before the Earl started bringing progress, before Mountain Jim met his violent death. And, in a way, she became an ideal tourist, not worrying whether there was a fancy hotel available. She stayed at the Evans ranch, renting a small cabin for $8 a week and gamely assisted with the chores, tending cattle when asked to help out. Soon she realized that Griff Evans only appeared jolly; problems plagued him. "Freehearted, lavish, popular, poor Griff loves liquor too well for his prosperity," she observed, "and is always tormented by debt." [35] When she wrote those words, Evans must have already realized that the Earl might become his economic salvation.

During her stay Isabella Bird absorbed everything about life in the mountains. She noted everything new or unusual and did not appear eager to move on. "This is surely one of the most entrancing spots on earth," she wrote. [36] Born in Yorkshire, England, in 1831, much of her early life revolved around her father, an Anglican clergyman. Because she suffered a chronic spinal disease, her father and physicians advised her to travel, hoping she might regain her health. Early in the 1850s she made her first trip to Canada and the eastern United States. She returned in 1857 to study an American revival movement and made a third trip to the East Coast shortly thereafter. It was during her fourth journey to America that she visited the Rockies. Letters home to her sister Henrietta described scenes and adventures so skillfully and dramatically that in 1878 an English weekly, Leisure Hour, published them as "Letters from the Rocky Mountains." In 1879, the collection of letters became a book entitled A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains.

In 1873 Isabella Bird was a "quiet, intelligent-looking dumpy English spinster," according to biographer Pat Barr. [37] Fearlessly, she traveled by train to Cheyenne, then by horse and wagon to Longmont, and finally by horseback to Evans's ranch. Primitive travel conditions and seedy hotels found on Colorado's frontier failed to bother her; she delighted in adventure; she enjoyed her escape from the stifling propriety and conventions of her Victorian homeland.

Isabella Bird sketched a self-portrait, displaying her attire and her horse Birdie as they appeared during her 1873 visit to Estes Park. (From A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains, by Isabella L. Bird. Copyright 1960 by the University of Oklahoma Press)

And strangely enough, she delighted in the company of Rocky Mountain Jim. Somehow the demeanor of this desperado enchanted her. "He was very agreeable as a man of culture as well as a child of nature," she noted. [38] Unlike others who openly despised or simply avoided him, she found "his manner was that of a chivalrous gentleman, his accent refined, and his language easy and elegant." [39] His language alone "places him on a level with educated gentlemen, and his conversation is brilliant, and full of light and fitfulness of genius." [40]

Rocky Mountain Jim seemed to be equally enchanted with this English lady. Her civil tongue, if not her simple kindness, must have drawn his attention. Furthermore, women of any type were in short supply on Colorado's frontier. Within a day or two of her arrival, Jim appeared at the Evans ranch and offered to guide Isabella on a climb of Longs Peak. Two young men also staying at the ranch were invited as well.

The four proceeded to timberline on horseback, well stocked with food and supplies by Mrs. Evans. Isabella even borrowed a pair of Griff Evans's boots, regardless of the fact that they were too large. That first night they camped "under twelve degrees of frost, hearing sounds of wolves, with shivering stars looking through the fragrant canopy, with arrowy pines for bed-posts, and for a night lamp the red flames of a campfire." [41]

All the details of Isabella's climb cannot be recounted here, but in her opinion the experience proved quite harrowing. "Never-to-be-forgotten glories they were," she later recalled, "burnt in upon my memory by six succeeding hours of terror." During this struggle, the two young men regarded Isabella Bird as "a dangerous encumbrance," but Jim insisted he would guide no further if they left her behind. Ultimately, she made the summit, even though Jim "dragged me up, like a bale of goods, by sheer force of muscle." [42] While it took terror, difficulty, and "much assistance," to make the climb end in success, few people ever appreciated the conquest more. "A more successful ascent of the Peak was never made," she concluded, "and I would not now exchange my memories of its perfect beauty and extraordinary sublimity for any other experience of mountaineering in any other part of the world." [43]

Climbing Longs Peak apparently strengthened a bond of friendship between Rocky Mountain Jim and Isabella Bird. Many writers have already speculated about the genesis of a romance between the two. Since we can only judge from Isabella's imaginative letters, it is impossible to tell exactly what transpired. She did describe a scene on November 18th when they went for a ride through the Park. "It began on Longs Peak," she reported Jim confessing. And his emotional revelation of being "attached to me" made her terrified. "It made me shake all over and even cry," she told her sister. "He is a man whom any woman might love but no sane woman would marry." Many times the Rockies have been referred to as a romantic setting; Isabella Bird provided a rare historical example. But she quickly recovered her composure during this conversation, realizing her feelings for this man could only lead to an impossible future. Rather coldly, she rejected his affection, although admitting, "My heart dissolved with pity for him and his dark, lost, self-ruined life. He is so lovable and fascinating yet so terrible." [44]

In her drawing entitled "My Home in the Rocky Mountains," Isabella Bird displayed Griff Evans's ranch with Longs Peak looming in the distance. This was the scene soon to be acquired by the Earl of Dunraven. (From A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains, by Isabella Bird. Copyright 1960 by the University of Oklahoma Press)

Early in December of 1873, Jim accompanied the dauntless Englishwoman back down to the prairie. The temperature was twenty degrees below zero and "the air was filled with diamond sparks." [45] There she caught a stage to Greeley and Mountain Jim was soon left behind. Arriving on the same stage that carried her away came Mr. Haigh, "dressed in the extreme of English dandyism," the man who would play a fateful role in the shooting of Mountain Jim only seven months later. The dandy asked to return with Jim to Estes Park in order to hunt.

Isabella Bird saw Estes Park while it was still a primitive ranch on the verge of becoming a resort. The mountains kept a wilderness flavor. At the same time, she also saw settlers hard at work struggling to make a living much like the Estes family of a decade before. She also exemplified the casual influx of curious English people coming to Colorado, arriving for adventure and sport. She followed the very footsteps of official government explorers. Longs Peak drew her attention, just as it had attracted Powell and Byers, Hayden and Dickinson. Eventually, her letters helped publicize the area, much like the articles in Byers's Rocky Mountain News and the development of Dunraven's hotel. Like the Earl himself, she must have realized that the area was changing rapidly, just like any other frontier newly found. And as a tourist, biographer Pat Barr noted, Isabella Bird became Estes Park's first ideal guest: she told exciting tales, seldom retraced her steps, and what's more, never overstayed her welcome.


Rocky Mountain National Park: A History
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