Isabella Bird left England when she was aged twenty-two in 1854 and began travelling as a way of alleviating illness that had overwhelmed her since she was a child. She explored various places over the years including Hawaii, United States of America, the Sandwich Island and Asia. 'A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountain'is a collection of letters she wrote in 1873 to her sister who was at their home in England when she made a six month journey on a horseback through the Colorado Rocky Mountains (Bird, 2003). At the time she was forty one years old.
Bird was a daughter of a clergy of The Church of England. A sophisticated woman who lived a relatively comfortable life and never imagined herding cattle from a horse back, going astray in sandstorms and living inside a cabin when the temperatures were far below zero that made her ink freeze while she was writing. Being a visitor, Bird was able to note details, which would pass the eye of a native, with a lot of curiosity. Her letters help to provide an insight on history and cultures of Colorado communities and the landscape of Colorado Rocky and Mountains with detail.
She starts her journey in San Francisco; she then travels by train to the mountain. She stops at a lawless station, Truckee, where she is forced to share her bed with saloon patrons in shifts. While sleeping, she keeps hearing sounds of gun shots. The following day she continues with her journey on a horse back where she gives accounts of her encounters with local cannibals. She then moves on to more scenic environment from her glorious description of the place. She seems particularly carried away by snow-capped mountains. When Bird began the journey her goal was to reach Estes Park and from the letters she writes to her sister back home in England, this was the highlight of her trip. She devotes several pages talking about Estes Park. She talks of how she climbed the long's peak. She also talks of Colorado Springs, Denver and other cities of Colorado where she stayed briefly and lived as a ranch woman in the wilderness.
She also gives an avid description and details of her encounters with people dwelling on the mountain. She talks a lot about 'Rocky Mountain Jim' whose real name is Jim Nugent. Jim Nugent is a one-eyed fugitive who reads poetry and is described as violent. He acts as her guide as she navigates through a tricky terrain and manages to climb a 14,000 feet mountain. Nugent seems captivated by Bird because she is independent minded. They develop very close friendship during the time they were together that almost comes out as romantic. She even tells her sister that Nugent made a marriage proposal to her. Another character she avidly describes is an unnamed young man who appears in the middle of winter. He eats all the food that is available and fumbles through tasks that have been delegated to him. It is evident from Bird's description of the character that he was considered a nuisance.
Bird gives an admirable detail of events, places and people she encounters that make her readers feel like they were present. She writes of her first visit to Estes Park as a place of striking beauty and she vows to return there. However, when she returns, she finds that the place has changed a lot, all her friends were gone and the houses dismantled.
Bird's beautiful description of the places she visited and her appreciation of remote wildness show her fascination with nature. Her explanations make the reader wish to visit Colorado to see the beautiful landscape she talks about and experience the Colorado Rocky Mountains. She often choose her routes based on the scenic beauty and what she anticipated to see ahead which made her deviate from her plan several times. This portrays her as an adventurous and courageous person. Her writing brings out her sense of humor that makes the book entertaining. Bird adapts quickly to the unfamiliar places she visit. Despite the calamities and hardship she faces, including sleeping in an unheated cabin in the middle of winter, she hardly complains but dwells on the fascination with the geography of the place.
Bird's account of the people living in the lonely but majestic places she visited brings out the culture of the Colorado communities who made a living by homesteading on the valleys of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. She captures their hospitality, the lawlessness, the fortitude and the suspicion of people who hosted her and her acquaintances.
This book gives a historical account of the life and challenges experienced by the western pioneers in Colorado; their poverty, the isolation and difficulties they experienced as immigrants during the post-civil war. It also gives a beautiful history of the towns in Colorado over a hundred years ago when she wrote the letters. The towns have since changed to the big cities they are today.
The book 'A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains' remains an interesting and important read for anyone wishing to understand the history and culture of the Colorado communities. The author, a talented and seasoned writer, clearly brings it out in her letters to her sister. Her detailed description makes it very informative. She uses straight forward, concise and clear language that makes it appealing to a wide range of readers.