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A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains (1879)

by Isabella L. Bird

Other authors: Nancy G. Gambrill (Map and Index)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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9031823,765 (4.05)1 / 63
After the success of The Englishwoman in America (also reissued in this series), the indefatigable Isabella Bird (1831-1904) continued her travels - first to Scotland, then to Australia and Hawaii - before returning to the United States and taking up residence in what was then the newest state, Colorado. Her adventures here - recorded as letters to her sister which she artlessly tells the reader were never intended for publication - included riding alone across the prairie, trying to help a family dying of cholera in the face of indifference from the local inhabitants, a sight of the invalids who were coming to Denver in huge numbers to be cured by the mountain air, and an encounter (if it was nothing more) with that western archetype, the one-eyed, romantic, courteous, poetry-declaiming outlaw, who by the following year was 'in a dishonoured grave, with a rifle bullet in his brain'.… (more)
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» See also 63 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
3.5 stars

I found the first third of this book rather dull, and the author somewhat judgmental. I was tempted to abandon it, but I'm glad I didn't.

The book is a collection of journal-style letters written by Bird to her sister, and they detail her solo journeys by horseback around Colorado in 1873. Much of the book is simply Bird describing the scenery and weather conditions, and there is some commentary on various companions she meets along the way.

Her love for a simple life lived out of doors made me long to return to my similar experience of bicycling across several states and tenting overnights.

This is a book I'd recommend primarily to nature-lovers, as not much happens story-wise.

"This is a view to which nothing needs to be added... This scenery satisfies my soul." p 55 ( )
  RachelRachelRachel | Nov 21, 2023 |
Her views on race are despicable, but probably common for a woman of her time. She also doesn't seem to enjoy or respect the women around her. I don't know why I hoped for better, but it was interesting to read as a travelogue best-seller for the late 1800s. I am astonished at all she managed to survive -- really, I would think falling through the ice in below freezing weather repeatedly with no break to warm up would finish a person off, but it's certainly a thrilling narrative, of bracing hardships and unchinked cabins. Why didn't they chink the cabins? I would think that would be a basic sort of move, but I guess if you move to Colorado for consumption, it might make sense to stay in an airy cabin rather than a smoky one. Anyway, I found the litany of cold/snow/blizzard/ riding over unbroken terrain a lot to believe, but I enjoyed the rhapsodizing over the scenery, and was mostly able to ignore the clear Christian propaganda throughout the book. I didn't enjoy it enough to pick up another of her works, and I shudder to imagine what she might say about Native Hawaiians or Thai or Japanese people when traveling in their countries. I wanted to know more about Mountain Jim, but it appears her account of him is the main documentation that has made it to the internet.

Advanced listening copy provided by Libro.fm ( )
1 vote jennybeast | Aug 31, 2023 |
My reading for a visit to Colorado was A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains, a collection of letters written during a trip in 1873 to Colorado by a remarkable solo world-traveling Englishwoman, Isabella L. Bird. I recommend it to anyone living in the region as both a first-hand account of the early settlements in the state and intimate descriptions of the hard-working and at times desperate people who built them, and rapturous descriptions of the beauty and rigors of the surroundings.

This book is available from Project Gutenberg and well worth reading if only to admire the tenacity and courage of the author. Do note that PG offers other books on her travels, to Hawaii,Tibet, Japan, Persia, Kurdistan. Not most peoples' idea of proper behavior for a Victorian lady. ( )
  JudyGibson | Jan 26, 2023 |
Interesting account of an 1873 trip to the American West by this English lady. She was pretty tough! ( )
  kslade | Dec 8, 2022 |
So vivid, makes me feel as if I've actually been to Colorado ( )
  et.carole | Jan 21, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bird, Isabella L.Authorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gambrill, Nancy G.Map and Indexsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Boorstin, Daniel J.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my sister, to whom these letters were originally written, they are now affectionately dedicated.
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I have found a dream of beauty at which one might look all one's life and sigh.
[Introduction, B&N edition] Like the glorious after glow so often described in A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains, Isabella Bird's impassioned travelogue continues to delight us long after its initial publication in 1879.
[Note to the Second Edition] For the benefit of other lady travellers, I wish to explain that my "Hawaiian riding dress" is the "American Lady's Mountain Dress," a half-fitting jacket, a skirt reaching to the ankles, and full Turkish trousers gathered into frills falling over the boots,--a thoroughly serviceable and feminine costume for mountaineering and other rough travelling, as in the Alps of any other part of the world.
[Note to the Third Edition] In consequence of the unobserved omission of a date to my letters having been pointed out to me, I take this opportunity of stating that I travelled in Colorado in the autumn and early winter of 1873, on my way to England from the Sandwich Islands.
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After the success of The Englishwoman in America (also reissued in this series), the indefatigable Isabella Bird (1831-1904) continued her travels - first to Scotland, then to Australia and Hawaii - before returning to the United States and taking up residence in what was then the newest state, Colorado. Her adventures here - recorded as letters to her sister which she artlessly tells the reader were never intended for publication - included riding alone across the prairie, trying to help a family dying of cholera in the face of indifference from the local inhabitants, a sight of the invalids who were coming to Denver in huge numbers to be cured by the mountain air, and an encounter (if it was nothing more) with that western archetype, the one-eyed, romantic, courteous, poetry-declaiming outlaw, who by the following year was 'in a dishonoured grave, with a rifle bullet in his brain'.

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Born in 1831, Isabella, daughter of a clergyman, set off alone to the Antipodes in 1872 'in search of health' and found she had embarked on a life of adventurous travel.  In 1873, wearing Hanaiian riding dress, she rode on her spirited horse Birdie through the American 'Wild West', a terrain only recently opened to a pioneer settlement.  Here she met Rocky Mountain Jim, her 'dear (one-eyed) desperado', found of poetry and whiskey - 'a man any women might love, but no sane woman would marry'.  He helped her climb the 'American Matterhorn' and round up cattle on horseback.  The wonderful letters which make up this volume were first published in 1879 and were enormously popular in Isabella Bird's lifetime.  They tell of magnificent unspoiled landscapes and abundant wildlife, of small remote townships, of her encounters with rattlesnakes, wolves, pumas and grizzly bears and her reactions to the volatile passions of the miners and pioneer settlers.
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