A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains (The Western Frontier Library Series)

by Isabella Lucy Bird

Paperback, 1975




University of Oklahoma Press (1975), Edition: Revised, 256 pages


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)


(104 ratings; 4.1)

User reviews

LibraryThing member whitreidtan
Isabella Bird was an inveterate traveller, naturalist, and writer. This might not be an unusual description for women today but Bird was all of these things in the mid-nineteenth century, a time when women's lives were far more constrained than they are today. She chronicled many of her travels in
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letters home to her sister before they were published in collections.

This particular collection of letters details Bird's long journeying through the Rocky Mountains, into the heart of the land, often unaccompanied, only choosing her routes based on her preference of the moment and always willing to deviate from the plan. She wrote beautiful descirptions of a time and place much changed today, appreciating the remote wildness she found on many of her tramps. In addition to her natural writings, she also turned her eye on the people who inhabited these lonely, majestic places as well and her character depictions are delightful. She has captured the character of the folks who chose to eke out a living homesteading in the shadows and valleys of these majestic mountains, capturing the fortitude, the sometime lawlessness, the hospitality, and the suspicions of her hosts and acquaintances.

Make no mistake that this is a modern day account. It is very much rooted in its time and it takes a little adjustment to Bird's language and writing to get into the book. But once in the story, the reader will happily accompany her on her meanderings, oftentimes in awe of her determination. The writing flowed clearly and smoothly along and I'll probably try searching out more of her straightforward and appealing travelogues. I may not have to suffer the discomforts she did in traveling but the romanticism of her journey, even when she encounters difficulties, is unbeaten.
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LibraryThing member jennybeast
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
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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
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LibraryThing member sheilaref
I loved this account of Isabella Bird's travels unescorted through the Rocky Mountains in 1873. This was not the only trip taken by the young Englishwoman nor the only travel book written by her. This book was written in the form of a journal and its' author was an amazing woman.
LibraryThing member AmronGravett
"On such an evening it is soundless, except for the branches creaking in the soft wind, the frequent snap of decayed timber, and a murmur in the pine tops as of a not distant waterfall, all tending to produce eeriness and a sadness “hardly akin to pain.” There no lumberer’s axe has ever
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The author, a middle aged Englishwoman, has an insatiable thirst for adventure that continue to make this book one of the most popular tales of the early Estes Park region. Her writings detail the flora, fauna, settlers and relations with mountain men that she encounters on her adventures up Longs Peak in 1873.
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LibraryThing member mahallett
Riding a horse around in snow and snow storms is not really very interesting. Her trip seems to be more an endurance test than fun or interesting but I guess this is just not my cup of tea. Shi is incredibly cheerful.
LibraryThing member Stbalbach
Isabella L. Bird was a famous travel writer from England. The setting is 1873, mostly in and around Estes Park, CO at the time a remote outpost. Life revolved around food - it was either wild game which was rare even by this time, or cattle, or dairy and flour. Isabella maintains she never slept
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outdoors, an idea she found repellent, there were plenty of homes around, The rule of the land was any house was available to travelers so long as you either paid or provided some sort of help. On her climb to Long Peak she says there was snow-pack year-round, but a recent Google Maps view shows it snow-less. At one point she travels on the road that is now I-70. Later authors surmised Isabella had a romance with "Mountain Jim" Nugent whom she found attractive (but not a man for marriage she says). The writing is evocative and still fresh after 140 years.
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LibraryThing member jbarr5
A Ladys Life in the Rocky Mountains
1873 Mining towns and other adventures on her way home to England.
Isobella Byrd traveled on horseback and met quite the variety of colorful characters.
Book contains a collection of letters from Isobella to her sister as she describes in very detail her travels and
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things she sees along the way.
So very detailed it sounds so beautiful. Boric acid use for getting rid of bugs-we use it today even!
So many sites are seen up close and personal.
I received this book from National Library Service for my BARD (Braille Audio Reading Device).
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LibraryThing member setnahkt
Isabella Bird was a middle-aged Victorian-era Englishwoman who apparently hadn’t read the middle-aged Victorian-era Englishwoman manual and thus traveled all over the world alone. And rode astride (except when somebody might be watching). Her book narrates her adventures in the Colorado Rockies
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in 1872-73. Interestingly, she doesn’t give a particular reason why she stopped over in Colorado (she was on her way back from a trip to Hawaii, and she doesn’t volunteer why she was there, either). At any rate, she did quite well for herself while here; rounded up cattle for an Estes Park rancher, engaged in a very discrete flirtation with the one-eyed desperado Rocky Mountain Jim (“desperado” is her word; about half the male population of Colorado is “desperados”, which, given the year was 1872, probably wasn’t far wrong), and became the first woman to ascend Long’s Peak (in October, at that). Sometimes you wonder if Isabella was totally clueless, incredibly lucky, or just gifted with the sublime self-confidence of a Proper Englishwoman. I favor the last. Her writing is almost modern seeming – she gives credit to the scenery but eschews the paroxysms of overblown language that flow from the quills of other Victorian travel writers, and has just enough of a sense of humor to provoke a grin now and then. For Coloradans, the best parts are probably her descriptions of the towns she passes through – Fort Collins is “altogether revolting” and has “less bugs but more flies” than Greeley; Longmont (“Longmount” to Ms. Bird) is “as uninviting as Fort Collins” and Boulder is “hideous”. (Denver, at least, has “good shops and fair hotels” and is sufficiently tamed that “shootings are as rare as in Liverpool”). To be fair to Ms. Bird, Coloradans seemed to be rather prejudiced against Englishwomen, but generally came around when Ms. Bird demonstrated her willingness to pitch in and wash dishes, cook, and herd livestock. I think I’d like to hear more of Ms. Bird; she continued her travels to Japan, Malaya, the Punjab, Kurdistan, Persia, China, and Canada. A pleasant and quick read.
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
In what started as letters to her sister Isabella Bird paints vivid pictures of a very young Colorado as she travels from the Sandwich Islands to Estes Park, Colorado. Because the trip to the Hawaiian islands is so fresh in Bird's mind, she can't help but make interesting comparisons between the
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tropical island and the wild western plains. She even wears the same clothes in both climates. As with Bird's other adventures, her courage and tenacity shine through her prose. Most memorable for me was the fact Bird would don a long skirt and ride polite side saddle in the company of men but alone she would wear pants and ride western style. Comfort, not propriety, was her ultimate goal.
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LibraryThing member et.carole
So vivid, makes me feel as if I've actually been to Colorado
LibraryThing member kslade
Interesting account of an 1873 trip to the American West by this English lady. She was pretty tough!
LibraryThing member JudyGibson
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
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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.
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Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

256 p.; 5 inches


0806113286 / 9780806113289
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