- Historic Sites
Love In The Park
A tiny, ailing, middle-aged Victorian lady and an alcoholic, one-eyed mountain man are a couple far too unlikely for fiction. But just such a pair met, and fell in love, and suffered in Estes Park, Colorado, in 1873. Isabella Lucy Bird, our improbable heroine, became a prolific and popular travel writer as well as an intrepid tourist, and her journeys resulted in many books, some of which are still being reprinted. This story of her Colorado romance is from A Gallery of Dudes, to be published soon by Little, Brown.
February 1967 | Volume 18, Issue 2
“Roused by the growling of the dog, his owner came out, a broad, thickset man, about the middle height, with an old cap on his head, and wearing a grey hunting-suit much the worse for wear (almost falling to pieces, in fact), a digger’s scarf knotted round his waist, a knife in his belt, and ‘a bosom friend,’ a revolver, sticking out of the breast-pocket of his coat; his feet, which were very small, were bare, except for some dilapidated moccasins made of horse hide. The marvel was how his clothes hung together, and on him. The scarf round his waist must have had something to do with it. His face was remarkable. 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. His face was smooth-shaven except for a dense moustache and imperial. Tawny hair, in thin uncared-for curls, fell from under his hunter’s cap and over his collar. One eye was entirely gone, and the loss made one side of the face repulsive, while the other might have been modelled in marble. ‘Desperado’ was written in large letters all over him. I almost repented of having sought his acquaintance. His first impulse was to swear at the dog, but on seeing a lady he contented himself with kicking him, and coming up to me he raised his cap, showing as he did so a magnificently-formed brow and head, and in a cultured tone of voice asked if there were anything he could do for me?
“I asked for some water, and he brought some in a battered tin, gracefully apologizing for not having anything more presentable. We entered into conversation, and as he spoke I forgot both his reputation and appearance, for his manner was that of a chivalrous gentleman, his accent refined, and his language easy and elegant. I inquired about some beavers’ paws which were drying, and in a moment they hung on the horn of my saddle.… As we rode away, for the sun was sinking, he said courteously, ‘You are not an American. I know from your voice that you are a countrywoman of mine. I hope you will allow me the pleasure of calling on you.’”
Soon after, Isabella and her guides reached Park Hill at the head of Muggins Gulch, and she looked at last on the valley of her dreams lying below in the soft light of the setting sun—a view which has since awed many millions of tourists. Her description still seems as fresh and true as when she wrote it:
“[It is] an irregular basin, lighted up by the bright waters of the rushing Thompson, guarded by sentinel mountains of fantastic shape and monstrous size, with Long’s Peak rising above them all in unapproachable grandeur, while the Snowy Range, with its outlying spurs heavily timbered, come down upon the Park slashed by stupendous canyons lying deep in purple gloom. The rushing river was blood-red, Long’s Peak was aflame, the glory of the glowing heaven was given back from earth. Never, nowhere, have I seen anything to equal the view into Estes Park. The mountains ‘of the land which is very far off’ are very near now, but the near is more glorious than the far, and reality than dreamland. The mountain fever seized me, and giving my tireless horse an encouraging word, he dashed at full gallop over a mile of smooth sward at delirious speed.”
The gallop brought her to the Griffith Evans establishment, which lay beside a small blue lake. The scope of the property surprised her—four comfortable-looking log cabins around a long central cabin, with two corrals of riding horses, a dairy house, milk cows strolling in to be milked, and hundreds of beef cattle in the distance. Actually, Griff Evans was running a dude ranch, thirty years before dude ranches were officially invented. He came running from the central cabin to welcome his new guests (he had nine men and women already), and he told Isabella that she could have the log cabin nearest the lake for herself. The charge would be eight dollars a week for cabin, board, and riding horse.
She liked Griff on sight, though the smell of bourbon emanated from his bushy beard. She learned that he had bought the Estes buildings for a few dollars in ’67, a year before Mountain Jim had taken his shack in Muggins Gulch. Both were squatters, holding land without titles to it, since the region had not yet been surveyed for homestead entry. Bad blood existed between Evans and Nugent, partly because they competed in guiding parties around the area. Isabella also got an impression from Griff that Jim in his cups had made improper advances to Griff’s seventeen-year-old daughter, Jinny. All of which made good material to send to Henrietta. Isabella wrote, “Jim’s ’I’ll shoot you’ has more than once been heard in Griff’s cabin.”