A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains

Naxos. Jul. 2023. 7:27 hrs. ISBN 9781781984673. $25. HIST
Clare Wille’s delightful narration of Bird’s trek on horseback across 800 miles of Colorado is as crystal clear and shimmering as the Rocky Mountain skies she describes. In this collection of letters to Bird’s sister, first published in 1879, the British explorer tells of her 1873 journey eastward from California, heading to the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. Wille picks up the pace as Bird meets eccentric characters along the way and sees danger in each mining town or snowstorm. She shows disgust for the incessantly digging prairie dogs and the silver mines blighting the landscape, is unsettled by creepy sounds made by critters living in cabins, and communicates the loneliness of being out in the cold and sleeping on snow. Wille captures Bird’s disdain for gun violence, especially when mixed with whiskey and lawlessness, and nails her fascination with “Rocky Mountain” Jim Nugent, her companion while climbing Longs Peak, and the sadness felt when learning of his death. There is also an intense time when Bird is down to her last few cents, with no access to her funds.
VERDICT Armchair explorers will savor this spirited woman’s journey, taken nearly 150 years ago.
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