« ZurückWeiter »
sinuous galleries. Where the work of excavation had gone further, the sand rose in smooth cones or solitary pillars; and in yet more complicated cases, the piles took a statuesque shape, which, with a trifling effort of imagination, became idols, gypsies about their camp-fire, witches, or mummies in their coffins. At first sight these formations were a good deal of a puzzle to me; but as we advanced, and saw them not only in the various stages, but undergoing the processes of production, their explanation became possible on at least one hypothesis, to which I will refer further on. A little beyond these statues, and in such plain sight of them that their moonlight view must have been like having a guard of honor composed of ghosts, we found “The Pretty Woman's Ranch " and its occupants, the Richardsons. The nomenclature of new settlers is unconventionally direct. They do not hesitate to say when they think a woman is pretty; and I am afraid they would assert the opposite, if true, with equal frankness. There is no doubt what their names mean; and when they call a name, it sticks. All the Richardsons may die; but future travellers will have no difficulty in knowing that a pretty woman was once the ornament of this solitude, or in finding the exact place on which to drop a tear for the evanescence of all things lovely. It is perhaps no betrayal of Coloradian confidence to acknowledge that Mrs. Richardson is the Pretty Woman referred to in the title. We stopped at the ranch which she has characterized, to give our horses their noon feed, take our own lunch, and, let it be confessed, to see the Pretty Woman, though of course solely as a geographical personage. The name is not inappropriate.
Richardson, the owner of a comfortable log-house, and the husband of the ranch's fair namesake, is so good a type of the indomitable class which turns our country's wastes into garden and pasture, that I cannot refrain from condensing into a few lines the simple account which, while we were resting, he gave us of his toilsome and eventful history.
He began his manhood (he is now a bronzed, wiry man of three or four and thirty) by entering the vineyard business with his father and brothers, near Catskill, on the Hudson River. After a year or two, the fever of adventure got into his blood, and he set out to seek a wider field. His way was westward, as that fever always drives an American, and his first halting-place a settlement in Wisconsin. Here he established a nursery, but was presently ruined (or what an Eastern man would call so) through a protracted season of bad weather and the failure of his trees. Taking all that he could scrape together of the remnant of his property, he moved directly to Denver, and opened, among the earliest there, a store for the sale of groceries and provisions. Here bad weather came to him in the human form. He failed again by trusting out large bills to a set of scamps who were ostensibly buying an outfit to commence business in the mines, but in reality only wanted it to enable them to flee the territory, and get beyond their creditors. They absconded, leaving him quite cleaned out, without a particle either of pay or security. Indomitable as ever, Richardson wasted no time in bemoaning himself, but pushed still further beyond civilization to his present place, determined to wring out of nature the justice he could not get from man. The divide in whose valley he lies, is the natural thoroughfare of all travel from Denver to the Arkansas; and he occupies an excellent position on it for the keeping of a “Pilgrims’” hostelry. Oats or corn for horses sell here at fifty cents the single noon feed (six pounds, or nearly corresponding to our usual four quarts); so that it will not surprise one to hear that by the end of his first year in the divide, Richardson had laid by two thousand dollars. But ill-luck had not done with him. With his savings he bought a handsome lot of blood-cattle, and had just finished his preparations for adding the business of a grazier to that of a landlord, when the vendor of the stock was discovered to be a thief, and Richardson's title to them smashed by the appearance of an owner with the proper documents. I know numbers of reputable business men who at this juncture would have refused to play any more at cogged dice with Fortune, and wound up their affairs with the summary process of a pistol. The idea never seems to have suggested itself to Richardson. When we stopped at the ranch, he had saved two thousand dollars more, and invested it in a stock of blood-sheep, which were then on the way to him from the Missouri River. If I had returned overland from California, I should certainly have made another visit to the Pretty Woman's Ranch, to satisfy my mind about those sheep. I felt as if it would be a pleasure to pitch in and do a day's sheep-tending for a man who had kept such a brave face toward his fate. I sincerely hope that his sheep arrived safely, and that they now thrive and multiply to the extent which his sanguine nature expected. I believe the hope fully justified by the character of the country. There is every reason why a flock of healthy sheep should do admirably on the dry grass of the divide and more succulent nibblings along the water-courses, or, if protected against wild beasts, even in the scantier pasturage along the lower mountain foot-hills. The character of the soil and climate is such that foot-rot would be most unlikely to originate here; and a few years would so thoroughly acclimate the stock as to make both its fleece and mutton valuable additions to the revenue of any virtually unlimited landproprietor like Richardson. It is unnecessary to praise mountain mutton to any man who has ever eaten Welsh saddle, or chops from the Sierra Nevada. Stimulated by a cruel curiosity, I ventured to ask Richardson if he would be discouraged supposing his sheep failed. He answered no; that in that case he'd only return to the East, where he knew he was wanted, and go into the vineyard business again. He certainly had the greatest reasons which a man, according as he is gritty or not, can have for courage or discouragement, a wife and one little boy three years old,— a child of astonishing precocity, who insisted that his first name was Denver City, and would not be pacified until we had let him sit down with us after dinner, and smoke a pipe in proof of our confidence in that assertion. We paid the worthy ranchman for our noon feed, and took his cheerful philosophy gratis. The debt we incur by seeing such men is one that cannot be paid. Their memory is a vigor. You are better for having talked with them; you make other people better, and the benefit goes on rolling up compound interest. The atmosphere of the Pretty Woman's Ranch is an anti-periodic to blue-devils. They certainly will not recur the day one baits there. About a mile and a half southwest of Richardson's is a broad field, situated on the table-land, which in comparatively small compass contains some of the most interesting subjects for the geologist which are to be found in this country or the world. The entire tract is a fossil forest. Its trees, to be sure, are leveled with the ground; but their stumps and many of their prostrate trunks remain in a condition of stony metamorphosis which may challenge the Enchanted Groves of fairy lore and the Arabic legend of Aladdin's ruby fruit. Nothing can exceed the perfection with which the original vegetable characteristics have been retained in the petrified remains. Some of the trunks, full ten feet in length, have become so thoroughly infiltrated with silicates (chiefly of aluminum, having iron for their tinge), that at first sight they look more like exquisite imitations of trees in jasper, agate, or chalcedony, than the metamorphosed bodies of trees themselves. The translation from ligneous to stony substance has been so gradual, yet so perfect, that you are reminded of the famous jack-knife which retained its identity with a new blade and a new handle. Probably nothing does in reality exist of these trees' original tissue; but each portion of that tissue survived just long enough to act as a mould, and determine every faintest marking on the flinty jelly whose consolidated mass substituted it. The result is that we have in silicates of aluminum and iron as perfect a representation as could be given by original vegetable matter, of cotton-woods, firs, and pines, throughout all the sizes attained by those growths. Nothing among mineral treasures can exceed the beauty of some specimens we found here. Looking at the cross section of one of the stone saplings, the merest tyro saw at a glance the history of its growth,