& Mountain Jim
From September 25-October 20, 1873
Isabella Bird, a Scottish traveler, experienced Estes Park staying with the Griff Evan and family helping herd cattle and exploring “this enchanted region.” “The Mountain fever seized me,” exclaims Bird as she first enters the Estes Valley.
Isabella Bird transgressed boundaries of gender and conventions of her time in her quest to reach Estes Park and summit Longs Peak. She used travel as an exalted freedom from the constraints of Victorian society. Bird prides herself on her being a “cattleman” roused out of bed in the early morning hours by her host being asked to stay on longer and help: “I was awakened by Evan’s cheery voice at my door. “I say, Miss B., we’ve got to drive wild cattle to-day; I wish you’ lend a hand, there’s not a lot of us; I’ll give you a good horse; one day wont make much of a difference…. Evan’s flatters me saying, “I am as much use as another man” wrote Isabella.
Isabella’s personal journey of discovery and exploration captures the pioneer spirit that continues to pull people to the same mountains today.
Mountain Jim, a local mountain guide with a reputation as a ruffian became her allegorical hero as he helped her up Longs Peak. A fondness for Jim is conveyed throughout her letters. She describes Jim on several occasions “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… One eye was entirely gone and the loss made one side of the face repulsive, while the other might have been modeled in marble. “Desperado” was written in large letters all over him….We entered into conversation and as he spoke I forgot both his reputation and appearance.” Mountain Jim lived alone in a cabin trapping and hunting. He was one of the few first western inhabitants of Estes Park moving here in 1868. He lost his eye 1868 in a battle with a bear while hunting “near Grand Lake.” Jim navigated his way over two grueling days to the town of Grand Junction for care. Jim was known as a friendly, generous, yet quarrelsome when intoxicated--a frontier legend that could spin a yarn!
The spirit of nonconformity and adventure embodied in Bird and the pioneer essence of Jim captures some of Estes Park history and the spirit of those living in and traveling to the Estes valley. The founders of Bird & Jim were swayed by the same mountain fever Estes casts.