Hooker, Sir Joseph Dalton
La Veta, Colorado
Hooker (nee Symonds, then Jardine), Lady Hyacinth
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
23 Jul 1877
© The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Letters from J D Hooker: HOO
The Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
10 page letter over 10 folios

Not a few English young gentlemen have farms and we constantly meet waggons driven by men in buckskins and broad flap hats with hatchets at their sides and the unmistakable ruddy faces of English gentlemen whom we familiarly call "Senior Wranglers"*6. Now I must take this to the post that you may get it in about three weeks. Your ever affectionate husband| J.D.Hooker.

Page 1

La Veta,Colorado. July 23 /[18]77.
Dearest Hyacinth*1 I wrote last from St Louis on the Mississippi. on the 17th, since which we have been constantly on the move. We left St Louis on that evening for Pueblo, a long railway journey lasting 2 nights and nearly 2 days. Mrs Gray*2 was quite knocked up and Mrs Lineidy*3 wearied out and homesick! The route was almost throughout across the prairies that intervene between the Mississippi and Rocky M[ountain]s, and our course was along the Arkansas river; probably this line is not drawn on any map being quite new. Dr Lambourne, our travelling companion, is a director of the line (or President, as called here). The sleeping cars were as good as before, and the rails being more evenly laid, I slept comfortably, and there having been rain on the prairie, we had very little dust or heat! In fact we have experienced no heat at all to speak of. These prairies are not like what I expected - which was a sea-like horizon and long waving grass. They consist of rolling plains varied with occasional moist tracts, and extensive crops of maize and wheat in many places. Except in the wet places, the grass (Buffalo grass) is extremely short and slender -- very low hills are occasionally seen with a few oaks on them. Where the soil is rich the grass is longer and the Compass plant, a tall sunflower, rears its head above all; its leaves are quite distichous

Page 2

and the young ones point N[orth] and S[outh] very truly. The common sunflower is native all along and everywhere, or rather the smaller-flowered parent of the garden Sunflower, which has been traced to this. The Indians used to cultivate it for its seeds. You know that it is now cultivated for oil seed over many parts of Europe. The ground rises as we approach the M[ountain]s to 3000ft., and becomes drier. The Arkansas river flows on the surface of the Prairie in a very shallow, muddy, winding, canal-like bed, with a uniform ripple, and has a uniform fall of 12ft. per mile. for 100 miles E[ast] of the range. Occasionally Willows and a Poplar mark its course, a species very like our common black Poplar, but trees are rare anywhere. It is crossed anywhere by the Emigrant waggons, but its bottom is treacherous, being full of quicksands. We saw many Emigrant trains of waggons, drawn by bullocks, accompanied by a few cattle, the women and children in the waggons, and the men walking or riding. Of villages proper there are none; occasionally one meets a small group of low, flat-roofed square, Adobe buildings (Adobes are built of sun-dried clay) with cattle enclosure and pig-stye attached, and a huge board over it advertising it as a Store. Buffalo, that once abounded, are not to be seen nearer than 200 miles to the S[outh] W[est] in the Indian preserves; their skulls and bones, with those of horses and cattle, are common enough in far patches betraying the vicinity of a Marmot's (prairie dog's) hole, which shelters also the small Owls. Birds are few. Antelopes are often

Page 3

seen, and of course a mirage. The train whirls for miles and miles as straight as an arrow, and the heat is usually insupportable at this season, but we were favored. The Rocky Mts. are a very poor-looking range from the prairies -- are neither exactly tame nor at all rugged, and one sees but few patches of snow, none are snow-clad. We arrived at Pueblo, on the Prairie near the Mountain (350Oft) in the afternoon of the third day (about 40 hours) from St Louis and there met Dr Bell, Director of the railway that runs some 20 miles further West to Cañon City, where the Arkansas leaves the Mts. through a grand Cañon. Dr and Mrs Leidy and the child left us at Pueblo, to go North to Wisconsin, where he will spend his vacation exam[in]ing Rhizopods and other minute animals of that region. Cañon City is a street of some 100 detached wooden, brick or adobe houses, of which one is a very tolerable brick Hotel where we put up. Dr Bell is a Cambridge M.D., about 35, a very gentlemanly man*, who came out for his health and was induced to stay by an offer of lucrative employment on this line. He has a nice house and property near Colorado City, and another in the heart of the Mountains S[outh] W[est], from Cañon City, whither he was taking his wife, an English Lady, and a niece with two little children, and a servant, to stay a few days at this property (in Wet Mountain Valley). *I think he wrote a book on the Rocky Mountains.*4

Page 4

After a good cleansing and sound sleep, we started next morning forrom Cañon City to the top of the Mountains above the town to see the Cañon from above. The Canon is about 5 miles off, but it takes 12 to get up to it by a waggon road, up a lateral valley of Poplars, and bushes of Rhus, wild cherry, Ptelea and various Willows, alder, &c. The way up was wild and rocky, and on surmounting it we came at 5-6000ft. on an extensive undulating tract called "Eight mile Park", through which the Arkansas flows till it meets the rocky outer granite range of mountains which it appears to force its way through for 2 or 3 miles. This gorge is evidently a winding cleft or fault deepened by the river and is 1000ft. deep by perhaps 1/6 of a mile broad at the top and 20 yards at the bottom. The view from the top is extremely grand and the red coloring of the granite is beautiful. The Rocky Mts. for the most part consist of ridges of rocky ridges 10 to 14300ft. high, enclosing these vast downs or Parks. The Mts. from 5000 to 11000ft. are clothed with scattered trees of Pinus edulis, two Junipers and stunted Oaks, with Poplar only in the ravines. On the Parks no trees and very few bushes are found. The usual Park plants are, a splendid white flowered Argemone, a purple Cleome, OEnotheras, grasses very dwarf, bushy, vellow flowered Compositae [Asteraceae], white Artemisias, Chenopodiaceae and Amaranthaceae, Mentzelias and the common Helianthus. The Pines are confined to the rocky hill and Mt. slopes. P. edulis, the Piñon of the N[orth] Americans, begins at 5000ft., and ascends to 10,000; it is a dwarf tree, much like an Oak in habit! At 6500,or 7000

Page 5

Pinus ponderosa begins, a rather stately tree with a rich yellow-red bark, like Scotch fir; and at above 8000ft. are Abies Douglasii, concolor, Menziesii and Engelmannii. The vast park-like, treeless downs without water, but which would be fertile with irrigation, and which look like areas of the prairies elevated 5 to 9000ft are the most curious features of the country. The rocks are very various, cretaceous, abound with their characteristic fossils. The mines, rich in copper,and silver and lead, are chiefly in the granite Mts. Here and there one meets with a small excavation close to which is a stick with a piece of paper. This is the result of some "prospecter" who has discovered a metal lode and put his name to it on the paper, and gone to the State Office at Cañon City or elsewhere to purchase a claim and work for ore upon it. This simple mode of securing your claim is universally respected[.] On the following day, Dr Hayden, the Grays, and Dr Lambourne returned to Pueblo by train to go thence South to La Veta, and up a valley there and form a camp at 9000ft. to botanize above that elevation. The Stracheys*5 and I took an over mountain route to the same place (100 miles from Cañon City) in a waggon and pair, intending to visit Dr . Bell en route, as he had invited us. This would enable us to see one of the finest valleys in the interior of the R[ocky] M[ountains], called Wet Mt. Valley, 60 miles long by 8 to 10 broad, flanked on the S[outh] W[est] by the snow streaked Sierra, called the Sangue de Christo, the waters of which make this rock valley very fertile. Our route was amongst rocky or stony ridges loosely clothed

Page 6

with Piñon and P. ponderosa, or through short water courses with Poplars, and over vast parks. We saw hardly an inhabitant till we reached the valley, the view from which of the Sierra range is very fine, though far inferior to Alps, Pyrenees, or Maritime Alps. Dr Bell's hut is in the midst of swampy meadows in the vast flat floor of the valley, which is intersected by posts and rails enclosing allotments of 100 acres or more. It is a "balloon hut", that is one of simple planks of P. ponderosa of the rudest description. He has large barns close by, plenty of cows, potatoes and hay fields. Not a tree is to be seen for miles, nor anywhere but on the mountain slopes around, and scarcely a shrub. The Elevetion of the floor of the valley is 7800ft. about, the climate is dry, air crsip[crisp] and clear, hardly any snow falls in winter! and the grass is green all the year round. Mrs Bell received us very kindly, and we had dinner of soup, excellent mutton, beef, potatoes, fine mushrooms, lettuce and stewed apples and pears with rice pudding. Spoons and forks were iron and there was a paucity of glasses &c. Dr Bell slept in the barn and we had beds in the hut. My mattress was stuffed with maize rushes and made such a curious crackling sound from the silex in the epidermis of the leaf, but I slept sound enough. Mrs Bell knows a good many Cambridge people and Miss Kingsley staid [stayed] with her at Manitoa, their property near Colorado City. Next morning we came on 60 miles to this place, arriving at 10 P.M., and are in an Adobe two-storied house, with wee bedrooms upstairs divided by loose rough planks across which tiffany is strained.

Page 7

This is another city quite like Cañon City, but the population is half Mexican and Spanish. This evening we go by rail 20 miles to the West, up into the mining district of the R[ocky] M[ountain]s, where Dr Hayden is camped at 9000ft., and where we shall find Dr and Mrs Gray. The Yankee population that we meet everywhere are most civil and obliging, very rough in exterior, but never so in manners. Here on the verge of civilisation, there is abundance of food and progress in all directions. Today Dr Lambourne came down from camp to meet us, and has taken us into the heart of the city! i.e. amongst the cabins of the prospectors -- a rough lot of stalwart brown and grizzled men of all ages and from all English-speaking parts of the world, with their pockets full of samples of minerals, the names of which Dr L. good naturedly tells them. Seeing we are strangers, they are most obliging and communicative. At dinner time some of them who are in luck come to the Hotel! i.e. those who can afford it, and sit down beside us and behave with perfect propriety. Their manners are perfectly independent, and they speak to you as they do to one another, always 'Sir-ring' in Yankee fashion. The meal hours are,--i.e. at the large Hotels, but in these cabins they are served only once -- 7 to 9 for breakfast, 12 to 2 for dinner, 5 to 7 for supper, or thereabouts. The landlord and family who serve you often sit down with you, and however rough the establishment, their hands are always clean.

Page 8

For dinner each has a plate of soup, after which there is set before each little platters of beef or mutton or liver &c., (as you choose) potatoes, peas, or dried beans, stewed tomatoes, followed by other messes to each, of apple or blackberry pie, rice or tapioca pudding, or stewed fruit. You may eat or leave what you please, and get a second helping of anything. Iced water and iced tea are the drinks, or iced milk at supper and breakfast, and you may have two or more tumblers if you please, besides tea or coffee, porridge, toast, steak, ham, &c., all served in small portions, abundance of most delicate bread and rolls, good butter here, Slapjacks, a sort of maize scone eaten with syrup, very good! Trout abound in the rivers; a boy yesterday caught 52lbs ! weighing from 1/2 lb to 3 and 5lbs. Locusts sometimes devour the crops, but the Colorado beetle has done little mischief here, where however it is common on the wild species of Solaneae. The Spanish Mexicans are a miserable wild looking lot, riding about on smart little horses with the lasso on the saddle bow, huge stirrups, and rowels 2 to 3 inches in diameter. They are not liked by the Yankees and will "I guess" be pushed down in the scale of civilisation. The Spaniards of old held Colorado, and the State of New Mexico, in whose Northern border I now am, was attached after the Mexican-American war to the U.S. comparatively lately. The Mts are full of precious metals, but the plains are dreadfully hot.

Page 9

I find I have forgotten the Cacti, with which this country is covered up to nearly 8000ft. First of all is Opuntia arborescens which forms a solitary, much-branched, rounded bush, 4 to 6 feet high, bearing a crimson blossom as big as a rose at the end of every branchlet -- a gorgeous show! -- next are small flat Opuntias that grow in groups rarely more than a foot above the ground and studded with spines; these have pink or golden flowers. 3. The Mamillarias which grow in clusters, often hemispherical and 2 to 3 feet diam[eter], their flowers are comparatively insignificant. The most lovely plant here is the Mirabilis multiflora, lately figured in the Bot[any] Mag[azine], that forms low bushes of vivid green studded with purple flowers. It is most beautiful. The facilities of getting about this world's end of a country are wonderful, but travelling is very fatiguing, as you have to go great distances and there is so much to learn and see by the way and every thing is rough and hard. We have not yet fixed our plans for the future. I am getting very anxious to hear from home, and though the post is punctual, the distance is great from the West! The Education, intelligence and general prosperity of the people still impresses me very agreeably. Here at this wretched collection of scattered "balloon" cabins and Adobe huts, I find eight or ten journals and newspapers sold, and of the very latest date, and there are several "balloon" Churches. The Baptist seems the largest.

Page 10

Not a few English young gentlemen have farms and we constantly meet waggons driven by men in buckskins and broad flap hats with hatchets at their sides and the unmistakable ruddy faces of English gentlemen whom we familiarly call "Senior Wranglers"*6. Now I must take this to the post that you may get it in about three weeks. Your ever affectionate husband| J.D.Hooker.


1. Hooker, Lady Hyacinth (1842 -- 1921). Second wife of JD Hooker, previously Jardine, née Symonds. 2. Jane Lathrop Loring Gray (1821 -- 1909). Daughter of Charles Greeely Loring, a prominent Boston lawyer, and Anna Brace Loring. In 1847 she became engaged to botanist Asa Gray, and they were married on May 4, 1848. Jane accompanied her husband on most of his voyages and chronicled them in her letters to her family. 3. Mrs Leidy was the wife of Joseph Mellick Leidy (1823 -- 1891), an American paleontologist, parasitologist and anatomist. 4. This is Hooker’s typed note at the bottom of the page. 5. Sir Richard Strachey (1817 -- 1908) came from a family of long involved in the administration of India where in 1836 he was commissioned in the Bombay Engineers. He also studied botany, physical geography and geology; in 1848 he visited Tibet with the botanist J.E. Winterbottom collecting over 2000 botanical specimens of which 32 new species and varieties bear Strachey's name. From 1873 he was on the committee of the Royal Society for managing the Kew observatory, and he travelled out to America with Hooker in 1877. 6. “Senior Wrangler” is presumably a reference to the Cambridge University mathematics exam, where the person placed top in the final exams is known as the Senior Wranger.
Please note that work on this transcript is ongoing. Users are advised to study electronic image(s) of this document where possible. If users identify any errors in the transcript, please contact archives@kew.org.

Powered by Aetopia