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Isabella Bird

“Truly a good horse, good ground to gallop on, and sunshine, make up the sum of enjoyable travelling.”

― Isabella L. Bird, Unbeaten Tracks in Japan

GoodReads Quotes

Meet Isabella Bird, historian, travel writer, and adventurer in a time when a woman’s work was to manage the household.

One of my favorite things is discovering unique people from the past. And since I’ve become a member of the Western Writers of America organization, my book stash has grown. WWA members are cranking out some exceptional stuff, from books to songs and screenplays. If you love the American West and unique characters you can check out the ACWA SPUR award winners page here. All this year, I will be reviewing books and blogging every Friday at Prairie Purview, right here on the Home Page, about history, the Texas Panhandle, and the American West. Please check back and sign-up for Nat’s eNews (on the right of this page).

I discovered Isabella Bird from the book THE LADY AND THE MOUNTAIN MAN by Chris Enss, a fellow Western Writers of America member. I was completely blown over with Isabella’s story and had to learn more. Chris graciously answered a few questions about Isabella and the research she did for this book.

Born in Yorkshire County, England in 1831, Isabella suffered from insomnia and depression, and debilitating back pain. The doctor prescribed travel, thus beginning a lifetime of adventure. She lived in Hawaii, climbed mountains in Colorado, traveled to Tibet, Turkey, India, and completely changed America’s perception of China.

Below are a few questions I posed to author Chris Enss about her research and work on the book about Isabella Bird, THE LADY AND THE MOUNTAIN MAN. Realizing there is so much more to this story such as Jim Nugent, “Mountain Jim” and his struggle to hold onto his property, and the encroachment of Europeans into Estes Park, I have included a few links for more reading.

Q: How did you first learn about the memoirs of Isabella Bird?

Chris: I learn about strength and determination. Isabella was a woman in her 40s who had struggled with ill health her entire life. When told a trip abroad might be the very thing she needed to get well, she didn’t hesitate to start off on a journey she’d been dreaming of. This physically frail woman heads to America alone in 1873 to climb Longs Peak! I admire her drive, spirit, and fearlessness.

Q: Why do you think doctor’s kept prescribing that she travel, even with so many health issues and physical disabilities?

Chris: The part of England where she lived was humid and the air was heavy and thick. I think that had something to do with the suggestion. I also think the doctors believed a change of scenery might put the pink back in her cheeks. Giving someone a purpose, a chance to attempt something they might not otherwise has an amazing affect on a person’s ability to get better.

Q: Did you visit Estes Park to research this book?

Chris: I did spend time in beautiful Estes Park researching the book. I stood on the same spot Isabella and Jim stood. His cabin is gone, but the beautiful setting where his cabin was built is still stunning and open. In the near distance you can see civilization, homes, hotels, slowly encroaching, but it’s still gorgeous scenery. He had a view to die for and eventually did.

“From the ridge…at a height of 9,000 feet, we saw at last Estes Park, lying…in the glory of the setting sun, an irregular basin, lighted up by the bright waters of the rushing Thompson…with Long’s Peak rising above them all in unapproachable grandeur… 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.”


Q: It was certainly unconventional for a proper Victorian, deeply religious lady to travel alone. Isabella seemed so bold for her time, and despite her limitations. How did she manage that?

Chris: She was fearless and I think when you believe you might be dying you attempt great feats. She lived life like she might not be around much longer and wanted to seize every opportunity she could out of every moment she was breathing. With the exception of Jim carrying her to various points as they climbed Longs Peak, I didn’t get the sense that anyone went out of their way to make the journey easier for her. I don’t think she would have wanted that either. She wanted the full experience and she wanted to work for the experience. She made up her mind to achieve this extraordinary goal and that was what drove her. I do believe her trust in God spurred her on as well. She loved the Lord and knew He was with her. I think of the verse in 2 Kings 6:17 when Elisha prays for his servant. “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see. Then the Lord opened the servants eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and hcarits of fiel all around Elisha.” It seems Isabella had that kind of sight and feared nothing. God had proven He was with her. You can manage anything with that Truth.

“Jim dragged me up, like a bale of goods, by sheer force of muscle,” …


Q: Wouldn’t it have been the most wonderful thing in the world to have travelled with Isabella? To see that raw, untamed land. Have you considered a fictionalized version of her character?

CHRIS: I would love to write a screenplay about Isabella’s life. Alas, it would have to have a major actress attached. Hollywood’s favorite response to stories like Isabella’s is “period pictures are hard to finance and make.”

To learn more about Chris Enss and her work, visit her website here. Bestselling author, scriptwriter, comedienne, you’ll also find some fabulous Videos with Chris talking about the people and places of the American West. Chris currently serves as President of Western Writers of America and is the new Executive Director of the Will Rogers Medallion Awards.

Chris Enss, Author and Historian

To learn more about Isabella, I’ve included a few links below.

SEVEN REASONS ISABELLA BIRD SHOULD BE YOUR ROLL MODEL, a great article at VisitEstesPark blog spot. Click here.

For more great quotes by Isabella Bird, click here, at GoodReads.

You can also find many of the books written by Isabella Bird about her travels whereever your favorite used books are sold. I really admire this intelligent, unconventional, fearless lady. Happy reading, y’all!