Colorado Springs – American Travel

IN a certain city that I visited upon my travels, I met one night at dinner, one of those tall, pink-cheeked, slim-legged young polo-playing Englishmen, who proceeded to tell me in his positive, British way, exactly what the United States amounted to. He said New York was ripping. He said San Francisco was ripping. He said American girls were ripping.

“But,” said he, “there are just two really civilized places between your Atlantic and Pacific coasts.”

The idea entertained me. I asked which places he meant.

“Chicago,” he said, “and Colorado Springs.”

“But Colorado Springs is a little bit of a place, isn’t it?” I asked him.

“About thirty thousand.”

“Why is it so especially civilized?”

“It just is, y’ know,” he answered. “There’s polo there.”

“But polo doesn’t make civilization,” I said.

“Oh, yes, it does,” he insisted. “I mean to say wherever you find polo you find good clubs and good society and—usually—good tea.”

This, and further rumors of a like nature, plus some pleasant letters of introduction, caused my companion and me to remove ourselves, one afternoon, from Denver to the vaunted seat of civilization, some miles to the south.

Colorado Springs is somewhat higher than Denver and seems to nestle closer to the mountains. The moment you alight from the train and see the park, facing the station and the pleasant facade of the Antlers Hotel, beyond, you feel the peculiar charm of the little city. It is well laid-out, with very wide streets, very good public buildings and office buildings, and really remark-able homes.

The homes of Colorado Springs really explain the place.. They are of every variety of architecture, and are inhabited by a corresponding variety of people. You will see half-timbered English houses, built by Englishmen and Scots; Southern colonial houses built by people from the South Atlantic States; New England colonial houses built by families who have migrated from the regions of Boston and New York; one-story houses built by people from Hawaii, and a large assortment of other houses ranging from Queen Anne to Cape Cod cottages, and from Italian villas to Spanish pal-aces. There is even the Grand Trianon at Broadmoor, and an amazing Tudor castle at Glen Eyre.

The society is as cosmopolitan as the architecture. It has been drawn with perfect impartiality from the well-to-do class in all parts of the country and has been assembled in this charming garden town with, for the most part, a common reason—to fight against tuberculosis. This does not mean, of course, that the majority of people in Colorado Springs are victims of tuberculosis, but only that, in many instances, families have moved there because of the affliction of one member.

I say “affliction.” Literally, I suppose the word is justified. But perhaps the most striking thing about society in Colorado Springs is its apparent freedom from affliction. One goes to the most delightful dinner parties, there, in the most delightful houses, and meets the most delightful people. Every one seems very gay. Every one looks well. Yet one knows that there are certain persons present who are out there for their health. The question is, which? It is impossible to tell.

In the case of one couple I met, I decided that the wife who was slender and rather pale, had been the cause of migration from the East. But before I left, the stocky, ruddy husband told me, in the most cheerful manner that he had arrived there twenty years before with “six months to live.” That is the way it is out there. There is no feeling of depression. There is no air of, “Shh! Don’t speak of it !” Tuberculosis is taken quite as a matter of course, and is spoken of, upon occasion, with a lightness and freedom which is likely to surprise the visitor. They even give it what one man designated as a “pet name,” calling it “T. B.”

Club life in Colorado Springs is highly developed. The El Paso Club is not merely a good club for such a small city, but would be a very good club anywhere. One has only to penetrate as far as the cigar stand to discover that—for a club may always be known by the cigars it keeps. So, too, with the Cheyenne Mountain Country Club at Broadmoor, a suburb of the Springs. It is n’t one of those small-town country clubs, in which, after ringing vainly for the waiter, you go out to the kitchen and find him for yourself, in his shirtsleeves and minus a collar. Nor, when he puts in his appearance, is he wearing a spotted alpaca coat that doesn’t fit. Without being in the least pretentious, it is a real country club, run for men and women who know what a real club is.

When you sit at luncheon at the large round table in the men’s cafe you may find yourself between a famous polo-player from Meadowbrook, and a bronzed young ranch-owner, who will tell you that cattle rustling still goes on in his section of the country. The latter you will take for a perfect product of the West, a “gentle-man cowboy,” from a novel. But presently you will learn that he is a member of that almost equally fictitious thing, an “old New York family,” that he has been in the West but a year or two, and that he was in “Tark’s class” at Princeton. So on around the table. One man has just arrived from Paris; another from Honolulu, or the Philippines, or China or Japan.. And when, as we were sitting there, a man came in whom I had met in Rome ten years before, I said to myself: This is not life. It is the beginning of a short story by some disciple of Mrs. Wharton : A group of cosmopolitans seated around a table in a club. Casual mention of Bombay, Buda-Pesth and Singapore. Presently some man will flick his cigarette ash and say, “By the way, De Courcey, what ever became of the queer little chap we used to see at the officer’s mess in Simla?” Whereupon De Courcey, late of the Lancers, and second son of Lord Thusandso, will light a fresh Corona and recount, according to the accepted formula, the story of The Queer Little Chap.

I could even imagine the illustrations for the story, They would be by Wenzell, and would show us there, in the club, like a group of sleek Greek statues, clothed in full afternoon regalia of the most unbelievable smoothness—looking, in short, not at all like ourselves, or anybody else.

However, the story of The Queer Little Chap was not told. That is the trouble with trying to live short stories. You can get them started, sometimes, but they never work out. If the setting is all right, the story somehow will not “break,” whereas, on the other hand, when the surroundings are absolutely wrong, when the wrong people are present, when the conditions are utterly impossible, your short story will break violently and without warning, and will very likely cover you with spots. The trouble is that life, in its more fragmentary departments, lacks what we call “form” and “composition.” There is something amateurish about it. Nine editors out of ten would reject a short story written by the Hand of Fate, on this ground, and would probably advise Fate to go and take a course in short-story-writing at some university. No; Fate has not the short story gift. She writes novels—rather long and rambling, most of them, like those of De Morgan or Romaine Rolland. But even her novels are not popular. People say they are too long. They can’t be bothered reading novels which consume a whole lifetime. Besides, Fate seldom supplies a happy ending, and that ‘s what people want, now-a-days. So, though Fate’s novels are given away, they have no vogue.

Having somehow digressed from clubs to authorship I may perhaps be pardoned for wandering still further from my trail here to mention Andy Adams.

A long time ago, ex-Governor Hunt expressed lack of faith in the future of Colorado Springs because, at that time, there was not much water to be found there, and further because the town had “too many writers of original poetry..” So far as I could judge, from a brief visit, things have changed. There is plenty of water, and I did not meet a single poet. However, I did meet an author, and he is a real one. Andy Adams’ card proclaims him author, but more than this, his books do, also. Himself a former cowboy, he writes cowboy stories which prove that cowboy stories need not be as false, and as maudlinly romantic as most cowboy stories manage to be. You don’t have to know the plains to know that Mr. Adams’ tales are true, any more than you have to know anatomy to understand that a man can’t stand without a backbone. Truth is the backbone of Mr. Adams’ writings, and the body of them has that rare kind of beauty which may, perhaps, be likened to the body of some cowboy—some perfect physical specimen from Mr. Adams’ own pages.

I have not read all his books, and the only reason why I have not is that I have not yet had time. But so far as I have read I have not found one false note in them. I have not come upon a “lone horseman” riding through the gulch at eventide. I have not encountered the daughter of an eastern millionaire who has ridden out to see the sunset. Nor have I stumbled on a romantic meeting or a theatrical rescue.

So far as I know, Mr. Adams’ book “The Log of a Cowboy,” is preeminently the classic of the plains. One of its greatest qualities is that of ceaseless movement. Three thousand head of cattle are driven through those chapters, from the Mexican frontier to the Canada border, and those cattle travel with a flow as irresistible as the unrelenting flow of De Quincey’s Tartar tribe.

The author is one of those absolutely basic things, a natural story teller, and the fine simplicity of his writing springs not from education (“All the schooling I ever had I picked up at a cross-roads country school house”), not from an academic knowledge of “literature,” but from primary qualities in his own nature, and the strong, ingenuous outlook of his own two eyes.

Mr. Henry Russell Wray tells of a request from eastern publishers for a brief sketch of Adams’ life. He asked Adams to write about two hundred words about himself, as though dealing with another being. The next day he received this :

A native of Indiana; went to Texas during his youth; worked over ten years on cattle ranches and on the trail, rising from common hand on the latter to a foreman. Quit cattle fifteen years ago, following business and mining occupations since. When contrasted with the present generation is just beginning to realize that the old days were romantic, though did not think so when sitting a saddle sixteen to twenty-four hours a day in all kinds of weather. His insight into cattle life was not obtained from the window of a Pullman car, but close to the soil and from the hurricane deck of a Texas horse. Even to-day is a better cowman than writer, for he can yet rope and tie down a steer with any of the boys, though the loop of his rope may settle on the wrong foot of the rhetoric occasionally. He is of Irish and Scotch parentage. Forty-three years of age, six feet in height and weighs 210 pounds.

Though I met Mr. Adams at Colorado Springs, I shall, for obvious reasons, let my description of him rest at that.

When writing of clubs I should have mentioned the Cooking Club, which is one of the most unique little clubs of the country. The fifteen members of this club are the gourmets of Colorado Springs—not merely passive gourmets who like to have good things set before them, but active ones who know how to prepare good things as well as eat them. Every little while, throughout the season, the Cooking Club gives dinners, to which each member may invite a guest or two. Each takes his turn in acting as host, his duties upon this occasion being to draw up the menu, supply materials, appoint members to prepare certain courses, and, wearing the full regalia of a chef, superintend the preparation of the meal, which is cooked entirely by men belonging to the club.. Wine is not served at Cooking Club dinners, the official beverage being the club Rum Brew, which has a considerable local reputation, and is everywhere pronounced adequate. Not a few of the members learned to cook in the course of prospecting tours in the mountains, and the Easterner who, with this fact in mind, attends a Cooking Club dinner is led to revise, immediately, certain preconceived ideas of the hard life of the prospector. No man has a hard life who can cook himself such dishes. In-deed, one is forced to the conclusion that Colorado is full of undiscovered mines, which would have been uncovered long ago, were it not that prospectors go up into the mountains for the primary purpose of cooking themselves the most delightful meals, and that mining is —as indeed it should be—a mere side issue. For myself, while I have no taste for the hardy life of the mountaineer, I would gladly become a prospector, even if it were guaranteed in advance that I should discover nothing, providing that Eugene P. Shove would go along with me and make the biscuits.

Aside from its clubs Colorado Springs has all the other things which go to the making of a pleasant city. The Burns Theater is a model of what a theater should be. The Antlers Hotel would do credit to the shores of Lake Lucerne. Where the “antlers” part of it comes in, I am unable to say, but as nothing else was lacking, from the kitchen, down stairs, to Pike’s Peak looming up in the back yard, I have no complaint to make.

I suppose that every one who has heard of Colorado Springs at all, associates it with the famous Garden of the Gods.

Before I started on my travels I was aware of the fact that the two great natural wonders of the East are Niagara Falls and the insular New Yorker. I knew that the great, gorgeous, glittering galaxy of American wonders was, however, in the West, but the location and character of them was somewhat vague in my mind. I knew, of course, that Pike’s Peak was a large mountain. I knew that the giant redwoods were in California. But for the rest, I had the Grand Canon, the Royal Gorge, and the Garden of the Gods associated in my mind together as rival attractions. I do not know why this was so, excepting that I had been living on Manhattan Island, where information is notoriously scarce.

Now, though I saw the Royal Gorge, though I rode through it in the cab of a locomotive, with my hair standing on end, and though I found it “as advertised,” I have no idea of trying to describe it, more than to say that it is a great cleft in the pink rocks through which run a river and a railroad, and that how the latter managed to keep out of the former was a constant source of wonder to me.

As for the Grand Canon of the Colorado, it affects those who behold it with a kind of literary asthma. They desire to describe it; some try, passionately; but they only wheeze and look as though they might explode. Since it is generally admitted that no one who has seen it can describe it, the task would manifestly devolve upon some one who has not seen it, and that requirement is filled by me. I have not seen it. I am not impressed by it at all. I am able to speak of it with coherence and restraint. But even that I shall not do.

With the Garden of the Gods it is different. The place irritated me. For if ever any spot was outrageously overnamed, it is that one. As a little park in the Catskills it might be all well enough, but as a natural wonder in the Rocky Mountains, with Pike’s Peak hanging overhead, it is a pale pink joke. If I had my way I should take its wonder-name away from it, for the name is too fine to waste, and a thousand spots in Colorado are more worthy of it.

The entrance to the place, between two tall, rose-colored sandstone rocks may, perhaps, be called imposing; the rest of it might better be described as imposition. Guides will take you through, and they will do their utmost, as guides always do, to make you imagine that you are really seeing something. They will point out inane formations in the sandstone rock, and will attempt to make you see that these are “pictures.” They will show you the Kissing Camels, the Bear and Seal, the Buffalo, the Bride and Groom, the Preacher, the Scotsman, Punch and Judy, the Washerwoman, and other rock forms, sculptured by Nature into shapes more or less suggesting the various objects mentioned. But what if they do? To look at such accidentals is a pastime about as intelligent as looking for pictures in the moon, or in the patterns of the paper on your wall. As nearly as Nature can be altogether silly she has been silly here, and I think that only silly people will succeed in finding fascination in the place—the more so since – Colorado Springs is a prohibition town.

The story of prohibition there is curious. In 1870, N. C. Meeker, Agricultural Editor of the New York “Tribune,” under Horace Greeley, started a colony in Colorado, bringing a number of settlers from the East, and naming the place Greeley. With a view to eliminating the roughness characteristic of frontier towns in those days, Mr. Meeker made Greeley a prohibition colony.

When, a year after, General William J. Palmer and his associates started to build the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad from Denver to Colorado Springs, a land company was formed, subsidiary to the railway project, and desert property was purchased on the present site of the Springs. The town was then laid out and the land retailed to individuals of “good moral character and strict, temperate habits.”

In each deed given by the land company there was incorporated an anti-liquor clause, whereby, in the event of intoxicating liquors being “manufactured, sold or otherwise disposed of in any place of public resort on the premises,” the deed should become void and the property revert to the company. Shortly after the formation of the colony the validity of this clause was tested. The suit was finally carried to the United States Supreme Court, where the rights of the company, under the prohibition clause, were upheld.

General Palmer, later, in discussing the history of Colorado Springs, explained that the prohibitory clause was not inserted in the deeds for moral reasons, but that “the aim was intensely practical—to create a habitable and successful town.”

The General and his associates had had ample experience of new western railroad towns, and wished to eliminate the disagreeable features of such towns from Colorado Springs. Even then, though the prohibition movement had not been fairly launched in this country these practical men recognize the fact that Meeker had recognized ; namely that with saloons, dance halls and gambling places, gunfighting and lynchings went hand in hand.

It is recorded that the restriction seemed to work against the town at first, but, on the other hand, such growth as came was substantial, and Colorado Springs attracted a better class of settlers than the wide open towns nearby.. The wisdom of this arrangement is amply proven, today, by a comparison of Colorado Springs with the neighboring town of Colorado City, which has not had prohibition.

Even before Colorado Springs existed, General Palmer had fallen in love with the place and determined that he would some day have a home at the foot of the mountains in that neighborhood. In the early seventies he purchased a superb canon a few miles west of the city, and the Tudor Castle which he built there, and which he named Glen Eyrie, because of the eagles’ nests on the walls of his canon, remains today one of the most remarkable houses on this continent.

Every detail of the house as it stands, and every item in the history of its construction expresses the force and originality which were such strong attributes of its late proprietor.

The General was an engineer. In the Civil War he was colonel of the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry, and was breveted a general. After the war he went into the West and became a railroad builder. Evidently he was one of those men, typical of his time, who seem to have had a craving to condense into one lifetime the experiences and achievements of several. He was, so to speak, his own ancestor and his own descendant; there were, in effect, three generations of him: soldier, railroad builder, and landed baron. In his castle at Glen Eyrie one senses very strongly this baronial quality. Clearly the General could not be content with a mere modern house. He wanted a castle, and above all, an old castle. And, as Colorado is peculiarly free of old castles, he had to build one for himself. That is what he did, and the superb initiative of the man is again reflected in the means he used. The house must be of old lichen-covered stone, but, being already past middle age, the General could not wait on Nature. Therefore he caused the whole region to be scoured for flat, weathered stones which could be cut for his purpose. These he transported to his glen, where they were carefully cut and set in place, so that the moment the new wall was up it was an old wall. Finding the flat stones was easy, however, compared with finding those presenting a natural right angle, for the corners of the house. Nevertheless, all were ultimately discovered and laid, and the desired result was attained. After the house was done the General thought the roof lacked just the proper note of color, so he caused it to be torn off, and replaced with tiles from an old church in England.

Perhaps the most splendid thing about the place is an enormous hall, paneled in oak, with a gallery and a beamed barrel ceiling, but there are other features which make the house unusual. On the roof is a great Krupp bell, which can be heard for miles, and which was used to call the General’s guests home for meals. There is a power plant, a swimming pool, a complicated device for recording meteorological conditions in the mountains. And of course there are fireplaces in which great logs were burned; yet there are no chimneys on the house. The General did not want chimneys issuing smoke into his canon, so he simply did not have them. Instead, he constructed a tunnel which runs up the mountainside behind the house and takes care of the smoke, emitting it at an unseen point, far above.

Meanwhile the General played Santa Claus to Colorado Springs, giving her parks and boulevards. One day, while riding on his place, he was thrown from his horse and a vertebra was fractured, with the result that he was permanently prostrated. After that he lay for some time like a wounded eagle in his eyrie, his mind as active as ever. He was still living in 1907, when the time for the annual reunion of his old regiment came around. Unable to go East, he invited the remaining veterans to come to him by special train, as his guests. So they came—the remnants of that old cavalry regiment, and passed in review, for the last time, before their Colonel, lying helpless with a broken neck.

In its mountain setting, with the pink sandstone cliffs rising abruptly behind it, this castle of the General’s is one of the most dramatic homes I have ever seen. There is a superb austerity about it, which makes it very different from the large homes of Broadmoor, at the other side of Colorado Springs.. As I have already mentioned, one of these is a replica of the Grand Trianon; others are Elizabethan and Tudor, and many of them are very fine, but the house of houses at Colorado Springs is “El Pomar,” the residence of the late Ashton H. Potter. I do not know a house in the United States which fits its setting better than this one, or which is a more perfect thing from every point of view. It is a one-story building of Spanish architecture—a style which, to my mind, fits better than any other, the sort of landscape in which plains and mountains meet. Houses as elaborate as the Grand Trianon, always seem to me to lend themselves best to a rather formal, park-like country which is flat, or nearly so; while Elizabethan and adapted Tudor houses of the kind one sees at Broad-moor, seem to cry out for English lawns, and great lush-growing trees to soften the hard lines of roof and gable. Such houses may be set in rolling country with good effect, but in the face of the vast mountain range which dominates this neighborhood, the most elaborate architecture is so completely dwarfed as to seem almost ridiculous. Architecture cannot compete with the Rocky Mountains ; the best thing it can do is to submit to them : to blend itself into the picture as unostentatiously as possible. And that is what “El Pomar” does.