It is a far cry to you of the year 2000: may my ink be black enough to bridge the space!
My object is to give you some idea of life in the early days of our town so I am frankly personal. In the fall of 1878, the effects of an upset while sailing banished me to Colorado. I was a musician with plans to study in Germany so of course I felt that my life was practically ended. This idea was strengthened when I arrived in Colorado Springs and found the condition of affairs musical. The town was young, had 2000 inhabitants, and tho' the people were for the most part refined and cultivated, there was almost no music of any kind in town.
The few churches had reed organs and depended chiefly on congregational singing. There were no violin or piano players and but one singer, Madame Rita, whose husband, as a reward for beating his wife, was treated to a horse whipping administered by the "best citizens". This incident gave a tint of excitement to several days.
Soon after my arrival, I became organist of Grace church but was too ill to keep it up long. I recollect that after one service the senior warden and the minister rummaged the church for communion wine to give me.
That winter was the most dreadful one I have ever known in Colorado. It began to snow on the 15th of Dec. and we had a time-3 feet of snow with a crust was what we had to put up with. The ground was covered for nine weeks and thousands of cattle died. Mr. Douglas with whom I boarded found 36 of his, dead in one bunch.
We had been taught to believe that Colorado had an Italian climate and the houses were very loosely constructed. Life in our boarding house that winter was anything but comfortable with 12 invalids for companions. In the early days many people came west too late to be helped, and our house had its full share of these unfortunates. The nine I met at my first meal were all dead in a little over a year.
That winter had another excitement in an Indian scare which drove many ranchmen to town. This was the means of my meeting Chas Thurlow and his bride. I mention this burly gentleman because he is one of our prominent citizens, and as he has 6 children there must be Thurlows in Colorado when this reaches you.
About this time I heard Col. Chivington give his account of the Sand Creek massacre, in which 700 Indians were wiped out by a detachment of U.S. soldiers. His idea was that the only good Indian is a dead Indian. This was the opinion of many besides the worthy colonel.
"Pinafore" was epidemic that year and we were in luck to hear this most delightful of all comic operas given by a church choir company from Denver.
The next year Mrs. Bass, afterward wife of Senator E.O. Wolcott, and I started a club that after several phases merged into the "Colorado Springs Musical Club" which has done so much toward developing a taste for music in our city. At first our musicales were musical teas held at the houses of the club members, and the tea and conversation frequently overbalanced the music, but nous avons changé tout cela.
In 1880 I had regained my health so far that I bought a few head of cattle, moved my piano and belongings to a cabin I had built near Manitou Park and began the life of a cowboy. Of course I was something of an imitation and must have been a sight with my "schapps", deer skin jacket, flaunting red necktie, sombrero, and big flapping Mexican saddle. But in time I became the real thing to a certain extent, and could kill, skin and dress a "critter" with infinite grace, tho' during such times I must confess that I ate my food with a toasting fork 15 inches long for obvious reasons.
With all this, my music went on in a desultory way. I studied Bach, Beethoven and Chopin, and incidentally gained huge fame among the cowboys, who accepted me as a perfect equal, not because of my riding which was poor, but because I "could play the piano and make real bread, you bet." To show what I've just written is true talk, I give examples of some of the compliments I received.
In a buying trip my partner and myself stopped for 3 days with a ranchman named Green, down Canon City way. As I entered the house I discovered a reed organ. In ten seconds I was improvising at a terrific rate. The family stood round in openmouthed delight and only left me when I stopped from want of breath. That night while we were at supper, wagons, buckboards, saddle horses drove into the enclosure, and people big and little were ushered into the "front room".
"What is it," said I, "a party?"
Well you see," my host stammered-then a pause-a-this blurted out, "they've come to hear you play." I was in for it and did my best, with an audience standing round the sides of the room, like guests at a funeral, solemn, silent, no applause or suggestion of pleasure. I felt that it was a failure. But when I looked at their faces I saw that their silence was like that of those who "stood silent on a peak in Darien." It was very funny. The next morning as we left for home, Mr. Green accompanied us to the big gate a mile or so from the house. As he got off his horse to open the gate, he came over to me and putting his hand on my knee, said "Mr. Pearson, you don't want to stay with us a couple of months or so? It won't cost you a cent."
Another cowboy after hearing me improvise, illustrating a horse-breaking exhibition he had just given us, exclaimed in a funny tone as tho' he was very much surprised and a little vexed, that such things could be, "Why, you can play as well as I can ride"-which wasn't true, but was a good deal of a compliment considering the enormous pride he had in his horsemanship.
He was a boy when the town was laid out, and while herding cattle one day on the bottom west of the college, his companion was shot and scalped by a party of red-skins who swept out of a gulch in the mesa just opposite.
But the compliment I valued most was received under the following circumstances. During one of our annual round-ups in Manitou Park, the outfit camped at our ranch, preparatory to "doing" the "Big Gulch" the next day. In the party were several college-bred men, and many others of more or less education. So I got up a smoking concert, which was a great, yes I might say a howling success.
The next year we had a local round-up in April for the purpose of getting in weak cows, after a very severe winter. One night as we were seated around the fire, one of the boys suddenly jumped to his feet, knocked the ashes out of his corn-cob, and startled the company by saying, "Pearson gave us an entertainment last year, now we'll show him what we can do! So come on!" In less time than it takes to write it all the saddle blankets were thrown on a pile of logs. I was almost tossed onto the improvised seat and the fun began. I had a fine program of wrestling, tumbling, leap-frog jumping etc., and felt as proud as a king. We even had a clown, for "Loco Bill", a clumsy loon, was cleverly induced by Frank, the leader of the frolic, to imitate every thing done by the others, to our huge content. One of the fellows-he called himself "a Texan thorough-bred and no mistake"-was new to the neighborhood, and sizing me up from my riding had made me uncomfortable for a week by his jeers and impudence generally. He did his "stunt" in the circus, but evidently thought it "damn nonsense".
The next day we passed our home ranch. So I had the party come to the house for dinner. After our meal was over, I played to the boys but devoted most of my attention to the "thoroughbred" with this result. As we saddled for our afternoon drive, he came to me and asked in the most respectful manner if I would ride with him. I assented with an inward grin for I saw I had landed my fish. Then came this compliment, "Mr. Pearson, if you could only punch cows as well as you can play the piano, you would be a bass-[ass] no. 1 cowpuncher." All this delivered solemnly, impressively, and with the air of "but one thing thou lackest."
One delightful episode of my cowboy life was hearing Joseffy the pianist, in the new Opera House, after a dreadful week of butchering calves. It was a heavenly evening. His touch is wonderfully smooth. He has since become very famous both as a player and teacher. Soon after I met and heard Remenyi, a violinist of more genius than study, an artist by the grace of God, and a pig by instinct.
In 1882 I married and gave up my ranch life.
After three years I found Colorado Springs much changed. Life had begun to take on conventional and duller tints. A blue flannel shirt was no longer admissible, antelopes could no longer be seen on the horizon east. Streetcars were talked of, and the town had a water system. Evidently a distinct step forward.
But the old days were very pleasant.
Albert C. Pearson
July 31, 1901
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maintained by Special Collections; last revised 10-01, jr