As we begin to explore more of the history of Scots in America we open a new chapter out west. What an exciting, complex, troubling and beautiful story. From the Mackenzies following trade inward from the Pacific Northwest to the Scots defenders of the Alamo the American west has drawn Scots in serious numbers. Their stories are diverse as they came for an equally wide range of reasons on many different missions.
Perhaps more than anywhere else in America, the Scots who came way out West defined their world in ways that are still quite evident today. For western Scots in the 19th and early 20th centuries it was all about the land. Who owned it, who used it, who fenced it, who exploited it and who protected it.
John Muir was one of the most influential of these western Scots. Lady Isabella Bird was one of the most eloquent, curious, feisty and entertaining. As a wee backgrounder to begin our WSBC Topic Scots In The West, we pair these two western explorers with Scottish roots and let them introduce their remarkable 19th century western landscape in their own words.
A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains,
by Isabella Bird
These are the descriptive letters, written in 1873, by Isabella Bird, a courageous and spirited British woman living in Edinburgh, recounting for her sister her adventures on horseback over 800 miles of American wilderness. Lady Bird’s setting is the imposing and wild landscapes of the Colorado mountains. For those of you who know the Longs Peak Scottish Festival in Estes Park you will recognize many of the scenes that Lady Bird describes as they existed before the turn of the 20th Century. It was a wild and unsettled place in those days and Lady Isabella Bird has a lovely way of telling her amazing tale.
Our recommendation is read anything and everything by John Muir and you will likely enjoy it. For the book club however, lets take a particularly close look at the three works referenced above. The first, The Story Of My Boyhood and Youth is Muir’s unfinished autobiography and traces his boyhood in Dunbar, Scotland and in the American midwest after his family emigrated. Stickeen is a short tale of Muir and a wee dug and a particularly adventurous walk they take together along an Alaskan glacier. Finally, check out Muir’s description of America’s national treasure The Grand Canyon of the Colorado before the wild Colorado River was harnessed by dams, tourists and water projects.
So There You Have It!
The next WSBC Topic and the first reads. Time to open a few new books. Now, we are delighted to announce that the first Scots In The West Video Hangout will convene on Friday, April 17th as part of COSCA’s 4th Annual Scottish Caucus at Historic Rural Hill, North Carolina. As usual, we will live stream and record the Scots In The West Hangout. More details coming. It’s going to be a good one. Stay tuned!