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Searching for the West

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Rose Georgina Kingsley experienced the rare opportunity of travel from England to America in “the Autumn of 1871.”

John Howson, the Dean of Chester Cathedral, had been invited to speak to the Episcopal Church Convention of the United States in Baltimore. Knowing that Miss Kingsley’s brother was in Colorado Springs, the Dean invited her to travel with his family on their voyage across the sea from Liverpool to New York.

Being the daughter of the Rev. Charles Kingsley, the celebrated clergy and novelist, she quite naturally wrote a book chronicling her travels. South by West, or Winter in the Rocky Mountains and Spring in Mexico is a fascinating read and as one can tell from the title her travels were far more extensive than a familial visit with her brother in Colorado.

She left Liverpool Sept. 22, 1871, and Sunday morning, Oct. 1, the shores of the New World were sighted.

For the next several weeks the entourage enjoyed a wonderful tour of New York and Jersey City, Niagara, Toronto, and West Point before reaching Baltimore on Oct. 18. Several days were spent attending the convention at Emanuel Church and seeing the sights of Baltimore.

An unfortunate practice for authors of the time leaves the reader wondering who she is speaking of.

On the 24th, “Mr. B,” drove Miss Kingsley to the depot and put her “into Mr. S’s hands.” Mr. S. would be her escort to Colorado. She bid farewell to Baltimore and was “fairly launched” on her way to the “unknown West.” After two days travel, Miss Kingsley noted that the country grew more level as the train approached St. Louis. There were some bluffs rising out of the alluvial bottoms formed over many millennia by the Mississippi River. She supposed the bluffs represented the ancient banks where the river had once flowed.

A half-dozen “mounds” also stood mysteriously above the wide river bottom. Kingsley related that the mounds were believed to be Indian burying-places. They were, in fact, what is known today as the Cahokia Mounds, a collection of pre-Columbian settlements from approximately a thousand years ago. The collection of mounds is estimated to have had a population of from 10 to 20,000 people, equal to many European cities at that time.

A few miles further brought her to the Mississippi River where the passengers were obliged to take a ferryboat across the “Father of Waters.”

Everyone left the cars to board six huge omnibuses, each pulled by four magnificent horses. The omnibuses pulled onto the ferry-boat as the horses stood side by side like statues while being carried over the river.

She confessed a feeling of disappointment at the sight of “a horrible peasoup” colored river, covered by steam ships navigating the river. A large unfinished bridge added to the unattractive appearance, leading to the equally unattractive “rather dingy” city of St. Louis.

“Its broad wharves or ‘levees,’ and long rows of tall warehouses” offered her a first look at the “rough and ready fashion of the West.”

They drove “at a great pace” through muddy streets until, at last he hotel was reached. There they had planned to rest for a few hours before boarding the train to continue their westward journey. Before reaching the Missouri Pacific depot a small stock of provisions was purchased in local stores for their trip across the plains, Soon they were once again “steaming away towards the setting sun.”

Being west of the Mississippi River brought a great sense of adventure. The “West” loomed before her, and as Westerners believed it was “enchanted ground to which, if you have once set foot upon it, you must sooner or later return.” The feeling, was called “Mustang fever.”

Writing of her experiences three years after the fact, Miss Kingsley was certain she had “wholly escaped the contagion.” Although as the train steamed alongside the Missouri River on that moonlit October night, she recalled feeling entranced by the illuminated tree-lined banks and the river “clear and sharp in the smooth water.” The scene reminded her of a “charming old steel engraving.” Late into the night she reluctantly “packed up” and went to sleep.

When she awoke, a perfect specimen of a “mushroom town” greeted her through the car window. Imagining she was out on the plains; she could not contain her excitement. “Only one night more and we shall be at Denver!”

But to her dismay the news came that she and her escort had boarded the wrong train. Instead of passing through to Denver, this train went no further than their present location, Kansas City. A through train to Denver would not be available for 14 hours. The wait would try her patience, as ours must similarly be tested. For we must wait until next week to rejoin Rose Georgina Kingsley as she rumbles across the plains on The Way West.

“The Cowboy,” Jim Gray is author of the book Desperate Seed: Ellsworth Kansas on the Violent Frontier, Ellsworth, KS. Contact Kansas Cowboy, 220 21st Road, Geneseo, Kan. Phone: (785) 531-2058 or