HELEN HUNT JACKSON (H. H.) A TRIBUTE


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CARLYLE CHANNING DAVIS

The life of the author of Ramona might easily have been one long, glad-some summer day, the opposite of what to the world it ever seemed to be. Her earlier verse, as well as prose, may have reflected the sadness of younger years, but her Christian spirit and her artistic temperament finally enabled her to overcome a quite natural tendency to grieve over a fate none too kind, enabling her to enjoy to the full God's manifold blessings.

Left an orphan at twelve, bereft of her first husband after a decade of perfect wedded bliss, her only child taken from her two years later, and in the last fifteen months of her own life an almost helpless cripple, it is scarcely less than marvelous that she should ever wear that sweetest smile, that her eyes ever again should twinkle with the merriment they bespoke.

‘‘I am astonished when I review my mercies,


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and really feel as if all must have been arranged for my comfortable and respectable dying.’’ Thus she wrote on her death-bed, from which also emanated some of the most cheerful verses ever credited to her pen.

The personality of Helen Hunt Jackson was unique and fascinating. She was born and reared within the town of Amherst, Massachusetts. Her parents were Calvinistic, possessed of but a narrow vision of the world and unalterable standards of right and wrong; of that old class of religionists who commence on Saturday to prepare a sour and serious mien for Sunday.

Her father was Nathan Wiley Fiske, professor of philosophy at Amherst College.

Helen was born with an irresistible and irrepressible passion for nature. From her earliest childhood she was wont to steal away to the silence and solitude of the woods and fields. She yielded to the call of the wild. She was adventurous and prone to exploration. Her sentiments were vivacious and enlivening. Her nature was sympathetic and pliable. She loved ardently, but she could hate with satanic earnestness.

She displayed a keen sense of humor. She was brilliantly witty. She was an iconoclast:


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forms, ceremonies and customs were not laws to her.

Taken in , , a few months prior to her death.

HELEN HUNT JACKSON

From painting by , , .

HELEN HUNT JACKSON

From her first husband she bore the name of Hunt. Her early nom de plume was H. H.--Helen Hunt. Then from her second marriage came the added name of Jackson.

She was of the blonde type. Her eyes were gray. In stature she was small, gaining flesh in later years.

Her personality was irresistibly charming. She dressed daintily and neatly. Her attire, like her manners, had its individuality.

Colonel Higginson wrote of her: ‘‘To those who knew her best she was a person quite unique and utterly inexhaustible. She did not belong to a class, she left behind her no second, and neither memory nor fancy can restore her as she was, or fully reproduce, even for those who knew her best, that ardent and joyous personality.’’

At forty-two, after a decade of widowhood, she was driven to Colorado for relief from throat trouble, and took up her residence at Colorado Springs--‘‘City of Eternal Sunshine’’--destined to be her home to the end of her days. Colorado was good to her in every way. It gave to her renewed health. It provided a climate exactly adjusted to her


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requirements. It furnished an environment of mountain and plain and cañon that to her was a perennial delight. And it gave to her a husband, in the person of William Sharpless Jackson, ever congenial and worshipful, of whom any woman in the land might well feel proud. It also gave to her a home of inviting ease and luxury, the first real home the devoted woman ever had possessed.

Unfortunately these well-earned blessings came all too late. Mr. Jackson was a banker, financier, promoter, railway manager and man of affairs generally, with abundant longing for domestic enjoyment, yet with little leisure for its indulgence, while at the same time his talented consort, her soul stirred to its profoundest depths in the pursuit of a life's mission, was too much engrossed with its exactions to enjoy to the full, as otherwise she would have done, the comforts and the luxuries unlimited wealth provided in such lavishness.

Never before had Mrs. Jackson been free to spend money without considering the effect upon the domestic exchequer. Now her greatest enjoyment was in ministering to the sick and the afflicted, in providing for the wants of the needy, in relieving the ills of the unfortunate. This labor of love, together with her


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pen work, almost completely monopolized her time, and left little leisure for what are known distinctively as social duties and pleasures.

Her most prized diversion consisted of walks and rides through the near-by cañons and over the mountains; Cheyenne Mountain ever preferred; it was a trifle more remote, not nearly so accessible, hence much more exclusive, than other local attractions, albeit less frequented; circumstances that doubtless lent added zest to her ofttimes solitary excursions.

It was to Cheyenne Mountain that Mrs. Jackson wrote this apotheosis:

‘‘
By easy slope to west as if it had
No thought, when first its soaring was begun,
Except to look devoutly to the sun.
It rises and has risen, until glad,
With light as with a garment, it is clad,
Each dawn, before the tardy plains have won
One ray; and after day has long been done
For us, the light doth cling reluctant,
Sad to leave its brow.


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Beloved mountain, I
Thy worshiper as thou the sun's, each morn
My dawn, before the dawn, receive from thee;
And think, as thy rose-tinted peaks I see,
That thou wert great when Homer was not born.
And ere thou change all human song shall die!
’’

A ranchman at the foot of the mountain, near Seven Falls, cared for a burro belonging to Mrs. Jackson, and one of the greatest of her privileges consisted in riding this sure-footed, faithful beast up and down the cañon upon a summer afternoon.

‘‘Mrs. Jackson's Garden’’ is a name that yet attaches to a particular nook in Cheyenne Cañon, conspicuous for its wealth of wild flowers, which were especially dear to her.

Writing of Mrs. Jackson's domestic life at Colorado Springs, Susan Coolidge says: ‘‘It is not speaking too strongly to say that she reveled in it. Such a housekeeper as she grew to be is rarely seen. The spell of her enthusiasm affected her very servants. They were as much interested in her experiments and devices as herself, and even prouder of her successes. Colorado is a paradise for flower-lovers. From earliest spring to late autumn the ravines, the mountain sides and the mesas furnish a succession of delights. The wide-eyed anemones, fair as those which star the Boboli Gardens, give place in turn to the stately pentstemons, purple,


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pink and scarlet, royal yuccas, and yellow columbines with spikes seven feet high, thickets of white and crimson roses, Mariposa lilies, painter's brush, its lips dyed with fire. There is no interval. It is like a procession from fairyland. Colonel Higginson, in his interesting paper on Mrs. Jackson, speaks of her as once welcoming a friend with more than twenty different vases of magnificent wild flowers, each vase filled with a great sheaf of a single species. I can well believe it. Her writing-desk and her picture frames were always wreathed with the kinnikinnick vine, of which she was so fond, and which in leaf and fruitage is like a glorified cranberry. Add a snapping fire of piñon logs for cold days, wolf and fox skins on the polished floors--all the gatherings of her life--little treasures brought from foreign countries, curious china, plaster casts, sketches and water-colors, many of them the gift of their artists, books innumerable, all combined and arranged with her inimitable gift of taste, and it is easy to imagine the charm of the effect. It was truly a delightful home. Her little dinners were particularly pleasant, and her devices for adorning her table as inexhaustible as original. I remember a wreath of pansies of all colors arranged in narrow tins half an inch high and


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curving in shape, so as to form a garland around the whole table, and her saying that it took exactly four hundred and sixty-three pansies to fill them.’’

I enjoyed the acquaintance of Mrs. Jackson during almost the entire period of her residence at Colorado Springs, though never a house guest, nor did I ever enjoy the privilege of protracted companionship with her. So highly prized was the privilege of acquaintance that no business or other consideration was ever permitted to interfere when opportunity offered for meeting her at her home or elsewhere; and such opportunities were quite frequent.

The acquaintance began in Colorado before her marriage to Mr. Jackson, and continued to the end. I met her at various times in Denver, Manitou and Colorado Springs, and at her ideal home in the latter city was a frequent visitor from about 1876 to the date of her death, although much of the time she was absent in New York, Washington and in Southern California, in pursuit of a mission that obsessed her.

The Indian question was ever uppermost in her mind, and it is questionable if any other topic introduced, upon the occasion of those


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visits to her home, engaged her serious thought or attention.

Local conditions seemed to conspire against her, and in view of them it is not remarkable that Mrs. Jackson should have been deprived of the sympathy and support of her friends and neighbors. She was scarcely located in Colorado when the citizen soldiery of the capital was called out to defend it from anticipated attacks by the Arapahoes and Cheyennes. In 1879 occurred the Thornberg massacre, the murder of Agent Meeker and the capture of his wife and daughter by Chief Ouray's band of Utes, events that agitated the Territory and the State as nothing before or since has done.

Sympathy with her at the time was not to be expected; but interest in her work, and in the enthusiasm displayed in it, was simply impelling. She wouldn't let us talk about anything else. Her relation of experiences among the Mission Indians of California was of thrilling interest, albeit comprehension of the import of it all was not easy.

Of far greater concern to me was the announced purpose of Mrs. Jackson to tell the story in the form of a romance. This was in 1883, after her return from California. That at


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once appealed to my imagination, and I readily recalled the outline she gave of it when, a few years later, I came to Southern California and became acquainted with a number of its real characters.

My wife had for more than a year been a member of the household of the eldest son of the mistress of Camulos ranch--Ramona's home--Ex-State Senator R. F. del Valle, and well knew his mother, Doña Ysabel del Valle, his sister, Mrs. Josefa Forster, and two brothers, Ignacio and Ulpiano. She had, indeed, been present at the birth of Lucretia Louise del Valle, at this writing just returned with her distinguished father, Senator del Valle, from a mission of peace to the warring factions in Old Mexico, sent as the special representative of the Secretary of State, W. J. Bryan. She not only knew these personages most intimately, but had spent varying periods at Camulos ranch, and every scene there recalling Ramona and Alessandro was familiar to her. Doña Mariana de Coronel, the intimate friend of Mrs. Jackson, also was an old acquaintance. Hence my interest in Ramona became especially enlivened.

Unfortunately, I did not at the time share in Mrs. Jackson's sympathy for the Indian to any


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great extent, nor did I possess the clarity of vision essential to a correct understanding of the Indian question, as it presented itself to her. As stated in the body of this volume, Mrs. Jackson enjoyed something of a monopoly of her views, and was quite without a genuine sympathizer with her work in the entire State of Colorado. My ignorance of the real merits of the controversy was neither greater nor less than that entertained by the average citizen. Mrs. Jackson might turn on ever so many sidelights, yet the feeling in Colorado at the time was almost universal that the only good Indian was the dead Indian.

We had not read to full purpose A Century of Dishonor; we looked upon Ramona and Alessandro and Father Salvierderra as beautiful characters, but we didn't look toward Temecula We only thought of the Arapahoes and Cheyennes stealing upon Denver in the silence of night, with murderous intent. We looked away from Pechanga. We harped upon Father Meeker; but we never permitted ourselves to dwell upon the atrocious outrages committed and being committed by the white man on the Indians all over the San Jacinto Mountains! Ignorance and cowardice and hate had made savages of the whites, and


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left Helen Hunt Jackson to fight the battle alone.

She died at San Francisco, August 12, 1885, in her fifty-fourth year.

Well may we marvel at her courage, her patience, her perseverance and her unyielding zeal. Well may we, with Susan Coolidge, wonder:

‘‘
What was she most like? Was she like the wind
Fresh always and untired, intent to find
New fields to penetrate, new heights to gain;
Scattering all mists with sudden, radiant wing;
Stirring the languid pulses; quickening
The apathetic mood, the weary brain?
Or was she like the sun, whose gift of cheer
Endureth for all seasons of the year,
Alike in winter's cold or summer's heat?
Or like the sea, which brings its gifts from far,
And still, wherever want and straitness are,
Lays down a sudden largess at their feet?


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Or was she like a wood, where light and shade,
And sound and silence, mingle unafraid;
Where mosses cluster, and, in coverts dark,
Shy blossoms court the brief and wandering air,
Mysteriously sweet; and here and there
A firefly flashes like a sudden spark?
Or like a willful brook, which laughs and leaps
All unexpectedly, and never keeps
The course predicted, as it seaward flows?
Or like a stream-fed river, brimming high?
Or like a fruit, where those who love descry
A pungent charm no other flavor knows?
I cannot find her type; in her were blent
Each varied and each fortunate element
Which could combine, with something all her own--
Sadness and mirthfulness, a chorded strain,
The tender heart, the keen and searching brain,
The social zest, the power to live alone.
Comrade of comrades--giving man the slip
To seek in Nature truest comradeship,
Tenacity and impulse ruled her fate,
This grasping firmly what that flashed to feel--
The velvet scabbard and the sword of steel,
The gift to strongly love, to frankly hate!


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Patience as strong as was her hopefulness;
A joy in living which grew never less
As years went on and age grew gravely nigh;
Visions which pierced the veiling mists of pain,
And saw beyond the mortal shadows plain
The eternal day dawn broadening in the sky;
The love of Doing, and the scorn of Done;
The playful fancy, which, like glinting sun,
No chill could daunt, no loneliness could smother.
Upon her ardent pulse Death's chillness lies;
Closed the brave lips, the merry, questioning eyes.
She was herself. There is not such another.
’’

THE GRAVE OF HELEN HUNT JACKSON ON THE SLOPES OF CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN, COLORADO

DON ANTONIO DE CORONEL, IN NAVACANA SUIT, 1886

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