Trip up Grays Peak with Alfred Russel Wallace, by Alice Eastwood
Commentary & transcription by Christine Chua, Jan. 2024
Wallace was on a lecture tour of the American states when he arrived in Denver, Colorado in May 1887. Having a few hours to spare, he visited a local high school to enquire about a guide. He was keen to explore the region’s flora after his lecture tour. He was introduced to Alice Eastwood, a self-taught botanist who worked as a teacher in the high school. Wallace expressed his wish to explore the flora of the region and arranged with Alice to be his guide when he returned from his tour. He returned in July and they travelled into the Rocky Mountains together. Although the excursion was only over a few days, they formed a lifelong friendship. The details of the whole adventure are fascinating and appear not to have been published before.
In Alice’s essay, she observed that Wallace was enchanted by the alpine flowers and he told her they reminded him of his honeymoon in the alps.1 She also recollected,
“it was a glorious adventure and I appreciated the opportunity of being with one of the famous men of the world. I had read his Malay Archipelago2 with delight and knew all about his generous deference to Darwin. One of the miners had read his “Island Life.”3 Later he sent me a copy of that work and his photograph.”
Alice visited England in 1911 and stayed a night at The Orchard (Broadstone, Dorset) with the Wallaces. She recalled how proud Wallace was of the primroses in his garden. She concluded the essay,
“My love for flowers and the joy of seeing new ones in many trips of exploration have made my life a very happy one. The delightful and interesting people whom I have met have added to the happiness.”
Alice had apparently forgotten to pack her overshoes when she left the Wallaces. Wallace’s daughter Violet and her exchanged a few letters concerning the object and other friendly matters.4
Wallace reminisced about their travels in his autobiography My Life5, vol. 2, pp. 180-184,
“The next day (Monday, July 18) I went on to Denver, and arranged with Miss Eastwood, whom I had met in May, to go to Graymount, the nearest station to Gray's Peak, for a few days' botanizing. Starting at eight the next morning, we went up very picturesque valleys to the mining settlement of Georgetown (eight thousand five hundred feet), and thence on to Graymount, eight miles further, in which distance we ascended 1170 feet." (pp. 180-181)
"The next morning we walked up to the top of Gray's Peak (14,340 feet), one of the highest in the Rocky Mountains. On this side the ascent was very easy, over grassy slopes interspersed with streams of loose stone fragments, everywhere dotted with interesting alpine plants." (p. 182)
"Our table and benches were of rough planks, but they were covered with a clean table-cloth, and our hosts gave us a most excellent dinner of soup, stew, fruit, and cheese, with very good coffee. In these camps they always get a good cook." (p. 183)
"The next morning, after gathering a few more choice plants to send home to England, we bade farewell to our kind friends the miners, walked down to Graymount and took the train to Denver, noticing many fine plants on the way, as well as the grand precipices of Clear Creek canon, where the strata are seen to have been " twisted and tortured into indescribable forms," as I noted in my journal.” (p. 184)
This brings me to mention a curious observation by Roger L. Williams who wrote A region of astonishing beauty6, p. 150,
“The field trip had obviously given Wallace great pleasure. … Yet, she goes unmentioned in his memoirs from the moment they set out for Georgetown; so that we are deprived of his impressions of her.”
While it is true Wallace had not talked about Alice particularly, he did write at length about their excursion.
Eastwood Chronology copied from Online Archive of California.7
1859 Born in Toronto, Ontario, to Colin Skinner Eastwood and Eliza Jane Gowdey Eastwood
1879 Graduates as valedictorian from Shawa Convent Catholic High School
1891 Moves to California as herbarium assistant to Mrs. Katherine Brandegee
1892 Appointed Joint Curator of Botany (with Katherine Brandegee) at the California Academy of Sciences
1895 Becomes Curator and Head of the Department of Botany
1906 Saves 1,497 California Academy of Sciences botany specimens from the San Francisco fire
1914 Expedition to Alaska
1917 Elected life member of California Academy of Sciences
1942 Elected Honorary member of California Academy of Sciences
1950 Serves as Honorary President of the VIIth International Botanical Congress in Sweden
1953 Dies in San Francisco
- Wallace married Annie Mitten in 1866. They spent the month of June 1867 in Switzerland.
- Wallace, A. R. 1869. The Malay Archipelago: the land of the orang-utan, and the bird of paradise. 2 vols. London, Macmillan and Co.
- Wallace, A. R. 1880. Island Life: or, the phenomena and causes of insular faunas and floras, including a revision and attempted solution of the problem of geological climates. London: Macmillan & Co.
- "WCP6879,” in Beccaloni, G. W. (ed.), Ɛpsilon: The Alfred Russel Wallace Collection.
- Wallace, A. R. 1905. My Life, a record of events and opinions. London: Chapman & Hall.
- William, Roger L. 2003. A region of astonishing beauty: The Botanical Exploration of the Rocky Mountains. Roberts Rinehart Publishers.
- Online Archive of California (OAC
Manuscript written by Alice Eastwood entitled, "Trip up Grays Peak with Alfred Russel Wallace". WCP3972.3913
Typed and in book
Trip up Grays Peak with Alfred Russel Wallace.
In Colorado, after I began to teach, I spent all my vacations studying the plants of the state and collecting them especially in the height high mountains. My only books were Coulter’s Manual of Rocky Mountain Botany and Parry & Porters Flora of Colorado. Between the two I had become acquainted with the characteristics and identity of the flowers of the state and especially of the mountains. especially.
When Dr. Alfred Russell Wallace came stopped in Denver on his way to Calif. he learned that I was the only one who could identify the flowers in the high mountains and we made arrangements that when he returned from California I should accompany him on a trip up Grays Pk. which I had ascended in the early 1880’s. The alpine flowers are almost the same on all the alpine regions of the Rocky Mts.
We took the train & Graymount, the end of the line and stopped at the only hotel. The following day we started up the road to the Silver Plume mine to see what arrangements could be made for the night as Dr. Wallace wanted to make the ascent on foot and to do it in one day from Graymount was not possible.
The Silver Plume mine is just below timber lines and the trip could be made from there.
The prospect was not a pleasant one but we were both willing to accept any arrangements so if he would bunk with the miners and I would sleep with the landlady’s children we could spend the night there.
On the way down back to the hotel we met Mr. James West who had charge of a mine owned by in English company of Grizzly Gulch near the foot of the peak and he eagerly invited us to accept his hospitality. Above timber line they also had a small shed, temporary shelter for a miner and it was proposed that we walk to this shed and spend the night there even if we had to sleep on the floor. Nothing daunted us so the following morn day accompanied by Mr. West we started for the little cabin. The miner had gone for provisions and it was expected that with them he would bring up a few some of our baggage. For some reason he didn’t come and the there was nothing in the cupboard but a bacon rind, some flour and coffee. The shed was really very small. The men put up a blanket suspended from the roof & separate my sleeping quarters from theirs and the two mattresses almost covered the floor. There were blankets so we were not cold. At that time I could sleep under any circumstances.
In the morning I made pancakes, greasing the pan with the bacon rind and made coffee. There was no canned milk or sugar and we had no toilet accessories such as comb tooth brush or even a towell. Mr. West did not make the ascent but left for Grizzly Gulch giving us no directions how to take a trail back that was a short cut. While Dr. Wallace started ahead of me as he knew that I could catch up with him, I tried to clean up the place a little and wash the dirty towels.
It was one of the finest days that I have ever experienced on a mountain peak. The air was so clear that mountains hundreds of miles away could be seen among them the Mount of the Holy Cross from which one arm of the cross had been melted. The cross is formed by three gullies in w which meet and in which the snow remains sometimes all summer. The flowers were at their best and so lovely to the very top, mats of red-white & blue formed by the blue forget-me-not the pink silene and a tiny white-flowered arenaria columbines, indian paint-brushes, clovers, saxifrages, [peurleinous]
were all in bloom. He was enchanted and reminded of his honey moon trip in the alps. We came back to the little shed still empty and started down the trail to Grizzly Gulch. We lost the trail and came down the mountain side where fallen timber everywhere covered the ground. I was hampered by my press and not long skirt and jumping over these logs made progress slow. It was almost dark when we reached the cabins at Grizzly Gulch. Our quarters here seemed palatial. Mr. West insisted that Dr. Wallace wear his long jaeger nightgown. Our baggage had been brought to the camp so that at last I was able to wash my face and hands and comb my hair and have a bed comparatively comfortable in a room by myself. The alpine flowers up at the head of Grizzly Gulch were wonderful. It seemed to me that all the alpine species growing in Colorado were there.
The alpine primroses with their rich rose colored flowers, several species of Pedicularis, lovely alpine clovers, the beautiful, blue columbine, different shades of indian paint brushes, valerian etc etc.
It. The alpine flora of Colorado is so rich in variety and color. It was entrancing. We were there two or three days exploring and I was able to make a good collection. Dr. Wallace dug up some plants to send to Miss Jekyl by mail. I never heard whether they reached her alive and always doubted it. Now, they could be sent by air and be sure of success.
For me it was a glorious adventure and I appreciated the opportunity of being with one of the famous men of the world. I had read his Malay Archipelago with delight and knew all about his generous deference to Darwin. One of the miners had read his “Island Life.” Later he sent me a copy of that work and his photograph.
When I was in England in 1911, I went to see him at his home in the south of England and spent the night there. At that time he was very proud of the his primroses in his garden which were some of the new and rare species brought to England by Reginald Farrer.
Our interest in the flowers and the scenery engrossed our attention and we did not discuss any of the social or political problems in which I later learned he was interested.
I believe that he was in his sixties at the time and I was in my twenties. My love for flowers and the joy of seeing new ones in many trips of exploration have made my life a very happy one. The delightful and interesting people whom I have met have added to the happiness.