Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Rocky Mountains
Author:
Stifel, Timothy
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

The Rocky Mountains, also known as the Rockies, are a range of mountains spanning thirty-two hundred miles from present-day Alaska to New Mexico. First brought to the attention of Europe by the sixteenth-century conquistador Coronado, these mountains became part of the American imagination through the tales of early nineteenth-century explorers. Several mountain peaks in the Rockies are over fourteen thousand feet high, and the entire region is noted for its varied and majestic landscapes.

Trappers and fur traders produced the first nonindigenous settlements in the Rockies during the first half of the nineteenth century, but the discovery of gold in Pike's Peak prompted a dramatic increase in the population. Once the gold deposits neared depletion, miners discovered silver. This discovery inaugurated a second, larger wave of population growth in the Rockies. Drawn by the stories of instant wealth to be found in the mountains, tourists traveled by the thousands to see the Rockies. Walt Whitman joined the ranks of these tourists when he, along with J.M.W. Geist, E.K. Martin, and William W. Reitzel, traveled to the Colorado Rockies in September of 1879. Despite his later claim that he had visited Leadville, a booming mining town, Whitman's visit to the Rockies was limited to the sights accessible by railroad; in 1879 the Denver, South Park, and Pacific Railroad ended at Guiraud—thirty-five miles short of Leadville. Whitman's visit to the Rocky Mountains came after he had written most of his poetry, but Whitman was impressed by both the beautiful terrain and the hardy population, and he saw in this region the "great naturalness and rugged power" he ascribed to his poems (qtd. in Eitner 83).

Bibliography

Eitner, Walter H. Walt Whitman's Western Jaunt. Lawrence: Regents Press of Kansas, 1981.

Ubbelohde, Carl, Maxine Benson, and Duane A. Smith. A Colorado History. 3rd ed. Boulder: Pruett, 1972.


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