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Helen Hunt Jackson, Katharine Lee Bates, Dorothea Thompson and others can give you a real taste of history.
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Saturday, May 21, 2011

William Sharpless Jackson

William Sharpless Jackson: A Forgotten Founder

Jackson is most remembered as the husband of Helen Hunt Jackson, the author from the 1800's who wrote Ramona among so many other works. Jackson was that but so much more that has been lost though time.

Born in Pennsylvania to Caleb S Jackson and Mary Ann Gause Jackson. His parents were involved in the Underground Railway, their home being a stop on that historic line, in Kennett Square, Chester County, Pennsylvania. His parents were also Quakers, the faith that William Jackson Palmer, one of the founders of Colorado Springs, also belonged to.

Jackson received his education in Pennsylvania at the Greenwood Dell and Eaton Academies and then went on to learn the trade of machinist. After returning to school at the Eaton Academy he was offered a position of clerk and business manager at the firm he was working at as a machinist. His rise was rather quick after this point.

He had a partnership with a car building and lumber business in Pennsylvania. He later took a position as a treasurer with the Lake Superior and Mississippi railroad being build in Minnesota, where he lived in St. Paul until moving to Denver.

The move to Denver was precipitated by the job Jackson took with the Denver and Rio Grande railroad. (D&RG) Jackson had been elected as treasurer of the new company. Shortly after taking on his new duties, Jackson moved to Colorado Springs where he remained until his death.

As a member of the bachelors club, when he married Helen [ in1875 ] the secretary of that organization wrote “W. S. Jackson has left the noble bank of Bachelorhood and joined the soothing one of matrimony. His name is hereby stricken from the rolls. A bill for back dues has been sent.” This ended his membership in the Bachelors Club.

Jackson left the D&RG in 1878 to pursue his other interest one of which was the founding of the El Paso Bank. What made this pursuit unique for Colorado Springs is the fact that he started the bank at the height of the financial crisis of 1873. His bank was a success due in part to the abilities of its founders.

IN 1884 when the D&RG went into receivership, Jackson was appointed to oversee the process. As a result of his foresight and business savvy, when the company was returned after reorganization the companies equipment was a top shape and the treasury had $1,000,000 in its coffers.

Throughout his life Jackson's ability in the area of finance was one of his greatest gifts to Colorado, Colorado Springs and the Pikes Peak Region. Yes, he was married to Helen Hunt Jackson, and by all accounts it was a union of love and respect, but William Sharpless Jackson was so much more. He was a member of the El Paso Club, was on the board for the Colorado Springs Summer School, a charter member of Colorado Colleges Board of Trustees. This is the same institution to which he left many letters from both himself and Helen. A treasure trove for researches from yesterday and today.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Down to Sleep

On December 13, 1873 the following poem appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette:

Down to Sleep

November woods are bare and still;

November days are clear and bright;

Each noon burns up the morning's chill;

The morning's snow is gone by night;

Each day my steps grow slow, grow light,

As through the woods I reverent creep,

Watching all things lie 'down to sleep.”

I never knew before what beds,

Fragrant to smell, and soft to touch,

The forest sifts and shapes and spreads;

I never knew before how much

Of human sound there is in such

Low tones as through the forest sweep

When all wild things lie “down to sleep.”

Each day I find new coverlids

Tucked in, and more sweet eyes shut tight;

Sometimes the view less mother bids

Her ferns kneel down, full in my sight;

I hear their chorus of “good night;”

And half I smile, and half I weep

Listening while they lie “down to sleep.”

November woods are bare and still;

November days are bright and good;

Life's moon burns up Life's morning chill;

Life's night rest feet which long have stood

Some warm soft bed, in field or wood,

The mother will not fail to keep,

Where we can lay us “down to sleep.”


This poem later appeared in the book “Poems by Helen Jackson” Little Brown and Co 1906.

In the Ruth Odell bibliography section of the biography she indicates the above poem was in the manuscripts but had not been published in a newspaper or magazine. This error in information possibly was due to the fact that a majority of Helen's works were published in the New York Independent, Scribners and other East Coast publications. I find it interesting that it appeared in the Colorado Springs paper approximately six weeks after her arrival in that city.

As you read you can hear the author's voice and her feelings about having come to this town at the advice of her doctors. Her health had taken a turn for the worst in 1873 and she could not seem to shake the persistent sore throat and cough. In her essay about her arrival here, you can read how she had not liked the area, that it was not sunny, dry and warm as she had been lead to believe. Of course if you back the dates up you realize she arrived near the end of October or beginning of November.

As I read, I hear the love of nature and the peace it brought to her. In some ways it feels like Helen herself is preparing to “lie down to sleep.” Fortunately Helen began to recover her health while residing here. In many ways her move to Colorado Springs was another turning point in her eventful life. There had been many changes prior to the move and there were still a number left. This poem, however, seems to beautifully tell the state of Helen's mind at the latter part of 1873.

Copyright 2010 by Doris A McCraw

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

Glimpses: Helen Hunt Jackson

Glimpses, a poem by Helen Hunt Jackson

commentary by Doris McCraw



As when on some great mountain-peak we stand,

In breathless awe beneath its dome of sky,

Whose multiplied horizons seem to lie

Beyond the bounds of earthly sea and land,

We find the circles space to vast, too grand,

And soothe our thoughts with restful memory

Of sudden sunlit glimpses we passed by

Too quickly, in our feverish demand

To reach the height,--

So darling, when the brink

Of highest heaven we reach at last, I think

Even that great gladness will grow yet more glad,

As we, with eyes that are no longer sad,

Look back, while Life's horizons slowly sink,

To some swift moments which on earth we had.

From the book Poems by Helen Jackson

Little Brown and Company 1908

First appearance in publication September 19, 1872, New York Independent

One thing I love about the poetry of Helen Hunt Jackson is the musicality it has when read aloud. Not read as one usually reads poetry, with the breaks and breaths at the end of the line, but read as prose. If you read this poem aloud, pausing at commas or reading through the complete thoughts the true beauty of this piece comes through. When you read this piece, read it through more than once to get the feel for what Helen is trying to say. Try different combinations of breathes and thought combining. The beauty is, each time something different arises out of the different combinations. I believe that true poetry never has the same story, same meaning twice. You can read it at different times and it will touch a different chord each time you go through the poem.

Sometimes when I am reading, I try to hear the voice of favorite actor or singer saying the words. Then of course I try using different voices or even singing the words. It is a way to keep learning, hearing and understanding.

As you read this or any poetry, keep and open mind and heart. Helen was favorably compared to many of the poets of her time. According to stories, she was actually considered the best, male or female. I always found it interesting that Helen was so popular during her lifetime. It was so much so that she able to make a living as a writer. Emily Dickinson, from her childhood in Amherst, on the other hand, did not become popular until her death. Now the tables have turned and Emily is the more well know of the two. Each had their own style, and each wrote beautiful pieces of work.

There is a story that Helen wanted Emily to publish her work. Emily did not want to do so. Helen persisted and there is an anonymous poem written by Emily that Helen had a hand in getting published. (According to the story.) It is even said that Helen suggested that Emily make her the executor of the poems so that she could make sure they were published in case of Emily’s death. Unfortunately Helen preceded Emily in death.

The next time you are looking for something do to, search online for some of Helen's poetry, or better yet, find a book of her poems, and start reading. To me the gift of the poet, and for me that is Helen, is the joy of finding something new every time I read their work. The real gift is finding something new each time you read the poem. Give poetry, especially Helen’s, a try. It never hurts to give something new and different a chance. Reading the older writers doesn’t make it good or bad, it is what you receive from the gift of the author. To me that is why poetry will never grow old.


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Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Many Names of Helen Hunt Jackson

The Many Names of Helen Hunt Jackson

by Doris A McCraw

The author that most of us know as Helen Hunt Jackson was a combination of names that she never used in her lifetime. She was born Helen Maria Fiske in 1830. She carried this name until her marriage to Edward Bissell Hunt on October 28, 1852. At that time, as was the custom, she assumed her husbands surname. It was not until after Edward’s death and Helen started writing that we begin to see use of the many names now associated with Helen Hunt Jackson.

One of the first pseudonyms that Helen used was the name Marah. According to her bibliography in the book Helen Hunt Jackson by Ruth Odell, the name Marah was used starting in 1865 with the first poems published by Helen and continued during that year. Also in 1865 H.H. appeared.

H.H. was probably the ‘name’ used most frequently by Helen. In all of her works H. H. is the one that appears most frequently. Still not one to sit by Helen also used others.

In 1867 and again in 1868 Helen made use of the name Rip Van Winkle for a couple of her prose works.

Helen briefly used Helen Hunt and Mrs. Helen Hunt in 1868 and Marah showed up again in 1870. If you were to track Helen’s poems, and prose the majority are under the ‘name’ H. H. There is also one instance where she used the name 'Justice'.

After her marriage to William S. Jackson in 1875, Helen then used the name Helen Jackson in her correspondence but continued using H. H. in her writings.

For her novels Helen used H. H., No Name, and Saxe Holm. If you were to read her ‘romance’ stories they would probably be written by Saxe Holm. For many years there was a question as to who the author really was, for Helen had made her publisher swear to tell no one.

In her autobiography Francis Wolcott (Mrs. Francis Bass when Helen knew her) states that she figured out who Saxe Holm was from the various things Helen had said, and Helen did not deny the assumption.

After 1879, when Helen heard Standing Bear of the Ponca tribe speak, her focus became the plight of the Ponca Indians and from there the plight of all Native peoples. She was still using H.H., which her non-fiction work a "Century of Dishonor", was published. There is some discussion that she may have used her real name Helen Jackson on "Century of Dishonor", but instead it seems that is was used for her "Reports on the Conditions of the Mission Indians". This was a report for the Bureau of Indian Affairs that appears to also have been published for the public.

The only work other than the above mentioned report that seems to have been published under her real name, Helen Jackson is "Ramona".

It seems that the use of Helen Hunt Jackson for Helen’s works occurred after her husband William married her niece, also named Helen. This change may have been done to avoid confusion between Helen Jackson the author and Helen Jackson the niece.

During Helen’s lifetime, it was normal for female authors to use pseudonyms which Helen did. Still with the use of H.H. it was obvious to those who followed her work, who this really was. According to the same biography by Ruth Odell, it is indicated that Helen wanted people to know who she was. If you look at the body of work with all the 'names' used by Helen you will find an incredible body of work. Helen excelled not only at poetry, but also essays, novels and short stories. She wrote for children and adults, both with equal skill.

If you get the chance, check out the works of Helen by any of her names. You will not be disappointed.

All rights reserved; Doris A McCraw
8:58 pm est

Monday, June 8, 2009

Helen Hunt Jackson and California
Helen, in her book Glimpses of California and the Missions, writes the following... "I realized forcibly how different a thing is history seen from history written and read."  She made this statement upon meeting with one of the women who had seen the displacement of the Native Americans who had lived in the area. 

When you look at the statement and ponder what is said, it becomes very profound.  We have the tendancy to read about history, but until we can stand in the footsteps (so to speak) of those who have proceeded us, we really don't have a clue.  Talking to survivors, walking the land others had walked, there is where history can become real.

Helen, in her lifetime, experienced so many things and was able to put into words what she was seeing, hearing and feeling.  To walk where she walked, and see what she may have seen, brings to life what this amazing woman accomplished.  I for one and glad to keep her and her work alive.
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Doris McCraw

Doris McCraw
writer, actor, historian, coach, musician


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