c 2021 by Jan MacKell Collins
It was an understatement to say Queen Palmer was a picky wife.
The genteel daughter of New York attorney William P. Mellen, Queen’s refined and comfortable upbringing was hardly compatible with the raw reality of living in the west. Her disdain wasn’t without reason, for her grandparents and an uncle had been killed by Natives. Beyond that horrifying story, Queen knew relatively little about the wild frontier far from her comfortable station back East.
Then in 1869, Queen met one of her father’s colleagues, General William Jackson Palmer. One look at soft spoken, doe-eyed Queen, and it was all over for Palmer. The esteemed entrepreneur talked about Colorado Territory, a new land of opportunity that was already bustling with life, mining camps and the chance to make lots of money. Palmer told Queen of his gift for making dreams come true, and soon asked for her hand. The two of them could then embark on this magical journey together.
Queen was ambivalent. The proposal coincided with the sealing of a business deal between her fiancé and her father, but it also meant leaving everything and everyone she knew for a harsh, barren land. The refined debutante was accustomed to getting what she wanted: “bacon for breakfast—fried thin!”, according to her diary. She adored operas and shopping. Lucky for the lady, Palmer took her lifestyle into careful consideration. Believing a beautiful, elite “Saratoga of the West” resort town would best suit Queen’s desires, Palmer established Colorado Springs for his high maintenance bride.
The couple were married in New York in November of 1870 and embarked on a honeymoon cruise to Europe. Palmer had business affairs to attend to and made the trip somewhat of a working vacation. If only he had chanced a peek at Queen’s diary of the journey, where already the new bride was tiring of her husband’s business endeavors. “In the evening Will dined with Mr. Speyer,” she revealed in one entry. “Queen remained at home and played Bezique.” Comments about the pending move to the base of Pikes Peak are curiously absent from the journal.
Upon returning to the states, Queen stayed in New York and prepared for the move, while Palmer went on to Colorado Springs. He meant to make things as comfortable and stylish for his bride as he could, but the harsh reality was, the fledgling city looked like a bleak dot on a treeless prairie as it cowered under mighty Cheyenne Mountain and the unforgiving Pikes Peak. How he hoped to make the high prairie more attractive is anyone’s guess, but he failed miserably. Worse yet, just a few miles west was Colorado City, a wild and woolly supply town that only grew more raucous as Palmer’s plans were announced.
Upon her arrival in October of 1871, Queen had to be less than impressed with Colorado Springs. Her dismay grew as she spent the first six months bouncing between a hayloft and a tent for a house. Palmer lost no time in showing her Queen’s Canyon, a beautiful and wild oasis against the hills far west of town. He was building his bride a house, christened Glen Eyrie, with the promise that it would offer the most modern amenities. Outside, he promised, the couple could enjoy the crisp, pine-scented air and view millions of stars at night.
The house was finished at last, and the Palmers moved in. But for stately Queen, the house seemed small and ordinary, nothing like the luxurious apartments and suites she was used to. The air was too dry, the nights too cold, and winter snows could be severe in the canyon. The words exchanged between husband and wife are lost to history, but Palmer eventually planned, and built, a magnificently modern castle at Glen Eyrie that could “stand for a thousand years”, according to him. Until it was completed, however, Queen could only wait in anguished anticipation.
As she waited for her grand castle to be built, Queen tried to adjust to western living. She started a school, but gave it up after a month due to the unruly children. With little else to do, she began taking an interest in the development of Colorado Springs. Local legend claims that it was Queen Palmer who stipulated the streets must be wide enough to turn a carriage around, and that their names should reflect Palmer’s career and western geography.
Both of the Palmers also agreed that no liquor would be sold within the city limits. The decree did much for the liquid economy of Colorado City and its saloons, gambling dens and bawdy houses. There were plenty of respectable, hard-working residents too, but Queen saw Colorado City as a besotted eyesore. Neither she nor her husband intended to let Colorado Springs follow in its footsteps. It is said that even today, the old property deeds declare that any property formerly belonging to the Palmers is to immediately revert to the family heirs if ever liquor is publicly sold within its boundaries.
It was the best Queen could do. Despite friendships with other wealthy easterners, Colorado Springs was not the kingdom Queen wanted. Everything was boring, and the dry high altitude bothered her. The primitive roads were bumpy and dusty and the weather was too unpredictable. There were snakes and the Natives frightened her. Even the command appearance of the Mellen family cook from back home did little to console Queen. Her only entertainment, it seemed, was singing at various social functions and attending teas and luncheons. When she became pregnant with her first daughter in 1872, she staunchly returned to New York to give birth in a more modern facility.
One day Palmer, in another of many attempts to break the monotony of Queen’s life, offered to take his bride to the Manitou Park Hotel above Woodland Park. The elite lodge was built by Palmer and his associate, Dr. William Bell, in 1873. At the time, the Manitou Park Hotel reflected the finest in western living, with lots of eastern influence. There were approximately 60 rooms, a ballroom, bowling alley, billiards parlor, an outdoor pavilion, stables, carriage houses, a blacksmith shop, a golf course and tennis courts. These amenities were described in detail by Palmer in order to lure his bride up Ute Pass. The ploy worked.
It was a beautiful day as the couple set out for the hotel in an open carriage. The ride up Ute Pass however, was bound to take awhile in a day when 20 miles was a real stretch for a wagon. Plus, the pass at the time was still a mere trail and not necessarily conducive to travel by a well-heeled couple. Surely Queen felt more than one jar as the carriage made its way over the bumpy passage.
Then, halfway up the pass, one of Colorado’s famous Chinook winds came storming down a canyon. A whirlwind of dust blew over Palmer’s carriage, covering the couple in a hail of eye-watering dirt.
That tore it for Queen. The only words she uttered—in a dangerously low undertone—were for Palmer to stop the carriage. Then she quickly disembarked and headed for the nearest cluster of bushes which were actually some distance away. There, Queen disappeared for several minutes. Upon returning, no doubt a bit sweaty and out of lung capacity, Queen explained to her perplexed husband what had transpired. “I made the best use of my rest. I was in a furious passion as if the wind were a person, so I lay kicking and screaming as if I were crazy.”
Following Queen’s infamous fit, Palmer toiled even more to make her life more comfortable. Queen managed to remain in Colorado for the birth of her second daughter in 1880. A short time later, however, she suffered a mild heart attack during a visit to Leadville. It was a warning of things to come. It was now clear that Queen not only had no use for the barren land of Colorado Springs, but also that she was ill. She began taking trips back east and to England as her visits to Colorado Springs became more and more sporadic. Queen was visiting England regularly by the time she had her third and last daughter in 1881.
William Palmer, who had been steadily working to raise a first-class city from the ground, was helpless. Although he did finish the grand castle at Glen Eyrie and outfitted it with as many modern amenities as he could, he could hardly convince his wife to stay there much. Ultimately Queen moved to England for good, where she died of heart disease in December of 1894 at the young age of 44. General Palmer was left to live out his lonely life at Glen Eyrie. An unexpected spill from his horse in 1906 paralyzed him and required installing a custom-made waterbed created from animal skins. Palmer died in his sleep in1909 and was buried at Evergreen Cemetery. Possibly against Queen’s wishes, her ashes were disinterred in England and placed beside Palmer’s in 1910.
A number of landmarks remain in Colorado Springs as a testament to Palmer’s influence on his own brainchild. The most prominent of these is a statue of him on his horse which resides majestically right in the middle of the intersection at Nevada and Platte Avenues, much to the chagrin of motorists who must maneuver around it. Glen Eyrie is now owned by The Navigators, a national Christian organization. They do host Victorian teas at the castle, which would probably please Queen. Overall, however, she would probably be glad to know her name appears very little beside that of her husband except in history annals. In a way, her absence is her final word on Palmer and his silly Saratoga of the West.