Pony Nelson

Pony Nelson is just one of Margaret Clyde Robertson’s poetry subjects.

Back in the fall of 1957, the Herald ran a series of previously unpublished articles by the late Margaret Clyde Robertson, one-time poet laureate of Colorado.

Robertson came to Leadville in 1907 and lived here for 12 years. She had been a professional opera singer for a number of years, and eventually took up writing. She was a poet, short-story writer and wrote plays that were produced.

Her Herald articles were published under the title, “Intimate Glimpses of Leadville,” and show what life was like in the Cloud City for “good” women in those days. Here’s what Robertson had to say:

“I particularly like Westerners. I love the unpredictable people of a mining camp. There is more material in Leadville for human documents than there is in New York City, and I lived in both places an equal number of years.

“I never saw a Westerner yet who walked humbly. I never met a soul, in my 12 years in Leadville, that was suffering from an inferiority complex. Why, Leadville money made Denver!

“I went to Leadville in 1907. It was in the early fall, or so the calendar stated, but had it not been for the unpainted shacks squatting around the ugly streets, bordered with board sidewalks, covered with ice so slippery a tightrope walker would be taking his life in his hands to navigate, I’d have sworn I’d have landed in the arctic regions in the dead of winter. The town itself didn’t have a blessed thing to recommend it as a place of habitation for anything but mountain sheep and bears that could hibernate all winter. Of course there was glorious Mt. Massive gleaming in all its majesty in the distance; but man was not responsible for that magnificent piece of architecture.

“I was slightly disturbed and puzzled for a time after I arrived at the camp on the fringe of timberline, to discover I was not considered an asset there, at least not a monetary one. It seemed bachelors, widowers, whether grass or sod, were considered more valuable public servants than a man with a wife. The man in whom I was interested had been in camp for over a year when I put in my appearance as his lawful wedded wife. It put a crimp in his efficacy (or so the powers that be thought) as manager of the Leadville Light and Power Company. If you have ever held a job in a mining camp or a small town, you will know a lot depends on the man at the head of a concern as to the amount of shekels that will be hauled in. Now to be popular in a hell-bent, hiphurrah, irrepressible mining camp, you’ve got to be ‘one of the boys.’

“How can a man with a woman hanging onto his shirt be one of the boys, I ask you. Sure he’s sort of hog-tied, as it were, not ‘on call’ to join his cronies at Markley’s or Otto Thurn’s bar six nights a week or Saturday afternoon, or for a ‘quickie’ any old hour.

“When I discovered all of the wives who were up there were in the same boat as I, my feelings were somewhat mollified. They followed the pattern set down by the male population very placidly. Oh well, a fellow can get used to anything, and I got used to this.

“It has its good points, namely we wives got rid of our pestiferous Lords and Masters being underfoot all the time and had more time to devote to bridge which appeared to be the one and only vice (if you can call it that) of Leadville ladies at that time.

“It wasn’t considered quite Emily Post in that town, which is a law unto itself, for a man to associate with his own wife, and as far as I know with other men’s wives either. They frolicked and batted their way through life in their Eveless Paradise. All of them got tight, at least my husband’s cronies did, and he with them.

“We women folk went to church. I sang in the Presbyterian choir. We belonged to the Ladies Aid and attended prayer meeting, that is unless someone had a party on Wednesday night. A woman in a bar was unheard of in Leadville. They were not allowed in such ‘dens of inequity.’ I understand from reliable authorities, which include my better half, that there were ‘hot spots’ in the Cloud City where ladies of easy virtue were made welcome. Of course every male source of my information assured me he knew this only from hearsay. He had no personal knowledge of such establishments. Oh yeh! Men are such liars.”

Robertson published several poems about Leadville, including one on the infamous Pony Nelson, whom she befriended when living in Leadville.

Nelson, who worked as a prostitute in her earlier days at one of Leadville’s so-called “riding academies,” told Robertson many stories of her early days in Leadville.

“I do not believe in double standards, and the men with whom she was reported to have been too friendly are now some of the leading citizens of Leadville,” Robertson said.

Robertson served as poet laureate from 1952 until her death in 1954. She was in her 80s when appointed.

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