September 12 - A Warm Welcome in the West

Story topics

On September 12, 1899, Paul Laurence Dunbar arrived by train in Denver, Colorado.  Following the advice of doctors, Paul went to the Rocky Mountains seeking relief from tuberculosis.  Traveling with him were his wife Alice and mother Matilda.  Paul's arrival in Colorado was widely reported in the press.

An early morning train will bring into Denver today a distinguished individual in the person of Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of the greatest representatives of the colored race, and a man whose name will appear on the pages of history as one of the leading literary lights of the age.  Of late his health has been poor, and a recent attack of pneumonia influenced him to seek the invigorating climate of Colorado.  Accordingly he, with his wife, started westward.  He will arrive in Denver at 7:45 this morning.  Owing to the fact that the noted visitor is in ill health no arrangements have been made for extending him any public welcome or for engaging his attention during his stay here.  Mr. Dunbar will spend his time in an effort to recuperate.

"Poet Laureate of the Negro Race, in Denver."  The Daily News (Denver, Colorado).  September 12, 1899.

Mr. Dunbar resigned his position as assistant librarian of the Congressional library at Washington last October because of failing health and after searching for a favorable climate in Virginia, New Jersey and among the Catskills, has come to Colorado hoping to strengthen his weak lungs.  Mrs. Dunbar, the poet's mother, and his wife, a bright, petite woman, are with him here.  They will spend several weeks in Denver and then they will visit Colorado Springs, Manitou and other resorts.  Mr. Dunbar is here solely for health and intends to make no public speeches.

"Home, the Solution of the Negro Problem, Says Poet Dunbar."  The Denver Republican (Denver, Colorado).  September 13, 1899.

A man who has made the world wonder and forced expressions of admiration from prejudiced, reluctant lips, stepped from a Rock Island train this morning, glanced about him, smiled, and said:  "And this is Denver, eh?"

A modest, unassuming man was this:  a man gentle of manner and speech with a face strong, intellectual and - black.  It was Paul Laurence Dunbar, the gifted Negro poet, the first of his race, the pioneer of his people in the field of literature.  In company with his wife, a petite and graceful woman, cheerful, chatty and devoted to her husband, and his venerable mother, whose support and comfort he has been for many a year.

"I am a trifle tired after the journey," said Mr. Dunbar, his slight form dropping gratefully into the embrace of a huge arm chair that awaited him, "a trifle tired, but delighted with my first view of Denver and Colorado.

"I have not been very well, you know," he continued, "but I come with great faith in the invigorating properties of Colorado air."  A short, dry cough interrupted his speech, but a moment later his strong teeth shone and his smile was broad and typically African.

"What do you suppose it was we watched for first, as we came along?" he asked.

"Pike's Peak," was suggested.

"No, prairie dogs first, then Pike's Peak.  None of us had ever before been west of the Mississippi, and we had always heard of the prairie dog towns and we wanted to see one.  Well we watched patiently all day yesterday and saw none, but this morning, this bright and beautiful morning, at the first glint of the sunshine over the far, brown stretches of the plain, we sighted a whole regiment of them standing up in welcome of us, and a minute later we could dimly see the lofty white forehead of Pike's Peak leaning against the spreading morn.  So we glimpsed the things most interesting to us almost simultaneously.

"And now I think, if you'll excuse me," he added, "I will lie down for an hour or so.  Not that I feel utterly exhausted, you know," and he smiled his hearty smile again, "but I don't want to be, so I will be prudent."

"Paul Dunbar, Negro Poet."  The Denver Evening News (Denver, Colorado).  September 12, 1899.

From a letter written September 12 to a friend in Toledo, Mr. Dunbar says that he stood the trip much better than he expected, and, while he had been only a few hours in Denver, he felt much encouraged.  The Denver Post has offered to pay Mr. and Mrs. Dunbar's expenses for a leisurely trip through Colorado for the privilege of printing the poet's impressions of the Silver state.  When he wrote, he had not made up his mind whether to accept the offer or not.

"Paul Dunbar in Colorado."  Unidentified newspaper clipping [Toledo, Ohio, September 1899].  Paul Laurence Dunbar Papers, Ohio History Connection (Microfilm edition, Roll 4).