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Helent Hunt Jackson

Helen Hunt Jackson circa 1870

Helen Hunt Jackson circa 1870

Colorado Springs resident Helen Hunt Jackson was one of the well-known authors of the nineteenth century. Her works include both fiction and nonfiction. Jackson’s travel writings and poetry were published in numerous journals; both in her own name as well as using various pen names. Perhaps her best known work is the romance, Ramona, a story that has been made into at least four movies and a play. Jackson was spurred to write this story after having written and published A Century of Dishonor in which she discussed the plight of American Indians. At her own expense, Jackson sent a copy of A Century of Dishonor to every member of congress. That book was not well received, and so Jackson wrote about the same themes using a fictional romance.

Helen Hunt Jackson was born Helen Marie Fiske in Amherst, MA to Nathan Fiske, Professor of Language and Philosophy at Amherst College, and Deborah Waterman Fiske. Helen had one sister, Anne, who survived to adulthood. After her mother’s death in 1843, Helen began to attend Ipswitch Female Seminary. In 1847, her father died while on a trip to Jerusalem. In 1849, Helen continued her education at the Abbott school in New York City. After the death of her parents, her aunt, Martha Hooker, raised Helen.

When she was 22, Helen Marie Fiske married an army officer named Edward Bissell Hunt. Edward Hunt was a West Point graduate who served in the US Army Corp of Engineers. Helen and Edward Hunt had two sons, Murray and Warren. Murray died in 1854 when he was less than a year old. Shortly before Helen Hunt’s 33rd birthday in October 1863, Major Edward Hunt died while working on an underwater weapon for the Navy. In April 1865, Helen’s nine year old son, Warren, also known as Rennie, died of malignant diphtheria.

Following the loss of her family, Helen Hunt began to write. She composed poetry and prose, with her first prose being published in 1865, the same year as Rennie’s death. Helen began to travel in 1868, and in the next two years, she visited many places in Europe. In 1870, her first book was published.

In 1873, under the advice of her doctor, Helen came to Colorado in an effort to restore her failing health. She arrived in November and was not impressed with the Colorado landscape. One source indicates that she thought it a “Scandinavian Hell.” Her doctor convinced her to stay in Colorado Springs and over time she grew to love the area, especially Cheyenne Mountain. In 1875, she married one of the city founders, William Sharpless Jackson.

William S. Jackson purchased a house on the corner of Kiowa and Weber streets in 1874, possibly in hopes that Ms. Hunt would marry him. Helen wanted a house that faced the mountains rather than the plains. While Helen was initially in favor of selling the house and having one built according to her plans, the decision was made to alter the existing one. The Jacksons spent the first two years of their marriage having the house renovated so that it had a nice view of Cheyenne Mountain. Click the link to learn more about the Jackson House.

Helen Hunt Jackson suffered a compound fracture of her leg after she fell down the stairs of her Colorado Springs house in 1884. Her leg was slow to heal, so Helen went to California to recuperate. Although Helen’s health continued to deteriorate, she did not tell her husband of her grave situation until shortly before her death on August 12, 1885.