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Mrs. Caroline Kipling in Salida

By Mike Rosso

One of Salida’s early residents went on to become the wife of a well-known author as well as a tragic and controversial figure herself.

In the summer of 1884, Caroline Starr Balestier, aged 21, moved to Salida from New England with her brother Wolcott, then a promising young author. Wolcott had been impressed with Colorado from an earlier visit and was returning with his sister. She had a friend in Salida, Miss Amy Graves, whom ”Carrie,” as friends called Caroline, had met at an Eastern school.

Concerned with the lack of services available for Episcopalians in Salida, the two young women started an Episcopal school with four students, employing local homes for meeting places. As the congregation grew, the two friends, along with several “influential women” of the community, formed a guild with the goal of establishing a permanent location for an official church. Eventually the group was offered a room at Craig’s Opera House on the northeast corner of Second and F Streets. In fact, the opera house was on the top floor of the building and the church group was quartered downstairs, separated only by a thin partition from a noisy saloon and not entirely suitable for quiet worship. Eventually the services were moved to a small frame building which stood at the current location of the United Methodist Church.

In the spring of 1885, Wolcott was offered a position in New York as the editor of a lowbrow, London-based popular journal called Tid-Bits. Carrie stayed on in Salida until the summer of 1885, when she moved to New York to be with her brother. In 1888, he was transferred to London to solicit English authors for publication in the United States. It was in London that Wolcott Balestier came to meet the likes of Henry James, Bram Stoker, James Whistler and the man whom his sister would come to marry, Rudyard Kipling.

By 1889 the 24-year-old Kipling was already world-renowned, having achieved literary success in the country of his birth, India. He and Wolcott ran in the same literary circles, co-authored a book, The Naulahka, and eventually became good friends. Several of Kipling’s biographers have speculated that the relationship became intimate. Carrie followed her brother to London in the summer of 1889, becoming his housekeeper and hostess to the many notables of late Victorian English society who made their way through the Balestier residence. The three became very close, to the point in which Carrie was involved in business decisions involving the two writers, causing some concern with Alice Kipling, Rudyard’s mother, who was skeptical of both Balestiers.

In August of 1891, Kipling set off on a worldwide adventure, visiting India for the last time and meeting Robert Louis Stevenson in Samoa. During this time, Wolcott was sent to Germany on business while Carrie stayed in London, enjoying a visit from her mother, Anna, and her sister, Josephine. Towards the end of November, the women received word that Wolcott had fallen ill in Germany and immediately traveled to Dresden to be with him. Upon their arrival, they discovered his condition to be very grave with typhoid fever. Despite their best efforts, Wolcott died on Dec. 6, 1891. Carrie wired Kipling a telegram: ‘WOLCOTT DEAD STOP COME BACK TO ME STOP.’ In his wire, Kipling replied with a proposal of marriage.

Within ten days Kipling returned to England and married Carrie in what writer Henry James described as the “dreary little wedding.” The Jan. 22, 1892 issue of The Salida Mail reported:

The marriage of Rudyard Kipling, the well-known author of “Tales of Life in India,” to Miss Caroline Balestier took place Monday at All Souls Church, in Portland Place, London. The bride is a sister of Wolcott Balestier, who died early in September last. Balestier was a journalist of ability, and a clever writer of fiction. He collaborated a novel with Kipling, and in this way Kipling became acquainted with his sister.


After the wedding, the couple traveled across the Atlantic and visited the Balestier estate in Brattleboro, Vermont. The short visit rekindled hostilities between Carrie and her younger brother Beatty, a proud, underachieving and debt-ridden alcoholic. The couple left to continue a world-tour honeymoon and returned to Vermont, with Carrie pregnant, in the summer of 1892. They purchased 11 acres of land from Beatty and began construction plans for their new home, to be called Naulahka, after the book co-authored by Kipling and Wolcott.

The custom home was soon underway, and Beatty was hired as the contractor – more a gesture of good will than a prudent choice. Upon completion, disputes arose over the actual material costs, creating still more tension between the brother and sister. It culminated in a violent incident in which Kipling was forced off his bicycle on a country road by a drunken Beatty in his buggy, then verbally assaulted and threatened. After a humiliating public trial, Carrie and Rudyard decided they could no longer stay in Vermont and promptly returned to England.

Choosing to steer clear of Kipling’s parents who now resided near Salisbury, the couple settled on a solitary old house in Devon. By now Carrie was pregnant with their third child, and was becoming depressed with her surroundings and Kipling’s frequent and extended trips to London. She had gained quite a bit of weight, and, based on diary entries, was precariously close to a nervous breakdown. They began house hunting anew, residing temporarily in a hotel in London and eventually settling down in Rottingdean on the south coast of England.

In August 1897, their son John was born. The birth left Carrie even more worn and depressed. By January of 1899, the family was once again on the move, this time on an ill-fated winter trip across the Atlantic to New York. En route, all three children succumbed to illness, and the family arrived in New York with Carrie in great anxiety. In the months that followed, every member of the family fell ill, with Kipling becoming sick to the point of delirium. Meanwhile, their daughter Josephine’s condition worsened, and in early March of that year she passed away, her father completely unaware, given his condition. Finally, when his health began to improve, his wife had to reveal the loss of their daughter, taking yet another toll on the family.

In June they returned to England but were surrounded by memories of their deceased daughter. Kipling dealt with his grief by immersing himself in his work, leaving Carrie alone to bear her own.

Once again they began to look for a new home, and by the spring of 1902, the search came to an end in Sussex with the purchase of an old stone farmhouse named Bateman’s. It was here they finally settled and slowly began acquiring adjacent properties until, by 1928, their holding totaled almost 300 acres.

Despite the isolation and security that Bateman’s provided, its old stone walls could not hold back the inevitable war with Germany that lay on the horizon. In 1914 their son John, not yet 17, applied for a commission in the navy, but was rejected due to poor eyesight. His father, a strong supporter of the war, pulled some strings, and soon the boy joined a regiment in the Irish Guards. Meanwhile the Kiplings prepared for a possible German invasion by shipping away Kipling’s manuscripts and other family valuables.

By autumn of 1914, their surviving daughter Else began losing friends to the great conflict, and the family lived in fear for the son who crossed into France on his 18th birthday. Carrie and her daughter began furiously knitting socks and mittens for the troops. On Oct. 7, 1915, the family received notice that John was missing in action. For months the family sought news from the front to no avail. By the end of the war in November of 1918, there was still no word of their son. In fact, of the nearly one million British soldiers who had lost their lives in the Great War almost half were never found.

Kipling retreated even further into his work, finding some solace in writing a lengthy history of the Irish Guard. Carrie was left alone, once more, to grieve.

In the years that followed, the servants either resigned or were let go. Their surviving daughter married and moved away, leaving Carrie more isolated and desperate. In 1936 Rudyard Kipling died of peritonitis, from which he had suffered all his life. Carrie lived for another three years, some of which were spent destroying Kipling’s papers, at his wishes, leaving little trace of their lives to the outside world. Carrie S. Kipling died alone in 1939.

The current Salida Episcopal Church of the Ascension is located at the corner of 4th and E Streets.


Note: This article originally appeared in the Chaffee County Heritage Guide.