Post by Doris McCraw writing as Angela Raines
photo property of the author
You've heard "Pikes Peak or Bust", the rallying cry for the Fifty-Niners, but it is so much more than just a spot on the map.
Estimates are it formed/rose about fifty million years ago. The volcanic activity in the area about thirty-five million years ago, which was west of the Peak and formed the Florissant Fossil Beds, may have made people believe the Peak is also volcanic. Sorry to disappoint, but the Peak is granite. On a side note, it is this same volcanic activity that created the gold in the Cripple Creek/Victor area.
Of course, the man the Peak is named for attempted to climb it in 1806. He didn't succeed, famously asserting that it would never be summited. This did not take into account the Indians who had been living in the area and called the Peak the 'Shining Mountain'. Did any of them ever summit? We may never know, but I wouldn't discount it. The first documented summit was by twenty-two-year-old botanists Edwin James in 1820. It took James and two others two days to accomplish the feat. He was part of the Stephen Long expedition that was exploring the area that was part of the Louisana Purchase.
|Big Horn Sheep on the Peak above timberline|
Photo property of the author
Julia Archibald Holmes and her husband James summited the Peak in 1858. Julia is credited with being the first woman to climb the Peak.
So why would they use the slogan "Pikes Peak or Bust" for the rush for gold? The gold was located near and west of present-day Denver, which is seventy miles north. Geography, pure and simple. When coming West from the East, especially via Kansas, the first thing you will see is Pikes Peak. It is the easternmost fourteener and sits by itself. The nearest peak of its elevation of 14, 115' or higher is seventy miles away. (Like all fourteeners it can create its own weather system. I do pity the weather forecasters for this area.)
As most know it inspired Katharine Lee Bates to compose the poem, "America". Of note, the poem itself is an homage to her trip from Massacheuttes to Colorado. After summiting the Peak in 1893 she composed the first line 'Oh beautiful for halcyon skies, for amber waves of grain'. The poem itself was published July 4, 1895, in 'The Congressionalist'.
|Looking toward Colorado Springs from the Peak|
Photo property of the author
The first run of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb was in August of 1916. This makes this race the second oldest after the Daytona. Today anyone who wishes can drive to the top of the Peak. They can also hike via Barr Trail or in 2021 can again take the Cog Railway. As a side note, the first cog ride started in 1891.
There is much more I could write about this Peak that sits in my 'backyard', but I would still be writing and you would probably get tired of reading. I personally have been to the top eight times. I've driven four and taken the cog four. I've also soloed "America the Beautiful" twice at 14, 115'. You might say 'The Peak' and I have history.
Doris Gardner-McCraw -
Colorado and Women's History