Happy Birthday, Colorado Springs

150 years ago to the day, on July 31, 1871, Colorado Springs was born with a stake-driving ceremony at what is now the intersection of Cascade and Pikes Peak Avenues, two major downtown streets, the latter in line with the eponymous mountain seen in the featured photo. Originally founded and known as Fountain Colony, the town plot surrounded the confluence of Fountain and Monument Creeks.

Mural in Woodland Park honoring the Ute. The banner on top reads: Our history is here. We, the Utes, were created here as long ago as the stories have been told.

The settlement wasn’t the area’s first. Various Native tribes, including Ute, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache considered (and still consider) the region part of their homeland, and nomadic bands traversed and inhabited it for portions of the year.

Pikes Peak or Bust covered wagon at Rock Ledge Ranch

Old Colorado City, the first permanent community a few miles west of the future Colorado Springs, started in 1859 in the wake of the Colorado gold rush. Traces of the precious metal were discovered near present-day Denver in 1858, but gold seekers also flocked to the foot of Pikes Peak because “Pikes Peak or Bust” became one of the mottoes for hopeful prospectors, as the local fourteener was one of the few known landmarks in what was then still part of Kansas Territory (Colorado became a territory in 1861 and a state in 1876). After stocking up on supplies in Colorado City, the prospective miners continued to journey west along Ute Pass, one of the natural openings in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Zebulon Montgomery Pike statue in downtown Colorado Springs

Zebulon Montgomery Pike had traveled through the area in 1806 while surveying the southwest portion of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase. Even though he attempted to climb the peak that would later bear his name, he did not succeed. November snows, inadequate uniforms, and miscalculations prevented him and his men from summitting. The mountain didn’t officially become known as Pikes Peak until the 1840s. To read more about Pikes Peak, which is known as “Tava Kahv” (Sun Mountain) by the Utes, click here: https://tanjabrittonwriter.com/2018/05/23/pikes-peak/.

Julia Archibald Holmes

One of earliest groups in search of gold that arrived at the foot of Pikes Peak in the summer of 1858 hailed from Kansas and included Julia Archibald Holmes. She is considered the first White woman to have summitted Pikes Peak with her husband and brother on August 5 of that year. A writer, abolitionist, suffragist, and Bloomer Girl, she was the topic of one of my previous posts: https://tanjabrittonwriter.com/2017/10/12/a-bloomer-girl-on-pikes-peak/.

General William Jackson Palmer equestrian sculpture in downtown Colorado Springs

General William Jackson Palmer is celebrated as the founding father of Colorado Springs. Multifaceted and multitalented, he was born into a Quaker family, became a fervent abolitionist, overcame the qualms of his pacifist upbringing, and volunteered for the Union during the Civil War because he considered slavery a greater wrong than war. He led the 15th Pennsylvania volunteer Cavalry, was promoted to Brevet Brigadier General, and served for the duration of the conflict.

Afterward he set his sights west. Returning to his prewar profession in railroads, he established his own Denver and Rio Grande Railroad and founded Colorado Springs with the help of the Colorado Springs Company. He and his beloved, “Queen” Palmer, resided at Glen Eyrie until Queen’s health forced her to move to a lower elevation. He also became a generous benefactor, donating much land to be set aside for parks and open spaces. His equestrian sculpture occupies a prominent spot in downtown Colorado Springs whence he perpetually glances at Pikes Peak, one of the landmarks that enticed him to create a community in this spot.

Helen Hunt Jackson

Among the region’s earliest health seekers, Helen Hunt came to Colorado Springs for its dry and sunny climate in 1873. A famous poet who had suffered a series of heartbreaking losses, she made Colorado Springs her home and married Mr. Sharpless Jackson. She became best-known for her scathing criticism of the genocide committed by the United States against its Indigenous populations and for her novel “Ramona.” I have delved into her remarkable life in a previous post: https://tanjabrittonwriter.com/2017/07/13/the-original-helen-hunt/.

Katherine Lee Bates sculpture in downtown Colorado Springs in front of the Pioneers Museum

An English professor at Wellesley College. Katherine Lee Bates was invited to teach at Colorado College during the summer semester in 1893. A brief visit to the top of Pikes Peak inspired a long-lived poem which became known as “America the Beautiful.” It helped advertise Colorado Springs, made Pikes Peak known as “America’s Mountain,” and has long been suggested as an alternative to the national anthem.  I have written about her trip to the top of Pikes Peak before: https://tanjabrittonwriter.com/2020/08/19/america-the-beautiful/.

Pikes Peak looms large from nearly every vantage point in the region. Without the imposing and awe-inspiring presence of our local fourteener, General Palmer might not have fallen in love with this place where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains. But the natural beauty of the landscape and its ideal location as a hub for his beloved railroad were responsible for the founding of Colorado Springs on July 31, 1871. Happy Sesquicentennial, Colorado Springs.

30 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Colorado Springs

    • You have asked, Neil. And I have read it, more than once. I also loved reading about Isabella’s experiences. She actually rode through Colorado Springs on her mare when the town was only 2 years old. I wish I could have been in her saddle!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Fascinating, Tanja, it’s good to go beyond the obvious grandeur of the scenery to understand the history of the place too. If we ever make it back to your part of the US I’ll have a much better, more complete appreciation of it. And you know me well enough by now to predict that I think the mural is wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Happy sesquicentennial. I looked online to see if German has a special word for that. What I found is 150-jährig, which I take to be an adjective. Seems that for a noun we need something like 150-jährige Wiederkehr or 150-jähriges Jubiläum.

    I remember our exchange of comments in 2018 about Helen Hunt Jackson. Last year we finally got to see the silent movie version of Ramona with Dolores del Rio on television.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Steve. I’m glad you were able to see the silent film version of “Ramona.” It was extra special to watch it inside the Pioneers Museum accompanied by live music.

      I had a feeling you would comment on the wonderful word sesquicentennial. 😊 It would have surprised me if the language with the longest nouns didn’t have a translation for it. What do you think of “Hundertfünfzigjahrfeier?”


      • That’s even longer than sesquicentennial, but hardly surprising for German. You may be aware that German Feier comes from Latin fēriae, which is also the source (via Old French) of the English noun fair.


  3. Thank you so much for this wonderful post, Tanja! I’ve spent an enjoyable time reading the blog and the links to previous blogs. What fascinating and (tough!) folks are associated with Pike’s Peak! I never really got how high the mountain is, and was chuckling to myself as I read, because my favorite “mountain”, Mt. Wachusett, is Central Massachusetts’ highest, at just over 2005 ft. 😉 I hike there, complaining about how steep it is, and it is also home to a busy ski slope!

    Yes, I definitely think the Julias share an uncanny resemblance. And I so wish that America the Beautiful was our national anthem. I was a classroom music teacher for the first 10 years of my career, and taught the song every year. I always made sure my students sang that most wonderful verse:

    America! America!
    God mend thine every flaw,
    Confirm thy soul in self-control,
    Thy liberty in law!

    Happy celebrating,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for taking the time to read some of my older posts and for sharing your thoughts, Julie. And for noticing the resemblance between the two Julias! 😊 I wish Pikes Peak hadn’t lost its apostrophe at some point in the past as I like your spelling much better. And I’m sure hiking up Mount Wachusetts is a good work-out, even if it’s a little less high than our forteener.

      I think every country needs to reflect on its flaws, acknowledge them, and attempt to “mend” them. Looking the other way, denying that anything bad has happened, or resisting having the record set straight are not the hallmarks of a democracy. That’s what dictatorships do.

      Enjoy your weekend,


  4. For someone who’s never lived in Colorado, I have a lot of connections to the state. We vacationed there when I was a child, and visited Pike’s Peak. (It does need that apostrophe.) My gr-gr-grandfather was prospecting for gold in the area when the Civil War was declared; he returned to Iowa, and helped to form the 34th Iowa. Traveling through Kansas, I came upon a series of Pike’s camp sites along the Cottonwood River. And, last but not least, my great-great-aunt Inazel moved to Colorado, although she and her husband landed just south of Colorado Springs, in Pueblo. Believe me: Aunt Ina would have fit in perfectly with the women you’ve written of here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You definitely have a lot of connections to Colorado and to Pike’s Peak (maybe we should start a movement to reintroduce the apostrophe!).
      General Palmer, through his railroad and steel mills, was also very instrumental for the development of Pueblo.
      I’m curious to learn more about your aunt Ina’s life!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Liebe Tanja, diesen interessanten Bericht habe ich sehr gern gelesen. Ich bin beeindruckt über den Mut, die Energie und das Potential, mit dem die menschen damals agierten. Besonders die außergewöhnlichen Frauen, die du hier vorstellst, bewundere ich.
    Danke für diese tollen Informationen!
    Viele Grüße aus dem Bergischen Land….von Rosie

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ich danke Dir für Deinen interessierten und netten Kommentar, liebe Rosie. Die Frauen haben nicht immer die Anerkennung bekommen, die sie verdient haben, aber glücklicherweise ändert sich das so nach und nach.
      Ich wünsche Dir ein angenehmes Wochenende.
      Liebe Grüße aus Colorado,

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Serendipity strikes again! I started out looking for information about a tree named for the botanist George Engelmann, and ended up discovering an account by botanist C.C. Parry of his ascent of Pike’s Peak in 1862. It’s apparently the first account of a botanist’s trip up the mountain, and it’s included in this letter to John Torrey. I’m not sure where the link will land you, but the letter begins on page 120, and it’s followed by another article by Engelmann himself. Torrey, of course, is the one responsible for naming the Torrey pine, which gave the California town its name. I’ve got some reading to do myself.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Happy Birthday to Colorado Springs! I’ve heard of the city but that is all I can say for the history you shared. Well, I know the name Pike’s Peak also. 🙂 It looks like a town I would be very comfortable in with some good history behind it. The Ute tribal mural is something to be proud of.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. You live in a beautiful place, Tanja. I can see why people would flock to it. Even though the European town is 150 years old, there were likely many settlements over the centuries by native people.

    Liked by 1 person

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