Today in History

Today in History: August 5

Holmes Reaches Pikes Peak!

panorama of Pikes Peak
Pikes Peak Panorama
H. (Henry) Wellge,
Milwaukee, Wis., American Publishing Co. [1890]
Map Collections

On August 5, 1858, Julia Archibald Holmes became the first woman on record to reach the summit of Pikes Peak. She, her husband James Holmes, and two others began their trek on August 1. For the ascent, Julia Holmes wore what she called her "American costume" — a short dress, bloomers, moccasins, and a hat. In a letter written to her mother from the summit, she said:

"I have accomplished the task which I marked out for myself…Nearly everyone tried to discourage me from attempting it, but I believed that I should succeed…"

Agnes Wright Spring, ed., A Bloomer Girl on Pike's Peak, 1858: Julia Archibald Holmes, First White Woman to Climb Pike's Peak (Denver: Western History Department, Denver Public Library, 1949), 39.

Pikes Peak takes its name from Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, who, fifty years prior to Holmes’ ascent, led an expedition to reconnoiter the southwestern boundary of the Louisiana Purchase. In November 1806, Pike, with a small party, began an ascent of the peak. Weather conditions forced them to abandon their frustrating attempt to climb to the summit.

Pikes Peak Prospector
A Pikes Peak Prospector,
William Henry Jackson, photographer,
circa 1900.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

In 1820, during the administration of President James Monroe, another party, under Major Stephen H. Long, was sent to explore this area. Dr. Edwin James, historian of Long's expedition, led the first recorded ascent of Pikes Peak in July of that year.

When gold was discovered in Colorado in 1858, the phrase "Pikes Peak or Bust" entered American parlance. Pikes Peak was used as verbal shorthand for a vast area in the general range of the peak presumed to be rich in gold. In 1891, the year of the discovery of the great gold field at Cripple Creek, the Pikes Peak cog railroad began operating.

Katharine Lee Bates' 1893 climb to the top of Pikes Peak inspired her to compose a poem. Her text, later set to music, is the beloved American hymn, "America, the Beautiful," which vied with "The Star-Spangled Banner" to become the national anthem:

Holy Cross Mountain
The mountain of the Holy Cross, Colorado,
Thomas Moran, artist,
The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920

O beautiful for spacious skies,
for amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain! America! America! God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

The advent of the automobile brought more visitors to Pikes Peak. Capitalizing on this phenomenon, Spencer Penrose built a toll road, completed in 1915, for auto travel to the top of Pikes Peak. The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, started in 1916 to commemorate the opening of the highway, continues to be a grueling challenge to race car enthusiasts.

Today, Pikes Peak is easy to access by trail, railroad, or car. Located in the southeastern corner of the Pike National Forest, it is one of more than 50 peaks in Colorado that are at least 14,000 feet high.

San Francisco

Panoramic View of the Golden Gate
View of San Francisco, Formerly Yerba Buena, in 1846-7 Before the Discovery of Gold,
Bosqui Eng. & Print. Co., 1884.
Map Collections

On August 5, 1775, the Spanish ship San Carlos, commanded by Juan Manuel de Ayala, entered what would soon be called San Francisco Bay. Unnoticed by such early naval explorers as Sir Francis Drake and Sebastián Vizcaíno, the bay had been sighted by land during a Spanish scouting expedition six years earlier.

Spanish authorities, intent on offering proof of Spain's claim to the area, promptly sent nearly two hundred settlers to populate the region. In 1776 both a presidio, or garrison, and a Catholic mission were established. Mission San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores) was started by Franciscans, who named both the bay and the mission after the founder of their religious order, St. Francis of Assisi.

As early as 1835, the United States sought to buy San Francisco Bay from Mexico (independent of Spain since 1821), the same year that a small town called Yerba Buena was founded. It was not until after the end of the Mexican War that California was ceded to the United States as a provision of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed within days of the discovery of gold along the American River. By then, Yerba Buena had claimed its new name, San Francisco—and the Gold Rush was on.

I soon shall be in Frisco,
And then I'll look around;
And when I see the gold lumps there,
I'll pick them off the ground.
O California,
That's the land for me:
I'm bound for San Francisco,
With my washboard on my knee.

"I Soon Shall be in Frisco,"
California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell