Today in History: August 5
Holmes Reaches Pikes Peak!
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.
A Pikes Peak Prospector,
William Henry Jackson, photographer,
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:
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.
- To view more photographic and cartographic images, search on Pikes Peak in the following collections:
- History of the American West, 1860-1920: Photographs from the Collection of the Denver Public Library
- Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920
- American Environmental Photographs, 1891-1936: Images from the University of Chicago Library
- Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991
- Map Collections
- View the special presentation The 10th Mountain Division in History of the American West, 1860-1920: Photographs from the Collection of the Denver Public Library to learn more about the ski troops based in Colorado who saw action in Italy during World War II. Other presentations associated with this collection include Biographies of Selected Western Photographers.
- Search on Pikes Peak in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 - 1940 and in "California as I Saw It": First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900 to read personal accounts of Pikes Peak.
View of San Francisco, Formerly Yerba Buena, in 1846-7 Before the Discovery of Gold,
Bosqui Eng. & Print. Co., 1884.
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.
That's the land for me:
I'm bound for San Francisco,
With my washboard on my knee.
- California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell is a rich collection of American folk music recorded in the San Francisco Bay area during the 1930s. One of the earliest projects to document the traditions of multiple communities within one geographic area, it includes recordings of music from a variety of ethnic, cultural, and language groups, as well as contextual photographs, drawings, and written documents. Browse the collection's Subject Index to find hundreds of recordings of the rich variety of musical traditions that have become part of American culture.
- Learn more about the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 in the motion picture collection Before and After the Great Earthquake and Fire: Early Films of San Francisco, 1897-1916. For additional early motion pictures of San Francisco, search across American Memory's entire motion picture collection.
- Search on the keyword San Francisco in Westward by Sea: A Maritime Perspective on American Expansion, 1820-1890. The unique maritime materials in this collection offer a look at the settlement of California and other points west. See, for example, the 1850 Derelicts of San Francisco Bay, ships that went crewless when sailors went to make their fortune in the gold fields.
- Parallel Histories: Spain, the United States, and the American Frontier, a collaborative effort between the National Library of Spain, the Biblioteca Colombina y Capitular of Seville, and the Library of Congress explores the interactions between Spain and the United States in America from the fifteenth to the early nineteenth centuries. The section, Exploration and Settlement after 1750, includes a 1778 report of missions written by a Franciscan missionary (in Spanish).
- To find recollections of the early days of San Francisco, search on San Francisco in "California as I Saw It": First Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900. Explore immigration to San Francisco from the Chinese perspective by searching on San Francisco in The Chinese in California, 1850-1925 and learn more about San Francisco’s Chinatown in a series of essays and galleries.
- Read more about San Francisco's rich history in the Today in History Archive for events including the 1896 opening of the Sutro Baths, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and the 1937 completion of the Golden Gate Bridge.