These eloquent and patriotic words to the now infamous song, America The Beautiful have captivated the heart and soul of an entire nation for more than a century. Written in 1893 by English professor Katharine Lee Bates, the song has actually been considered on a couple of occasions to be a replacement to our current national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner (an idea that I personally support). But do you know the origins of this timeless American anthem?O beautiful, for spacious skies,For amber waves of grain,For purple mountain majestiesAbove the fruited plain!O beautiful, for pilgrim feetWhose stern, impassioned stressA thoroughfare for freedom beatAcross the wilderness!O beautiful, for heroes provedIn liberating strife,Who more than self their country lovedAnd mercy more than life!O beautiful, for patriot dreamThat sees beyond the years,Thine alabaster cities gleamUndimmed by human tears!America! America! God shed His grace on thee,And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!
As mentioned before, Katharine Lee Bates was an English professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. In 1893, Bates accepted an offer to teach a summer semester at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Co. During her trip, Bates was deeply impressed by the vastness of the Colorado landscape. Upon her arrival to Colorado Springs, Bates could not help but notice the majestic mountain off to the west, known to everyone as "America's Mountain," or Pike's Peak as we know it today.
Impressed by the massive snow-capped mountain, Bates decided to take a train ride to the summit of Pike's Peak in June of 1893. While taking in the breathtaking scenery at 14,110 feet, the words to her legendary poem started to fill her head. The "purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain" were enough to cause Bates to publish her poem filled with American providential symbolism, which was quickly incorporated with the music of Samuel A. Ward to give us America The Beautiful.
In addition to being the inspiration behind America The Beautiful, Pikes Peak has enjoyed a rich tradition of American history that virtually dates back to our nation's beginning. With this in mind, here is some additional history of America's Mountain...Pikes Peak:
pre-1800s: Before the land was discovered by American explorers, Pike's Peak was one of the holiest sites for Ute Indians who lived on and around the peak. In fact, one of the "right of passage" for male Utes was to climb the peak alone and pray for guidance.
1803: The Pikes Peak area is obtained by the United States as part of President Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase. Colorado was on the fringe of the Louisiana Purchase, so very few Americans knew the topography of the land.
1806: President Jefferson dispatches Lt. Zebulon Montgomery Pike to determine the southwestern borers of the Louisiana Purchase. In the course of his trek, Pike decides to climb the peak on November 24th, but is unable to reach the summit due to the harsh Colorado winter climate. Pike gives the mountain its first "official" name as Grand Peak.
Zebulon Pike was the son of Army Officer Zebulon Pike, Sr., who served under George Washington during the American Revolution. After exploring the Pikes Peak region, Lt. Pike enjoyed a few more years of successfully exploring the western regions of the infant United States. Pike also served with distinction in the Battle of Tippecanoe and eventually served as a quartermaster in New Orleans during the War of 1812. As a result of his honorable service, Pike was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in 1813, and was assigned to lead several outposts along the shores of Lake Ontario. Sadly, Pike was killed by falling rocks and debris during a confrontation with the British.
1820: Dr. Edwin James, a historian and naturalist (give it up for the historians!!!) becomes the first recorded person to reach the summit of Pikes Peak. He decides to rename the mountain James Peak for obvious reasons.
1840: The official name of Pikes Peak is adopted by Major John Charles Fremont in honor of Lt. Zebulon Pike.
1858: Julia Archibald Holmes becomes the first woman to climb Pikes Peak.
1860: Construction of the Ute Pass wagon road begins. The current road up Pikes Peak still follows most of this original wagon road.
1886-1888: The construction of the carriage road/train is built.
1893: Katharine Lee Bates writes, America The Beautiful, most of which she composed while on the summit.
1916: The first ever Pikes Peak Hill Climb is held. This is the second oldest automobile race in the United States, behind the Indianapolis 500.
What I find so interesting about the history of Pikes Peak is that it literally ties the history of the eastern United States -- where almost all of our nation's heritage and founding took place -- with its western future. The idea of "going west" to become your own man, where true independence and fortune awaited, was often captured in the minds of enthusiastic Americans with the image of Pike's Peak. America's Mountain as it is appropriately named symbolically joins the nation together as one. The east's rich history of American enlightenment and founding is able to link up with the west's rugged beauty and future thanks in part to this majestic 14,000 foot peak. No wonder Katharine Bates concluded her epic song with the words, "From sea to shining sea."
Being that I have the privilege to live in Colorado Springs (yes, my part of America is more beautiful than yours), I thought it might be appropriate to share a few pics from my family's visit to America's Mountain, Pikes Peak:
At the base of America's Mountain, which is about 8,000 feet. Only 6,000 more to go!
On our way up the mountain we noticed that we were indeed, "Above the fruited plains."
Half way up the mountain, and the road is beginning to look like the old wagon rout of the 1800s (though a little better maintained)!!!
Yep, we are officially above timber line.
Looks like a highway to heaven!
And now we are walking in the clouds...literally!
We made it! 14,000 feet never felt so good...or so hard on the lungs!
A view of Colorado Springs and the frontier to the Great Plains from more than two miles high.
Here is my family (out of breath and all) at 14,110 feet.
Oh yeah, be careful while coming DOWN the mountain!
Pike's Peak has been associated with American Providentialism ever since its discovery. The very words to America the Beautiful are evidence of this. And who better to capture that feeling of patriotism than the one and only Ray Charles! Take us home, Ray:
And yes, my part of America really is more beautiful than yours!!! =)