America the Beautiful

Zebulon Pike was a military man and an explorer, albeit not a very good one. He spent a majority of his time lost, and misidentified several rivers and headwaters of rivers. However, in 1806, he received orders to find the headwaters of the Red and Arkansas Rivers, and so he set out for Colorado. He did many things along the way, including making treaties with Indian nations, but his claim to fame came when he discovered what is now known as Pikes Peak.

This was the first official US presence in Colorado. Some of Pike’s men returned east with treaties, but Pike stopped in Pueblo, Fountain Creek and at the Arkansas River. He and a few men tried to climb a blue ‘hill’ because they could map a lot of territory from the top. “I’ll be back in a few hours,” he told the others. Six days later he returned, never having made it to the top; but, in those days, that didn’t matter. Discovering it was enough, and the blue mountain was named “Pikes Peak.”

Many years later, Katherine Lee Bates, a professor at Wellesley College, was lecturing at Colorado College in Colorado Springs when she joined an expedition to the summit of the mountain in a prairie wagon. She was struck by the beauty she saw on top of the world famous mountain, whose summit is 14,110 feet. Miss Bates was inspired to write a poem which was published in the Congregationalist, a weekly journal, on July 4, 1895. She rewrote some sections of the poem, and a second version was published on November 19, 1904, in the Boston Evening Transcript. She was intensely criticized for what some thought was an overuse of the word “beautiful,” with some calling it hackneyed. Remembering the beauty she saw from the top of Pikes Peak, Miss Bates refused to change the words. Eventually, this famous poem was set to music and became the beloved American anthem America the Beautiful.


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