‘Pikes Peak or Bust’: Tava Mountain Through the Years

When a beautiful sunset appears, you can expect to see at least 10 photos of Pikes Peak on your Snapchat feed with captions varying from “isn’t she a beaut” to “10/10 would recommend.” It’s common knowledge that Pikes Peak makes for a great desktop background and that the doughnuts at the summit are at best average; but other than that, how much do you really know about the mountain you wake up to every day? The history of Pikes Peak dates all the way back to plate collisions, but as far as its connection to civilization is concerned, historians have been able to date it back to the end of the first Ice Age.

Photo courtesy of Anita Wray

About 12,000 years ago, a group belonging to the Clovis Culture roamed the Rocky Mountains. The Clovis Culture is a prehistoric Paleo-Indian culture of descendants from ancient people who crossed the Bering Land Bridge. Pre-1800s, the people who inhabited the Pikes Peak region belonged to a band within the Ute tribe; they called themselves the Tabeguache, meaning “People of Sun Mountain.” They referred to Pikes Peak as “Tava,” which roughly translates to “Mountain of the Sun.” The Tabeguache believed the creation of the world occurred when the Great Spirit poured ice and snow through a hole in the sky to create the Tava Mountain.

With the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, Zebulon Montgomery Pike and a group of men were sent to explore the Southern region in 1806. After building a stockade in present-day Pueblo, Pike and three of his men set out to summit Pikes Peak, only to fail as a result of poor planning for weather conditions in waist-deep snow. In 1820, Major Steven Long and Dr. Edwin James were sent to the region with 22 men. James successfully summited the mountain with two other  men, and Major Long dubbed the mountain ‘James Peak,’ although it was not his place to name the mountain. In 1840, Major John Charles Frémont, the leader of the army’s topographical corp, officially named Tava Mountain “Pikes Peak,” attributing its glory to its American “discoverer.” 

Forty years later, the Ute Agreement of 1880 was passed by Congress, forcefully assigning all Ute reservation lands under the treaty. The Tabeguache band, native to the Front Range region, was unjustly displaced to a reservation in Utah, far from their home.

With the unjust displacement of the Tabeguache band, the development of Pikes Peak for tourism came into full swing. A weather station was built in 1873, followed by the completion of Pikes Peak Highway in 1887 by the Pikes Peak Toll Road Company. At this point, the highway, which provided nine-hour carriage rides for tourists and sightseers, was not paved at all. The weather station was later abandoned around 1888 and upgraded to what is now known as the ‘Summit House.’ In 1889, the Mayor began selling the famous doughnuts and coffee, which is still a tourist tradition today.

Workers began laying down rail tracks in 1890, and the Cog Railway had its first rail car complete the entire line from Manitou Springs to the Pikes Peak summit on June 29, 1891. For five dollars, tourists could ride the Cog Railway to the summit. Five dollars  in 1891 equivalent to $127 today.

In 1918, the construction of the Barr Trail was completed, and four years later, the construction of the Barr Camp was finished. Since then, there have been many events that take place on Pikes Peak. These events include the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb (the second oldest auto race in the U.S.), the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon (annual running marathon), and the New Year’s Eve Fireworks (beginning in 1922 when five men climbed Pikes Peak and set off fireworks—with little to no concern for forest fires). 

With the increase in tourism that surrounds Pikes Peak, there has been a decrease in awareness of its history. We see brand names, stores, and sports teams commodify the mountain as a symbol of the Front Range to make a profit. What we forget is that with every Snapchat story of Pikes Peak, there is a photo of the center of the Tabeguache band’s world. With every hiker that travels on the Barr trail, the ancient footprints of the Ute band are walked over. With every doughnut sold in the Summit House, ancient Tabeguache practices are overshadowed. While Pikes Peak holds a dear place in many people’s hearts, it is important not to forget its history and what it means to other cultures.

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