As we prepare for the 150th anniversary of the founding of Colorado Springs on July 31 of next year, one thing is sure; there will be a perfect storm of books, podcasts, TV shows, Facebook groups, images and newspaper stories celebrating it.
And why not? It’ll be a blessed relief from politics, the pandemic and the gray, gloomy months of winter. Writers and other creatives who choose to board the Sesquicentennial Express will find that they can relate to early adventurer/entrepreneurs who, on first sighting the distant snow-covered summit that overlooks Colorado Springs, had but a single thought: How can I make a buck out of this?
Most of them didn’t cash in, but those who stayed built lives, had fun and, we hope, departed this life with few regrets. I’ll be having fun as well, profiling 19th-century regional authors, journalists, reporters and artists. None are particularly well known or celebrated today, but their individual stories are rich and fascinating. Here’s one.
Born in 1845, Rose Georgina Kingsley was the daughter of a prominent English cleric. As a woman of gentle birth who had no interest in marriage and childbearing, she was a cheerful outlier who created a rich and fulfilling life.
She traveled extensively in her early 20s, so when her brother Maurice got a job as assistant treasurer of General William Jackson Palmer’s Fountain Colony, she decided to join him. She arrived in October 1871, when only a few hundred people lived in the city. In a letter to her sister in England, she described her first impression.
“You may imagine Colorado Springs, as I did, to be a sequestered valley with bubbling fountains, green grass and shady trees; but not a bit of it,” Kingsley wrote. “Picture to yourself a level elevated plateau of greenish brown without a single tree or plant larger than a Spanish bayonet [Yucca] two feet high and you have a pretty good idea of the town site as it appears in October 1871.”
Brother and sister shared a “wooden shanty, 16 x 12, with a door in front and small windows on each side,” Rose reported. “It is lined with brown paper so it is perfectly windproof and really quite comfortable although it was ordered on Thursday and completed on Sunday.”
It was located on the corner of Tejon and Huerfano streets (now Colorado Avenue), although the streets “are only marked off by a furrow turned by a plow.”
Kingsley threw herself into the life of the city, helping establish a school, founding a library, contributing stories to the city’s first newspaper, making pen-and-ink drawings of the wonders of the Pikes Peak region and writing about everything she saw and did. In the summer of 1872, she and Maurice accompanied Queen Palmer and the general on a long and intermittently dangerous trip through Mexico to determine the best route for a proposed railway from Colorado to Mexico City.
Returning to England, Kingsley wrote about her experiences in an 1874 book, South by West; or Winter in the Rocky Mountains and Spring in Mexico. Illustrated by the author’s sketches, it’s a delightful read — unpretentious, acutely observed and beautifully written. While Kingsley often adheres to the familiar rhetoric of capitalist development in the 19th century, her voice is very different from those of the male travel writers of the same era. Delighted by the adventurous freedom of Colorado Springs, Kingsley gives us a fine account of our city’s first year. She cleaned house, did laundry “rubbing the skin off my knuckles with the rubbers (washboard) and burning my hands with the irons,” defended the dog from coyotes that roamed the town and found time to explore the mountain wilderness a few miles from the shanty.
South by West was a success, and Rose authored at least a dozen more books. In 1884 she started an independent school for girls in Warwickshire that thrives to this day. The school’s website notes that “The Kingsley School owes its existence to the determination and initiative of Rose Kingsley,” who is described only as “the elder daughter of Victorian novelist Charles Kingsley.” As Rodney Dangerfield would put it, “no respect!!” Yet we can all honor her by summiting Mount Rosa, the conical mountain south of Pikes Peak that was named after her in 1874.
It’s a great climb!