The Pikes Peak region's first inhabitants were American Indian people. The Ute, Cheyenne, Arapaho and other tribes gathered at the base of Pikes Peak, near its abundant springs and in what is now called Garden of the Gods Park. The Ute name for Pikes Peak, Ta-Wa-Ah-Gath, translates to "Sun Mountain Sitting Big", for the way its slopes collect and reflect the sun's rays. During their seasonal migration following vast herds of bison, the Ute would camp in our nearby red rock canyons and visit the bubbling springs that we enjoy today.
The Pikes Peak region lies along the extreme southwestern edge of what was the Louisiana Territory, which was purchased by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803. Prior to this purchase, both French and Spanish flags flew over the region. In 1795, several hundred Spanish colonial soldiers from Santa Fe, NM under the command of Juan Bautiste de Anza, traveled down Ute Pass in search of Comanche raiders. The Spanish name for Pikes Peak was "Almagre," a reference to the reddish color of the granite. This name is still used for the high, snow-capped ridge just south of Pikes Peak.
In November 1806, American explorer Zebulon Montgomery Pike traveled through the area and is credited for “discovering” Pikes Peak, though he named the impressive landmark Grand Peak. He and his group attempted to reach the summit, in November but they were neither dressed nor equipped to climb the mountain that ultimately came to bear his name. Other explorers, trappers and traders soon followed.
In 1859, the discovery of gold 60 miles to the West resulted in the "Pikes Peak or Bust Gold Rush." Over 100,000 people flocked to the area in search of riches. That same year, Colorado City became the first settlement in the Pikes Peak region. It was for a short time the territorial capital and served as a supply camp for miners traveling up Ute Pass and into the mountains.
In 1869, General William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War hero from Pennsylvania, first came to the area and described its “most enticing scenery.” He predicted that there would soon be a great resort town at the base of Pikes Peak. One year later, he founded the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad and purchased land to create Colorado Springs along its route. His plans for the city included broad, tree-lined streets, and he donated land for parks, schools and churches. In 1871, the Victorian spa resort town Palmer envisioned became a reality.
The city was soon nicknamed "Little London" because of the many English tourists who visited the area. Within a few years of founding Colorado Springs, Palmer built and opened The Antlers Hotel, located downtown on Pikes Peak Avenue, with the mountain serving as a spectacular backdrop. Palmer's home was a beautiful structure called Glen Eyrie Castle that he built for his wife, Queen. It is located just north of Garden of the Gods Park and still stands as a memorial to the man and his vision.
The stunning scenic beauty was not the only thing that attracted people to the area. The sunny conditions and dry, mild climate of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs made these communities popular for people suffering from poor health, especially tuberculosis. It was thought that this climate could significantly improve the health of TB patients. Early on, people came by the thousands to seek a cure on their own through vigorous living and exercise. Later, they came in even larger numbers to seek medical attention in one of the numerous sanatoriums that operated between 1890 and 1950 and to drink the natural spring waters of nearby Manitou Springs.
In the 1890s, gold was discovered on the western slope of Pikes Peak, one of the richest gold strikes in American history. Almost overnight, the Cripple Creek Mining District grew from an isolated cattle pasture to the home of more than 50,000 people. As a result, by the turn of the 19th century, Colorado Springs was called "the city of millionaires." One of these millionaires was Spencer Penrose, who made his first fortune in Cripple Creek. He used his vast resources to build the Pikes Peak and Cheyenne Mountain Highways and to establish the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Will Rogers Shrine and The Broadmoor Hotel. He and his wife, Julie, created the El Pomar Foundation, which still supports many worthy causes in the Pikes Peak region and across Colorado.
At the turn of the century, inspired by a trip to the summit of Pikes Peak, Katharine Lee Bates penned what has become our country's most famous poem and song, "America the Beautiful."
In the 1940s, the U.S. Army opened Camp Carson, marking the beginning of what is now a strong military presence in this region. In 1954, the Air Force broke ground for the United States Air Force Academy to continue this military tradition. Today, Colorado Springs is home to major military installations including Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, the U.S. Space Command, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), Shriever Air Force Base and the United States Air Force Academy.