*Note: This audio essay first aired on KRCC (Colorado Springs’ NPR affiliate, 91.5 FM) on March 18, 2021. The link to the program is here; the audio file and the text from the essay are below.

If Colorado Springs is all grown up now, what was it like as a baby?

It grew fast. 150 years ago there were only a few dozen folks here. Then, by 1880, over 4,000 people lived here, and it jumped again to over 11,000 people by 1890. That’s some speedy growing. 

Second, life was a lot rougher then. 

There were no cars, but there was a lot of horse poo. 

There was no refrigeration, so there was a lot of rotten food. 

There was no TV or radio—it was a very different world back then. 

In 1871, Germany’s 41-million-person population was more than all of America’s population of 39 million. Today the U.S. has four times as many people as Germany.

Back then, Germany had just defeated France in a war. Paris was torn apart in the ensuing chaos.

Just north of here in Wyoming Territory, as the winter ran out of 1871 into the new year, Buffalo Bill Cody entertained the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, who just couldn’t get enough of those Rocky Mountains. They were in a hunting party that included Civil War heroes and generals Phil Sheridan and George Armstrong Custer, and the renowned Native American leader Spotted Tail.

Most important to us here in Colorado, about then, Simon Ingersoll invented the first steam-powered rock drill—otherwise known as a jackhammer. It replaced hand drilling and made mining and tunneling faster and cheaper, giving Coloradans a path to expand over and through the mountains. 

That was the world baby Colorado Springs was born into. I think I speak for us all when I say the baby seems pretty cute, but I much prefer the grown-up version. 

Until our next mountainside chat—be good, be well, and no matter what, climb on.

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