Tag: colorado history

ALH Collection Highlights: On Discovery & the Naming of Things

One of the best things about working in archives and special collections is, to put it simply, the fact that we get to hang out with really cool stuff all day. As Julia pointed out in last month’s post, Archives & Local History (ALH) collection materials range from deeply odd to downright adorable, encompassing ancient artifacts and modern media. And there is truly so much more in between.

As an archivist, I am frequently reminded what a privilege it is to know history through direct experience, as something concrete that I can touch. The hard part of the job is figuring out how to share that—the sense of discovery, excitement, and deep familiarity with the material—when we can’t just put these rare collections out on a shelf for the public to browse.

Bridging that gap is not something that can be accomplished with a blog post, but I’m happy this opportunity exists to talk about collection news and highlight gems from our rare book collection. As the curator for ALH, a lot of my work happens in the background, unseen. I am going to try to write more often about our book collections, and in return I would love to hear what you think. I welcome any suggestions on material to collect or topics we should develop more. Get in touch with me at acarver@dclibraries.org.

NEW ACQUISITION

John Charles Frémont. Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the Year 1842, and to Oregon and North California in the years 1843-’44. First edition. (28th Congress, 2nd session, serial 461, Senate executive document 174.) Washington: Gales & Seaton, printers, 1845. Call number: LH 978 FRE

This is a handsome copy of one of the most significant narratives of 19th-century western exploration, made even more valuable by the presence of the large folding map in the rear cover pocket. While it is not uncommon for older books to lose maps or illustrated plates over the years, this map of Frémont’s first two expeditions is especially scarce. Usually referred to as “the Preuss map” (in recognition of cartographer Charles Preuss), it helped to make the West more navigable during a period of increased public interest, when overland migration and the discovery of gold in California “led to a feverish popular demand for maps … no matter how geographically deficient.”1 Preuss’s map, on the other hand, was so accurate regarding the topographic details of Frémont’s route that it became the basis for many subsequent maps of the American West.

As great as it is, the map is not the reason I wanted this book for our collection. Instead, it is because Frémont’s 1843 expedition holds special local significance for Douglas County.

In the category of Colorado’s early white explorers, you might not come up with the name John Charles Frémont (1813-1890) first. He is perhaps more well-remembered for discoveries (and misadventures) further west, in Utah, California, and Washington. We usually count Zebulon Pike as the first explorer of this region, passing through the area south of Douglas County in 1806. Next came Stephen Long in 1820. Frémont didn’t arrive until 1842, but it’s actually his Second Expedition, of 1843-1844, that we are most interested in.

On July 9, 1843, Frémont recorded the route his party took from the South Platte River:

“…entering a country of picturesque and varied scenery; broken into rocky hills of singular shapes; little valleys, with pure crystal water … green spots of luxuriant grass, flowers of all colors, and timber of different kinds… To one of these remarkably shaped hills, having on the summit a circular flat rock of two or three hundred yards in circumference, some one gave the name of Poundcake, which it has been permitted to retain, as our hungry people seemed to think it a very agreeable comparison.”2

This passage isn’t just a painterly description of the landscape, but in fact the first documented sighting of the geological feature we know by the name of Castle Rock.

As for why “Poundcake Rock” didn’t stick, we can only speculate. Place names become fixed to locations over time because enough people agree on their usage, but almost 30 years passed before settlers established permanent communities in the Castle Rock area.

In fact, there was no system for standardizing place names and no agency with the authority to undertake such a project until 1890, when President Benjamin Harrison created the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (BGN). Today, the BGN reviews proposals for new or changed place names, decides on the details of spelling and variant terms, and maintains the searchable Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) database. If you happen to be a strict grammarian and find yourself bothered by the lack of possessive apostrophes in the official names of our nearby mountains, you can blame the BGN. (Technically, it is Pikes Peak, not Pike’s Peak.)

Speaking of names, honorary eponyms come in many forms that aren’t geographic features like mountains, rivers, counties, or cities. Frémont’s expedition was not just a pathfinding mission; he also collected scientific data in the form of detailed weather observations and physical specimens in the form of fossils, shells, and plants. Unfortunately, many of Frémont’s botanical specimens did not survive the strenuous journey. Some remained intact enough to identify as new species, and over the course of his five expeditions Frémont described or gathered numerous unique specimens and varieties that still bear his name. However, of the hundred-plus results related to Frémont that appear in the U.S. Department of Agriculture PLANTS database, only a handful are native Colorado species. These include: dwarf mountain ragwort (Senecio fremontii), Fremont’s geranium (Geranium caespitosum var. fremontii), moss gentian (Gentiana fremontii), western mountain aster (Symphyotrichum spathulatum var. fremontii), and Fremont’s beardtongue (Penstemon fremontii), which, objectively speaking, has the best name and is the prettiest color.

John Frémont had a long, eventful, and frequently controversial life as an explorer, investor, military officer (serving in both the Mexican-American War and Civil War), and politician. The fact that he ran for president in 1856 as the first candidate for the newly formed Republican Party in a historic three-way race doesn’t even rank among the top-five most significant things he did.

To learn more about Frémont’s life and historical legacy, I recommend the recent biography by NPR radio host Steve Inskeep called Imperfect Union: How Jessie and John Frémont Mapped the West, Invented Celebrity, and Helped Cause the Civil War. Published in 2020, it is notable for examining the relationship between Frémont and his wife, Jessie, who has long been recognized as the coauthor of his expedition reports3,4. Her own ambition, talent, and political savvy have perhaps been overlooked until now. Had they lived in a different time, we might find ourselves in the Jessie Rock branch library, or looking up at Jessies Peak today.

Citations

1. Quote page 98; see 98-116. Wheat, Carl Irving. “Mapping the American West, 1540-1857: A Preliminary Study.” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, vol. 64, pt. 1, 1954, pp. 19-194.

2. Frémont, Report of the Exploring Expedition… , p. 113.

3. Leeder, Kim. “John Charles Frémont and Jessie Benton Frémont.” Early American Nature Writers: A Biographical Encyclopedia, edited by Daniel Patterson, Greenwood Press, 2007, pp. 146-153.

4. See p. 300. Weiss, Stephen Craig. “The John C. Fremont 1842, 1843-’44 Report and Map.” Journal of Government Information v. 26, no. 3, 1999, pp. 297-313.

The 2021 Archives Awards

Archives collections are anything but boring! These 13 items highlight some of Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History’s quirkiest, funniest, and downright strangest collections. Keep reading to see which Archives Award they won!

Oldest


Leaf fossils
2017.087

Still looking good at approximately 64 million years old, these leaf fossils from Castle Rock’s stint as a Cenozoic jungle win in the category of Oldest. These leaves were falling after the dinosaurs died, give or take a few million years.

Creepiest


Jar of braided hair
2013.013

Winning the category by a landslide, the award for Creepiest object goes to this jar of braided hair. Its murky provenance only adds to its “hair” of mystery.

As an added bonus, its lid advertises instant coffee: “More people drink Nescafe than any other coffee!” Mmm … appetizing.

This object was also considered for the Spookiest award, but what paranormal entity would want to spend eternity in a jar of hair?

Most Likely to Cause Back Problems


Railroad irons
2017.077

Housed in the only box justifying a notation of “EXTREMELY HEAVY!!” these railroad irons win in the category of Most Likely to Cause Back Problems. Items include railroad spikes, ties, joints and nails. You can come see them any time we’re open, just make sure you have a lifting partner—preferably one who doesn’t forget leg day.

Grossest Recipe


Ham mousse, from Housewives Favorite Recipes (1916)

Have you ever had a hankering for ham mousse? Really, not even a little? These 1916 instructions on how to pulverize your own salted meats into the kind of pasty texture used in desserts wins Grossest Recipe. But “Fish in Jelly” is a close second.

This recipe from Housewives Favorite Recipes and many others (the good, the bad, and the ugly) can be found in ALH’s extensive local cookbooks collection.

Goodest Boy


Frank Kime with a dog
2013.013.0001.0042.0002

This winner of Goodest Boy is still warming our hearts almost a century later.

Who’s a good boy? He is! Yes, he is!

Cutest Baby


Dale in overalls with glasses
2001.034.0011

Just kidding! How could we choose? But here’s a cute baby anyway. Just look at Dale Norwood’s wee little puffy overalls!

Spookiest


Ravenloft series by Christie Golden (1992-1994)
1999.059

Winning the Spookiest Archives Award are three Ravenloft titles by prolific local author Christie Golden. In 1991, 1992 and 1994, Golden contributed three dark fantasy installations to the 24 book-long (!) Dungeons & Dragons series, Ravenloft. Taking place in the Demiplane of Dread, characters must resist (or not) the Darklords and the Dark Powers. Spooky indeed!

Golden has written more than 50 novels and almost two dozen short stories. Maybe she doesn’t need sleep! ALH also houses two of Golden’s manuscript collections.

Biggest Nope


Cats outside during blizzard
2006.021.0005.0021

The face says it all. This chilly cat wins Biggest Nope, even though we all know it probably insisted on going outside in the first place.

Coolest Nurses


Preparing for gas mask drill
2005.216.0001.00001

Knowing that one’s nurse has trained for chemical warfare brings such a sense of comfort to patients. These World War II nurses, preparing for a gas mask drill in 1943, win the Archives Award for Coolest Nurses.

Most Questionable Medical Advice


Painkiller recipe from Dismuke’s Book of Formulas and Prescriptions by Edward E. Dismuke (circa 1890)

Dismuke’s Book of Formulas and Prescriptions (circa 1890) serves as a kind of medical grocery list. If you’re feeling down, simply give a recipe to your local pharmacist and enjoy the effects of opium, alcohol and chloroform on your symptoms! Soon after, you won’t be feeling anything at all.

And don’t forget about your cow—Dismuke’s also recommends using “purgatives” to rid your cow of “bloody milk.” Don’t expect the cow to thank you.

Needless to say, this book wins the Archives Award for Most Questionable Medical Advice.

Friendliest Book


Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest, With a Few Observations by J. Frank Dobie (1943)

It’s a capitalist world, and I’m a copyright girl! But not J. Frank Dobie’s Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest, With a Few Observations (1943). It wins the category for Friendliest Book. His copyright page states, “Not Copyrighted. Anybody is welcome to help himself to it in any way.” Aww, thanks, Mr. Dobie! (But profits! What about the profits?)

Best Wedding Dress


Lieutenant Andrew Cooley and Joan Cooley on their wedding day
2012.023.0005

Your wedding dress might have been pretty, but was it flowing-gracefully-through-an-Honor-Guard-saber-arch-with-your-GI-Joe-Lieutenant-groom pretty?

Best Cover Illustration


Flowers of Mountain and Plain by Edith S. Clements (1926)

Twenty-five color plates illustrate 175 wildflower species found in Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. Originally published in 1915, this 1926 third edition is decorated with a vibrant cover in addition to its contents. An easy win for Best Cover Illustration!

Clements was a respected botanist, the first woman to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska (in 1904). She and her husband founded the Alpine Laboratory on Pikes Peak.

If you’ve enjoyed the 2021 Archives Awards, there’s more! Browse our website to find all kinds of digitized items, or contact Archives & Local History staff to set up an appointment to see our vault collections and other resources.

Activities From the Archives

Douglas County Libraries Archives & Local History (ALH) has put together the following activity packages to encourage learning about what archives do and how you can use these types of collections, even from home. Each topic contains a downloadable link to instructions and resource guides, along with fun activities you can do safely at home or in your backyard. Click the links to download the activity packages, then follow the instructions for a fun learning experience!

Educational Activities to Do From Home

Image courtesy Castle Pines Connection. Page from ALH’s Sarah Bennett Walker Collections.

Flower Pressing with Douglas County’s Sarah Bennett Walker

ALH preserves some of the beautiful pressed flower herbariums from Sarah Bennett Walker, a local 19th-century botanist. Learn how to press and preserve your own flowers and get familiar with some of Colorado’s most magnificent wildflowers. Download or print this file to get started.
Site of bridge debris north of Castle Rock. 1994.001, Meacham Family Photographs.

Learn to Use Primary Sources: Douglas County’s 1965 Plum Creek Flood

In this activity, learn to use common primary sources found in archives in order to understand the past. Douglas County’s infamous 1965 Plum Creek flood is used as the theme. Then, play a fun PBS game to learn how different cities protect themselves from floods using engineering and natural resources. Download this file to get started.
Image courtesy Wild Food Girl.

Historical Recipes: Douglas County’s Wild Plum Jelly

ALH has a large collection of local, historical cookbooks. Recreate this homesteaders’ recipe for wild plum jelly using plums found in Douglas County and learn about local edible plants and what cooking in the past was like. Download this file to get started.

ALH Coloring Pages

Download and print these coloring pages from ALH’s photographs collection, and use your imagination to add color to images from Douglas County’s history. When you’re finished, show us your creations at localhistory@dclibraries.org!