7 Things You Likely Didn’t Know About Colorado Springs’ Founding Fathers

It is thanks to a handful of fathers of the founding variety that we’re celebrating Father’s Day in Colorado Springs. Today, we reflect on the city’s founders.

Here are seven things you didn’t know about them:

General William Jackson Palmer. Photo courtesy of the Pioneers Museum

1. Colorado Springs’ leading man, Gen. William Jackson Palmer, would be proud of the city’s current designation as a Tree City USA. For a time he was president of the International Society of Arboriculture, which is still in organization. A remembrance in the society’s magazine at the time of Palmer’s 1909 death credited him for the planting of “several million trees throughout all portions of the world.” The article recalls him as “a lover of trees and flowers” and “thoroughly versed in the character, habits and origin of all forest trees and plants.”

General William Palmer’s statue downtown, Colorado Springs. CAROL LAWRENCE, THE GAZETTE 4/08/09

2. Scholarly reports describe Palmer as a nonconformist – “a willing dissenter,” says an account about his anti-imperialism in “Legends, Labors & Loves of William Jackson Palmer,” a collection published by the Pikes Peak Library District. He criticized U.S. involvement in the Venezuelan territory dispute of 1895 and spoke out against the Spanish-American War.

In his 20s, Palmer was known to organize anti-slavery lectures in Philadelphia, his then-home. His choice to fight with Union forces during the Civil War was seen as a breach of his religious doctrine. According to “Legends, Labors & Loves,” Quaker elders asked him why he’d go against the pacifist traditions of the Religious Society of Friends. “Palmer expressed his thoughts clearly,” the book reads. “‘It seems to me that one of the most essential principles of Friends is obedience to conscience …”

A portrait of Irving Howbert. This is printed on the front of the photograph: “Prominent as a member of various important citizens’ water committees appointed to consult and co-operate with the city council.” Howbert was born in 1846 in Columbus, Ind. He moved to Colorado in 1860. Howbert became president of the First National Bank in Colorado Springs in 1880 and was a state senator from 1882-1886. Besides banking, business and politics, Howbert led railway companies, according to the Pikes Peak Library District. Mandatory credit – MARGARETTA M. BOAS PHOTOGRAPH COLLECTION , COURTESY OF PIKES PEAK LIBRARY COLLECTION, 001-8910

3. In “The Book of Colorado Springs,” author Manly Ormes counts Irving Howbert among “the pioneers whose personality has been a dominating factor in shaping our destiny as a town.” Howbert settled in the area almost 10 years before Palmer and went on to become the county’s longtime clerk and one of Colorado’s most influential politicians.

Before that, in 1864, he fought Native Americans in what became known as the Sand Creek massacre. Howbert did not call it a massacre. He justified the killings in his writings, referring to the natives as “savages” and blaming the Army for not sending troops.

Colorado Springs founder Gen. William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War hero and railroad baron who also founded The Gazette. Photo courtesy of the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

4. William Sharpless Jackson was Palmer’s right-hand man, serving a prominent role in the general’s railroad company starting in 1871, and helping to establish the city. But more than a pioneer, Jackson was remembered by his children as a fun-loving father.

He imparted blue-collar lessons – “The Jackson youngsters worked for their allowances,” reads a 1972 Colorado Springs Sun article, which mentions William Jr. earning 10 cents a week for shining his dad’s shoes. There was a saying his daughter Helen recalled: “What’s worth doing at all is worth doing well.” But also, there was playtime. “Papa,” whom she recalled looking like Santa Claus with his white beard, would come home in the evenings for games of “hop, skip and jump” in the backyard.

Statue of Winfield Scott Stratton, located on Pikes Peak Avenue just west of Nevada Ave in Colorado Springs. photo by Carol Lawrence 11.6.02 Colorado Springs public art

5. Winfield Scott Stratton lived a fast life on his rise as a mining magnate, becoming a millionaire in Cripple Creek and dying at 54. He was known to drink and have many women associates. But his philanthropic legacy endures in Colorado Springs – notably in the Myron Stratton Home for seniors and homeless families, still standing after it started from his estate. His bronze likeness stands downtown for his many contributions to the public good.

A lesser-known act of generosity included buying bicycles for all the “laundry girls” in town. A 1967 Gazette-Telegraph article says he did not want the short-of-change girls paying for street car fares – “and he owned the street cars.”

A statue of the dapper Spencer Penrose sits in the courtyard at the Penrose House. The same statue is in downtown Colorado Springs. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

6. Spencer Penrose is the man behind The Broadmoor and a handful of Colorado Springs tourist attractions that remain, such as Pikes Peak Highway and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. By the time of his death, the business tycoon also left behind the El Pomar Foundation, which today continues to grant millions toward community development.

The creation of the zoo should evidence a passion of Penrose’s: He went as far as securing buffalo from Yellowstone National Park for his animal collection. The menagerie also included an elephant named Tessie, which he maintained was a gift from a Nepalese prince. She was reportedly his favorite golf caddie and the pride of local parades. But it turns out Tessie was no royal gift. She was bought from a circus owner. Reads El Pomar’s website: “Spencer had a flair for the extravagant and learned to harness his practical jokes to benefit and publicize Colorado to the world.”

The statue of Spencer Penrose at the corner of Tejon St. and Pikes Peak Avenue March 2, 2010. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette.

7. Another of Penrose’s interests was food and drink. A newspaper obituary from 1939 called him “skilled in the ways of a skillet.” He founded an exclusive cooking club in town, “and none could throw together a tastier dish than he,” the article reads.

For as interested as he was in the fanciful, one of his favorite foods was simple dried fruit, “any kind and all kinds,” according to the article. He also liked his wine – “a gentleman drinker,” the paper recalled: “[P]rohibition won his undying enmity.”

Contact Seth Boster: 636-0332

Share this photoGeneral William Palmer’s statue downtown, Colorado Springs. CAROL LAWRENCE, THE GAZETTE 4/08/09

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