Under Pike’s Peak – American Travel

WHAT a curious thing it is, that mental process by which a first impression of a city is summed up. A railway station, a taxicab, swift glimpses through a dirty window of streets, buildings, people, blurred together, incoherently, like moving pictures out of focus; then a quick unconscious adding of infinitesimal details and the total: “I like this city,” or : “I do not like it..”

It was late afternoon when the train upon which we had come from eastern Kansas stopped at the Denver station—a substantial if not distinguished structure, neither new nor very old, but of that architectural period in which it was considered that a roof was hardly more essential to a station than a tower.

Passing through the building and emerging upon the taxi stand, we found ourselves confronted by an elaborate triple gateway of bronze, somewhat reminiscent of certain city gates of Paris, at which the octroi waits with the inhospitable purpose of collecting taxes. How-ever, Denver has no octroi, nor is the Denver gate a barrier. Indeed, it is not even a gate, having no doors, but is intended merely as a sort of formal portal to the city—a city proud of its climate, of the mountain scenery,. and of its reputation for thoroughgoing hospitality. Over the large central arch of this bronze monstrosity the beribboned delegate (arriving to attend one of the many conventions always being held in Denver) may read, in large letters, the word “Welcome”; and when, later, departing, he approaches the arch from the city gate, he finds Denver giving him godspeed with the word “Mizpah.”

Passing beneath the central arch, our taxi swept along a wide, straight street, paved with impeccably smooth asphalt, and walled in with buildings tall enough and solid enough to do credit to the business and shopping district of any large American city.

All this surprised me. Perhaps because of the unfavorable first impression I had received in Kansas City, I had expected Denver, being farther west, to have a less finished look. Furthermore, I had been reading Richard Harding Davis’s book, “The West Through a Car Window,” which, though it told me that Denver is “a smaller New York in an encircling range of white-capped mountains,” added that Denever has “the worst streets in the country.” Denver is still by way of being a miniature New York, with its considerable number of eastern families, and its little replica of Broadway cafe life, as well; but the Denver streets are no longer ill paved. Upon the contrary, they are among the best paved streets possessed by any city I have visited. That caused me to look at the copyright notice in Mr. Davis’s book, whereupon I discovered, to my surprise, that twenty-two years (and Heaven only knows how many steam rollers) had passed over Denver since the book was written. Yet, barring such improvements, the picture is quite accurate to-day.

Another feeling of my first ten minutes in Denver was one of wonder at the city’s flatness. That part of it through which we passed on the way to the Brown Palace Hotel was as flat as Chicago, whereas I had always thought of Denver as being in the mountains. However, if flat, the streets looked attractive, and I arrived at the proudly named caravansary with the feeling that Denver was a fine young city.

Meeting cities, one after another, as I met them on this journey, is like being introduced, at a reception, to a line of strangers. A glance, a handshake, a word or two, and you have formed an impression of an individuality. But there is this difference : the individual at the reception is “fixed up” for the occasion, whereas the city has but one exterior to show to every one.

That the exterior shown by Denver is pleasing has been, until recently, a matter more or less of accident. The city was laid out by pioneers and mining men, who showed their love of liberality in making the streets wide. There is nothing close about Denver. She has the open-handed, easy affluence of a mining city. She spends money freely on good pavements and good buildings. Thus, without any brilliant comprehensive plan she has yet grown from a rough mining camp into a delightful city, all in the space of fifty years.

A little more than a hundred years ago Captain Zebulon Pike crossed the plains and visited the territory which is now Colorado, though it was then a part of the vast country of Louisiana. Long, Fremont, Kit Carson, and the other early pioneers followed, but it was not until 1858 that gold was found on the banks of Cherry Creek, above its juncture with the South Platte River, causing a camp to be located on the present site of Denver. The first camp was on the west side of Cherry Creek and was named Auraria, after a town in Georgia. On the east side there developed an-other camp, St. Charles by name, and these two camps remained, for some time, independent of each other. The discovery of gold in California brought a new influx of men to Colorado—though the part of Colorado in which Denver stands was then in the territory of Kansas, which extended to the Rockies. Many of the pioneers were men from eastern Kansas, and hence it happened that when the mining camps of Auraria and St. Charles were combined into one town, the town was named for General James W. Denver, then Governor of Kansas.

Kansas City and Denver are about of an age and are comparable in many ways. The former still remains a kind of capital to which naturally gravitate men who have made fortunes in southwestern oil and cattle, while the latter is a mining capital. Of her “hundred millionaires,” most have been enriched by mines, and the story of her sudden fortunes and of her famous “characters” makes a long and racy chapter in American history, running the gamut from tragedy to farce. And, like Kansas City, Denver is particularly American. Practically all her millionaires, past and present, came of native stock, and almost all her wealth has been taken from ground in the State of Colorado.

J. M. Oskison, in his “Unconventional Portrait,” published in “Collier’s” a year or so ago, told a great deal about Denver in a few words :

Last October a frock-coated clergyman of the Episcopal Church stood up in one of the luxurious parlors of Denver’s newest hotel and said : ” I am an Arapahoe Indian ; when I was a little boy my people used to hunt buffalo all over this country; we made our camps right on this place where Denver is now.” There is not very much gray in that man’s hair.

In the summer of 1867, when Vice-President Colfax came to Denver from Cheyenne, after a stage ride of twenty-two hours, he found it a hopeful city of 5,000. Denver had just learned that Cherry Creek sometimes carried a great deal of water down to the Platte River, and that it was n’t wise to build in its bed.

Irrigation has made a garden of the city and lands about. There are 240,000 people who make Denver their home to-day. The city under the shadow of the mountains is spread over an area of sixty square miles ; a plat of redeemed desert with an assessed valuation of $135,000,000.

In 1870, three years after the visit of Colfax, Denver got its first railroad: a spur line from Cheyenne; in the 80’s it got street cars; to-day it has the look of a city that is made—and well made. But, as I have said before, that has, hitherto, been largely a matter of good fortune. Denver’s youth has saved her from the municipal disease which threatens such older cities as St. Louis and St. Paul: hardening of the arteries of traffic. Also, nature has given her what may be termed a good “municipal complexion,” wherein she has been more fortunate than Kansas City, whose warts and wens have necessitated expensive operations by the city “beauty doctor.”

Now, a city with the natural charm of Denver is, like a woman similarly endowed, in danger of becoming oversure. Either is likely to lie back and rest upon Nature’s bounty. Yet, to Denver’s eternal credit be it said, she has not fallen into the ways of indolent self-satisfaction. Indeed, I know of no American city which has done, and is doing, more for herself. Consider these few random items taken from the credit side of her balance : She is one of the best lighted cities in the land. She has the commission form of government.. (Also, as you will remember, she has woman suffrage, Colorado having been the first State to accept it.) Her Children’s Court, presided over by Judge Ben B. Lindsey, is famous. She has no bread line, and, as for crime, when I asked Police Inspector Leonard De Lue about it, he shook his head and said: “No; business is light. The fact is we ain’t got no crime out here.” Denver owns her own Auditorium, where free concerts are given by the city. Also, in one of her parks, she has a city race track, where sport is the only consideration, betting, even between horse owners, having been successfully eliminated. Furthermore, Denver has been one of the first American cities to begin work on a “civic center.” Several blocks before the State Capitol have been cleared of buildings, and a plaza is being laid out there which will presently be a Tuileries Garden, in miniature, surrounded by fine public buildings, forming a suitable central feature for the admirable system of parks and boulevards which already exists.

Curiously enough, however, by far the smallest part of Denver’s parks are within the confines of the city. About five years ago Mr. John Brisben Walker pro-posed that mountain parks be created. Denver seized upon the idea with characteristic energy, with the result that she now has mountain parks covering forty square miles in neighboring counties. These parks have an area almost as great as that of the whole city, and are connected with the Denver boulevards by fine roads, so that some of the most spectacular motor trips in the country are within easy range of the “Queen City of the Plains.”

But though the mountains give Denver her individuality, and though she has made the most of them, they have not proved an unmixed blessing. The riches which she has extracted from them, and the splendid setting that they give her, is the silver lining to her commercial cloud. The mountains directly west of Denver form a barrier which has forced the main lines of trancontinental travel to the north and south, leaving Denver in a backwater.

To overcome this handicap the late David Moffat, one of Denver’s early millionaires, started in to build the Denver & Salt Lake Railroad, better known as the Moffat Road. This railway strikes almost due west from Denver and crosses the continental divide at an altitude of over two miles. While it is one of the most astonishing pieces of railroad in the world, its windings and severe grades have made operation difficult and expensive, and the road has been built only as far as Craig, Colo., less than halfway to Salt Lake City. The great difficulty has always been the crossing of the divide. The city of Denver has now come forward with the Moffat tunnel project, and has extended her credit to the extent of three million dollars, for the purpose of helping the railroad company to build the tunnel. It will be more than six miles long, and will penetrate the Continental Divide at a point almost half a mile below that now reached by the road, saving twenty-four miles in distance and over two per cent. in grade. The tunnel is now under construction, and will, when completed, be the longest railroad tunnel in the Western Hemisphere. The railroad company stands one-third of the cost, while the city of Denver undertakes two-thirds. When completed, this route will be the shortest between Denver and Salt Lake by many miles.

Nor is Denver giving her entire attention to her rail-way line. The good-roads movement is strong through-out the State of Colorado. Last year two million dollars was expended under the direction of the State High-way Commission—a very large sum when it is considered that the total population of the State is not a great deal larger than that of the city of St. Louis.

The construction of roads in Colorado is carried on under a most advanced system. Of a thousand convicts assigned to the State Penitentiary at Canon City, four hundred are employed upon road work. In traveling through the State I came upon several parties of these men, and had I not been informed of the fact, I should never have known that they were convicts. I met them in the mountains, where they live in camps many miles distant from the penitentiary.. They seemed always to be working with a will, but as we passed, they would look up and smile and wave their hands to us. They appeared healthy, happy, and—respectable. They do not wear stripes, and their guards are unarmed, being selected, rather, as foremen with a knowledge of road building. When one considers the ghastly mine wars which have, at intervals, disgraced the State, it is comforting to reflect upon Colorado’s enlightened methods of handling her prisons and her prisoners.

Denver, in her general architecture, is more attractive than certain important cities to the eastward of her. Her houses are, for the most part, built solidly of brick and stone, and more taste has been displayed in them, upon the whole, than has been shown in either St. Louis or Kansas City. Like Kansas City, Denver has many long, tree-bordered streets lined with modest homes which look new and which are substantially built, but there is less monotony of design in Denver.

As in Kansas City, the wonder of Denver is that it has all happened in such a short time. This was brought home to me when, dining in a delightful house one evening, I was informed by my hostess that the land on which is her home was “homesteaded,” in ’64 or ’65, by her father ; that is to say, he had taken it over, gratis, from the Government. That modest corner lot is now worth between fifteen and twenty thousand dollars.

Though Denver has no art gallery, she hopes to have. one in connection with her new “civic center.” In the meantime, some paintings are shown in the Public Library and in the Colorado Museum of Natural History—a building which also shelters a collection of stuffed animals (somewhat better, on the whole, than the paintings) and of minerals found in the State.

A symphony hall is planned along with the new art gallery, for Denver has a real interest in music. Indeed, I found that true of many cities in the Middle West and West. In Kansas City, for instance, important concerts are patronized not only by residents of the place, but by quantities of people who come in from other cities and towns within a radius of thirty or forty miles.

Denver has her own symphony orchestra, one which compares favorably with many other large orchestras in various parts of the country. The Denver organization is led by Horace Tureman, a very capable conductor, and its seventy musicians have been gathered from theater and cafe orchestras throughout the city. Six or eight programs of the highest character are given each season, and in order that all music lovers may be enabled to attend the concerts, seats are sold as low as ten cents each.

“If some of the big concert singers who come out here could hear one of our symphony programs,” one Denver woman said to me, “I think they might revise their opinion of us. A great many of them must think us less advanced, musically, than we are, for they insist on singing `The Suwanee River’ and `Home, Sweet Home’—which we always resent.”

The one conspicuous example of sculpture which I saw in Denver—the Pioneer’s Fountain, by Macmonnies —is not entirely Denver’s fault. When a city gives an order to a sculptor of Macmonnies’s standing, she shows that she means to do the best she can. It is then up to the sculptor.

The Pioneer’s Fountain, which is intended to commemorate the early settlers, could hardly be less suitable. It is large and exceedingly ornate. Surmounting the top of it is a rococo cowboy upon a pony of the same extraction. The pony is not a cow-pony, and the cowboy is not a cowboy, but a theatrical figure : something which might have been modeled by a French-man whose acquaintance with this country had been limited to the reading of bad translations of Fenimore Cooper and Bret Harte. At the base of the fountain are figures which, I was informed, represent pioneers.

If western pioneers had been like these, there never would have been a West. They are soft creatures, almost voluptuous, who would have wept in face of hostile Indians. The whole fountain seems like something intended for a mantel ornament in Dresden china, but which, through some confusion, had gotten itself enlarged and cast in bronze.

Society in Denver has several odd features. For one thing, it is the habit of fashionables, and those who wish to gaze upon them, to attend the theaters on certain nights, which are known as “society night.” Thus, the Broadway Theater has “society night” on Mondays, the Denham on Wednesdays, and the Orpheum on Fridays.

“Society,” of course, means different things to different persons. In Denver the word, used in its most restricted, most elegant, most recherche, and most exclusive sense, means that group of persons who are celebrated in the society columns of the Denver news-papers, as “The Sacred Thirty-six.”

If it is possible for newspapers anywhere to outdo in idiocy those of New York in the handling of “society news,” I should say that the Denver newspapers accomplished it. Having less to work with, they have to make more noise in proportion. Thus the arrival in Denver, at about the time I was there, of Lord and Lady Decies caused an amount of agitation the like of which I have never witnessed anywhere. The Denver papers were absolutely plastered over with the pictures and doings and sayings of this English gentleman and his American wife, and the matter published with regard to them revealed a delight in their presence which was childlike and engaging.

I have a copy of one Denver paper, containing an interview with Lord and Lady Decies, in which the reporter mentions having been greeted “like I was a regular caller,” adding: “The more I looked the grander everything got.” The same reporter referred to Decies as “the Lord,” which must have struck him as more flattering than when, later, he was mentioned as “His Nibs.” The interviewer, however, finally approved the visitors, stating definitely that “they are Regular Folks and they don’t four-flush about anything.”

When it comes to publicity there is one man in Denver who gets more of it than all the “Sacred Thirty-six” put together, adepts though they seem to be.

It is impossible to consider Denver without considering Judge B. Lindsey—although I may say in passing that I was urged to perform the impossible in this respect.

Opinion with regard to Judge Lindsey is divided in Denver. It is passionately divided. I talked not only with the Judge himself, but with a great many citizens of various classes, and while I encountered no one who did not believe in the celebrated Juvenile Court con-ducted by him, I found many who disapproved more or less violently of certain of his political activities, his speech-making tours, and, most of all, of his writings in the magazines which, it was contended, had given Denver a black eye.

Denver is clearly sensitive about her reputation. As a passing observer, I am not surprised. With Denver, I believe that she has had to take more than a fair share of criticism. She thoroughly is sick of it, and one way in which she shows that she is sick of it is by a billboard campaign.

“Denver has no bread line,” I read on the billboards. “Stop knocking. Boost for more business and a bigger city.”

The charge that the Judge had injured Denver by “knocking” it in his book was used against him freely in the 1912 and 1914 campaign, but he was elected by a majority of more than two to one. He is always elected. He has run for his judgeship ten times in the past twelve years—this owing to certain disputes as to whether the judgeship of the Juvenile Court is a city, county, or state office. But whatever kind of office it is, he holds it firmly, having been elected by all three.

At present the Judge is engaged in trying to complete a code of laws for the protection of women and children, which he hopes will be a model for all other States. This code will cover labor, juvenile delinquency, and dependency, juvenile courts, mothers’ compensation, social insurance (the Judge’s term for a measure guaranteeing every woman the support of her child, whether she be married or unmarried), probation, and other matters having to do with social and industrial justice toward mother and child. It is the Judge’s general purpose to humanize the law, to cause temptations and frailties to be considered by the law, and to make society responsible for its part in crime.

The Judge is also trying to get himself appointed a Commissioner of Child Welfare for the State, without salary or other expense.

Of all these activities Denver, so far as I could learn, seemed generally to approve. A number of women, two corporation presidents, a hotel waiter, and a clerk in an express office, among others, told me they approved of Lindsey’s work for women and children. A barber in the hotel said that he “guessed the Judge was all right,” but added that there had been “too much hollering about reform,” considering that Denver was a city depending for a good deal of her prosperity upon tourists.

In the more intelligent circles the great objections to the Judge seemed to rest upon the florid methods he has used to promote his causes, upon the diversity of his interests, and upon the allegation that he had become a demagogue.

One gentleman described him to me as “the most hated citizen of Colorado in Colorado, and the most admired citizen of Colorado everywhere outside the State.”

“Lindsey has done the State harm, perhaps,” said this gentleman, “by what he has said about it, but he has done us a lot of good with his reforms. The great trouble is that he has too many irons in the fire. His court is a splendid thing; we all admit that. And he is peculiarly suited to his work. But he has gotten into all kinds of movements and has been so widely advertised that he has become a monumental egotist. He believes in his various causes, but, more than anything else, he believes in himself, in getting himself before the public and keeping himself there. He has posed as a little god, and, as Shaw says : `If you pose as a little god, you must pose for better or for worse.’ ”

The Judge is a very small, slight man, with a high, bulging white forehead, thin hair, a sharp, aquiline nose, a large, rolling black mustache and very fine eyes, brown almost to blackness. The most striking things about him are the eyes, the forehead, and the waxy whiteness of his skin. He looks thin-skinned, but he seems to have proved that, in the metaphorical sense at least, he is not.

He speaks of his causes quietly but very earnestly, and you feel, as you listen to him, that he hardly ever thinks of other things. There is something strange and very individual about him.

“The story of one American city,” he said to me, “is the story of every American city. Denver is no worse than the rest. Indeed, I believe it is a cleaner and bet-ter city than most, and I have been in every city in every State in this Union.”

It has been said that “the worst thing about reform is the reformer.” You can. say the same thing about authorship and authors, or about plumbing and plumbers. It is only another way of saying that the human element is the weak element. I have met a number of reformers and have come to classify them under three general heads. Without considering the branch of reform in which they are interested, but only their characteristics as individuals, I should say that all professional reformers might be divided as follows: First, zealots, or “inspired” reformers; second, cold-blooded, theoretical, statistical reformers; third, a small number of normal human beings, capable alike of feeling and of reasoning clearly.

About reformers of the first type there is often some-thing abnormal. They are frequently of the most radical opinions, and are likely to be impatient, intolerant, and suspicious of the integrity of those who do not agree with them. They take to the platform like ducks to water and their egos are likely to be very highly developed. Reformers of the second type are repulsive, because reform, with them, has become mechanical; they measure suffering and sin with decimals, and regard their fellow men as specimens. What the reformer of the third class will do is more difficult to say. It is possible that, blowing neither hot nor cold, he will not accomplish so much as the others, but he can reach groups of persons who consider reformers of the first class unbalanced and those of the second inhuman.

I have a friend who is a reformer of the third class. His temperate writings, surcharged with sanity and a sense of justice, have reached many persons who could hardly be affected by “yellow” methods of reform. Becoming deeply interested in his work, he was finally tempted to take the platform. One day, when he had come back from a lecture tour, I chanced to meet him, and was surprised to hear from him that, though he had been successful as a lecturer, he nevertheless intended to abandon that field of work.

I asked him why.

“I’ll tell you,” he said. “At first it was all right. I had certain things I wanted to say to people, and I said them. But as I went on, I began to feel my audiences more and more. I began to know how certain things I said would affect them. I began to want to affect them—to play upon them, see them stirred, hear them applaud. So, hardly realizing it at first, I began shifting my speeches, playing up certain points, not so much because those points were the ones which ought to be played up, but because of the pleasure it gave me to work up my listeners. Then, one night while I was talking, I realized what was happening to me. I was losing my intellectual honesty. Public speaking had been stealing it from me without my knowing it. Then and there I made up my mind to give it up. I ‘m not going to Say it any more; I’m going to Write it. When a man is writing, other minds are not acting upon his, as they are when he is speaking to an audience.”

Personally, I think Judge Lindsey would be stronger with the more critical minds of Colorado if he, too, had felt this way.

A number of odd items about Denver should be mentioned.

Elitch’s Garden, the city’s great summer amusement place, is famous all through the country. It was originally a farm, and still has a fine orchard, besides its orderly Coney Island features. Children go there in the afternoons with their nurses, and all of Denver goes there in the evenings when the great attraction is the theater with its stock company which is of a very high order.

The Tabor Opera House in Denver is famous among theatrical people largely because of the man who built it. Tabor was one of Denver’s most extraordinary mining millionaires. After he had struck it rich he determined to build as a monument to himself, the finest Opera House in the United States, and “damn the expense.”

While the building was under construction he was called away from the city. The story is related that on his return he went to see what progress had been made, and found mural painters at work, over the proscenium arch. They were painting the portrait of a man.

“Who’s that ?” demanded Tabor.

“Shakespeare,” the decorator informed him.

“Shakespeare—shake hell !” responded the proprietor. “He never done nothing for Denver. Paint him out and put me up there.”

Though there have been no Tabors made in Denver in the last few years, mining has not gone out of fashion.

In the lobby of the Brown Palace Hotel my companion and I saw several old fellows, sitting about, looking neither prosperous nor busy, but always talking mines. A kind word, or even a pleasant glance is enough to set them off. Instantly their hands dive into their pockets and out come nuggets and samples of ore, which they polish upon their coat sleeves, and hold up proudly, turning them to catch the light.

“Yes, sir ! I made the doggondest strike up there you ever saw! It ‘s all on the ground. Come over here and look at this !”

To which the answer is likely to be :

“No, I haven’t time.”

The Denver Club is a central rallying place for the successful business men of the city. It is a splendid club, with the best of kitchens, and cellars, and humidors. All over the land I have met men who had been entertained there and who spoke of the place with something like affection.

One night, several weeks after we had left Denver, we were at the Bohemian Club in San Francisco, and fell to talking of Denver and her clubs.

“It was in a club in Denver,” one man said, “that I witnessed the most remarkable thing I saw in Colorado.” “What was that?” we asked.

“I met a former governor of the State there one night,” he said. “We sat around the fire. Every now and then he would hit the very center of a cuspidor which stood fifteen feet away. The remarkable thing about it was that he didn’t look more than forty-five years old. I have always wondered how a man of that age could have carried his responsibility as governor, yet have found time to learn to spit so superbly.”