Post (c) Doris McCraw
In the 1870s the Signal Corps decided they would place a signal station on the top of Pikes Peak. Once the building was completed, the hardy men who lived up there set about doing their job. Since no one in the United States had lived at the altitude of 14,000+ feet, the stories the men told of finding animals living that high were met with wonder.
One story from the Colorado Springs Weekly Gazette told of a ‘monster’ swimming in the lake just down from the summit made the editorial from December 12, 1873. The piece further stated that the Ute’s who lived in the mountains had a “Tradition of the lake being inhabited by a large and terrible demon, which has devoured several of their number in years gone by, and whose anger and evil influence they are always anxious to appease; it is almost impossible, in fact, to get to you to pass near the shores of Lake. Be this as it may, Mr. S declares that the animal is positively there, and that his statement will yet be verified by others.”
From these humble beginnings, which started out as information from the men stationed on the Peak, one Sargent O’Keefe built stories that enthralled a nation and perhaps the world in 1876 and onward. To this day, there are still photos and stories from his writings that catch people with their believability. He told of fighting off rats along with his wife, but they were unable to save their baby. He later told of killing seventeen deer with a .32 caliber Smith & Wesson and then tying them to his mule Balaam who with the Sargent went through 20′ drifts of snow on the way to the summit. The worthy Sargent continued his stories, to include the Pikes Peak Volcano erupting, his donkey going on a bender, etc.
For those who would like to read the complete ‘stories’ you can find them at this link: The Pikes Peak Prevaricator (Scroll down to this title)
Even though editorials were run denying the truth of O’Keefe’s story, explaining his Rat Story was merely a ‘clever hoax’, people who traveled to the top of Pikes Peak wanted to know about the rats and see the grave & monument.
When Sargent O’Keefe was released from service, there were those who wrote editorials that he was being let go because he was more popular than anyone else in service at the time. When he passed away on 1895 the following ‘obituary’ was a carried in the local Colorado springs newspaper:
“Sgt. O’Keefe, once famous as the officer in command of the Pike’s Peak signal station died in Denver Saturday night of stomach trouble. At the time of his death was serving as the stoker of a fire engine in Denver and leaves a wife and son. He was about 40 years of age. O’Keefe spent two years at the Naval school in Annapolis, was discharged for hazing: then he joined the signal service and was sent to take charge of the Pike’s Peak station soon after it was located; after leaving the service about 1882 he went into the railroad railway mail service, in which he served for years and was very a very efficient man. O’Keefe is well remembered by the older residents of this city with whom he was a great favorite. He it was concocted so many “fake” stories about the old Peak. It was his custom to come down off the hill and spent his time loafing around the newspaper offices. He was a great favorite with old Major Price, who conducted a paper here in the early days and he it was who gave them circulation mostly, although many of them appeared in the Gazette. It was O’Keefe who started the story about a volcano in the peak and the possibility of an eruption. It cause so much comment that even the Scientific American discussed it. His rat story is too well-known for comment, and to this day  the fiction of the grave of “Bryn O’Keefe” is kept on the summit of the Peak.”
At the time of the story of the “Rat”, many articles were published by scientists to disprove his story. None the less people seemed more ready to believe a good story rather than ‘dry truth’.
Hope you enjoyed this story from the past that still echoes today. As you know I have a story in the anthology “One Yuletide Knight” and watch for a new novel coming out the beginning of the year. That is a story of chasing a chance to reclaim a dream. It is a historical western romance.
Wishing you all a wonderful Thanksgiving and rest of the Holiday season.
Doris Gardner-McCraw -Author, Speaker, Historian-specializing in
Colorado and Women’s History