COBWEB CORNERS: One last O’Keefe tale

By Mel McFarland

       Sergeant John O'Keefe told one last tale in the saloons of Colorado City before he left the area in 1880. Not a geologist, but a weatherman, he joined the list of debaters about the history of the mountain. Over the years I have seen various stories about if, or not, Pike's Peak was a volcano. Here is what O'Keefe came up with!
       In late October 1880, asleep at the weather station where he worked on Pike's Peak, he reported being awakened late at night by a rumbling in the mountain. The noise continued through the night and into the next morning. Before dawn, with only a hint of the rising sun, he stepped out and saw a bright flash. It could have been lightning, but was not. The sound of something other than thunder could even be felt in the ground. What was it? Once his morning duties were finished, he went exploring. Looking over the side of the mountain, he was sure he saw black smoke. It took him two hours of perilous walking down over the rocks to get a closer look at where the smoke, along with a strong smell of sulfur, was coming from. The area was also very hot. The ground was covered with ash, and hot lava was setting trees in the area aflame.
       Over the next week O'Keefe recorded several other eruptions. In Colorado Springs and out east, people reported fiery glows on the mountain, as well as smoke. O'Keefe reported that the lava was heading for Ruxton Creek, which would poison the waters used by both Manitou and Colorado City. A reporter was sent up to investigate.
       Indeed Pike's Peak has been called volcanic, as well as not volcanic. It most likely was part of an ancient one at that. The reporter found no volcanic activity, but did see evidence of possible bonfires! Lava running? No, but there were areas where trees and grasses were burned. These were most likely part of O'Keefe's "evidence." Not one of his better stories.
       I suppose my favorite is his story about the sea serpent in Lake Moraine, The lake is part of the Seven Lakes area on the south slope of the mountain, and has been part of the Colorado Springs water system for a hundred years. The lake gets regularly drained, but no huge fish has ever been found. Ah, the creative mind strikes again.