Sat. Sep 24th, 2022


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Regional books: “Colorado’s Highest,” “Chili Peppers” and more – The Denver Post

5 min read

“Colorado’s Highest: The History of Naming the 14,000-Foot Peaks,” by Jeri L. Norgren, John Fielder and Robert L. Wogrin (John Fielder Publishing)

Ever wonder how Mount Sneffles got its name?  Or Mount Shavano? Or Quandary Peak?

In “Colorado’s Highest,” Jeri L. Norgren not only tells how each of the more than 50 14,000-foot Colorado mountains were named but also gives the history of each peak. The volume is illustrated with John Fielder photographs and Robert L. Wogrin art, and includes maps and sketches from the 1870s Hayden Survey.

Many of Colorado’s fourteeners were named for politicians and military figures, such as Mount Lincoln and Long’s Peak, along with little-known Mount Bross, which honors the lieutenant governor of Illinois. The tallest peak, Mount Elbert, was named for territorial secretary Samuel Hitt Elbert.

There are peaks that honor Indians (Uncompahgre and Tabeguache). Some were given descriptive names: Maroon Bells for the color of its rocks; Capitol Peak for its shape; Mount of the Holy Cross for its cross-shape crevice; and Mount Massive for its size.

Some of Colorado’s mountains were memorialized with little forethought. Charles Christopher Perry, an early explorer, named Grays and Torreys for friends (and half-a-dozen lesser mountains for other acquaintances).

Over the years, some of the fourteeners’ names have been changed. Grays and Torreys were originally known as the Ant Hills. Sneffles was first dubbed Blaine. Names aren’t static, after all, as the current move to change the name of Mount Evans to something more politically correct shows. (Evans was named for the Colorado governor who defended the Sand Creek Massacre.)

Incidentally, Sneffles comes from a Jules Verne novel. Mount Shavano was named after a Ute with the French name of Chaveneaux (blue flowers). Discoverers of a silver vein on Quandary Peak were unsure about its value and called their lode the Quandary, giving the mountain that name.

In itself, Norgren’s history might have made a stand-alone volume. It’s the spectacular photographs of Colorado’s highest mountains by Fielder and paintings by Wogrin that make this a coffee-table book.

“Chili Peppers: A Global History,” by Dave DeWitt (University of New Mexico)

Chili peppers were so important in the New World that native priests required Aztecs who fasted to abstain from chili peppers and sex. The peppers were used as currency, and were sold at South American markets that one European soldier said were larger than Rome’s. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew them.

Although they are used in cuisine all over the world, chili peppers originated in South America, where their cultivation goes back 10,000 years.

Those are just a few of the facts in “Chili Peppers: A Global History.” Author Dave DeWitt takes readers on a personal tour of the chili-growing and chili-eating countries of the world. He interviews farmers, chefs and chili-eaters about how to raise and prepare the peppers, and includes a section on the chili region of southern Colorado.

The Pueblo chili, he writes, originated in Mexico and arrived in Colorado about 1910. It wasn’t perfected until 15 years ago, however. Bonus: Included in the book are 75 recipes using chili peppers.

“Colorado Women in World War II,”  by Gail M. Beaton (University Press of Colorado)

They couldn’t engage in combat, but Colorado women found other ways to fight the enemy in World War II.

They enlisted in military services, worked in defense plants, operated USO units, organized blood drives, sold war bonds and nursed.  One woman cut off 3 feet of her knee-length hair to be used in meteorological instruments.

They worked in high-level government positions, where they discovered the enemy wasn’t always abroad. One woman who was a high-level liaison between the War Production Board and the House of Representatives sat down in a restaurant in the U.S. Capitol, only to be told by a man, “I didn’t know it was maid’s day.”

They joined the Waves and the WACs, the Coast Guard, the Marine Corps and the Army Air Force. And they became nurses, sharing the same hazardous conditions as the soldiers. One taught herself never to show fear, “because if I had been in (the wounded soldier’s) place, I wouldn’t have wanted a nurse … giving me IVs and whatnot with a shaky hand.”

In the Philippines, nurses were captured by the Japanese and spent the duration of the war in prison camps.

“Colorado Women in World War II” is a factual study of women’s efforts during the war, with personal stories of some 80 Colorado women. Historian Gail M. Beaton combed newspaper articles, documents and interviews to put together this study.

“Never Caught Twice,” by Matthew S. Luckett (University of Nebraska)

Long before the white man came West, horse-stealing was a way of life on the Nebraska plains.  Indian tribes plundered each other’s herds. Horses were wealth, and their ownership complicated.

When a Cheyenne woman left her husband for another man, the husband demanded a fine horse. Tribal leaders agreed. In hopes of keeping the pony, the lover kicked out the wayward wife, but the tribe insisted a deal was a deal. When the husband tried to claim the horse, the lover killed him.

Col. John Chivington and Gov. John Evans used Indian thefts of white settlers’ horses as an excuse to wage war on Native Americans.

As Nebraska was settled, Indians weren’t the only horse thieves. Everybody, it seems, turned to horse stealing: soldiers, ranchers, settlers, drunks, cowboys, army deserters. The loss of a single horse might be the difference between a homesteader’s success or failure. By 1876, five out of every six property crimes were horse stealing.

In a well-researched and comprehensive work, Matthew S. Luckett tells of Nebraska’s horse stealing, in Indian raids, in small-scale theft and eventually by organized rings of white men.  Among the most prominent of those thieves was Doc Middleton, whose gang stole some 5,000 horses. He was personally responsible for 2,000. Caught and sent to prison, he reformed and turned into a folk hero.

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