Cavanaugh

I never thought I would write a story about a tank on a mountain, but I just did. I didn’t do it alone, and as it turns out, that matters to all of us here at the foot of Pikes Peak.

If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a team to hold onto a community’s history. There are at least three vital ingredients in keeping local stories alive for the ages: private organizations like the newspaper, dedicated public institutions like libraries and museums, and lastly, individuals with curious minds and wagging pens.

This past week I researched and wrote a story about the time, 100 years ago this week, that the U.S. Army sent a tank on a mission to climb Pikes Peak to inspire citizens to invest in the final American war bond drive of World War I. It’s hard to believe it, but the determined tank crew, driving new technology, punched through up to 20-foot snow drifts, endured a breakdown above the treeline in freezing temperatures, battled terrible odds — and they still only turned back when ordered to do so at over 12,000 feet. That tank may have missed a tactical target, but they secured their strategic objective to pay for the war with that bond drive (and set a number of tank-driving records in the process).

The way I learned about that story was from the “Local History” page, routinely found on the very back of the first section in each Gazette edition. I check it every day, and often find Twitter-size bites of engaging local history from 100-, 75- and 50-years ago, dug up and shared by both the Pikes Peak Library District and the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum. About a month ago, I came across an entry on the tank mission there, and my curiosity got the better of me.

But it was entirely due to the daily efforts of the team that holds our history. The privately-owned newspaper that cares enough about local history to commit to a full-page of community history in an age of vicious competition against digital competitors. In this way, our local newspaper serves twice. Initially, having covered the event of a century ago, it served once as the “first rough draft” of our history, and then over time, secondly, it now provides us, as citizens, archival reach-back.

And after learning about the tank trek up the mountain, I made a beeline straight for the library. That’s where I found the bulk of what made the story possible. In person, or online, anyone with a free library card can research the rich history of the Pikes Peak region.

In contrast, I found an amazing video clip of the tank actually climbing Pikes Peak (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V_IUMO9_Vj0). But when I inquired about obtaining snapshot images from that video to use alongside the story, the company holding the rights to the images asked for a considerable payment. That’s our history, locked behind a private paywall!

Thankfully, local organizations, like our libraries and museums, particularly the Special Collections division at the Pikes Peak Library District, maintain records that are freely accessible to all. These are our memories, and in the end, our memories are what our lives are made of.

Not only keepers, but also producers, our library publishes books of stories about the Pikes Peak region. For example, on June 8, the Pikes Peak Library District is sponsoring a full day of such stories: “Poets, Professors, and Provocateurs of the Pikes Peak Region,” to be followed by a book of the same title (more information at https://www.regionalhistoryseries.org).

Last comes the writer. And what you find quickly as someone who cares about and writes history is that it is only possible with the Herculean efforts of this whole host of historical helpers. That debt of gratitude, in part, is what motivates my own small contributions.

But anyone can contribute. All you need is a curious mind and a bit of ink. It’s as simple as: read, ask, listen, then write, write, write. Tell stories, because they’ll only survive with use. And then do it again.

Lt. Col. ML Cavanaugh, Ph.D., is a non-resident fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point. Connect at MLCavanaugh.com or through his ArsenalOfIdeas.com blog. This essay is an unofficial expression of opinion; the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of West Point, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the U.S. government.

Lt. Col. ML Cavanaugh, PhD, is a non-resident fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point. Connect at MLCavanaugh.com or through his ArsenalOfIdeas.com blog. This essay is an unofficial expression of opinion; the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of West Point, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the U.S. government.

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