Saturday, September 6, 2008
Rats on the peak?
If you were stuck whiling away the hours almost alone at the top of Pikes Peak for days that stretched in months that stretched into years, chances are you would make up a few stories as well.
Such was the case with Sergeant John O’Keefe of U.S. Signal Corps in the winter of 1876. O’Keefe was sent to Pikes Peak to collect data on weather at the summit. That information on wind velocity, temperature and precipitation, was transmitted by telegraph to Colorado Springs and local newspapers carried the reports. But those reports were just a little too dry for O’Keefe and he decided to spice them up a bit.
“Fourteeners: Attitude & Altitude” a publication produced by the Pikes Peak Library District, notes O’Keefe warnings of giant man-eating rats that co-inhabited the summit area.
“One evening, O’Keefe heard his wife screaming for help. She rushed into the room screaming, ‘The rats! The rats!’ O’keefe wrapped his wife in a sheet of zinc-plated steel to protect her. After putting stovepipes over his own legs, he then bravely ventured out to battle the attacking rats. He beat some of the attacking rodents off with a club as they entered a kitchen window, but the hordes were advancing too quickly. They ate a quarter of beef in fewer than five minutes, and with a heightened taste for blood, the rats advanced on Mrs. O’Keefe. Climbing over each other, some managed to scale the steel wrap, leaving deep lacerations on her face and neck.
“In panic, Mrs. O’Keefe grabbed a coiled wire hanging from the telegraph battery. She tossed this to her husband leaving spirals across the floor. As the rats surged forward, the live coils electrocuted them. The squeals of rats in the throes of death drove the remaining rats into the night.”
Tragically, according to his story, O’Keefe’s infant daughter Erin was also eaten.
In Kenneth Jessen’s 1985 book, “Eccentric Colorado,” Jessen says most O’Keefe’s wild tales were fabrications used to pass the time of day during the long winters.
Jessen writes that O’Keefe resigned from the Signal Corps just before Christmas in 1881. Before leaving the area he was given a banquet in Colorado Springs and toasted with the following:
“O’Keefe, one of the greatest prevaricators, equaled by few, excelled by none. True to his record, may his life be a romance, and in his final resting place, may he lie easily.”