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A newspaper man and his mountain

Allen Best
Courtesy of Historical Society Red Cliff newspaper O.W. Dagget, a Mount of the Holy Cross fanatic, was an early visionary of paving a highway from Denver to the Eagle River Valley.
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EAGLE COUNTY – It’s hard to say exactly when the fervor about Mount of the Holy Cross cooled. You could argue it was the year the pilgrimages ended in 1938. Or in 1942, when Camp Hale was created and the mountain was put into a military reservation. In either case, people were thinking about war clouds, not religious icons.A tidy date, 1950, is the year that Congress passed legislation that removed the designation of Holy Cross as a national monument. In 1951, a U.S. postage stamp with Holy Cross on it was issued.My own nominated bookend for what could be called the Era of Hosannas and Hoopla would be 1940, the year that the Holy Cross Trail, a newspaper published in Red Cliff, was sold by Orion W. Daggett. Holy Cross has had many cheerleaders through the years, but arguably never one with as much enthusiasm as Daggett.Odd causesBorn in Indiana, Daggett came to the Rocky Mountains as a 20-year-old, drawn by the flash-in-a-pan promise of gold north of Glenwood Canyon. He didn’t find gold, but he found land available for homesteading south of Gypsum. Then he was in Fulford, where he served as postmaster while operating a small store. He also operated an ore-reduction mill at Polar Star, the mine located high on the flanks of New York Mountain.

Early in the 20th century, Daggett moved to Red Cliff, where he worked various jobs as an assayer, grocer, and postmaster some in tandem to support his second and growing family. His first wife, with whom he had two sons, had died while they lived at Cripple Creek).Finally, in 1920, when he was 56, Daggett purchased the Eagle County News, which he soon renamed the Holy Cross Trail. He was an editor of many causes, some seemingly at odds. He advocated religious tolerance, including for Jews, but stridently opposed “melting” of the races. “Hell was the place for such practices,” he harrumphed.Education was another theme. He foresaw a state university at Grand Junction even as he attended to local school matters. Previously he had helped found a high school in Gypsum. Most persistently he advocated for good roads, which were virtually non-existent then. Tennessee Pass politicsGeography then isolated the Eagle Valley in ways we can scarcely understand now. Suppose you wanted to visit the governor in Denver. Summit County was impregnable from east and west. This meant your first choice by car was south to Buena Vista and then jogging back across South Park. A northerly route, from State Bridge along the Colorado River to Granby and thence across Berthoud Pass, was similarly indirect.In winter, even those options disappeared. No passes were plowed until 1930. Whether a president or a peon, your only option was a train from the Eagle Valley that swung through Pueblo.

In response, Daggett campaigned for “Tennessee Pass 365 days a year,” to borrow his oft-used expression for winter maintenance.But Daggett’s long-term vision was far more ambitious. He saw a road from Denver across Loveland Pass and then traversing the Gore Range – not at Vail Pass, which was then was only by a horse trail – but at what he proposed to call Shrine Pass. From this pass travelers could pause to be uplifted by the sight of the Mount of the Holy Cross.This basic path of Interstate 70 detoured only slightly for religion – and commerce. It would have conveniently passed Daggett’s newspaper office. Lettuce and cannibalsThe editor hit the stump in 1921, getting commitments for help from Eagle to Grand Junction. Then, he headed east, getting pledges at Silver Plume and Georgetown but also making the rounds in Denver at city hall, the state capitol, and, not least, the office of Denver Post publisher Frederick Bonfils.For the blustery Denver Post under Bonfils and his partner, Harry Tamen, life was a carnival. Headlines about lurid crimes were painted loudly in red – a newspaper style called “circus.” Just as readily, the newspaper promoted causes. Everything was fair game, from lettuce colonies to freeing convicted cannibal Alfred Packer to its own Sells & Floto circus.

Religion was just another cause. Not only did Bonfils pledge support for the Holy Cross Trail, but he also agreed to promote pilgrimages to Notch Mountain to see the cross. Al Birch, the same man who promoted the circus for the Post, also sang the praises of the pilgrimages.Others were also involved. A Catholic priest from Glenwood Springs, Father John P. Carrigan, wanted to celebrate an event once known as the Triumph of the Holy Cross, Carrigan, too, traveled to Denver to lobby for the support of Bonfils.Holy Cross historyA two-day series on pilgrimages to Mount of the Holy CrossToday

Orion’s causeRed Cliff editor opens to the door for Holy Cross climbersThursdayHoly Cross or bustHistory of pilgrimages to famous peak dovetails with history of Eagle CountyAllen Best, a freelance writer for the Daily, has climbed Notch Mountain six or seven times and Mount of the Holy Cross four times, and he circumnavigated both peaks once, and he once did the Halo Ridge that connects the two peaks. He has not, however, gone up the cross nor does he intend to.He relied heavily on Robert L Brown’s “Holy Cross: The Mountain and the City,” but also a stack of other books that he read in the last year.Vail Colorado


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