COBWEB CORNERS: Another Sergeant O’Keefe story
By Mel McFarland
Some time ago I told a few tales about Sergeant John 0'Keefe of the weather station on Pike's Peak. He is known for his story aboutmountain “rats” attacking his “family” in the spring of 1876. The soldiers at the weather station had a solitary life. Each week one of the five who were stationed there would travel in to get supplies. The most famous, largely because of his colorful tales, was O'Keefe.
This winter looks to be one where we will get snow of average or better proportions, and I ran across another winter tale told by O'Keefe. It seems that in February 1880 he was returning to his post after time off in Colorado Springs. (In reality much of his time was actually spent in Colorado City entertaining in the saloons.) In those days, the trail to the summit followed about the same route used today by our train. Barely two miles up the trail, near Minnehaha, he spotted a huge herd of deer, nearly 130 by his estimate. Using his revolver, he was able to kill 17 of them, he said. It was just the thing the boys at the top would need. It took him considerable time to gather the deer and load them on his pack mule, he explained. Farther up the trail, at a huge snowdrift, the mule refused to move. O'Keefe then scouted alone for a way around it. When he returned, the mule had wandered away. In his search, he discovered that the animal had dumped the deer off. He found the mule in a ravine, where it had fallen and was trapped, legs straight up in the air. After rescuing the creature, he reloaded the meat and they continued. On the trail again, deep in the forest, the two were pounced upon by a what he described as a "pack" of starving mountain lions. To fend off the attackers, O'Keefe proceeded to throw the deer at them, one at a time, until all 17 were consumed. The lions continued to circle the pair; only after several hours, his story concluded, did they abandon their attempt and leave the soldier and his mule to continue their trip.
O'Keefe kept on telling stories of exploits on Pike's Peak, and his mule quite often was a central character. The weather station was closed in 1888, but by then O'Keefe had left the Army. One of his jobs was a Wells Fargo agent, assigned even to the Colorado Midland's train out of Colorado City. The 1890s found him employed as a Denver fireman. He died quietly in the night in 1895; however, his tales of the mountain still live on!