Julia Archibald Holmes

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Julia Anna Holmes (Archibald)

Birthdate: (48)
Birthplace: Truro, Colchester County, NS, Canada
Death: January 19, 1887 (48)
Place of Burial: Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of John Christie Archibald and Jane O'Brien
Wife of James Henry Holmes
Mother of Ernest Julio Holmes
Sister of Ebeneezer Archibald; Albert William Archibald; Nancy Archibald; Clara Margaret Archibald; Frederick William Archibald and 2 others

Managed by: Private User
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About Julia Archibald Holmes

On August 5, 1858, 20-year-old Julia Archibald Holmes reached the lofty 14,115-foot summit of Pikes Peak, perhaps the most famous mountain in the United States. Not only did Miss Holmes become the first recorded woman to climb the great Peak but she also was the first known woman to climb a Fourteener or 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado. It wasn’t for another 23 years that another woman climbed a Fourteener.

Julia Archibald was born in Nova Scotia Canada in 1838. She was born into a family that opposed slavery and supported women’s rights. Eventually her family moved from Canada to Massachusetts and then Kansas. In Kansas their home was used as a gathering place for abolitionist meetings and hid slaves as part of the Underground Railroad.

I think this is significant to mention, because Julia wasn’t accustomed to following the fads of the day such as wearing corsets and long dresses and from an early age she was taught to be a free-thinker which I think eventually helped her climb Pikes Peak, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

When she was 19, Julia married James Holmes and they decided to head to Colorado in search of gold. They joined a small wagon train and headed west. On the journey Julia wore a knee length calico dress, calico pants, indian moccasins and a hat which allowed her the freedom to walk alongside the wagon. And Julia kept a fantastic journal along the way. Here’s one part with you which is a testament to Julia’s strength.

“I commenced the journey with a firm determination to learn to walk. At first I could not walk over three or four miles without feeling quite weary, but by persevering and walking as far as I could every day, my capacity increased gradually, and in the course of a few weeks I could walk ten miles in the most sultry weather without being exhausted. Believing as I do, in the right of woman to equal privileges with man, I think that when it is in our power we should, in order to promote our own independence, at least be willing to share the hardships which commonly fall to the lot of man.”

Julia was no wimp. In fact, she wanted to help guard the camp at night but wasn’t allowed to do so, which made her furious.

On July 4th, her party caught their first view of Pikes Peak and a few days later they camped near present day Colorado Springs. On July 9th, 3 men from their party set out to climb Pikes Peak and when they returned to the camp, Julia and her husband asked one of them to escort them to the top of the peak. And here’s where the story gets epic.

On August 1st, Julia, her husband, and two other men left their camp. They carried six days worth of provisions to include 19 pounds of bread, 6 quilts, clothing, one pound of hog meat, 3/4 pound of coffee, one pound of sugar, a tin plate, a knife, a fork, a half-gallon canteen, a half-gallon tin pan, a tin cup, writing material and a volume of Emerson’s Essays.

All of the present day ultra-light hikers out there are cringing at their packing list right?

The group had a rough first day, the didn’t have a trail to follow and their route went through rocks and brush, up and around steep slopes and they neglected to fill their canteens. Eventually they set up camp for the night and on the next day they climbed up to a snow squall, where they spent a few days exploring and found that the terrain was so rugged that they had better grip on the rock using their bare feet instead of their moccasins.

On the morning of August 5th, the group decided to make a try for the summit. So, taking only writing materials and Emerson’s book, they climbed to the top of the mountain only to find their view impeded by clouds and snow flurries. They left their names on a large rock and then wrote letters to friends and read aloud some lines from Emerson’s poem “Friendship”. Then they hustled down the mountain, rejoining their party at the base of the mountain the next day.

Julia was filled with excitement about climbing Pikes Peak, she wrote to her mother:

“I have accomplished the task which I marked out for myself and now I feel amply repaid for all of my toil and fatigue. Nearly every one tried to discourage me from attempting it, but I believed that I should succeed; and now, here I am, and I feel that I would not have missed this glorious sight for anything at all. In all probability I am the first woman who has ever stood upon the summit of this mountain and gazed upon this wondrous scene which my eyes now behold.”

Julia went on with her husband to New Mexico and then moved back East again. We don’t know if she climbed any more mountains but we do know that she experienced the same euphoria that any explorer feels today when there is an epic physical struggle followed by complete disbelief in the accomplishment of a seemingly impossible task.


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Julia Archibald Holmes's Timeline

February 15, 1838
Truro, Colchester County, NS, Canada
Age 21
NM, United States
January 19, 1887
Age 48
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States