Searching for Roots - Julia Archibald Holmes

Searching for Roots - Julia Archibald Holmes

April 26, 2016 by Liz

My great great great grandfather, Dennis Holmes, had a farm and mill in Holmesville, New York in the mid 19th century. I have his son John’s handwritten account of life on the farm. “We used oxen in most of our farm work. The mowing in early days was done by hand with cythes. I have spread out grass many and many a day after I had turned the cows to pasture.”

“You must remember there was no plumbing in the country houses in those days where I lived. When the dishes were washed the dish water was thrown out onto the grass in front of the house. The privy was nearly a Sabbath day’s journey back of the house—the pig pen was also in that neighborhood. In the winter you can imagine the pleasure it was to go to the toilet.”

“In the corner next to the pantry door was a shelf where the water pail rested. A dipper hung near or most of the time it rested on the water in the pail. Everybody drank from this dipper. Just outside the kitchen door was a large watering trough with running spring water brought by wooden pump logs about ½ mile away.”

I moved to Colorado Springs from the east coast, drawn to the mountains, and had not been here long before I learned that one Julie Archibald Holmes was the first white woman to climb Pikes Peak (that was one of the first things I did on arriving here, too). Julia’s husband, James Holmes, hailed from upstate New York. Surely a cousin of Dennis, making me a relative of the celebrated Julia!

Julia and James were both liberal activists who moved to Kansas to support it as a free state. Julia’s family farm was a meeting place of anti slavery sympathizers in the rough and tumble Lawrence where slavery was fiercely contested. Their home was a station on the Underground Railway. James became closely allied with abolitionist John Brown’s Free State Rangers, and was quite a rabble rouser.

Despite their dedication to the anti-slavery cause, they felt the pull of the west, and joined a Pikes-Peak-or-Bust party headed for the gold camps in Colorado. Julia, a staunch believer in women’s rights, would have none of the hooped skirts and corsets, the de rigueur fashion of the times. She adopted women’s liberation activist Amelia Bloomer’s recommended outfit, a short skirt worn over loose pants, which became known as “bloomers”. Thrilled to be on this grand adventure, and determined to pull her own weight, Julia walked most of the way, and demanded to take her turn at guard duty. Excited to befriend the only other woman of the party, she was disappointed to learn that Mrs. Robert Middleton was appalled by Julia’s ways. “I soon found that there could be no congeniality between us. She proved to be a woman unable to appreciate freedom or reform, affected that her sphere denied her the liberty to rove at pleasure, and confined herself the long days to feminine impotence in the hot covered wagon.”

Julia loved the journey, and after two months they made camp at the foot of Pikes Peak, near the Garden of the Gods. Gold, however, was not to be found, and partly to escape the boredom of camp, she and James set out to climb the peak. Wearing moccasins, and bloomers, of course, carrying a 17-pound pack full of bread, a quilt, and clothing, she spent three days en route and reached the summit on August 5, 1858. It was cold and snowy up there, so they stayed just long enough to write their names on a large rock and write a few letters. No doubt walking across the prairie from Kansas helped get her in shape.

The couple soon headed to New Mexico, and later settled in Washington DC. Julia continued to be a prominent supporter of abolition and women’s rights, organizing national conventions and holding professional positions in the city. No doubt she would be thrilled with our recently announced changes to the $20 bill featuring Harriet Tubman.

Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods, New York, Washington, DC . . . I love sharing some of the same touchstones as my cousin Julia. Now to do some more research and confirm it is so.