Cowgirl Sass & Savvy: America the Beautiful

Julie Carter is a New Mexico writer and author whose column appears weekly on Rio Grande Digital.

Julie Carter

There’s a holiday just around the corner, one we’ve celebrated for a few hundred years. Independence Day, Fourth of July and Cowboy Christmas –all one and the same.

America’s birthday is honored across the country with as many traditions as there are firecrackers. For my entire adult life, my observance of the day has always revolved around rodeo.

I spent a couple decades driving long, lonely highways to get to the “next one” over a four-day stretch of Cowboy Christmas. I hauled horses, kids, and dogs while giving little thought to much else except getting there on time and being ready to compete.

There was plenty of fun and certainly a bonding kinship that has endured far beyond the rodeo arena. My heart’s rhythm is still that of kicking broncs and pounding hoofs. The snapping of the American flag in the wind as it’s presented with honor before the action stills my soul to a quiet place of reverence.

While our breathtakingly beautiful West is alight with catastrophic forest fires that wrench an anguish of loss for which there is no measure, I have to marvel at the irony of the location a song was written in praise of this country.

“America the Beautiful” was penned in 1893 by Katherine Lee Bates, an English professor at Wellesley College.

While teaching at Colorado College that summer, Bates and a group of fellow instructors decided to make the trip up 14,000-foot Pikes Peak. Today that peak towers majestically above merciless fires raging at the fringes of Colorado Springs.

The teachers hired a horse-drawn wagon to take them as far as it could go up the mountain and then they rode mules the remainder of the distance to the top.

Bates saw a view of the mountains that few people saw in those days and was inspired enough by her glimpse of the “spacious skies” and “purple mountains” to write a poem, which later became the first verse of the song set to music by church organist and choirmaster Samuel A. Ward.

Later she recalled the trip. “I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse.”

“America the Beautiful” was hastily jotted down in a notebook and the words to Bates’ only famous poem first appeared in print in The Congregationalist, a weekly journal, for Independence Day in 1895. In 1904, the poem reached a wider audience with a revised version that was printed in the “Boston Evening Transcript” and a final expanded version was written in 1913.

Wherever Americans are around the globe this Fourth of July, they will get together for a traditional celebration in a wide variety of venues. For me, it will again be in the shadows of a rodeo arena fence from where I revel in the longevity of the sport as it goes forward into the generations.

And with a heavy place in my heart, I say a prayer for those that have suffered devastating losses from the ravaging fires, knowing that this holiday will hold for them a much different memory.

“America! America!

God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!”

God bless America.

Julie can be reached for comment at jcarternm@gmail.comVisit her website at



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