Colorado Once Lost Pikes Peak to Texas in a Bet

A friendly wager raised the stakes to a whole new elevation.

pikes peak
James L. Amos/Corbis

When it comes to sports, friendly bets between politicians is another part of the game. It’s a way for officials from mayors to congressmen to show their hometown pride, putting everything on the line from Kansas City barbecue to singing “I Love L.A.” on late night T.V. But thanks to a football bet, Colorado actually lost one of its tallest mountains to Texas.

Betting a favorite local food is one thing; throwing down with national landmarks brings a whole new level to the game. But that’s exactly what happened when the University of Colorado Buffalos faced the Rice University Owls during the 1938 Cotton Bowl. Before the game, the respective governors of Texas and Colorado, James V. Allred and Teller Ammons, agreed to raise the stakes: if the Buffalos won, Colorado would claim Texas’ Big Bend Country. But if victory went to the Owls, Pikes Peak would belong to the Lone Star State, Brian Cronin writes for The Huffington Post:

Rice won the game 28-14, so Allred has successfully "won" Pikes Peak. A popular joke in Texas at the time was that Allred was the first Texas Governor to actually ADD territory to Texas! So on October 20, 1938, Allred traveled to Colorado to claim his prize. He went to the top of Pikes Peak and after a short address placed the Lone Star Flag into a snow drift, thereby claiming the mountain for the state of Texas.

Sure enough, shortly after Allred planted his state’s flag at the summit, the two governors began to wrestle. Ammons was even caught on camera shoving snow in Allred’s face by a photographer for the thoroughly unamused Life Magazine, which remarked that the two governors had set a new low for the dignity of their office, Cronin writes.

While ultimately a friendly joke, the loss of Pikes Peak might have been a terrible blow to Ammons’ pride: the 14,115-foot-tall summit is not only one of Colorado’s tallest mountains, it was the inspiration for “America The Beautiful” and is home to the highest deep fryer in the United States. However, while very rare now, there is precedent for states to cede territory to each other and the federal government, particularly during the settlement of the western United States and the creation of new states after the American Revolution.

Of course, Pike's Peak was never truly ceded to Texas. The embarrassment of the Texan flag being planted there was payback enough.

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