Show me the Tunnel!!! – John Duffer, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway and the Show-Me State
[See Also: Show Me - Update]
In the spring of 1897, John Duffer of Pike County, Missouri boarded a train in Manitou, Colorado to see the gold mines at Cripple Creek. As the train wound its way into the mountains, and just before entering a tunnel, he leapt from the platform into the steep, rocky chasm below. As he explained in a post-jump interview:
When the train went into that hole I thought we’d never see daylight again, and my only chance was to jump, and so I jumped. I'm from Missouri, and you'll have to show me.
The phrase made the national news, and within six years, Missouri was popularly known as the Show-Me State. Although John Duffer most-likely did not coin the expression, his jump may have helped the expression leap from localism into the national consciousness.
The article about John Duffer’s jump received national attention; within weeks, it had appeared in at least three East Coast newspapers (Philadelphia Times and the Evening Star and Washington Post in Washington DC) and in Sacramento, the capital of California (The Record-Union). Presumably it was also picked up by numerous other outlets as well:
A correspondent of the Philadelphia Times writes from Colorado Springs as follows: “I’m from Missouri, and they’ll have to show me!” That is what John Duffer of Pike county, Missouri, remarked this morning as he was being patched up in the office of Dr. Creighton at Manitou. His face and hands were badly scratched where they had come in contact with the sharp gravel, there was a bruise over one eye where his head had struck against a fragment of Pike’s Peak, one elbow felt “like a tarnation wilecat had clawed it,” and there was a general feeling of soreness “pretty much everywhere,” as he explained it to the doctor, but he was alive and thankful.
John had jumped from the platform of a Colorado Midland passenger train, at the entrance to the first tunnel above Manitou, while laboring under a mistake as to the destination of the train, which appeared to be plunging into the mountain side.
“You don’t catch me lettin’ ‘em run me into the ground with any of their gol darned trains, when I’ve got a through ticket to Cripple Creek in my pocket,” he remarked, as the doctor took another stitch in his scalp and adjusted an artistic court plaster shingle on the swelling dome over his right eye. “I’m pretty badly peeled up, but you bet I’m still on top, and that’s where I’m going to stay.” And John Duffer took a good-sized bit out of a mammoth piece of navy plug which he dug out of his pocket, and relapsed into momentary silence, though his jaws worked faster than ever.
“You see, doc,” said the Missourian, as he deluged the gas log in the doctor’s fireplace with the overflow from his lips, “I was agoing over to Cripple Creek to see what those gold mines look like, where they shovel up the stuff into a wagon and let er go at that, and find chunks of gold in the rocks. I had my grip and a bucket of grub in the car, and just after the train left the depot I went out on the platform to look at the mountains. Down on one side was a holler, and up on tother side was a hill that I couldn't see to the top of, and on all sides was mountains, and I couldn’t see how the train was ever going to dodge them all. The little shelf the train was running on kept wiggling through them hills like a snake in a plow field, and then I looked ahead and saw where a hill had been split plumb down to the ground to let the railroad through, and that was all right, because I could see daylight on the other side. And then when the train went through that split In the hill it switched around kinder to one side, and I could see the track ahead of the engine, and then I saw a big white mountain all covered with now sticking clear up into the clouds, and nobody knows how much farther, and the next thing I knowed the engine give a screech like she was most scared to death, and I looked quick and the whole business was going plunk into a hole 'in the ground. And then I jumped. Came near getting killed, but I fooled them that trip. You don't catch me running up against any game that I don't know nothing about, and I ain't going into anything that I don't know the way out of. Then I came down town to get patched up, and I'm going to Cripple Creek some other way, even If I have to walk.
“And what’ became of the train?” asked he doctor, who had been feeling of Duffer’s ribs to see If they were all in place, “didn't they stop for your?”
“Stop nothing. The last I saw of the darned thing it was still going into the hole, and I didn't care whether it ever stopped or not. I wasn't on it. Say, do you reckon I could get my bucket back if they get them out?”
It took considerable time and the testimony of several witnesses to convince Mr. Duffer that the entire train and its contents were not hopelessly buried in the interior of Pike's Peak, and quite a little crowd accompanied him to the station, where Agent Dunaway telegraphed to Cascade to return one lunch pail and grip labeled John Duffer, Pike County. Missouri.
And as he left the station to fill up on “free soda biling right out of the ground,” Mr. Duffer explained, once more: “When the train went into that hole I thought we’d never see daylight again, and my only chance was to jump, and so I jumped. I'm from Missouri, and you'll have to show me.”
The Evening Star (Washington DC), May 8, 1897 (also reported in the Washington Post, May 9, 1897 and the Record-Union (Sacramento, California), May 30, 1897.
In the months following the jump, the expression appeared in the press with increasing frequency. A dispute with the “conductor on the Northeast electric road” in Kansas City, Missouri prompted G. W. Nelson to refuse to deposit his fare in the fare box; “I’m from Missouri and you’ve got to show me,” said Nelson. Kansas City Journal, August 11, 1897. In an article about a lively masquerade ball in Rock Island, Illinois, “[t]here were no ‘dead’ ones within – the doorkeeper announced himself from Missouri – ‘show me.’” Rock Island Argus, November 8, 1897. In a debate about statehood for Oklahoma, Associate Justice Tarsney said, “I am from Missouri – you’ll have to show me.” Witchita Daily Eagle (Kansas), January 8, 1898. The expression even invited the attention of Latin “scholars,” who purportedly found the phrase in a translation of an ancient Latin text (but be forewarned, you should take the translation with a grain of salt):
“Taken cum grano salis” is a Latin phrase meaning:
“I’m from Missouri, and you’ll have to show me.”
Witchita Daily Eagle, February 13, 1898.
But despite the growing popularity or attention the phrase received, its origin and age were soon shrouded in mystery:
J. H. Fletcher, a grocer of Lamar, thinks he knows where and under what circumstances the saying, “You’ll have to show me; I’m from Missouri,” originated. Here is his explanation, according to the Lamar Republican: “All I know about it is what they told me at Colorado Springs last spring,” said Mr. Fletcher. “I first heard the phrase on the last day of May, but according to reports it was then becoming gray-haired in that section, though it was just beginning to get a good start in Kansas and Missouri. As the story runs, a fellow who never had been up the mountains before was riding up the Pike’s cog road. . . . When the train approached the mouth of the tunnel he suddenly looked ahead and saying, I’m from Missouri, you’ll have to show me before I go in there,’ jumped from the train. He rolled down a steep incline, landing far below against a big boulder, and was picked up almost dead. I never learned what became of him nor if he really did die, but the phrase tickled some New York drummers [(salesmen)] who were on the train and they took it up and spread it wherever they went. It only shows how little it sometimes takes to give a phrase a popular send-off.”
Kansas City Journal (Missouri), March 12, 1898.
This explanation appears to give a first-person, second-hand account that more-or-less agrees with the version reported the previous spring. But it was not the only explanation of the origin; it was not even the only explanation of the origin of the phrase that took place in Colorado:
Of late many explanations of the origin of the slang phrase, “I’m from Missouri; you’ll have to show me,” have been printed in Missouri papers. Strangely enough, they all come from Colorado. The most likely one, and one which the writer has so far never seen in print, is furnished, the Press says, by a Carthage boy who was a member of the Colorado National Guard during the big strike of the miners at Leadville, Col., a year or two ago. It will be remembered that some hundreds of miners from Jasper county went to Leadville and took the places of the strikers. They were unfamiliar with the methods in use there and though they were mainly experienced ground men they had to be instructed in many minor details. At that time the young militiaman wrote Carthage friends that a common expression of derision and contempt hurled at the Missouri miners by the strikers was, “I’m from Joplin; you’ll have to show me.” As time went on the expression broadened, and now takes in all Missourians. What was at first a mere expression of derision “caught on,” and now every Missourian is greeted with it whenever he leaves his state Applied as it was, in contempt, Missourians are becoming proud of it. It breathes a note of defiance, or something near it, and it is safe to say that in event of war with Spain the watchword and warcry of the Missouri troops will surely be “We are from Missouri, and you’ll have to show us.”
Kansas City Journal, March 19, 1898.
This second explanation does agree with some of the background facts. There was a strike in Leadville, Colorado months before John Duffer jumped from his train, and miners from Missouri were shipped in to break the strike:
Leadville Strike. Leadville, September 22 – Over one thousand members of the Colorado national guard, under the command of Brigadier-General Brooks, are on duty in this city. Some are doing guard duty at Malderan and other mines, but the main body is encamped near the Denver & Rio Grande depot, awaiting developments. The streets are crowded with excited men, but no violence has been done since the attacks upon the Colorado, Coronado and Emett mines early yesterday, in which, at least six men, it is now known, were killed.
Daily Capital Journal (Salem, Or), September 22, 1896;
Fort Scott, Kas., Dec. 29 – (Special.) A car of miners from the mining district south of here passed through the city en route to Leadville to-day to take the place of the striking miners.
Kansas City Journal, December 30, 1896 (the mining district south of Fort Scott, Kansas is across the river from Joplin, Missouri);
More Missouri Miners for Colorado. Joplin, Mo., Feb. 8. –One hundred miners will leave over the Missouri Pacific railroad this evening for Ouray, Colo., to work in the Virginius mine.
The McCook Tribune (McCook, Nebraska), February 12, 1897.
Although the articles place strike-breaking Missourians in Colorado several months before John Duffer jumped from his train, examining each explanation in light of the other tends to make both explanations seem less likely to have been the ultimate origin of the phrase. John Duffer was not from the mining districts near Joplin, Missouri; he was from Pike County in Northeast Missouri. Duffer was on his way to a gold mine in Cripple Creek, not the silver mines in Leadville (a hundred miles to the Northwest) or Ouray (more than two hundred miles to the west). It was also his first time in the mountains, so it seems unlikely that he had could already have been to Leadville or Ouray to hear the phrase in the mining camps.
Something is not quite right. If the phrase was an insult in Leadville, how is it that John Duffer could utter it with pride in Manitou? If John Duffer had never been to the silver camps in Leadville, where would he have heard the phrase? Without more, I suppose it would have been possible for the the phrase to have been kicking around in Colorado long enough for Duffer to pick it up somewhere in his travels before he reached Manitou.
But, there is another option. If the phrase is even older, perhaps both John Duffer and the miners brought the expression with them to Colorado. That would explain how the expression got to the silver camps and why John Duffer would think to say it after injuring himself on Pike’s Peak.
As it turns out, the expression does predate 1897. Barry Popik’s online etymology dictionary, The Big Apple, lists several instances of the expression from as early as October 1894. All of the references are clustered in a small area of the Midwest; most of the references are from Omaha, Nebraska or Kansas City, Missouri, with one reference from Des Moines, Iowa. The phrase was already entrenched enough by April 1897, just as John Duffer was about to jump from a moving train, that the Kansas University Quarterly included it in a “Dialect Word-List.” Vol. 6, no. 2 (April 1897,) "Dialect Word-List - No. 4" by W. H. Carruth and Paul Wilkinson, pg. 91 (See The Big Apple).
|Kansas University Quarterly, volume 6, number 2, April 1897, page 91|
John Duffer, and the miners, it seems, could have brought the expression with them to Colorado. It seems likely that the miners themselves used the expression first, rather than having it imposed on them by impatient local foremen.
But it was John Duffer, whose non-superman-like leap from (not over) a steaming locomotive may have boosted the expression to national prominence. By 1903, Missouri was known far and wide, as the Show Me State.
When the Minneapolis Millers fell behind early in their game against the St. Paul Saints on May 16, 1903, their manager pulled the starting pitcher and put Thomas in in relief:
Thomas, who hails from the show-me state, finished out the game, but charity forbids extended mention of what happened.
The Minneapolis Journal, May 16, 1903.
But perhaps I give him too much credit. The expression and the attitude was there before he went to Colorado. Although it may have been only a regional expression at the time, it could well have spread without his help. H. L. Mencken credits the spread of the phrase to, "a speech made by Willard D. Vandiver, then a congressman from Missouri, in Philadelphia in 1899 or thereabout." The American Language; An Inquiry into the Development of English in the United States, Supplement II, New York, A. A. Knopf, 1948, page 631. The Vandiver story, which is the most frequently cited origin story for the phrase, has been tossed around since at least 1932. George Earlie Shankle, American Nicknames, New York, H. W. Wilson, 1937, page 355, fn. 5 (citing The Washington Post, May 31, 1932).
But I like to give credit where credit is due - John Duffer earned the right to be considered the father, OK, perhaps Godfather, of Missouri's unofficial motto, 'Show Me.'
You can still ride the same tracks that John Duffer rode – Cograilway.com – but you can no longer get out on the platform to jump.
Now that’s progress.
Epilogue - Missouri No Longer the Puke State
Missouri's new nickname was progress too. Before it became the Show-Me State, Missouri had long been known by the unfortunate nickname, the Puke State. This was not a case of a previously inocuous word taking on a less appetizing meaning over time; puke meant the same thing in the 1800s as it does now. As with the Show Me State, there are competing stories about the origin of the Puke State. Curiously, the rival stories involve Missouri miners and Pike County.
Concerning Missouri’s nickname, the Puke State, Townsend says that “this inelegant application took place in 1827 at the Galena [(Illinois)] Lead Mines, where throughout the mining craze so many Missourians had assembled, that those already there declared the State of Missouri had taken a ‘puke.’
George Earlie Shankle, American Nicknames, New York, H. W. Wilson, 1937, page 355.
With regard to the origin of the nickname, Pukes, formerly applied to the natives of Missouri, Leopold Wagner says that “the natives of Missouri are universally styled Pukes, a corruption of the older name Pikes, which still obtains in California as the description of the migratory whites from the South owing to the idea that these originally came from Pike County, Missouri.