In considering songs about Colorado, it is important to remember § 24-80-909 of the Colorado Revised Statutes, which provides:
That certain song entitled “Where the Columbines Grow”, the words of which were written by A. J. Fynn and the music of which was composed by A. J. Fynn, is hereby adopted as the official state song of Colorado to be used on all appropriate occasions.
Accordingly, we have to discuss “Where the Columbines Grow.” It is the law, and has been since 1915.
Now, I have lived in Colorado since the 1950s, and I have only heard this song performed perhaps half a dozen times. That makes me wonder exactly what an “appropriate occasion” might be, though I am pretty sure this is one. However, before considering the song, itself, we should look at columbines and their legal context – Specifically, §§ 24-80-905 through 908, which state:
24-80-905. Columbine: The white and lavender columbine is hereby made and declared to be the state flower of the state of Colorado.
24-80-906. Duty to protect: It is hereby declared to be the duty of all citizens of this state to protect the white and lavender Columbine Aquilegia, Caerulea, the state flower, from needless destruction or waste.
24-80-907. Limitation on picking state flower: It is unlawful for any person to tear the state flower up by the roots when grown or growing upon any state, school, or other public lands or in any public highway or other public place or to pick or gather upon any such public lands or in any such public highway or place more than twenty-five stems, buds, or blossoms of such flower in any one day; and it is also unlawful for any person to pick or gather such flower upon private lands without the consent of the owner thereof first had or obtained.
24-80-908. Violation a misdemeanor – penalty: Any person who violates any provision of section 24-80-907 is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of not less than five nor more than fifty dollars.
The legislative history tells us that the lavender and white columbine was designated the state flower in 1899, but the provisions calling for its protection and criminalizing the picking of the columbine were not added until 1925. It makes you wonder whether the intervening 26 years had been an time of floral vandalism making it necessary for the Legislature to take extreme measures.
This is not the time or the place to consider that issue. We are talking about the state song, even though there is not yet a criminal penalty for failing to include it “on all appropriate occasions.”
The flower we usually think of as the “Colorado columbine” is a perennial that grows from seed, reaching a height of about 15 inches, and is found in mountain meadows or wooded areas (it prefers partial shade) in late Spring or early Summer. In Colorado, the flower is usually blue or purple, but there are some 60 species of columbine that come in many colors.
Arthur John Fynn, a respected Colorado educator, certainly knew about the columbine. He moved to Central City from New York in 1889, at the age of 32, and resided in the state until his death in 1930. He wrote what became the lyrics of the first three verses of “Where the Columbines Grow” in 1909, and composed the music a year or two later. It was one of only three songs that he published during his lifetime. An excellent biography of Dr. Fynn and a discussion of this song and its music is contained in a paper entitled “Reclaiming the Centennial State’s Centennial Song: The Facts About ‘Where the Columbines Grow,’” published in September of 2015 by Robert G. Natelson, a retired law professor and a Senior Fellow in Constitutional Jurisprudence at The Independence Institute. You can read that paper – all 25 pages of it – by clicking the link, above, so we won’t repeat very much of that material here. Instead, we will mention a few things not discussed in that paper.
Fynn’s song was first performed in 1911, and it enjoyed such initial popularity that it was
chosen as the official Colorado state song just just four years later. However, the very next year, 1916, the Colorado Federation of Women’s Clubs unanimously voted to petition the Legislature to withdraw that designation. The ladies, it seems, were disturbed by the fact that the word “Colorado” was not found anywhere in Colorado’s new state song.
Women in Colorado had won the right to vote in 1893, and the first three women were elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 1894. Females were certainly a political force, so the Legislature was attentive to these concerns of the Women’s Clubs. During the 1917 legislative session, a competition (a battle of the bands?) was held before a joint session of the Legislature pitting “Where the Columbines Grow” against three other contenders. Dr. Fynn, himself, led a group of school children into the hallowed chambers to perform his song. The legislators were so impressed, it received twice as many votes as any of other songs, and remained the state song.
Fynn was appropriately chagrined, though, and in 1921 he wrote a fourth verse to the song, the last line of which is: “And the watchword they bore was the name we adore, ‘Colorado,’ the columbine state.” That could present a legal issue since the song was officially adopted in 1915, without that verse. Would it violate the law to include the new verse on “all appropriate occasions”? Since there are as yet no criminal penalties associated with the performance of the song, the question is probably moot.
One would think that the issue would have been settled; but, alas, it was not. In 1947, a bill was introduced to change the state song to a military march called “Hail, Colorado.” That was defeated, but it does raise an interesting point. “Where the Columbines Grow” is certainly not a militaristic tune; in fact, it is subtly anti-war.
The columbine is a member of the genus Aquilegia, a name derived from the Latin word for eagle (aquila), because the shape of the flower petals, which are said to resemble an eagle’s claw. The common name “columbine” comes from the Latin for “dove”, due to the resemblance of the inverted flower to five doves clustered together. Hawks, or eagles, and doves have traditionally been used as contrasting symbols for war and peace, and in the first verse of “Where the Columbines Grow,” Fynn writes of a place “where the scream of the bold mountain eagle responds to the notes of the dove.” Then, in the second verse, he bemoans the acts of thoughtless humans who have killed or driven away the bison and deer and wolf, and says, “the war whoop re-echoes no longer, the Indian’s only a name.”
In 1960, another piece of legislation was introduced to no longer recognize “Where the Columbines Grow” as the state song. This time, there was strong opposition to the change from the Daughters of Colorado, and nothing was done.
The next effort to change the state song came in 1969. Legendary Denver disc jockey Hal Moore had begun playing the song “Colorado (If I Had a Wagon),” on his KHOW-AM radio show every Friday afternoon to launch a “Wonderful Weekend in the West.” That song had been popularized by Colorado’s own Up With People, a group of young adults who traveled the world promoting America and family values. That exposure and those values led a state representative to introduce yet another bill to change the state song – unsuccessfully once again.
Then, in the 1970s, John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” became so popular that it was believed by many to be Colorado’s state song. In 2007, a joint resolution was adopted naming “Rocky Mountain High” as an “official co-state song.” Nevertheless, “Where the Columbines Grow” remains the only Colorado state song recognized by statute.
I am writing this right across the street from the city limit of Arvada, Colorado. It seems appropriate to close with a rendition of “Where the Columbines Grow” by the Arvada Chorale, a resident company sponsored by the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities since 1977.
Where the Columbines Grow
By Arthur J. Fynn
Where the snowy peaks gleam in the moonlight,
above the dark forests of pine,
And the wild foaming waters dash onward,
toward lands where the tropic stars shine;
Where the scream of the bold mountain eagle,
responds to the notes of the dove
Is the purple robed West, the land that is best,
the pioneer land that we love.
Tis the land where the columbines grow,
Overlooking the plains far below,
While the cool summer breeze in the evergreen trees
Softly sings where the columbines grow.
The bison is gone from the upland,
the deer from the canyon has fled,
The home of the wolf is deserted,
the antelope moans for his dead,
The war whoop re-echoes no longer,
the Indian’s only a name,
And the nymphs of the grove in their loneliness rove,
but the columbine blooms just the same.
Let the violet brighten the brookside,
in sunlight of earlier spring,
Let the fair clover bedeck the green meadow,
in days when the orioles sing,
Let the golden rod herald the autumn,
but, under the midsummer sky,
In its fair Western home, may the columbine bloom
till our great mountain rivers run dry.
From the far eastern prairie and lakeland,
From still farther lands by the sea,
Over perilous paths to our mountains,
Came the pioneers, fearless and free.
They came with the bold resolution
A commonwealth here to create,
And the watchword they bore was the name we adore,
“Colorado,” the columbine state.
For an index of the Colorado Songs in this series, please click here.