Marshall Sprague (1909-1994) was the journalist and popular historical author whose book—Newport in the Rockies: The Life and Good Times of Colorado Springs (1961)—became known as the history of Colorado Springs. Witty and gossipy, the book took on a life of its own as the reference offered newcomers. Long-time Chinook Bookstore owner Dick Noyes said it was his perpetual bestseller, calling Sprague the town’s “Historian Laureate.”
Sprague became a local character himself. He arrived, like so many, with tuberculosis, seeking the famous local specialist Dr. Gerald Webb. Sprague’s first book was the story of his recovery: The Business of Getting Well (1943). During prescribed rest, he also read history books that inspired him to write them. Sprague made a place for himself in Colorado Springs that would last 50 years.
Sprague developed local-regional history books that no one had written. He wrote about the Cripple Creek Gold Rush, the Meeker Massacre, “dudes,” who went to the Wild West, the Rocky Mountain passes, the Louisiana Purchase, and the Colorado volume of a U. S. bicentennial series of every state’s history. He “never claimed to be a historian,” he said; “I am a feature writer and proud of it.”
Sprague and his wife Edna Jane (“Ejay”) were active in politics and the arts. She performed in the Civic Players and he played piano for a jazz band, the Gut Bucket Seven. In 1958, they joined Colorado Springs’ progressive leaders in an anti-nuclear campaign. In 1969, they defended Colorado College for hosting an anti-violence symposium. Ejay served on the city’s park board, ran for council advocating open space, and was Vice President of the Board of Trustees for the Fine Arts Center. She became the first woman to serve on the planning commission, where she advocated preservation over urban renewal.
Sprague set out (at publisher’s urging) to make Newport a “gay book,” basing it on “widely-circulated” stories that “the Springs heard.” By writing these, he sacrificed Queen Palmer, bride of town founder William Jackson Palmer. Some townspeople resented her for apparently not appreciating her husband or his town enough to stay indefinitely. Newer local historians apply scholarly standards of research and accuracy to local history. They struggle with Sprague’s Newport still being the history of Colorado Springs. Nevertheless, it has that colorful life of its own and Sprague never did claim to be a historian.
Generously Submitted by Katherine Scott Sturdevant, Professor of History, Pikes Peak Community College