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The legend of the Angel of Shavano

Article by Eleanor Perry Harrington

Local Lore – December 2004 – Colorado Central Magazine

HIGH ABOVE THE Upper Arkansas Valley on Mt. Shavano lies an angel sketched in snow. Each spring as the warm sun melts the snow surrounding her, the angel patiently waits. Finally, the snow in her deep crevices stands out sharply on the mountainside reminding the people below that once again she has come to provide moisture for their crops and stock when the streams and rivers run low.

Angel of Shavano, acrylic painting by Nadine Beach of Salida
Angel of Shavano, acrylic painting by Nadine Beach of Salida

According to legend, centuries ago this world was inhabited by gods and goddesses. One goddess was a capricious young girl who angered Jupiter with her escapades. Following one of her mischievous tricks, Jupiter turned her into an angel of thick ice and said, “You’ll stay high on Mt. Shavano until a tragedy of people yet to come brings you to tears.”

Down through the years the angel lived contentedly on the mountain watching the changes that took place in the valley below, to the north and south, and to the east as far as her eyes could see.

At times, her domain was under the flags of Spain, France, and Mexico. Ute Indians camped by the winding Arkansas River, planting maize and hunting buffalo. On many occasions she watched savage battles between the Utes, Sioux, Arapahoe, and Cheyenne. Trappers and hunters made regular visits to the Indian camps to trade brightly colored beads and trinkets for buffalo hides and beaver pelts. The angel quietly watched over Zebulon Pike and his party of explorers as they ate a meager Christmas dinner of buffalo meat at her feet on December 25, 1806.

Rich gold discoveries spread across the country, and mining towns grew overnight up and down the Arkansas River and along the banks of its many tributaries. Miners worked the waters of Squaw Creek and tickled the angel’s toes in their search for riches. As the gold ore gave out, many of the prospectors turned to the land or opened businesses and settled in the valley. The buffalo gradually disappeared, the Indians moved on to other grounds, and men with families and cattle moved into the valley. In the warm summer months the cattle were taken to graze on the grassy slopes of Mt. Shavano under the wings of the angel.


These white settlers were frugal and hard-working. Each sunrise found them tending their stock and laboring in their fields. Their ranch houses were small but clean. Their land became rich and productive, and the families grew as the land grew. New farms developed by the river and ever closer to the foot of the mountains. The angel was pleased with what she saw and gradually she looked upon the people below with pride. They belonged to her and she was happy with the fate Jupiter had imposed upon her.

However, a time came when the winter snows on the Continental Range were light and the spring and summer rains were few. The land cracked under the mercilessly hot summer sun, the crops in the valley dried up, the river slowed to a trickle and then flowed no more. The angel of ice and snow watched in sorrow as the spirit of her people was broken. The weak and aged were the first to die but soon many of her once healthy people were added to the rapidly growing cemetery. The angel concentrated on how she might help, but to no avail.

In desperation she began to weep. Her tears flowed down her body, loosening the deep ice in the ragged crevices. The angel became frightened when she saw her beautiful legs of ice fall away from her body, but she was soon crying with joy as she saw the tumbling ice slowly turn to water. The water filled the dry creek beds at the base of her mountain, and flowed into the valley. The angel had solved the problem of her people.

THE PEOPLE WERE ALARMED when they heard the thunderous cracking and saw their Angel of Snow falling in large chunks from the mountain. They hurried to gather their families together and escape from what they feared was an avalanche. But within a short time a new sound was heard: the welcome sound of water in the streams and irrigation ditches. People rushed to watch as the first muddy fingers of water pushed gently at dry leaves and twigs and eased around rocks in the creeks. Soon the water was clear and sparkling, and it stretched from bank to bank.

The men and their loved ones looked in wonder at each other and then, almost as one, they knew the answer. They turned to the diminishing Angel of Mt. Shavano, and fell to their knees to give thanks.

The angel swayed with joy while her wings crumbled, and then she heard Jupiter whisper, “The spell I cast upon you is broken, ice angel. You may now leave Mt. Shavano and join us.”

“No, no,” she cried. “These people need me. Look below and you will see that they are happy again. Please, let me stay here to watch over them.”

“I will grant your wish on one condition,” Jupiter answered. “You will become an angel of snow and ice each winter, but when the sun is high in the heavens, you will slowly melt from the mountainside to irrigate the land below.”

“Thank you, Jupiter,” the angel cried happily as she watched her graceful body break apart. Thus, each spring the Snow Angel of Mt. Shavano returns to help her people in the Upper Arkansas Valley.

Eleanor Perry Harrington has wrriten several books about Tincup. A long-time Buena Vista resident, she now lives in Englewood.