Why Do Hitchhikers Say “(Destination)...Or Bust!”?

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons / Wikimedia Commons

Hitchhikers used to scrawl it with Magic Marker on a piece of cardboard, and some oh-so-clever marketers emblazon phrases like “Daytona Beach or Bust” across the chests of their souvenir T-shirts. But the “bust” in the phrase has nothing to do with female anatomy; rather, it refers to the “risk everything and go for broke” definition of the word.

Picture it: Colorado Territory, 1859. The hysteria of the California Gold Rush a decade prior had faded, and prospectors were now turning their attention to the South Platte River, where a placer deposit near what is now Englewood, Colorado yielded 20 troy ounces of gold. One year later the cities of Denver, Boulder, and Golden sprouted and flourished to provide food and accommodation to the local miners. Word of “free gold” spread, and soon folks with nothing to lose packed up their meager belongings and headed to what was then known as Pike’s Peak Country. “Pike’s Peak or Bust!” became a catchphrase for the thousands of hardy souls who left their homes to brave the harsh weather and terrain via horse or mule-drawn wagons and start life anew in this place where gold (allegedly) flowed freely and wealth was at the fingertips of anyone with a pickaxe and a sturdy back.