About 150 years after Columbus landed in America,
Spaniards made their way into Colorado. In 1540-41, the famous explorer
Coronado led an expedition from Mexico in search of the Seven Cities of
Cibola. You have to remember, the people of this time were obsessed with
gold and they had some strange ideas about how to get it. In this case,
they believed the streets of Cibola were paved with gold.
We don't know the route they took, but most likely Coronado's troupe
passed through southeastern Colorado. Throughout the next 250 years, the
Spanish made sent other explorers into Colorado.
In 1800, Spain ceded a huge area to Napoleon Bonaparte and France. This
area included Colorado and Louisiana. In fact, only three years later
Napolean turned around and sold this same tract of land to the United
States. This was the famous Louisiana Purchase.
You've no doubt heard about Pike's Peak. This was named after
Lieutenant Zebulon Pike. In 1806, President Jefferson commissioned
Lieutenant Pike to explore the new purchase. In Pike's report of the
expedition, he remarked of this 14,110-foot mountain that it was unlikely
anyone would scale the summit.
Just fourteen years later, in 1820, Major Stephen H. Long led a group
to explore Pike's Peak. In their journey, Long and his troupe passed what
are now Colorado Springs, Denver, and Greeley. Dr. Edwin James and two
others in the Long's troupe did reach the summit on that trip.
During this time, fur trappers and traders began working their trade in
the Rocky Mountains. The beaver pelt, small and light, was in hot demand.
A pelt sold in eastern markets for six to eight dollars--a lot of money in
that era. During the 1830s, however, the supply of beaver skins declined--as
did the price. This forced traders to turn to some other source of income,
and they turned to hunting buffalo.
Also at this time, the frontiersmen established trading posts for
bartering with the natives. Bent Fort (1834), Fort Vesquez (1835), and
Fort Pueblo (1842) were probably the most important such trading posts.
The Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, and Kiowa were the most important
plains tribes in the Colorado area. They were nomads who hunted and made
clothes from the skins of buffalo and deer. They lived in teepees. They
ate wild berries and roots, along iwth the meat from their kills.
The Navajo lived in southwestern Colorado. The Cheyenne and Arapaho
roamed the eastern plains, and Apache often visited from New Mexico and
Arizona. The Utes lived in the mountain areas. Today's Ute tribes
live in the southwestern corner of the Colorado.
The California Gold Rush of 1849 ignited a search for gold in other
places, and the Rocky Mountains were not exempt. You can still find people
panning for gold in the mountain creeks even today. The spread of the Gold
Rush into Colorado spurred settlement there. One of the first towns
created in this settlement process was San Luis, founded in 1851. It's
generally considered the oldest continually occupied town in Colorado.
In July, 1858, a Georgia miner named William Green Russell discovered
hundreds of dollars of gold at the mouth of Dry Creek. Today, that spot is
in Englewood, a Denver suburb. This find of Russell's is what started the
"Pike's Peak or Bust" Gold Rush of 1858-59, which brought about
50,000 people to Colorado.
Russell and his brothers made another gold discovery on Cherry Creek.
This prompted, General William Larimer and a troupe from the Kansas
Territory to establish a settlement there. They named this settlement
Denver City, in honor of James W. Denver, who was the Governor of Kansas
Territory. Cherry Creek provided a boundary between Denver City and the
city of Auraria. Despite an initial rivalry, these two cities consolidated
into the single city of Denver in 1860. Gold found in other places
resulted in more towns springing up. Gold found forty miles west of Cherry
Creek was reason enough for folks to settle into the twin towns of
Blackhawk and Central City.
In January of 1861, Congress voted statehood for Kansas. A bill to
create the Colorado Territory passed almost immediately thereafter.
President Lincoln appointed William Gilpin to be Colorado's first
The population of Colorado in 1861 was 21,000. The first legislature,
sitting in Denver, selected Colorado City (west of present day Colorado
Springs) as the capitol. The second legislature met there only a few days,
in 1862, and adjourned to Denver. The assembly met in Denver and Golden up
to 1867 when Denver became the permanent seat of the territory. In the
years following the establishment of the territory, the citizens of
Colorado made several attempts to gain statehood for Colorado.
Political manuevering frustrated their efforts for nearly a generation.
Finally, in 1876--some fifteen years after neighboring Kansas became a
state, Colorado was admitted as the thirty-eighth state in the union.
Because 1876 was the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence,
Colorado gained the distinction of being called the "Centennial State."