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Colorado Information

States of the USA Article Index


Colorado and statehood

The Red State. "Ado" is Spanish for "red." Spanish explorers had a great influence in Colorado through much of its history, but Colorado history starts long before the Spaniards arrived.

The first people to settle in Colorado were probably the Anasazi tribe, and evidence shows they were there near the start of the second  Millennium--some four centuries before Columbus would arrive.

Colorado is full of mountainous, valleys, and cliffs. The Anasazi lived in the cliffs, in an area  in the southwestern corner of Colorado. Just as today's city dwellers might live in one of the layers of buildings made of steel and glass, so did these folks live in layers of rooms made of stone. About 200 years before Columbus arrived, these folks left their cliff homes and moved south.

How Colorado became a state...

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 territorial governor.

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."


Colorado Facts




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