Colorado is a state in the western United States. The Rocky Mountains, or Rockies, form the most dominant physical feature of the state. On the plains just east of the Rockies is Denver, which is the state capital, the center of the state’s largest metropolitan area, and a major city of the Western United States. Colorado was admitted to statehood on August 1, 1876, during the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and today its official nickname is the Centennial State.
Tools and campsites found by archaeologists in eastern Colorado indicate that humans appeared in present-day Colorado as early as 10,000 bc. The first people known to have settled in what is now southwestern Colorado are called the Anasazi, who seem to have entered the area in about 1500 bc. Little is known today about the early Anasazi, but a flourishing Anasazi culture existed in Colorado between ad 300 and ad 1300. Archaeologists divide Anasazi culture into two major periods, the Basket Maker period and the Pueblo period. In southwestern Colorado the Basket Maker period lasted from about 1500 bc to about ad 700. The Basket Makers were (as the name implies) very skilled at making baskets, which they used for storing food, cooking, and carrying water. At first they lived mainly in shallow caves on the tops of mesas (plateaus that have eroded), where they grew corn, squash, beans, and other crops. In about 500 bc they began to live in shallow, roofed-over pits, make pottery, and use pots as well as baskets. The Pueblo period lasted from about 700 to 1300. The peoples of this period built houses of stone and adobe (sun-dried brick) and lived in pueblos, or villages, on the mesas. By about 1100 they were living in elaborate pueblos of several stories. In about 1200 these peoples moved from the mesa pueblos into new pueblos built along the canyon walls just below the overhanging rims of the mesas. These peoples are sometimes referred to as Cliff Dwellers. Toward the end of the 13th century increasing population, changing climate, decreasing natural resources, and a severe drought forced the Anasazi to move. It is thought that the Pueblo people of today are their descendants. By the early 18th century, other Native American groups were living in what is now Colorado, including the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche, and the Ute. The Ute moved from Utah east into the Colorado plains, where they lived at the highest altitude of any Native American group—often at 3,000 m (10,000 ft) above sea level. The Ute traded elk and deer hides for horses and hardware with the Spanish and with Pueblo people of the Río Grande Valley.
The Spanish were the first Europeans to reach Colorado, and Spain formally claimed the entire region early in the 18th century. Various Spanish expeditions entered Colorado, including the 40 soldiers led by Juan de Ulibarri in 1706 and the expedition of Father Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante in 1776. French interest in Colorado dates from 1682, when the French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, claimed for France all the land between the Allegheny Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. La Salle, who never went west of the Mississippi River himself, named the vast region Louisiana (Louisiane, in French), after Louis XIV, the king of France. French trappers and traders ventured into Colorado during the 18th century.
In 1803 France sold the Louisiana Territory, including Colorado, to the United States. In 1806 James Wilkinson, the governor of the Louisiana Territory, sent Zebulon Montgomery Pike to explore the region and to survey its boundaries. Pike led the first U.S. expedition into Colorado and explored southeastern Colorado and the San Luis Valley, but the Spanish arrested him when he crossed into Spanish territory. The boundary between Spanish America and the United States remained in dispute until 1819, when the Adams-Onis Treaty gave southern and western Colorado to Spain and northern and eastern Colorado to the United States. Another U.S. exploration party in 1820 under Stephen H. Long investigated the area’s resources. Long reported that the eastern Colorado plains constituted part of one great desert. In the 1820s and 1830s hardy traders and fur trappers, called mountain men, began pushing into Colorado in search of beaver and other fur-bearing animals. Trading posts were built and both the Native Americans and the mountain men traded furs and manufactured goods. One of the most famous trading posts was Bent’s Fort on the Arkansas River, where American hunter, trapper, and scout Kit Carson occasionally lived. By the 1840s, however, the beaver trade in Colorado had declined. The posts were abandoned one by one, although Bent’s Fort was, for a time, a post on the Santa Fe Trail, the overland trade route extending from western Missouri to Santa Fe in present-day New Mexico.
Introduction to Colorado - Video
When Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821 it assumed ownership of western and southern Colorado. In order to secure the frontier, the Mexican government awarded large amounts of land to Mexican citizens who were willing to establish colonies in the San Luis Valley and other border areas, but few settlers moved there. Mexico was forced to cede its territories in what later became the southern part of the United States, including Colorado, to the United States following the end of the Mexican War in 1848. The U.S. government recognized the original Mexican land grants, and colonists, mostly Spanish and Mexican, began to settle in the San Luis Valley during the 1850s.
In 1858 gold was discovered in Cherry Creek in what is now downtown Denver by a party of prospectors led by William Green Russell. Mining camps appeared at Denver and Auraria, now a part of Denver, that same year. Thousands of hopeful prospectors flocked to Colorado. By the spring of 1859 the Colorado gold rush was at its height, and “Pikes Peak or Bust” was the slogan for many westbound adventurers. In 1859 John Gregory made an even richer strike at Clear Creek, and nearby Central City quickly became a boomtown. Mining camps also developed at Fairplay, Georgetown, Gold Hill, and Breckenridge. But by 1861 the gold rush was over, and thousands of luckless miners left the mountains.
At the start of the gold rush most of the eastern section of Colorado was a part of the Kansas Territory. In 1859 Coloradans established Jefferson Territory, but the U.S. Congress, preoccupied with the growing hostility between North and South, failed to recognize it. Jefferson Territory existed until 1861, when Congress created the Colorado Territory on February 28. William Gilpin was appointed the first territorial governor and Congress selected the name Colorado. Colorado City was the first territorial capital, but the legislature quickly began meeting in Denver. Golden was then chosen as the capital in 1862, but the legislature continued to meet mainly in Denver, which finally became the permanent capital in 1867.
The discovery of gold had drawn thousands of Midwesterners to the “Pikes Peak or Bust” gold rush. Although many left quickly, in the early 1860s those who remained, especially farmers, slowly began encroaching on Native American hunting areas. Denver itself had been built in 1858 on lands that Congress had reserved for the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples, some of whom raided the stage routes between Denver and the Missouri River. During the Civil War (1861-1865), most of the federal troops posted in Colorado were withdrawn, leaving Colorado without adequate defenses against the raids. At that time the Ute lived in the mountain and plateau regions, and the Cheyenne and Arapaho controlled most of the plains. To retaliate for a series of earlier Cheyenne and Arapaho attacks that had killed isolated settlers, the Third Colorado Cavalry, led by U.S. Colonel John M. Chivington, attacked a village of sleeping Cheyenne and Arapaho at dawn on November 29, 1864, killing as many as several hundred men, women, and children. Known as the Sand Creek Massacre, this attack caused nationwide concern for the plight of Native Americans in the West. Nevertheless, in 1867, regular army troops forced all of the Native Americans except the Southern Utes off the Colorado plains and onto reservations in Oklahoma.
The first bill for Colorado’s statehood was introduced in Congress in 1864, but it died when Colorado voters rejected the proposed state constitution. Subsequent efforts at statehood were lost in the fight between President Andrew Johnson and Republicans in the U.S. Congress over how the defeated Southern states should be treated after the Civil War. Johnson vetoed statehood, partly because the territory’s population was too small. Congress did approve a Colorado statehood bill on March 3, 1875. A state convention at Denver adopted a proposed state constitution on March 14, 1876, and on July 1 the voters approved it by a three-to-one margin. Colorado became the 38th state to join the Union on August 1, 1876, and John L. Routt, the last territorial governor, was elected the first governor of the state of Colorado.
The state’s economy and its population grew rapidly in the 1870s and 1880s. The population increased from about 40,000 in 1870 to more than 412,000 in 1890. In the late 1860s cattle ranching began on Colorado’s unsettled eastern plains. In the 1870s cattle barons like John Wesley Iliff amassed fortunes raising cattle on the open range. Sheep ranchers attempted to graze sheep, but most of them were forced out by the cattle ranchers and had to move to poorer rangelands in western Colorado. Thousands of farmers also settled in the eastern part of the state in the 1870s and 1880s, acquiring land under the Homestead Law of 1862, which provides 65 hectares (160 acres) to settlers if they remained on the land for five years. Farmers clashed with ranchers, as both groups tried to fence off water holes and the better sections of the range. Farmers adopted new farming techniques, including drought-resistant crops and tilling that conserved moisture; these techniques allowed them to farm land that did not receive much water. In 1870 irrigation projects were begun at Union Colony, now Greeley, and elsewhere. In the mountains, mining remained the chief economic activity. Between 1870 and 1880 silver was discovered at several different places in Colorado. In particular, rich deposits of lead carbonate (cerussite) that contained large amounts of silver were found at Leadville. The economic and political life of Colorado revolved around silver. After 1878 silver prices were high enough to create great fortunes for Horace A. W. Tabor, John Routt, and other Coloradans, who became known as “carbonate kings.” When whites began to settle and mine in western Colorado in the 1870s, the Ute, who had only occasionally raided white settlements in Colorado, became increasingly hostile. In September 1879 a band of Utes killed U.S. Indian Agent Nathan C. Meeker and ten other men at the White River Agency in northwestern Colorado. After further conflict, in which many soldiers died, the Ute disbanded, and all but a very few were expelled from Colorado.
In 1873 the U.S. Congress had passed the Coinage Act, which authorized the U.S. Treasury to stop minting silver dollars. This had decreased the demand for silver just as new silver strikes in Colorado, Nevada, and other Western states increased the supply, and silver prices dropped rapidly. Silver-mining companies in Colorado and the other Western states vehemently protested against the Coinage Act, which they called the “Crime of ‘73.” For nearly 25 years silver interests in Western states urged Congress to begin the unlimited coinage of silver dollars, a position called free silver. Congress authorized the treasury to buy and coin a limited amount of silver dollars in 1878 and 1890, which helped the Colorado silver mining industry, but production still overwhelmed the market. Meanwhile, Colorado’s farmers, like farmers throughout the West, suffered when overproduction around the world pushed farm prices down to their lowest level since the 1860s. In 1893 a major economic depression hit the United States. Congress repealed the silver-purchasing act of 1890 and Colorado’s silver mines immediately closed when silver prices fell far below profitable working levels. The free-silver issue continued to dominate politics in Colorado and across the nation and the Populist Party and the Democratic Party attracted support in Colorado during the 1890s by supporting free-silver policies. In 1896 both parties supported the Democratic Party candidate for president, Nebraska editor William Jennings Bryan, but his defeat by Republican William McKinley effectively killed the free-silver movement.
Prosperity did not return to Colorado until after World War I began in 1914. Britain, France, and the other Allied Powers needed raw materials, especially metal and food products, and Colorado’s economy grew by supplying them, especially after the United States entered the war in 1917. The state’s mining industry was greatly expanded, and new mineral resources, such as molybdenum and tungsten, were also developed. The economic boom continued into the 1920s. Several years of good rainfall encouraged many farmers to extend cultivation to the drier parts of the plains. Oil production, which had started in the 1860s, approached 5 million barrels in the 1920s with the opening of new fields near Fort Collins and Craig. In 1930 Colorado had more than one million people for the first time in its history. But the Great Depression, the economic hard times of the 1930s, hit Colorado and the rest of the nation hard. There was widespread unemployment in the state, and many people, including bankers and farmers, went bankrupt. In addition, between 1932 and 1937 a prolonged drought struck the Great Plains. There was little or no water for crops, soil erosion was extensive, and many farms were abandoned. Farm prices throughout the nation dropped to very low levels. In an attempt to help farmers and those without work, Colorado and the federal government created programs to build highways and public buildings. Despite the general economic stagnation during the 1930s, the state’s mineral production increased. Silver and gold mining grew after 1934, when the Silver Purchase Act and the Gold Reserve Act were passed by the U.S. Congress. The price of gold increased, and unemployed people panned for gold in streams miners had originally worked in 1859.
As a result of government policies during the Great Depression as well as World War II, which the United States entered in 1941, the state entered a boom that lasted 40 years. Farming recovered briefly during the war, but manufacturing greatly increased, and Denver became a “second Washington,” with government offices, defense plants, and training camps. Colorado Springs and other cities also thrived. After the war, population grew rapidly, especially in Denver and its suburbs. Between 1940 and 1960 the state’s population increased by more than 600,000 people, to more than 1.7 million, and Denver, Adams, and Jefferson counties accounted for nearly half of the increase. By 1980, over 80 percent of Coloradans lived between Fort Collins and Pueblo, and in 1993 the Denver, Boulder, and Greeley metropolitan regions together topped 2 million people. As the population grew, so did the problems of urbanization, including pollution, transportation, and crime. By contrast, rural, eastern Colorado lost population. Mirroring a nationwide pattern, agriculture slumped in the late 1940s after wartime demand for food products vanished. Family farms were replaced by large agricultural businesses. The population decrease affected every aspect of rural counties, from business to medical care to schools. By the mid-1950s manufacturing had replaced agriculture as the state’s most important economic activity. Eventually, the region lost political power when the state legislature was reapportioned to reflect the shift in population. Mining, like agriculture, did not do well. Oil and natural-gas production increased in northeastern, northwestern, and southwestern Colorado during and after the war, but then declined. Two more brief mining rushes temporarily stimulated Colorado’s economy. From 1946 to 1963 uranium mining was important in western Colorado. Then, after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) raised oil prices in 1973, creating an energy crisis, Colorado oil shale seemed to provide some answers, although that industry declined when Exxon sold its interest in 1982. Both times Grand Junction expanded and then contracted rapidly. Environmental concerns began transforming Colorado in the 1970s. Growth, population, and pollution became major political issues. In 1972 a bill to fund the proposed 1976 Winter Olympics was defeated, which seemed to indicate that the progrowth attitude was changing. How water was to be used became an important issue. The area east of the Continental Divide had more than 90 percent of the population and 63 percent of the land, but the western part of the state had the large majority of the water. Questions included how water should be allocated between rural or urban areas and how water management projects would affect the environment. Tourism, the service industries, federal money, and other smaller industries became the new pillars of the Colorado economy. Skiing, in particular, grew after the war. Skiing gave old mining communities like Aspen, Telluride, and Breckenridge a new life, and created towns such as Vail. In 1992 Colorado voters captured national attention after they approved an amendment to the state constitution that prohibited local governments from passing laws that protected civil rights for homosexuals. The amendment had been sponsored to repeal Aspen, Boulder, and Denver ordinances that gave homosexuals the right to fight housing and job discrimination in court. The amendment was immediately challenged in court, however, and in 1994 the Colorado State Supreme Court ruled that the amendment was unconstitutional. That ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which in May 1996 upheld the Colorado State Supreme Court decision overturning the amendment. In 1999 the deadliest school shooting in the nation’s history took place at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Two heavily armed students killed 13 people and wounded 23 others at the school before killing themselves. The incident became the subject of an Academy Award-winning documentary, Bowling for Columbine (2002) by director Michael Moore, and subsequently had a significant impact on security methods and procedures used at schools across the nation. Colorado elected its first Hispanic senator, Democrat Ken Salazar, in the 2004 elections. Salazar’s ancestors lived in Colorado before it became a state. Colorado’s other U.S. senator, Wayne Allard, was a Republican. He was first elected to the Senate in 1996.
Colorado - Video
Largest city & Capital: Denver
Colorado state nicknames
Colorado State Quarter
Colorado State Motto
State bird: Lark bunting
State flower: Colorado Blue Columbine
State tree: Blue spruce
Colorado state seal
Colorado population (2014)
Colorado population density
Colorado population by race
population by religion
Median Household Income
Governor: John Hickenlooper (D)
Current Colorado time
Area of Colorado