Home » Colorado Rockies » History of Colorado
The region that is today the State of Colorado has been inhabited by Native Americans for more than 13 millennia. The Lindenmeier Site in Larimer County contains artifacts dating from approximately 11200 BCE to 3000 BCE. The Ancient Pueblo Peoples lived in the valleys and mesas of the Colorado Plateau. The Ute Nation inhabited the mountain valleys of the Southern Rocky Mountains and the Western Rocky Mountains. The Arapaho Nation and the Cheyenne Nation moved west to hunt across the High Plains.
The United States acquired a territorial claim to the eastern flank of the Rocky Mountains with the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803. The U.S. claim conflicted with Spain’s claim that a huge region surrounding its colony of Santa Fé de Nuevo Méjico was its sovereign trading zone. Zebulon Pike led a U.S. Army reconnaissance expedition into the disputed region in 1806. Pike and his men were arrested by Spanish cavalry in the San Luis Valley the following February, taken to Chihuahua, and expelled from México the following July.
The United States relinquished its claim to all land south and west of the Arkansas River as part of the U.S. purchase of Florida from Spain with the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819. México finally won its independence from Spain in 1821, but it surrendered its northern territories to the United States after the Mexican-American War with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. In 1849, the Mormons of Deseret (now Utah) organized the extralegal State of Deseret which claimed all land drained by the Green River and the Colorado River. The federal government refused to recognize the new government, and the Mormons declined to settle east of the Green River for more than 20 years. The United States divided the area of the future Colorado among the Territory of New Mexico and the Territory of Utah organized in 1850, and the Territory of Kansas and the Territory of Nebraska organized in 1854.
Most American settlers traveling west to Oregon, Deseret, or California avoided the rugged Rocky Mountains and instead followed the North Platte River and Sweetwater River through what is now Wyoming. On April 9, 1851, Hispanic settlers from Taos, New Mexico, settled the village of San Luis, then in the New Mexico Territory, but now Colorado’s first permanent European settlement. Gold was discovered along the South Platte River in western Kansas Territory in July 1858, precipitating the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush. The placer gold deposits along the rivers and streams of the region rapidly played out, but miners soon discovered far more valuable seams of hard rock gold, silver, and other minerals in the nearby mountains.
The Provisional Government of the Territory of Jefferson was organized on August 24, 1859, but the new territory failed to secure federal sanction. The election of Abraham Lincoln for U.S. President on November 6, 1860, led to the secession of six slave states and the threat of civil war. Seeking to augment the political power of the free states, the Republican led U.S. Congress hurriedly admitted the eastern portion of the Territory of Kansas to the Union as the free State of Kansas on January 29, 1861, leaving the western portion of the territory, and its gold fields, unorganized.
Thirty days later on February 28, 1861, outgoing U.S. President James Buchanan signed an act of Congress organizing the free Territory of Colorado. The original boundaries of Colorado remain unchanged today. The name Colorado was chosen because it was commonly believed that the Colorado River originated in the territory. Early Spanish explorers named the river the Rio Colorado for the reddish-brown silt the river carried from the mountains. In fact, the Colorado River did not flow through the State of Colorado until House Joint Resolution 460 of the 66th United States Congress changed the name of the Grand River to the Colorado River on July 25, 1921.
The United States Congress passed an enabling act on March 3, 1875, specifying the requirements for the Territory of Colorado to become a state. On August 1, 1876 (28 days after the Centennial of the United States), U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant signed a proclamation admitting the State of Colorado to the Union as the 38th state and earning it the moniker “Centennial State”. The discovery of a major silver lode near Leadville in 1878, triggered the Colorado Silver Boom. The Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890 envigorated silver mining, but the repeal of the act in 1893 led to a major collapse of the mining and agricultural economy of the state.
Colorado women were granted the right to vote beginning on November 7, 1893, making Colorado the second U.S. state to grant universal suffrage and the first by popular vote. By the 1930 U.S. Census, the population of Colorado exceeded one million residents. The state suffered through the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, but a major wave of immigration following World War II boosted Colorado’s fortune. Tourism became a mainstay of the state economy, and high technology became an important economic engine. Colorado’s population exceeded 4.3 million at U.S. Census 2000.
Three warships of the United States Navy have been named USS Colorado. The first USS Colorado was named for the Colorado River. The later two ships were named in honor of the landlocked state.