A History of Colorado

By Tim Lambert

Early Colorado

The first people in Colorado arrived about 12,000 years ago. At first, they lived mainly by hunting mammoths. But mammoths became extinct and bison became the main source of food. The Spanish introduced horses into North America and in the late 17th century horses had reached Colorado and transformed hunting.

At the beginning of the 19th century, France claimed some of what is now Colorado as part of its territory of Louisiana but in 1803 the French sold the land to the USA. In 1848 Mexico surrendered any claim to any part of Colorado. The borders of Colorado were finally fixed in 1850.

In the mid-19th century, many settlers passed by the region on their way to California or Oregon. However, there were no permanent European settlements in Colorado till 1851 when Hispanics moved there.

Late 19th Century Colorado

Things changed in the late 1850s and early 1860s when there were gold rushes in Colorado. In the 1870s and 1880s silver was mined in Colorado. Yet in 1870 the population of Colorado was less than 40,000. It boomed in the late 19th century with the coming of the railroads. By 1900 it had risen to 539,000.

Denver, Colorado was founded in 1858. It grew rapidly and by 1900 it was a flourishing city with a population of 133,000 people.

Meanwhile, Colorado was organized as a territory on 28 February 1861. It was admitted to the union as the 38th state on 1 August 1876. Denver was made its capital. The University of Colorado opened in 1877. The 1870s and 1880s were years of prosperity for Colorado but the price of silver crashed in 1893. Fortunately, in 1891 more gold was found at Cripple Creek.

Meanwhile, the influx of settlers into Colorado caused conflict with the Native Americans. On 29 November 1864, the Sand Creek Massacre took place. A force of 700 Colorado militia attacked a Cheyenne and Arapaho campsite killing more than 100, most of them women and children. Eventually, the Native Americans were forced onto reservations.

In 1893 men in Colorado voted in a referendum to give women the right to vote.

Modern Colorado

In the early 20th century mining continued to be important in Colorado but agriculture developed rapidly.

However, in 1914, the Ludlow Massacre took place. Miners in Colorado went on strike and they were evicted from company-owned homes. The strikers and their families moved into colonies of tents. On 20 April 1914, the National Guard attacked a tent colony at Ludlow killing 18 people. Fighting went on for 10 days and only ended when federal troops were sent in. Altogether 66 people died during the strike.

By 1930 the population of Colorado had risen to over 1 million. Denver was a city of 287,000 people.

However, during the Depression of the 1930s Colorado suffered because it relied on minerals. However, manufacturing in Colorado received a boost during the Second World War, and in the late 20th century tourism became an important industry.

Meanwhile, in the late 20th century and early 21st century, the population of Colorado boomed. In 1970 it was over 2.2 million and by 1990 it was almost 3.3 million. In 2021 the population of Colorado was 5.8 million.

Last revised 2024