Colorado's Beginnings

Colorado's Beginnings

Before white settlers reached what would become Colorado, the area was home to several Indian tribes, including the Utes in the mountains; the Cheyenne and Arapaho on the Eastern plains; and the Ancestral Puebloans (formerly called Anasazi) in southwestern Colorado, whose cliff dwelling houses at Mesa Verde can still be seen today.

The first Europeans to explore Colorado were the Spanish, who came looking for gold in the sixteenth century. Hispanic Americans would make their homes in the San Luis Valley beginning in the 1840s, the earliest non-Indians to do so.

In 1806, Zebulon Pike, a U.S. Army officer, was sent to explore the land that Stephen Long had termed the "Great American Desert." Here Pike recorded seeing the mountain that would later be named in his honor, Pikes Peak. It wasn't until 1859, however, that white settlers would finally start pouring in to the Rocky Mountains. Gold had been discovered, and now, fortune-seekers traveled to what was then mainly part of Kansas Territory to make their fortune, claiming "Pikes Peak or Bust." Two years later, as the population grew, the area became Colorado Territory.

Meanwhile, as white settlers moved in, Indians like Little Raven and Chipeta worked hard to bring peace between the settlers and the tribes, while men and women like William Byers, Helen Hunt Jackson, and Uncle Dick Wooton, and others came to Colorado to make a new life in Colorado, shaping the future of the territory as they did so. It was a time of great change for an area that would become, in 1876, the State of Colorado. 

Biographies of This Era

When: 1828 - 1874

Where: Born in Taos, New Mexico, and founded Trinidad, Colorado

Why Important: Colorado Hispanic pioneer who helped found Trinidad, Colorado

When: 1809 - 1869

Where: Southeast Colorado

Why Important: Trader; tried to bring peace between the white settlers and the Indians

When: 1831-1903

Where: Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska, and finally, Denver

Why Important: Byers was the greatest Denver promoter, bringing people and money into the city. He established the first paper, the  Rocky Mountain News.

When: 1809–1868

Where: Born in Kentucky, died at Fort Lyon, Colorado.

Why Important: Kit Carson guided many important expeditions into the territories of the American West.

When: 1836 -  1894

Where: Born in China, settled in Denver

Why Important:  Chin Lin Sou was a leader in the Chinese American community and a successful businessperson in Denver.

When: 1843 -1924

Where: Born in the Kiowa Apache tribe and raised by the Ute tribe in what is now Conejos, Colorado

Why Important: Only woman ever allowed to sit on a Ute tribal council, she lobbied the US Congress on behalf of her tribe.

When: 1822 - 1902

Where: Born in Virginia. Lived in South Carolina, Chicago, and Central America, settled in Denver, Colorado.

Why Important: Barney Ford escaped from slavery using the Underground Railroad. He became a successful businessman and civil rights activist


When: 1830 -1885

Where: Born in Massachusetts, moved to Colorado Springs

Why Important: Author and Indian Advocate

When: 1843 - 1892

Where: Central City and Denver

Why Important: She helped establish the Jewish Hospital Association of Colorado, now called National Jewish Hospital.

When: 1842-1918

Where: Denver, CO

Why Important: Kountze founded the Colorado National Bank. He also helped rebuild Denver after the "Great Fire."

When: c. 1810-1889

Where: Colorado and Oklahoma

Why Important: This Chief sought peaceful relations  between Native Americans and whites even amidst the Sand Creek Massacre.

When: 1825-1887

Where: Denver, CO

Why Important: D. C. Oakes was an early settler and smart businessperson. He helped build a strong foundation for Colorado's economy and growing population.

When: 1800s - 1847

Where: Born and lived in southeastern Colorado

Why Important: Owl Woman married William Bent and helped run Bent’s Fort

When: 1842 - 1907

Where: Lake City, Cañon City, and Littleton, Colorado

Why Important: Cannibal

When: 1838 - 1909

Where: Delaware, Pennsylvania, a "trek west," Denver and Colorado Springs

Why Important: A civil engineer, Civil War soldier, owner and cofounder of the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad, philanthropist. 

When: 1805-1866

Where: St, Louis, MO, the Rocky Mountains, and Denver, CO

Why Important: Beckwourth was an African-American mountain man, fur trader, and explorer.

When: 1779 - 1813

Where: Born in New Jersey, explored Pikes Peak and Arkansas River Valley, Colorado

Why Important: Explorer

When: 1811 - 1894

Where: Born in Taos, New Mexico, she moved to Mora, New Mexico and Fort El Pueblo in Colorado. She eventually died in the Arkansas River Country.

Why Important: Sandoval was a pioneer. She was one of Colorado's many little-known women who helped pave the way for generations to come in the West.

When: 1827 - 1916

Where: Born in New Mexico and settled in Trinidad, Colorado.

Why Important: Simpson did charitable work at churches, schools, and hospitals. She also taught Spanish-speaking students.

When: 1816 - 1893 

Where: Raised in Virginia and settled in Denver, Colorado

Why Important: Wootton was a guide, a rancher, a farmer, and a storekeeper. He also operated a toll road.

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