Colorado State Archives
Colorado History Chronology
The following chronology describes events of Colorado's prehistory,
early history and events up to WWII. It is mostly excerpted from
archival records of the State Planning Commission's Colorado Year
13,000 B.C. Big game hunters may have occupied area
later known as Colorado. Evidence shows that they were here by at
least 9200 B.C.
A.D. 1 to
1299 A.D. Advent of great Prehistoric Cliff Dwelling
Civilization in the Mesa Verde region.
1299 A.D. A great drought and/or pressure from nomadic tribes
forced the Cliff Dwellers to abandon their Mesa Verde homes.
c. 1500 A.D. Ute Indians inhabit mountain areas of
southern Rocky Mountains making these Native Americans the oldest
continuous residents of Colorado.
1541 A.D. Coronado, famed Spanish explorer, may have
crossed the southeastern corner of present Colorado on his return
march to Mexico after vain hunt for the golden Seven Cities of
1682 A.D. Explorer La Salle appropriates for France all of
the area now known as Colorado east of the Rocky Mountains.
1765 A.D. Juan Maria Rivera leads Spanish expedition into
San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountains in search of gold and
1776 A.D. Friars Escalante and Dominguez seeking route
from Santa Fe to California missions, traverse what is now western
Colorado as far north as the White River in Rio Blanco County.
1803 A.D. Through the Louisiana Purchase, signed by
President Thomas Jefferson, the United States acquires a vast area
which included what is now most of eastern Colorado. While the
United States lays claim to this vast territory, Native Americans
have resided here for hundreds of years.
1806 A.D. Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike and small party of
U.S. soldiers sent to explore southwestern boundary of Louisiana
Purchase; discovers peak that bears his name, but fails in effort to
climb it; reaches headwaters of Arkansas River near Leadville.
1807 A.D. Pike crosses Sangre de Cristo Mountains to
Conejos River in San Luis Valley and builds Pike's Stockade; placed
under nominal arrest by Spanish authorities and taken to Santa Fe;
later, he and his men are released.
1820 A.D. Numerous Native American tribes live in the
Colorado area. The Utes live in the mountains, the Cheyenne and
Arapahoe reside on the plains from the Arkansas to the Platte
rivers, and the Kiowas and Comanches live south of the Arkansas
River. The Pawnee tribe hunts buffalo along the Republican River and
the Sioux sometimes hunt in the outskirts of the Cheyenne and
1820 A.D. Major Stephen H. Long is sent by President
Monroe to explore southwestern boundary of the Louisiana Purchase.
Long's party came up the South Platte River. Long's Peak named for
him. Dr. Edwin James, historian of Long's expedition, leads first
recorded ascent of Pike's Peak. James Peak, west of Denver, named
1825 A.D. Opening of era of fur-traders, trappers and
Mountain Men - Bent brothers, Ceran St.Vrain, Louis Vasquez, Kit
Carson, Jim Baker, James Bridger, Thomas Fitzpatrick, "Uncle
Dick" Wooten, and Jim Beckworth - who established posts in
Arkansas and South Platte Valleys.
1832 A.D. Bent's Fort, one of the most important trading
posts in the West, is built by the Bents and St. Vrain near present
city of La Junta.
1836 A.D. Texas becomes independent republic and claims
narrow strip of mountain territory extending northward through
Colorado to 42nd parallel.
1840's A.D. Mexico granted lands to the wealthy, south of the
Arkansas Valley and in the San Luis Valley hoping to secure claims
against Texas or America.
1842 A.D. Lieutenant John C. Fremont undertakes first of
his five exploration trips into Rocky Mountains. His last
expedition, in 1853, took him through the San Luis Valley and into
the Gunnison River country.
1846 A.D. General Stephen W. Kearney leads Army of the
West along Santa Fe Trail through southeastern Colorado en route to
conquest of New Mexico during Mexican War.
1848 A.D. By Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico cedes to
United States most of that part of Colorado not acquired by
1850 A.D. Federal Government purchases Texas' claims in
Colorado, and present boundaries of Colorado established.
1851 A.D. First permanent non-Indian settlement in
Colorado is founded at Conejos in San Luis Valley; irrigation is
begun; Fort Massachusetts established in San Luis Valley to protect
settlers from Indians who believe that the non-Indians are
encroaching on their land.
1853 A.D. Captain John W. Gunnison leads exploring party
across southern and western Colorado. Gunnison named for him.
Fremont's last expedition, seeking feasible railroad route through
mountains, follows Gunnison's route.
1854 A.D. Treaties with Native American groups prove
unsatisfactory which results in conflict as the Utes kill fifteen
inhabitants of Fort Pueblo on Christmas Day.
1858 A.D. Green Russell's discovery of small placer gold
deposits near confluence of South Platte River and Cherry Creek,
precipitates gold rush from the East and "Pikes Peak or
Bust" slogan. Montana City, St. Charles, Auraria, and Denver
City are founded on present site of Denver. November 6, two hundred
men meet here to organize County of Arapahoe, Kansas Territory.
Pueblo founded as Fountain City.
1859 A.D. Gold is found by George A. Jackson along Chicago
Creek on present site of Idaho Springs. March 9, first stagecoach
with mail for Cherry Creek settlements leaves Leavenworth, Kansas.
April 23, first newspaper in the region, the Rocky Mountain
News, is published by William N. Byers. May 6, John Gregory
makes famous gold-lode strike on North Clear Creek, stimulating rush
of prospectors, who establish camps of Black Hawk, Central City and
Nevadaville. October 3, O.J. Goldrick opens first school, at Auraria.
Jefferson Territory is organized without sanction of Congress to
govern gold camps; officers are elected. Prospectors spread through
mountains and establish camps at Boulder, Colorado City, Gold Hill,
Hamilton, Tarryall, and Pueblo.
1860 A.D. Rich placer discoveries cause stampede of miners
to California Gulch on present site of Leadville. First schoolhouse
is built at Boulder. Region continues to be administered variously
by Jefferson Territory officials, and Miners' and People's Courts.
1861 A.D. Congress establishes Colorado Territory with
boundaries of present state; President Lincoln appoints William
Gilpin as first Territorial governor. July, Supreme Court is
organized and Congressional delegates chosen. September, first
assembly meets, creates 17 counties, authorizes university, and
selects Colorado City as Territorial capitol. Manufacture of mining
machinery begins. The population of the Colorado Territory is
1862 A.D. Colorado troops aid in defeating Confederate
General Henry H. Sibley's Army at La Glorieta Pass, New Mexico.
Second Territorial Legislature meets for a few days at Colorado
City, adjourns to Denver, and selects Golden as the new capitol.
First tax-supported schools are established. First oil well drilled
1863 A.D. Telegraph line links Denver with East; ten words
to New York cost $9.10. Plains Indians attempt to drive white
intruders from their hunting lands on the Eastern slopes.
1864 A.D. Tension between non-Indians and the Native
American tribes escalates. The massacre (Sand Creek Massacre) of
Native American men, women and children in a Cheyenne and Arapahoe
Indian encampment by soldiers and settlers stirs Native Americans to
fresh violence and overland trails are often closed. Fort Sedgwick
is established near Julesburg. Camp Collins established to protect
travelers on Overland Trail. Later became Fort Collins. Colorado
Seminary (now University of Denver) is chartered; Sisters of Loretto
1865 A.D. Indian attacks along trails reach highest
intensity; food is scarce for settlers and prices high; potatoes
bring $15 a bushel and flour costs $40 per 100 pounds. Fort Morgan
established for protection against Indians.
1867 A.D. Denver established as permanent seat of
government by territorial legislature meeting in Golden. Golden
Transcript established by George West.
1868 A.D. Nathaniel Hill erects first smelter in Colorado,
at Blackhawk, inaugurating era of hard-rock mining. Battle at
Beecher Island in northeastern Colorado fought between U.S. troops
and Native Americans as Northern Cheyenne and Sioux tribesmen laid
siege for 9 days on 50 U.S. troops until reinforcements arrived. The
Pueblo Chieftain established by Dr. M. Beshoar at Pueblo.
1869 A.D. The final military engagement between whites and
plains Indians in the eastern part of the territory took place at
1870 A.D. Denver and Pacific Railroad is constructed to
connect Denver with Union Pacific at Cheyenne, Wyoming; the Kansas
Pacific enters Colorado from Missouri River. Union Colony is
established by Horace Greeley and Nathan C. Meeker at Greeley, and
first irrigation canal surveyed there. The Greeley Tribune
established. Population of Colorado territory 39,864.
1871 A.D. Colorado Springs is founded by General William
J. Palmer. Denver and Rio Grande Railroad is built southward from
Denver by Palmer. Colorado School of Mines established at Golden.
1872 A.D. Blackhawk and Central City are connected with
Denver by railroad; Denver and Rio Grande reaches Pueblo.
Agricultural settlements established throughout South Platte Valley.
Out West, later the Colorado Springs Gazette, was established. This
year signals an end to the major use of the "Mountain
Branch" of the Santa Fe Trail.
1874 A.D. Colorado College is founded at Colorado Springs;
territorial legislature appropriates $15,00 for University of
Colorado at Boulder, on condition that equal sum is raised by that
city. W.H. Jackson, famous photographer of the Hayden Geological
Survey, notes ruins of ancient cliff dwellings along the canyon on
1875 A.D. Lead carbonate ores, rich in silver, are found
near present site of Leadville. Constitutional Convention of 38
members holds first meeting.
1876 A.D. Colorado is admitted to Union as 38th State;
John L. Routt is elected first governor. Greeley's first industry,
the tanning of buffalo hides, turns out 12 robes a day.
1877 A.D. University of Colorado opens classes at Boulder,
with two teachers and 44 students. State Board of Agriculture is
created to develop Agricultural College at Fort Collins.
1878 A.D. Leadville is incorporated; rich silver strikes
on Iron, Carbonate, and Fryer hills soon make is one of the world's
greatest mining camps. Central City opera house opens. First
telephones are installed in Denver.
1879 A.D. Colorado College of Agriculture and Mechanic
Arts offers instruction at Fort Collins. Nathan C. Meeker, Indian
Agent on White River (near Meeker) and several employees are slain
in Ute uprising. Major Thornburg and half of his command of 160
soldiers killed in effort to give protection to Meeker. Utes
1880 A.D. Denver & Rio Grande lays tracks through
Royal Gorge and on to Leadville. Great Ute Chief, Ouray, dies. Dry
land farming undertaken extensively in eastern Colorado. Population
of Colorado, 194,327.
1881 A.D. Ute tribes are removed onto reservations. Grand
Junction is founded. Small quantities of carnotite are found in
western Colorado along with gold; later, this mineral is found to
contain radium. Tabor Opera House opens in Denver, built by H.A.W.
Tabor, famous Leadville capitalist.
1882 A.D. Steel is milled in Pueblo from Colorado ores.
Company later becomes Colorado Fuel and Iron Company.
1883 A.D. Narrow gauge line of Denver & Rio Grange is
completed from Gunnison to Grand Junction. First electric lights are
installed in Denver.
1886 A.D. The Steamboat Pilot established
at Steamboat Springs. Charles H.Leckenby becomes owner and
publisher, 1893. Denver Union Stockyards are established, later
becoming largest receiving market for sheep in the nation. Town of
Lamar is founded. The last public hanging in Denver occurred when
Andrew Green was executed for the murder of streetcar driver, Joseph
1888 A.D. Band of Utes from Utah under Colorow make last
Indian raid into Colorado; they are defeated and returned to the
reservation. Union Colony at Greeley completes 900,000 acre
irrigation project. Cliff Palace ruins, in what is now Mesa Verde
National Park, discovered by two cowboys.
1890 A.D. Passage of Sherman Silver Purchase Act raises
price of silver to more than $1.00 an ounce. New rich silver strikes
are made along Rio Grande and Creede is founded. July 4, cornerstone
of State Capitol at Denver is laid. October 3, first building of the
State Normal School (now University of Northern Colorado) at Greeley
is occupied. Population of state, 413,249. Boulder Daily
Camera established by L.C. Paddock.
1891 A.D. Robert Womack's discoveries open great gold
field of Cripple Creek. First national forest reserve in Colorado is
set aside - White River Forest in Meeker area. Pike's Peak cog
railroad begins operation.
1892 A.D. The Denver Post established. H.
C. Brown opens Brown Palace Hotel in Denver.
1893 A.D. National panic brings great distress to
Colorado. Repeal of Sherman Act strikes silver mining a paralyzing
blow and adds to already acute unemployment problems. Grand Junction
1894 A.D. State Capitol is completed at a cost of
$2,500,000. Colorado is second state in the nation to extend
suffrage to women, following the precedent set by Wyoming.
1899 A.D. First beet sugar refinery is built at Grand
1900 A.D. Gold production reaches peak of more than
$20,000,000 annually at Cripple Creek, the second richest gold camp
in the world. Population of State, 539,700.
1902 A.D. Constitutional amendment permits towns of 2,000
to adopt "Home Rule"; Denver becomes home rule city. Beet
sugar refinery built at Fort Collins. David H. Moffat and associates
begin construction of Moffat Railroad over the Continental Divide.
Completed to Steamboat Springs in 1908 and to Craig in 1913.
1903 A.D. With Ben B. Lindsey as Judge, Denver Juvenile
Court opens - the first such court in the United States.
1903 A.D. Mine, mill and smelter workers strike in many
camps for higher wages and better working conditions; at Cripple
Creek, strike results in much property damage and loss of life; all
strike objectives in gold field are lost. Uncompahgre irrigation
project, first federal government reclamation project in Colorado,
1905 A.D. Colorado has 3 governors in one day in a
political squabble. First, Alva Adams, then James H. Peabody, and
finally Jesse F. McDonald. Construction of the six mile Gunnison
water tunnel started by Bureau of Reclamation.
1906 A.D. United States Mint, Denver, issues first coins.
March 12, National Western Stock Show is born with chartering of
Western Stock Show Association following successful showing of about
60 head of cattle and horses and a few sheep and hogs in makeshift
tent at Stockyards. July 29, Mesa Verde national Park is created by
1908 A.D. July 7, Denver municipal Auditorium, seating
12,500, is completed in time for the Democratic National Convention,
when William Jennings Bryan was nominated the third time for
President. August 1, Colorado Day is first celebrated, marking
thirty-second anniversary of State's admittance to Union. Dome of
the State Capitol is plated with gold leaf at a cost of $14,680.
1909 A.D. Colorado attains first rank among states in
irrigation area with 2,790,000 acres under irrigation. Gunnison
water tunnel completed by Reclamation Service and opened, on
September 23, by President William Howard Taft at the tunnel site.
Western State Teachers College opens at Gunnison.
1910 A.D. Population of State, 799,024. Number of farms,
46,170. Colorado voters adopt a constitutional amendment giving to
the people the right of the initiative and referendum. May 8, first
long distance phone call made from Denver to New York City. First
airplane flight in Denver.
1911 A.D. Colorado National Monument west of Grand
Junction, created by Presidential order.
1913 A.D. State Tax Commission created by Legislature.
Assessed value of Colorado property for tax purposes set at
$1,306,536,692. The "Big Snow of 1913" covers Colorado to
a depth of 3 - 5 feet; transportation paralyzed for weeks. State
begins licensing autos for the first time.
1914 A.D. Strike of coal miners in southern Colorado
fields is climaxed by "Battle of Ludlow" near Trinidad;
several men, women and children killed during hostilities between
miners and the State militia. August: WWI begins.
1915 A.D. Worker's compensation measures are passed:
State Industrial Commission is created. Rocky Mountain National Park
created by Congress. Toll road for auto travel to top of Pikes Peak
built by Spencer Penrose. Construction of Broadmoor Hotel at
Colorado Springs started.
1916 A.D. Colorado adopts prohibition. Emily Griffith
Opportunity School is opened in Denver. Mining of tungsten causes
flurry in Boulder-Nederland area.
1917 A.D. April 6: Congress declares war on Germany and
many Coloradans volunteer for service. Colorado reaches maximum
mineral production, more then $80,000,000. William F. "Buffalo
Bill" Cody, Famous Indian scout, dies and is buried on Lookout
Mountain, west of Denver.
1918 A.D. Agricultural production increased sharply to aid
war needs. Dry lands plowed up to produce wheat. Colorado citizens
purchase Liberty Bonds by the millions of dollars to help finance
war. More than 125,000 Colorado men register for the draft for army
service. Fitzsimmons General Hospital established near Denver. Coal
production of state reaches new high of 12,500,000 tons. Impetus of
war stirs development of mining of molybdenum at Climax, near
Leadville - the nation's greatest source of the metal. Denver
Tourist Bureau establishes free auto camp ground for tourists at
Overland Park, Denver. Other cities follow suit during the next few
years. Federal Reserve branch bank established in Denver. Colorado
voters approve constitutional amendment providing Civil Service for
state employees. November, 11, 1918, Germany surrenders.
1919 A.D. Post-war inflation brings higher prices to
farmers and producers; prices of farm land high; wages high; boom
times everywhere. Colorado enacts tax of one cent per gallon on
gasoline, for building of roads. Monte Vista stages first Ski-Hi
1920 A.D. Population of State, 939,629. Employees of
Denver Tramway company go on strike. Aroused by editorials in The
Denver Post, strikers raid Post building and do much damage
1921 A.D. General Assembly creates State Highway
Department with seven man Advisory Board. Colorado begins building
concrete highways on main traveled routes. Pueblo suffers disastrous
flood in June; scores drowned and property damage amounts to
$20,000,000. Post war deflation sets in and decline in prices brings
trouble in the rural areas. During the next several years, numerous
banks serving farming areas close, price and farm lands decline
sharply from levels reached in World War I, and farmers clamor for
1922 A.D. Coloradans vote $6,000,000 in bonds for highway
construction. Moffat Tunnel Improvement District is created by
General Assembly for construction of 6.4 mile bore under Continental
Divide to provide better rail connections between Eastern and
Western Slopes of the State. First commercial radio license in
Colorado is issued, to station KLZ. Daring daylight hold-up of
Federal Reserve bank truck is staged as it leaves U.S. Mint in
Denver and $200,000 stolen. Robbery never solved.
1923 A.D. Oil discovered in Wellington field north of Fort
Collins; flurry of oil stock promotion follows.
1924 A.D. April 26, Colorado is second state to ratify
child labor amendment to federal Constitution. Celebration held in
Greeley marking completion of concrete pavement between Denver and
Greeley - first two major cities in State to be connected by paved
highways. Ku Klux Klan secures domination of Republican party in
Colorado and elects a pro-Klan Governor and U.S. Senator.
1925 A.D. Adams State Teachers College at Alamosa and
junior colleges at Grand Junction and Trinidad are opened.
1931 A.D. Population reaches over one million.
1941 A.D. Denver recruiting offices swamped by over 2,000
enlistments during the month of December as United States enters
World War II.
1941-1945 A.D. During World War II agriculture industry
has greatest production in Colorado history.
1941-1945 A.D. Growth of military installations in
1942 A.D. Federal government established Amache,
a camp for Japanese-Americans who were interned and relocated from
their homes on the West Coast.
1945-1950 A.D. Federal government presence in Colorado
grows, military installations and scientific institutions continue
to develop while many veterans relocate to Colorado. These changes
cause a steady increase in population.
1958 A.D. Air Force Academy is built near Colorado Springs
and first class graduates in June, 1959.
1950's and 1960's A.D. Numerous water storage and
diversion projects are constructed in response to increased
agricultural and municipal water demands. Tourist and ski industries
blossom. Population continues to increase.
1960 A.D. Colorado gets the Denver Broncos professional
football team which eventually wins two Super Bowls.
1962-1965 A.D. Disposition of poisonous wastes into a deep
well at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal results in earthquakes and
hundreds of tremors around the Denver area.
June, 1965 A.D. A cloudburst on the upper reaches of Plum
Creek in Douglas and Jefferson counties results in massive flooding
along the South Platte River, causing widespread property damage and
loss of life. The extensive damage extended from south of Denver all
the way to Sedgwick County near the Nebraska border.
1967 A.D. Denver Rockets become Colorado's professional
American Basketball Association team. In 1974 they are renamed the
1973 A.D. Eisenhower Tunnel is built beneath the
Continental Divide sixty miles west of Denver, making it easier to
reach the ski slopes of western Colorado.
1974 A.D. Desegregation of schools in Denver begins as
busing attempts to achieve racial balance.
1970's and 1980's A.D. Tremendous growth of Denver suburbs
1970's A.D. The population swells, traffic problems grow,
and the "brown cloud" develops over much of the Front
Range. Coloradans become concerned over the consequences of
pollution and overselling Colorado and reject hosting the 1976
Winter Olympics as a result.
July 31, 1976 A.D. A cloudburst on the Big Thompson River
results in a massive flood in Larimer County, killing more than 145
1980 A.D. Coal mining production in Colorado on the
Western Slopes hits all time high as United States becomes more
dependent on energy resources at home rather than overseas.
1982 A.D. The state economic structure is shaken when the
oil shale giant Exxon announces the closure of its oil shale
development fields in Rio Blanco, Mesa and Garfield counties.
Thousands are laid off and the economic stability of the western
slope of the state is severely impacted.
1980's and 1990's A.D. Major growth of technological
industries occurs in Colorado.
1992 A.D. The voters of Colorado pass a citizens'
initiative to limit the growth of state and local governments with
the passage of the TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) amendment to the
1993 A.D. Colorado Rockies become first regional major
league baseball team.
1995 A.D. Quebec Nordiques National Hockey League team
moves to Colorado to become the Colorado Avalanche.
1998 A.D. Colorado voters elect the first Republican
Governor (Bill Owens) to the statehouse in twenty-four years.
2005 A.D. Colorado voters passed at the November elections
a five year tax package that will allow state government to retain
excess tax revenues to fund various state programs that were
previously targeted for reduction or elimination. Referendum C as it
was called, was the first successful attempt at modifying the
Taxpayers Bill of Rights which was passed thirteen years earlier.