Starting in the 1800s, Colorado went from a plot of land “owned” by the French to a provisional territory and then finally became a state. Along with the changing environment, the state’s communities, government, and people transformed.


Ute Tribe

Gold Rush


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Ute Tribe

The Ute Tribe was the most prominent tribe in the front-range area, but due to westward expansion and unfair treaties their land has now been diminished into small reservations.

Gold Rush

The territory of Colorado during the spring and summer of 1859 was flooded with people searching for gold, this rush for the precious mineral kept the American dream alive in the west as well as kickstarted Colorado’s economy.


It took 3 tries for Colorado to become a state after the influx of immigrants during the gold rush.

Interested in learning more? Read below!

Creation Story

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Before the origins of Colorado, Utah, Mexico and the United states the Ute people have lived in the mountains. Their creation story tells how they came to live in the mountains and how they have been there since the creation of all humans. 

Long ago the creator Sinawav lived with the Coyote before people existed. The Earth was young at this time and it was finally time to bring humans into the world. Sinawav gave a bag of sticks gathered from many different trees to Coyote, and gave very specific instructions for Coyote to carry the bag of sticks over the hills to the sacred ground. It was important that Coyote not open the bag before then. Coyote, however, was young and foolish, and just as he ran over the first hill he couldn’t help but take a peak in the bag. Just as he opened the bag, many little people with all different languages ran out in all different directions. Coyote realized his mistake and tried to return all the people to the bag, but he could not. He closed the bag with a fraction of the people left inside, and took them to the sacred ground where he released them. Those he released to the sacred ground were the Ute people. Coyote returned to Sinawav, who was very disappointed. Sinawav told Coyote that “Those you let escape will forever war with the chosen ones, They will be the tribes which will always be a thorn in the sides of the Utes.” He then continued and said “the Utes, even though they are few in number, will be the mightiest and most valiant of heart.” Sinawav then cursed the Coyote “You are an irresponsible meddler. From this time on you are doomed to wander this earth on all fours forever as a night crawler.”

Becoming the US

The United States did not own the Colorado territory until the very early 19th century. Before then, the French owned the territory because of small settlements and explorations they had conducted earlier in the 16th and 17th centuries. Infatuated with a passion for the west the United States was eager to purchase the land from France and in 1803 it was made possible. The United States purchased the land for a total of $27,267,622 dollars at less than three cents per acre for 828,000 square miles. The westward boundary of the purchase happened to be the Rocky Mountains from Colorado all the way up to the border of Canada.

The western portion of Colorado was not attained until later in 1848 when the Mexican war ended. The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed and the United States paid $15 million dollars for 525,000 square miles of Mexico. The territory is now many different states including Arizona, California, western Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, and Utah.

Ute Tribes

The largest Native groups of Colorado were the Ute, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Apache, and Shoshone. Natives at this time were primarily semi nomadic and nomadic buffalo hunters that used large territories to hunt their game, and many tribes were in and out of Colorado each season. The Ute tribe however, was very prominent in Colorado and Utah mountain region, and although many of other tribes listed above had a major influence on the Colorado story, This research is focused on the Ute tribe.

The main Ute bands of Colorado are the Weenuche band (now called the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe), Mouache and Caputa bands (now known as the the Southern Ute Indian Tribe) and finally the Grand River, Tabeguache, Yamparicas, and Uintah bands (now the Ute Indian Tribe, located at the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation). Through the early 19th century the Ute tribes of North America lived without much influence from people outside their tribes, except for some contact with Spanish explorers in the late 18th century. The encounter with the Spaniards began the Utes' use of horses, and since then the tribe was able to cover much more area during hunts and positioned them as a powerful tribe in the west. The minimal encounters with outsiders eventually changed around the 1810’s. Fur trappers and traders began using Native territories to find their desired animals and thus interacted with the native people more often. Contact between the native people and fur traders from this point increased steadily. In search of resources many euro-american settlers went through the Ute territories, oftentimes through the Spanish Trail in the 1820s. This ended the isolation of the Ute tribes, though their territories were still theirs until around the 1840s. 

In 1849 the treaties with the United States and the Utes started. The first was the Treaty of Abiquiú, which submitted the tribe to the jurisdiction of the United States and promised peace as well as safe passage for settlers through Ute territories. In return, the Utes were promised presents and farming implements. The treaties did not stop there, and as more settlers began entering the Colorado territory more land was taken from the Ute people. 

The gold rush sparked lots of hope for many eastern settlers, as they anticipated they could strike it rich if they moved to the Colorado territory. This however began the decline of the tribes living there. Due to the migration patterns of the Ute people, they found that when they would leave the plains to go back into the mountains, their land would substantially shrink because of increasing settlements in the front range area. The gold rush also drew many settlers to the mountains. Settlers would pass through and set up mining camps on the Ute territories, and caused tensions to rise. The United States government claimed the Colorado territory in 1861 and by doing so, split many Ute groups apart. The claim of territory also brought more settlers into Colorado for the mining and or homesteading opportunities, which further increased the tensions between Ute and settler people. In 1868 the Kit Carson Treaty was signed by representatives of the Ute tribes including Chief Ouray. This treaty reduced the Ute territory from 56 million acres to 18 million, and created the first Ute reservation in Colorado, where it was promised that non–Native Americans could not pass through or reside. Later In 1873, precious metals were discovered in the San Juan Mountains and the Brunot Agreement was created. The Agreement diminished Southern Ute lands even more and put them on the small reservations where the tribes live today.  Currently there are 2 Ute reservations in Colorado. 

Gold Rush

The Colorado gold rush started in 1858 sparking with the findings of George Jackson near Idaho springs and John Gregroy near Black Hawk. The two found gold placer deposits (accumulations of valuable material usually near old bodies of water) in their locations and news of their findings spread fast. All the while, the economic downturn around 1857 bankrupted many eastern families, and this inspired many to start over in the west. 

Thousands of people flooded into Colorado during the spring and summer of 1859 to find gold. Townsites in the frontrage area such as “Denver City”, “Golden City”, and “Boulder City” arose during this time and eventually started to become transportation and distribution centers, as more gold began to be found deeper in the mountains. Over this span of time there were several boom and bust periods. Some prospectors would leave the state with their head low and no gold in their pocket. Sticking with the state however proved to be beneficial. Deeper in the mountains more and more gold was found and Central City popped up as the most dominant gold camp in the area. 

The gold rush also motivated Colorado to become a territory in 1861 because of the influx in settlers. However, this was also the driving force behind the diminishing land of the Ute people.

Becoming a State

Originally the Colorado Territory was a part of the Nebraska, Utah, Kansas, and New Mexico Territories. In order to govern the space during the gold rush influx, a provisional government popped up and called it Jefferson Territory prior to 1861. In 1861, President James Buchanan, organized the Territory of Colorado, just a week before leaving office to president Abraham Lincoln. This was made possible after the Treaty of Fort Wise was negotiated with several native groups. It reduced Arapaho and Cheyenne land holdings, eventually leading to the Colorado Territory being created. Several attempts were made to have the government recognize the statehood of Colorado however it was argued that not enough people lived there to do so. After being vetoed twice, the state finally convinced congress there were over 150,000 residents in the Territory which led President Ulysses S. Grant to admit the state to the union on August 1, 1876.

Fun fact: this is 100 years after the declaration was signed which is why Colorado became known as the centennial state.


Did you know that Colorado is the only state to ever turn down hosting the Winter Olympics? Colorado is also home to the tallest sand dunes in North America. There are tons of interesting facts and trivia about Colorado, can you guess them correctly below?


What percentage of Colorado’s population lives in the front range?

Not sure?

Answer: 70%

How many professional teams are there in Colorado?

Not sure?

Answer: There are six professional sports teams in Colorado.

How many NASA astronauts are graduates of the University of Colorado Boulder?

Not sure?

Answer: Eighteen!

Approximately how many days of sunshine does Colorado have per year?

Not sure?

Answer: 300

What Colorado 14er mountain inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write the song “America the Beautiful.”

Not sure?

Answer: Pikes Peak

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