Grand Junction History for Kids

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Time Line of Important Historical Events Since 1879

Ute Indian on horses

Ute Indians

Nathan Meeker

Nathan Meeker

Meeker Massacre (1879)

     The Ute Indians used to live in the area where the cities of Grand Junction, Delta, and Montrose are today. However, white settlers like Nathan Meeker tried to force the Ute Indians to learn farming in an effort to "civilize" or christianize them. They were forced to live in poor living conditions against the ways and traditions of their past.  The final breaking point for the Utes was when Nathan Meeker would not allow horse racing (a Ute favorite tradition). They revolted and killed Nathan Meeker and his staff. Although the Utes were also treated unfairly, the Meeker Massacre was the final excuse for the U.S. government to kick them off the land and cancel the treaties or written agreements with the Utes. The Utes were forced to move to a reservation in Utah.

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First Building in Grand Junction

Grand Junction's First Building

Original Grand Junction Town Plan

Grand Junction Town Plan

Family Farming in the 1880s

A family farming in the 1880's

A Town is Born (Sept. 1881)  

     Before 1881, the land belonged to the Ute Indians. Not long after the Meeker Massacre, the U.S. government kicked the Utes off the land. White settlers traveled here and formed a small town.  People like George Crawford got together with other settlers and created a plan for the growing town. The original town plan went from current day 1st to 12th Street and North Avenue to South Avenue (now Main Street). Some small businesses and offices started on Main Street. But many of the people that settled here were farmers, ranchers, or railroad workers.

Origin of the name "Grand Junction"

     They created the name Grand Junction from the two rivers that flow through town. A junction is the point or place where two or more things meet.  The Grand River and the Gunnison River met together in town.  Later, they changed the name of the Grand River to the Colorado River so people did not confuse it with the Rio Grande River.  If you want to see the junction of the two rivers, it is by the 5th Street Bridge and the Colorado River Front Trail.         

Farming and Ranching

     Way back in the 1880's there were no cars, roads, and groceries stores like there are today. In fact, where Grand Junction is today was a large area of dirt with a few desert plants.  The only place with a bunch of trees was by the rivers.  The people who settled Grand Junction had to grow their own food.  They dug small ditches and canals from Colorado river to irrigate their land and grow crops like: corn, wheat, peaches, apples, hay, sugar beets, tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, etc. They also raised cattle, pigs, chickens, and other animals for food.

Coal Burning Train

Steam Engine in Train Yard

Grand Junction Train Depot

Front of Train depot

Grand Junction Train Depot

Train waiting at the depot

A Railroad Comes Through Town (Nov. 1882)


    The Denver and Rio Grande Railroad came through town in 1882.  Before the railroad was built, people had to get to other places by wagons, horses, or walking.  It took a long time to do that and was hard to carry a lot of stuff.  It would take a couple of days or weeks traveling by horse, wagon, or on foot. It was much faster traveling by train, taking maybe a day or two, and you could carry stuff on a train a heck of a lot easier.  If you were a farmer or rancher and needed to sell your crops, cows, or other kinds of animals, you could just put them on the train and you could sell them farther away much quicker and easier.

    The train brought jobs to people in Grand Junction.  The train companies set up repair shops here to fix train cars and railroad tracks that were broken.

     Many people traveled on the trains.  The train depot (dee-po), or the building where a train stops at, became very important.  If your grandparents were coming from out of town, you would meet them there.  In addition, people would load crops, animals, and supplies to sell at other places at the depot.   They could also unload and buy the food and supplies that they needed from other places.

Colorado National Monument

John Otto Colorado National Monument Searpants Trail

John Otto & CO National Monument, 1911

       John Otto is the founder of the Colorado National Monument. Otto came to western Colorado in 1906 and lived in the canyons of the Monument alone. John Otto built many trails for free for people like you who visit the Monument. John named many formations he found such as Independence Rock. He had a hard time starting the Monument. Finally on May 24, 1911 President Taft signed the proclamation and the Monument was formed. Otto succeeded. The Monument started to bring more people from around the country to the Grand Valley. Some of the people moved here and others spent money here and created jobs.

         Some people thought that he was odd. He married a Boston artist, Beatrice Farmham, in June 20, 1911 at the base of Independence Rock. Soon after, he got divorced from Beatrice, although he didn’t want to. He got divorced because Beatrice didn’t want to live in a small shack.

         John spent over 20 years of his life with the canyons and mesas in the Monument. Mr. Otto was the first caretaker for the Monument. John was an expert trail maker. He wanted to have the Monument named Smith the Monument. He helped build a road called Serpant's Trail in 1921 to get to Glade Park. In 1933, Otto moved from Colorado to the mountains in California in search of gold. During his lifetime, he was put in jail three times for insanity. He was also put in jail for threating the Colorado governor. Otto died in California at the age of 81. Otto loved the area so much, he requested to be buried here at Elmwood Cemetery.   

          In the 1930's the CCC and WPA built a road called Rimrock Drive through the Colorado National Monument. Scroll down for more information.

By Spencer

Canal in Grand Junction

One of the canals in G.J.

Roller Dam above Palisade

Roller Dam above Palisade

Building the Highline Project Canal System (1918) 

     Before the Highline Project many farmers and ranchers had dug their own ditches and small canals from the Colorado River to bring water to their land.  People in Grand Junction got together and decided to build a better irrigation system.  It had several main purposes.  The canals were dug deeper and wider to bring more water from the river.  In addition, more canals were dug that went further away from the river. The extra water and new canals allowed more land to be used for houses, fruit orchards, and farms (in fact up to 50,000 acres).

     The canal system is controlled by a roller dam that was put across the Colorado River above Palisade in the DeBeque Canyon.  The dam has steel cylinders or rollers in it that go up and down controlling how much water that goes into the canals.  It is the largest roller dam in the nation! Watch for it next time as you are driving on Interstate 70 through DeBeque Canyon.

Grand Junction's First Airport

First Airport (1930)

Grand Junction's First Airport (June 1930)

    The Grand Junction Municipal Airport was opened June 14-15, 1930.  The airport was very small and its runways were unpaved.  The airplanes were not like the new ones today.  They were a lot smaller back then and could only carry a few people. In 1942, they changed the name of the airport to Walker Field after a famous newspaper person in Grand Junction.  During World War 2, they trained airplane fighter pilots there. 

Great Depression

Hard times for many in Great Depression

Dust Storm in the 1930s

Dust Storm in central U.S.

CCC Rim Rock Drive

A CCC crew helped build trails & roads in the Colorado National Monument Rim Rock Drive

The Great Depression & the CCC & WPA(1930's)

     During the 1930's, many businesses failed and many people in the United States did not have jobs.    Since they did not have jobs, many people were not able pay for their house, food, or clothes. Life was tough for them! 

    In addition, the middle part of the United States was facing a serious drought (dr-out).  A drought is when it does not rain or snow very much on an area for a long period of time.  The farmer's crops die from little to no water and the rancher's animals die of thirst or hunger since people couldn't grow hay.  In fact, the center of the country became known as the dust bowl.  Most all the plants had died, and nothing could protect the large area of plowed fields from flying away in the wind. Strong winds picked up the dust and formed enormous dust clouds called dust storms. On some days, they turned daytime as dark as night. Many people had to move from their farms and ranches.

      Since Grand Junction is so close to the mountains and the Colorado River, many farmers and ranchers had enough water to grow their crops and animals.  People in Grand Junction did not face quite as much hard times as the rest of the U.S.  

    But in order to put some people to work, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the United States government formed work programs called the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA).  They helped build stuff for towns throughout the whole country.  In Grand Junction they helped build some roads, sidewalks, hiking trails, and buildings. Many of the workers helped build the road and trails in the Colorado National Monument. The steep cliffs and canyons made the work difficult and dangerous. The CCC's and the WPA's construction of Rim Rock Drive over the Colorado National Monument is very impressive.

WW2 U.S. Soldiers Raising Flag

U.S. Soldiers in WWII

Farmers picking apples

People picking Apples

World War 2 (1940's)


     What happened in World War 2? In the late 1930's and early 1940's, the Germans (Nazis led by Adolph Hitler) and the Italians attacked and took over parts of Russia, Europe, and Africa. Japan attacked and took over parts of Asia and many of the islands in the Pacific.  When Japan attacked the U.S. military base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941, the U.S. people became furious.  We joined with other countries that were already fighting back against Germany, Italy, and Japan. 

    Grand Junction helped by sending men and women into the armed forces, training airplane fighter pilots at Walker Field, and preparing food and supplies for the U.S. military. With a great many people's help throughout the United States and the world, the Germans, Italians, and Japanese were finally defeated in the mid 1940's.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines (1947)

A Larger Airline Flys In and Out of Town

     In 1946 and 1947, larger airlines started stopping in Grand Junction on a regular basis.  Walker field Airport became larger.  It is important because people could get to places faster by airplane.  The people flying from other places that stopped at Walker Field stayed in hotels, ate at restaurants, visited the beautiful scenery, and bought stuff from stores here.  More jobs were created and more people could live here. Lastly, it was easier for people that lived in Grand Junction to fly and visit other places.

Diagram of an AtomAtom Bomb Mushroom Cloud

Atom (left), Cloud formed by an atomic

bomb (right)

Aftermath of Atom Bomb on Hiroshima

Hiroshima after the bomb

Uranium Workers with a Geiger Counter

Uranium Miners with a pick and

Geiger Counter

Radiation Diagram

Uranium Boom and Bust (1950's)

     In the late 1940's and 1950's, the United States was experimenting on how to make stronger bombs.  Scientists were learning a lot more about atoms (tiny particles that make up everything) and atomic energy (the energy that can be created from them).  Using uranium and other materials they created the atomic bomb. Some atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan at the end of World War 2 with devastatingly scary results.

    After World War 2, the Soviet Union (Russia) and communism became more powerful and took over some of the land previously taken over by Germany.  Many people didn't like the idea of communism and were scared of the Soviet Union's new power.  The U.S. thought that they might bomb us, and the Soviet Union thought that we were going to bomb them. Both sides created larger and more destructive weapons.  Both sides became very scared what the other might do, and it became known as the "Cold War". The United States fear of the Soviet Union was called the "Red Scare".


    How did this affect Grand Junction?  The uranium that is used in some bombs can be mined out of the ground in parts of western Colorado and Utah.  The United States Atomic Energy Commission (U.S. government) and many uranium-mining companies opened large offices in Grand Junction.  This created many jobs, and more people moved to Grand Junction (boom). By 1970, the U.S. government did not need as much uranium and the mines and offices closed (bust).

     Uranium gives off energy called radiation. Tools like a Geiger Counter can detect the radioactive atoms.  Unfortunately, this energy can cause people to get sick and cause cancer.  Many miners experienced many serious health problems after mining uranium.

     The uranium boom still affects people today in the Grand Valley. A lot of the left over dirt from the uranium mines was used around town for fill dirt on new construction sites in the 1950's and 1960's. Later on we learned the dirt was not safe and had radon in it which can cause cancer and other illnesses. A lot of the fill dirt from the uranium mine has been dug out and shipped to a safe place at an expensive cost. However, today there is still some of the dangerous dirt under some buildings built in 1950's and 1960's.      

Original Road to Denver

Original road to Denver

Interstate 70 Grand Junction

Interstate 70 was built.

A Major Highway Comes Through Town (1960's)

     In  the 1950's and 1960's, the government built better roads across the United States. In the 1960's they made Interstate 70 go through Grand Junction.  Before the highway, the roads were bumpy, dusty, and narrow.  The new highway was much smoother and let you go much faster.  Since it was easier to travel on the new highways, people started buying more cars and traveled less by train.  In addition, semis became more popular to send food and other stuff to different cities, thus sending less stuff on trains.

     People traveling on the highway stopped in Grand Junction to eat at restaurants, sleep at hotels, see the beautiful scenery, buy stuff at stores, and get gas.  So, more businesses were able to open, more jobs were created in Grand Junction, and the city became larger.

Oil Shale Rig Rifle Colorado

Oil shale rig near Rifle, CO

Layer of Oil Shale

Layer of oil shale

Oil Shale Rock

Oil shale rock

Oil Boom and Bust (late 1970's to May 1982)

     Have your parents ever complained about the price of gas?  Gas prices have gone up a lot recently.  This is not the first time gas cost a lot of money.  In the late 1970's, the gas prices rose significantly. 


     Oil was found in a layer of rocks called oil shale in the land above the Bookclffs called the Roan Plateau.  The gas in your car comes from oil. In the late 1970's some large oil companies built large oil rigs by the edge of the Roan Plateau to get the oil out of the rock. The oil companies hired a bunch of people really quickly.  So, many people moved their families to Grand Junction and bought houses and rented apartments.  They went to restaurants, shopped at stores, and spent their money here.  Many new businesses opened hoping to earn their money. When a city grows really fast and things are going good, it is called a boom.

     However, it was expensive and difficult to get the oil out of the oil shale rock.  When the gas prices dropped or became cheaper in 1982, it then cost more to get the oil from the oil shale than what they could sell the oil for.  Since the oil companies started losing money, they stopped trying to get oil from the oil shale and closed down the local oil wells and offices.  The many people who had been working for the oil companies lost their jobs.  They were no longer able shop at the new stores or pay for houses, rent, food, or clothes for their families. In a short time, many businesses closed and many people had to move from Grand Junction or find other jobs.  The oil industry and the Grand Junction economy experienced a bust. It was a hard time for many people in Grand Junction.

St. Mary's Hospital 1990s

St. Mary's Hospital

Mesa State College

Mesa State College

Aquarium built by Reynold's Polymer

An aquarium made by

Reynolds Polymer

Becomes Regional Business and

Medical Center (1990's)

     In the 1990's lots of different businesses and people moved to town. Grand Junction had all the major ingredients to help it grow.  It had a major interstate highway running through it, Walker Field Airport, a couple of major hospitals, many stores, restaurants, and businesses.  Along with the people that live here, many people from smaller cities in western Colorado drove here to go shopping, to get medical help, to go out to eat, to go to movies, and to do other errands. 

    New stores like Home Depot and restaurants like Red Lobster opened.  Other companies like Reynolds Polymer, who makes gigantic aquariums for places all over the world, moved here.  St. Mary's Hospital became larger to help more people, and more students went to Mesa State College each year. 

     Many people in Grand Junction enjoyed that they had stores, activities, and restaurants of a major city while being able to experience the nice climate and beautiful outdoors within a half hour drive.

Grand Valley Transit Bus

Grand Valley Transit

New Public Bus Transportation

system (Feb. 2000)

     In February of 2000, the Grand Valley Transit bus system was started.  Before the busses, people without cars or who could not drive had to walk, ride a bike, or call a taxi.  If you walk or ride a bike, then it takes longer and is harder to carry stuff.  For some people who are older or not in good health, traveling around town is difficult to do. Also, taxis are expensive. Riding the bus is much cheaper and is easier to carry stuff on.  For many people who can not travel by car, the bus system is very very important.

Oil Shale Rig

Oil Shale Equipment & Oil Rig

Oil Shale Picture

Another Energy Boom and Bust (2004-2009)


   Oil and Natural Gas prices had gone up enough that major oil companies had come back to see if they can make money from the huge amounts of oil trapped in the oil shale. The boom had brought many energy jobs back to small towns in western Colorado, eastern Utah, and southern Wyoming. Getting the oil out of the shale is still experimental and needs lots of water for it to work. If it does work, then lots and lots of money can be made and jobs can be created. However, there is still a lot of concern how it is going to change the environment and pollute the land and water. The Roan Plateau is an important area for wildlife, hunting, and camping. Also, many small towns were scared of growing too fast and having another bust like in the early 1980's.

    Along with oil, companies are drilling for natural gas. Natural gas is a cleaner fossil fuel used for heating homes, stoves, and water. In addition, uranium prices have gone up where it is possible to make money mining it again. Uranium mines that once were closed are opening again.

    While much of the country was heading toward a recession and hard times. The energy jobs had kept the local cities from feeling it as bad as much of the rest of the country. However, with the fall of gas and oil prices and the rest of the country and world in a depression many oil and gas workers lost their jobs. This time Grand Junction had more types of business here and did not feel it quite as bad as the bust in the early 1980's. Still, many people are out of work and it is very hard times for them.