Important Historical Events that Affected Western Colorado

Gold Rush and the United States of America Expands Further West

Gold & the United States of America Expands Further West, 1847-1912

Choose one of the following articles:

California Gold Rush, 1848

California Gold Rush 1848-9

Colorado Gold and Silver Rushes, 1859 and 1878

Colorado Gold and Silver Rushes, 1859 & 1878

Railroads, Telegraphs, and Bison 1860s to 1880s

Railroads, Telegraphs, & Bison 1860's to 1880's

American Civil War 1861 to 1865

American Civil War, 1861-1865

Manifest Destiny and the Indian Wars, 1860s to 1890s

Mainfest Destiny & Indian Wars 1860's-1890's

Cowboys and Ranchers

Cowboys and Ranchers

Ute People and the Meeker Massacre 1879

Ute People and the Meeker Massacre 1879

Manifest Destiny Realized 1912

Manifest Destiny Realized, 1912

California Gold Rush, 1848-9
California Gold Rush

       In 1848, a large amount of gold was found in California. The newspapers instantly made a huge story of it in the eastern parts of the United States. Many people trying to make money sold pamphlets and small books with often made up stories of becoming instantly rich. The exagerated stories made it sound like gold could be found about anywhere and it  was just waiting to be picked up.

      This created a rush of people traveling across North America on the Oregon Trail and other well known trails. Large caravans of wagons would pass along the trails. So many people used the most famous trails that it was said you could see the dust cloud from miles away and smell the stench of manure from far away too. Most all the wild animals had been killed within many miles of the trails and most of the trees had been cut down for firewood.

     Along the way some people settled and created forts and trading posts to sell stuff to the travelers. Sometimes towns formed by these forts or trading posts. Cities like San Francisco were built and California was born. Some people did become very rich during the gold rush. However, most people left gold mining with less than what they came with.

    As a result of the gold rush, California's population grew dramatically in a short period of time. Some people who lost their money or the will to continue all the way to California settled along the major trails and created towns. The population of Colorado also grew from the California Gold Rush. Today, the NFL football team, the San Francisco 49ers are named after the people from the gold rush.

Gold nugget
Wagon Trains of People
Colorado Gold and Silver Rushes, 1859 & 1878
Colorado Gold Rush

            In 1859, gold was discovered on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado by Pike's Peak. Soon the same crazy rush of people from the east started coming to Colorado. The saying of the time was 'Pikes Peak or Bust'. People would pack up their wagons in large numbers and head to Colorado. People built small mining boom towns all over Colorado's mountains. When a vein of gold ran out, the miners moved to another part of Colorado. You can find lots of small abandoned mining towns in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Some towns lower in elevation became more permanant like Denver and Colorado Springs.

            Some miners became very rich, but most miners led a difficult life and left the mining camps with less money than what they came with. The gold they did discover was used to pay for housing, food, drink, and living supplies in new mining town stores. The prices for those items was incredibly high. Number one, it was difficult and time consuming to get the living supplies into the new and remote mountain towns. Number two, there were few stores; so, the miners did not have a choice to shop around for a better prices. The miners faced many other hardships. The weather in the high Rocky Mountains is windy, cold, and very unpredictable. The summers are very short and the winters are long and dangerous. Panning for gold, or digging into the Earth was challenging and required a lot of work. The gold seekers led a very difficult life!

            In 1878, the United States government started buying silver. People started looking for silver and found huge ammounts of silver in Colorado. The same pattern as the gold rush happened with silver. Towns like Leadville and Silverton were built and people like William and Baby Doe Tabor became incredibly rich. The United States would buy gold and silver to put in reserve to back the money the government printed. However, in 1893, the United States decided to only buy gold; Silver prices fell instantly, many people like the Tabors became broke, and many silver mining towns became ghost towns. For more information click here.

            The mining booms and busts changed Colorado in many ways. Many of the roads, railroad tracks, and trails they built were used by future travelers and Colorado's population became a lot larger. Some of the miners who had quit, stayed in Colorado and became farmers and ranchers. Other miners who quit moved to the growing towns like Denver and Colorado Springs to do many different jobs. The United States valued Colorado's riches so much that by 1876 Colorado had changed from a territory to a state.

            The mining booms also changed the land. The hungry miners shot and killed most every animal around the mining towns for food. By the early 1900's, many animals that we think as common in the Rocky Mountains, like elk and mule deer, were almost extinct in Colorado. The miners would cut down many trees to build their make shift homes. The forests around the towns took awhile to heal after the mining busts. In addition, the chemicals used to get the gold, silver, and other minerals out of the ore polluted many streams making it difficult for life to return in some parts of the mountains. The legacy of the many booms and busts, and destruction of the environment still affects us today. Many people are cautious about rapid oil and natural gas development because in the past by the time the mines had dried up of their riches, the companies would say they are broke and leave a damaged land for future generations to clean up at the public's expense. Local people also became nervous of the often rapid chaotic change from the boom and bust cycle.

Pikes Peak or Bust
Hard Rock Mining
William and Baby Doe Tabor
Silver Boomtown Leadville Colorado
Colorado becomes a state 1876
Railroads, Telegraphs, and Bison, 1860's-1880's
Railroads, Trains, and Telegraph lines

            One of the biggest inventions that changed American history was the train. Before the train, crossing the Great Plains and the western parts of North America was dangerous, time consuming, and very expensive. People would put their whole life savings into the supplies, animals, and wagons to head west. The trains made it much easier, cheaper, and safer to cross the large areas in days, instead of weeks and months by wagon, by horse, or by foot. People could also bring lots of supplies on the trains. Large ammounts of gold, silver, and coal were shipped across the country from the mining towns as well. The trains greatly sped up the settling of the west.

    They did not have telephones at this time yet. But Samuel Morse created a system where they could send messages along a wire using morse code. The wires were often built along the side of the railroad tracks. It helped get information back and forth accross the continent much faster.

            The train almost led to the extinction of the bison, also called the American buffalo. Rifleman would be on the trains shooting every buffalo in sight. Sometimes, they would skin them and leave the bodies to rot and other times they would just leave them without touching the dead animals. They would sell the thick buffalo hides to companies back east. The companies would use the hides to make pulleys and belts on machines. The bison were also killed because they were a danger to the railroads. The large stampedes could destroy parts of the railroad track. This could derail trains or slow the trains down when the tracks had to be rebuilt.

    The buffalo were killed for other reasons too. The bison were killed to make sure the powerful plains Native American tribes would have less food. Farmers did not like the herds stampeding over and eating their crops. Ranchers did not like them eating much of the grass that they had planned for their livestock to eat. Finally, they were also killed by thrill seekers who wanted the 'wild west experience'. For what ever reason, the millions of bison that used to roam the plains were wiped out in a very short time. By the time the west had been settled, only a few small herds ramiained in the west. For more information click here.

Laying railroad tracks
Railroads and Bison
Thousands of Bison hides
American Civil War, 1861-1865
American Civil War

            For a large part of the 1860’s the American Civil War caused the United States to focus on the eastern part of the nation. The powerful northern states had more control in the U.S. government and voted to abolish slavery. Many of the large plantations that had made the southern white people rich were dependent on the use of black slaves. As part of the old southern confederate culture, whites were also considered superior to colored people. The southern states wanted nothing to do with abolishment of slavery and  left the union. The southern states made a new capitol and a confederate government.

    President Abraham Lincoln led the charge to make the states united again. He had to make many difficult decisions that cost many people's lives. In the longest and bloodiest wars in United States history, the North won over the South and the nation became one again. Slavery had been abolished, but the strong racial discrimination was still there. In many parts of the nation after the civil war, some white people held the view that the act of slavery was wrong, but white people were still superior to blacks. It would take until the 1960's and beyond for black people to start getting more equal rights under the law.

Abraham Lincoln
Manifest Destiny and the American Indian Wars, 1860's to 1890's
United States Cavalry

           After the American Civil War, America’s attention quickly turned toward the west. The people in the United States had a dream to have their country stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, also called Manifest Destiny. Any Indians in the way of the goal were thought as savages. The United States had already forced many Native Amercian tribes from the eastern part of the country to move west or be killed.

     In adition, many of the Native American tribes were rightfully upset about the streams of settlers from the eastern United States crossing their lands. The settlers would chop trees down around the important winter and summer camps of the Native Americans. They would hunt out all the animals around the trails. A lot of times the trails were old Native American trails. Even when the Native Americans were peaceful, events like the Sand Creek Massacre took place. In the Sand Creek Massacre, the U.S. cavalry open fired on a peaceful community of Indians. The cavalry killed many children, women, and men.

           So some of the Native American tribes had started killing settlers and started fighting back against the new waves of people. Many of the U.S. army men that had just finished fighting the Civil War were sent out west to make it safe for the settlers to cross and the United States to grow larger.

      The Native Americans were stuck between a rock and a hard place. If the Native Americans fought, the U.S. cavalry would come in large numbers and fight them. If they did not stand up for their land, then the settlers would hunt out all their food, cut down important trees, and settle on the land. Finally, if they would sign treaties to trade land for promised food or suppilies, then the U.S. government rarely kept their promise. Many times the Native Americans were able to stay on the land agreed upon in the treaty until the land was considered valuable and the Native Americans were forced to move somewhere else. The United State government had the dream of manifest destiny and it wasn't going to let anything get in the way, whether it was right or wrong. For more information click here.

United States Cavalry
Native American Warriors
Battle of Little Bighorn
 
Cowboys, Ranchers, and Barbed Wire
Cowboys and Cattle Drives

            Large areas of open grazing land had been created by the forceful movement of Native American tribes and the killing of the bison, elk, deer, and other wild grazing animals. In their place, the new settlers brought and raised large herds of cows and sheep on the land. They would raise their livestock across large stretches of land. Then in the fall, the newly called 'cowboys' would go on large cattle drives and bring them to market or the train yards to be sold and loaded. The cattle trains would head back east to sell the beef. People like Charles Goodnight and John Chisum became famous cowboys. New authors started writing stories of these cowboys and the rugged west. The image and legend of the cowboy had been born.

           As more people moved into the west and bought land for farming and ranching, they didn't want the large cattle drives to trample across their crops or eat their livestocks' grass. So, they put up many miles of barbed wire fence. With the invention of barbed wired fence, the large cattle drives would soon be over. Many fights happened because someone's sheep or cows were grazing on another rancher's property, people were stealing livestock, or which person owned an important watering hole. In addition cattle ranchers and sheep herders often got in many fights. Ranchers would have to make their own brand design and put it on their livestock to tell everyone else this is my animal. The number of cattle or sheep you had was a measure of how rich you were.

           In addtion to how mining changing the land, grazing cattle and sheep also changed the land. The livestock did feed many people and helped the United States expand west. However, many areas of land became overgrazed. Sheep would eat all the way to the bottom of the plants, and cows' large hooves would trample down the land. Cows and sheep would not have enough to eat and start to starve.The dirt had few plants to hold it in its place, and started eroding at a quick pace. The land could not keep that many cows and sheep and some of the ranches went out of business. In fact, to this day there are fights about grazing rights, wildlife protection, and the use of public lands.

Sheep Herder
Barbed Wire Fences
Ute People and the Meeker Massacre, Sept. 29, 1879
Meeker Massacre

     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 at the White River Indian Agency. The Utes 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).

      The Utes revolted and killed Nathan Meeker and his staff and destroyed parts of the agency. 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.

For more info click here

Utes Forced to Utah
Manifest Destiny Realized, 1912
US Map            By the late 1880's and 1890's, the west had been settled by the United States. The U.S. stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. The California Gold Rush, Colorado Gold and Silver Rushes, railroads, grazing land for cattle and sheep, and the dream of owning your own land helped speed up the settling of the west. Native American tribes had been killed or moved to reservation lands that were very difficult for anyone to live on. In 1912, New Mexico and Arizona changed from territories and became the last states in the continental U.S. to join the union.
US Map