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There is no recorded history of outlaws in Colorado before the 1850s. Except for a few settlers and native tribes, no towns existed.
Colorado has one of the shorter recorded histories of the western states. Early explorers from Escalante and Dominguez to Fremont all reported this uncharted territory as having "mountains that are not climbable and land that is uninhabitable, except by the savage Indians." They were referring to the Rocky Mountains, which are higher in elevation in Colorado than anywhere else along its chain. They also found virtually no lakes or streams that held any appreciable amounts of water. As the United States of America expanded, all of the trails leading to the Pacific detoured around Colorado because of the impassable mountains and lack of water.
The future site of the state of Colorado remained largely ignored. In 1850, there were so few non-native inhabitants that the main language spoken was Ute. The California gold rush in 1849 caused only a tiny ruffle of speculation through Colorado.
The southernmost part of present-day Colorado had been settled in the 1700s by Mexicans. This territory was populated under the flag of Mexico, whose government wanted their people to homestead the area. But the desolate land and lack of water discouraged most from settling. The name Colorado is of Spanish derivation and means "the color red"-a fitting appellation when one considers the predominant the color of the soil.
Except for this small incursion, the native Indians still held forth as the primary population. Other than the predominating Utes, the rest of the larger populations included the Cheyenne, Apache, and Kiowa. Bents Fort was the only outpost along the Santa Fe Trail, which barely crossed into the southeastern corner of the present state.
The area of modern Colorado sat mostly quiet and undisturbed, except for the occasional skirmishes among the natives. Even the native populations were said to number only in the thousands. Buffalo likely outnumbered the people. This land was not only quiet; it was very empty.
The California gold rush began to play itself out and a few adventurers never got that far, or returned from the West to the Rocky Mountains. By 1857, a small town called Denver was chartered along the banks of the Platte River and Cherry Creek. Across from it, on the other bank, another town called Auraria began. Gold had been found in a stream that gushed out of the mountains and a general excitement began to build.
Suddenly, as more gold and silver was found in "them thar hills," the population swelled. Adventurers poured in from every border of the territory. Lack of water and high mountains were no longer the formidable impediments they had once been considered. For riches, almost anything could be overcome. The gold diggers and silver miners who were rushing into this veritable vacuum were called the "59ers".
With this influx of fortune seekers, there were naturally going to be those who wanted to profit from these people's newfound wealth. And not always legitimately. Like parasites, some came to trick, rob, cheat, and steal from the hordes of men (and a few women) who had little bags of gold dust and silver nuggets stashed in their pockets (or in their petticoats). Others stole horses and cattle, money and jewels, and robbed banks, sometimes killing their victims.
Now, Colorado had outlaws.