Pub. Date:
University Press of Colorado
Colorado: A History of the Centennial State, Fifth Edition / Edition 5

Colorado: A History of the Centennial State, Fifth Edition / Edition 5


View All Available Formats & Editions
Current price is , Original price is $29.95. You
Select a Purchase Option (Fifth Edition)
  • purchase options
    $28.74 $29.95 Save 4% Current price is $28.74, Original price is $29.95. You Save 4%.
  • purchase options


Colorado: A History of the Centennial State, Fifth Edition / Edition 5

Since 1976, newcomers and natives alike have learned about the rich history of the magnificent place they call home from Colorado: A History of the Centennial State. In the fifth edition, coauthors Carl Abbott, Stephen J. Leonard, and Thomas J. Noel incorporate recent events, scholarship, and insights about the state in an accessible volume that general readers and students will enjoy.

The new edition tells of conflicts, shifting alliances, and changing ways of life as Hispanic, European, and African American settlers flooded into a region that was already home to Native Americans. Providing a balanced treatment of the entire state’s history—from Grand Junction to Lamar and from Trinidad to Craig—the authors also reveal how Denver and its surrounding communities developed and gained influence.

While continuing to elucidate the significant impact of mining, agriculture, manufacturing, and tourism on Colorado, the fifth edition broadens and focuses its coverage by consolidating material on Native Americans into one chapter and adding a new chapter on sports history. The authors also expand their discussion of the twentieth century with updated sections on the environment, economy, politics, and recent cultural conflicts. New illustrations, updated statistics, and an extensive bibliography including Internet resources enhance this edition.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781607322269
Publisher: University Press of Colorado
Publication date: 06/15/2013
Edition description: Fifth Edition
Pages: 572
Sales rank: 418,064
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range: 7 - 18 Years

About the Author

Carl Abbott is professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University. Stephen J. Leonard is professor and chair of the Department of History at Metropolitan State College. Thomas J. Noel, also known as “Dr. Colorado,” teaches history at the University of Colorado at Denver, where he is the director of Public History, Preservation & Colorado Studies, and he is also a columnist for The Denver Post.

Read an Excerpt


A History of the Centennial State

By Carl Abbott, Stephen J. Leonard, Thomas J. Noel

University Press of Colorado

Copyright © 2013 University Press of Colorado
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60732-227-6


Mountains and Plains

These vast plains of the western hemisphere may become in time equally celebrated as the sand desarts [sic] of Africa.


"When our small party arrived on the hill they with one accord gave three cheers to the Mexican mountains." It was 2:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, November 5, 1806. Zebulon Pike and his fifteen companions, trekking westward along the Arkansas River, had just glimpsed the peaks of the Rockies clinging to the distant horizon like small blue clouds. Four months earlier the men had left eastern Missouri to explore the southwestern reaches of the vast Louisiana Territory the United States had purchased from France in 1803. To every weary soldier, from Lieutenant Pike himself to Privates Thomas Daugherty and John Sparks, the sight of the mountains signaled that they had almost crossed the barrier of the hot, dry plains.

By November 26 Pike and his party were climbing a pine-clad shoulder of the great peak that would eventually bear his name. After forty-eight fatiguing hours of wading in deep snow, Pike abandoned his hopes of conquering "Grand Mountain." Instead, he turned south to explore the Arkansas River. Mistakenly thinking he had found its source near present-day Cañon City, he then wandered for weeks looking for the Red River, part of the boundary of the Louisiana Purchase. In February 1807 he built a small stockade in the San Luis Valley on what he apparently thought was the Red River. Actually, he was on the Conejos, a tributary of the Rio Grande, on land long claimed by Spain. Arrested by Spanish troops, he was taken to Santa Fe and later deeper into Mexico. The Spanish returned him to the United States nearly a year after he left Missouri.

The next US exploration of portions of what would become Colorado, a twenty-man expedition led by Major Stephen H. Long in 1820, branded the high plains a Great American Desert, "almost wholly unfit for cultivation, and uninhabitable by a people depending upon agriculture for their subsistence." More than two decades passed before the US Army again mounted significant explorations of the region. In 1842 John C. Frémont traveled from Fort Laramie in Wyoming to Fort St. Vrain on the South Platte twenty miles south of modern-day Greeley. The next year he crossed Kansas to Fort St. Vrain and journeyed southward along the base of the Rockies to Fort Pueblo, a trading post on the Arkansas River, and then north to Wyoming. During the remainder of 1843 and the spring of the following year he toured Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, and California before returning through the mountains of central Colorado in June 1844. In the winter of 1848, financed by St. Louis businessmen who wanted him to find an all-weather railroad route from their city to the Pacific Coast, he led another party into the Rockies. He lost ten of his thirty-three men to exposure and starvation in the San Juan Mountains.

Frémont characterized Colorado's plains as a "parched country" of sand hills with an "appearance of general sterility." Early tourists such as Thomas Farnham, Rufus Sage, and Francis Parkman repeated Pike's, Long's, and Frémont's descriptions of sandy, arid wastes. In the late 1850s, fortune hunters and journalists trying the shortcut to the Pikes Peak goldfields across the plains of western Kansas and eastern Colorado raised the same bitter complaint. "We seem to have reached the acme of barrenness and desolation," wrote Horace Greeley, the widely read editor of the New York Tribune. "Wood and water fail, and we are in a desert indeed."

For such travelers, their first sight of the mountains was sweet relief. The "grand outline" of the immense mountain wall cheered Long's party and delighted Frémont with its beauty. As it emerged into view from a vast pile of thunderheads, Longs Peak astonished Parkman. By the 1860s the contrast between the mountains and the plains had become an artistic cliché. Illustrators and artists such as Albert Bierstadt emphasized the sublime, the grand, the picturesque, and the uplifting. In portraying the plains they tended to show the hardships of travel — buffalo skulls, storms, people digging for water.

In contrasting the plains and the mountains, explorers oversimplified the complexities of Colorado's geography. Compared to the mountains, the plains appear flat. In fact, they are far from uniform. On Colorado's eastern plains the land is relatively level. Early travelers noticed, however, that the terrain became more broken as they worked their way westward. In present-day Douglas, Elbert, and El Paso Counties, they discovered that the Rockies throw out a wedge of high land to divide the basins of the South Platte and Arkansas Rivers, a geographical feature that causes Cherry Creek to flow northwest toward the mountains. To this day, newcomers — who assume that elevations rise slowly and uniformly as they approach the mountains — are surprised to learn that Limon, seventy miles east of Denver, is several hundred feet higher than Denver. South of Pueblo, as early users of Ratón Pass recognized, a similar salient of rough land breaks the Colorado piedmont with lava-capped mesas and buttes, eroded plateaus, and mountain spurs covered with ponderosa pine and juniper.

Before the advent of the railroad, slow-moving travelers treasured wood and water as necessities for survival. In the spring, budding cottonwoods, flowers, and plentiful grass made the bottomlands of the Arkansas and South Platte into elongated gardens one-half to two miles wide. In 1846 the grass along the Arkansas sustained the horses of Stephen Watts Kearny's entire army en route to occupy New Mexico and California. Sensible gold seekers who followed the courses of the rivers in 1859 reported few of the hardships suffered by those who foolishly followed more direct routes.

Observers have recognized that prairies are more than brown grass, gray soil, and an occasional hawk. In the nineteenth century the artist Thomas Worthington Whittredge wrote, "Whoever crossed the plains could hardly fail to be impressed with its vastness and silence and the appearance everywhere of an innocent, primitive existence." Two generations later the poet Thomas Hornsby Ferril described the delicate beauty of the plains in "The Prairie Melts," which begins:

    The prairie melts into the throats of larks
    And green like water green begins to flow
    Into the pinto patches of the snow.

Mapping the complexities of the mountains was more challenging than describing the plains. Zebulon Pike and Stephen Long were among the first to make mistakes about Colorado's high-country geography, including giving wildly inaccurate estimates of mountains' heights. Pike thought "Grand Mountain" was 18,581 feet high; Long judged it to be 11,507.5 feet. Later, better-equipped surveyors declared that Pikes Peak was 14,110 feet high, and they revised their figures in 2002 to add 5 feet to its height.

Traders and trappers knew far more about the mountains than Long or Frémont did. By the 1830s, scores of trappers carried maps of portions of Colorado in their heads. Although their knowledge might have spread from friend to friend in St. Louis saloons, it was not public knowledge. Further, eighteenth-century Spanish maps were unknown to Anglo-American mapmakers. Consequently, in 1836 Albert Gallatin used guesswork to fill in the details of the Rockies on his map of the West. A few years later Frémont said of the Colorado mountains that "the coves, the heads of the rivers, the approximations of their waters, the practicability of the mountain passes ... although well-known to hunters and trappers, were unknown to science and to history." As he set out on his first expedition into the West in 1842, Frémont wisely hired the seasoned mountain man Christopher "Kit" Carson for $100 a month to be his guide.

By the 1840s Spanish, French, and Anglo-American trappers and explorers had named many prominent features on the Colorado landscape. They had labeled the high mountain valleys or parks behind the Front Range and the Sangre de Cristo Range — San Luis Park or Valley, Bayou Salado or South Park, Middle Park, and North Park. Not until after Frémont's 1844 expedition, however, were the great parks represented on a published map. His description of beautiful high valleys "walled in all around with snowy mountains, rich in water and with grass, fringed with pine," and his somewhat misleading map showing basins as level as pool tables, surrounded by narrow mountain palisades, molded the popular image.

Within ten years of the 1859 gold rush, Colorado's range and park system was well-known, if still imperfectly mapped. The Front Range, the Park Range, the Sawatch, and the fringes of the San Juans were cut by trails and dotted with mining camps. Parties of gentlemen and ladies had begun to take summer camping trips to Hot Sulphur Springs and South Park, and topographical survey parties in the early 1870s sometimes found empty whiskey bottles on high peaks.

The western third of Colorado was the last to be carefully explored. From 1867 to 1869, John Wesley Powell traced the drainage system of the Western Slope following the paths of the Colorado, White, and Yampa Rivers through their canyons and valleys. In the early 1870s, parties of surveyors, artists, and scientists directed by Ferdinand V. Hayden fanned out across Rocky Mountain Colorado — measuring heights and distances, climbing peaks, photographing natural features, describing the geology, evaluating the resources, fixing contour lines, and sketching the topography. Hayden's 1877 Geological and Geographical Atlas of Colorado and Portions of Adjacent Territory was of practical value to railroads, mining companies, and real estate promoters. Thanks to Hayden and his predecessors, the geography of Colorado was well-known by 1900. Modern mapmakers have drawn contour lines more precisely, colorfully delineated geological formations, and refined the nineteenth-century maps in numerous other ways, including subdividing the flatlands into the high plains and piedmont and separating the Wyoming Basin in the state's northwest corner from the western plateau.

Settlers have built a superstructure of human activities on the foundation of the natural environment. Colorado's resources, natural transportation corridors, and topographical divisions have all influenced its growth. Different sections have received people at different times, from different places, and for different reasons. The result has been an evolution of human regions shaping parts of a single commonwealth in different ways.

The state is the meeting point for three major sections within the American West. Historians have portrayed US history in terms of sectional differences between North and South, Atlantic Coast and Mississippi Valley, Massachusetts and Virginia. The trans–Mississippi West invites the same theme, for the lines of contact between distinct and competing regions within the West have had as much importance as state borders. Colorado's sections follow the great rivers as they diverge from its mountains. The Rio Grande ties the state to the Southwest, the Colorado to the range and plateau country of the Mountain West, the South Platte and Arkansas to the Great Plains.

Farmers in eastern Colorado turn their backs on the mountains, finding compatriots in the vast sweep of grassland between Texas and the Dakotas. For the past century the common theme of the plains has been agricultural problems, in particular adjustment to scarce rainfall. From 1850 to 1920, Americans viewed the plains as an area unified by unique opportunities. Since that time the area's slow growth, its lack of manufacturing, and the absence of cities have caused both outsiders and residents to think of it as a region defined by a peculiar set of social and economic problems.

Today, as a century ago, eastern Colorado is a country of small towns stretching along railroad tracks and highways, of ranches and wheat fields bathed in dry wind. The South Platte River runs through the northeastern Colorado plains and the Arkansas River through the southeastern plains. Both rivers support irrigated farms whose products are marketed through towns such as Greeley, Fort Morgan, and Sterling on the South Platte and Rocky Ford, La Junta, Las Animas, and Lamar on the Arkansas. Flanking the valleys is a land where grain elevators stand as sentries guarding the march of civilization. Often, however, civilization has marched right through eastern Colorado seeking the cities at the base of the mountains.

Topographically, the cities from Pueblo in the south to Fort Collins in the north belong to the eastern flatlands of Colorado, although they prefer to stress their connections with the mountains. Denver is often photographed with the mountains forming a backdrop, and Colorado Springs advertises its closeness to Pikes Peak. Home to more than 80 percent of the state's population, the cities, towns, and unincorporated places along Interstate 25 are coalescing into a megalopolis nearly 175 miles long.

For much of its history, western Colorado shared its problems and opportunities with the sparsely populated portions of Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Theodore Roosevelt described Garfield County as "a great, wild country. In the creek bottoms there were a good many ranches; but we only occasionally passed by these, on our way to our hunting grounds in the wilderness along the edge of the snowline. "Eventually, so many visitors flooded parts of western Colorado that along major highways time-share condominiums and vacation homes gobbled up the wilderness and befouled the air. Beyond the mountains, the irrigated lands along the Yampa, Gunnison, and Colorado Rivers grow peaches, apples, vegetables, and winter fodder. Without irrigation, the plateau and desert land remains much as it was a century ago.

The southern counties constitute another distinct region. The valleys flanking both sides of the Sangre de Cristo Range form the northern fringe of the American Southwest, a part of the Spanish borderlands — the northernmost provinces of Mexico. After 1850 this became a zone of cultural contact between Anglo-Americans and Spanish-speaking and Native American peoples. Like the eastern plains, southern Colorado has not enjoyed the prosperity and population growth that have rained upon the Front Range and favored mountain towns such as Aspen, Breckenridge, Crested Butte, Steamboat Springs, and Telluride.

Colorado's division among several larger regions has contributed to its fragmentation and its contradictions. Its people have fought over water, conservation, and political representation. They have divided along regional, economic, ethnic, and political lines. They have done good works by building churches, hospitals, and schools. They have massacred, lynched, and deported those they feared. They have dug mines, watered and plowed the plains, built cities. They have savaged their environment and tried to save it.

Many newcomers and native Coloradans are unaware of the state's rich story and of the distortions it has suffered at the hands of boosters who like to fluff up the past for the sake of tourists. For those willing to take the time to look beyond the simplifications, Colorado offers a complex historical drama, a saga of more than 10,000 years, set in a land as harsh and fragile as it is bountiful and beautiful.


The First Coloradans

In the beginning the creator made first the earth, then the trees and the grass, and afterward he made the animals and people and put them on the earth.


For much of their history, Anglo-Americans have contemplated the westward movement of their frontier. From their eastern perspective, they have often characterized the West as a relatively empty space, a vast land of scattered, often nomadic peoples. That view has changed as scholars have recognized that Anglo-Americans were late arrivals in the American West. Hundreds of years before Missouri traders trekked westward to reach the Rockies, Hispanic Americans had moved from Mexico northward into New Mexico. For more than 11,000 years before any European set foot on the plains or in the mountains, Native Americans had shaped the region's history.

Prehistoric Peoples

Archaeologists speculate about the origins of people in the Americas. One respected theory suggests that hunters from Siberia crossed into North America around 15,000 years ago and over many generations worked their way south, reaching Colorado at least 11,000 years ago. Evidence of those early people was unearthed in 1932 at Dent, a rail stop forty miles northeast of Denver. There the Reverend Conrad Bilgery, SJ, and a group of his Regis College students found a spearhead along with the bones of the long-extinct woolly mammoth. A few years before the Dent discoveries, Denver archaeologistJesse D. Figgins had excavated spear points near Folsom, New Mexico, that led him and other archaeologists to conclude that people had lived in North America for thousands of years. The Dent finds confirmed that view. E. Steve Cassells, in The Archaeology of Colorado, noted that Dent put "Colorado on the map for the first site in the New World with firm evidence for the association of man and mammoth." Eventually, scientists dated the bones as around 11,000 years old. They concluded that the spearhead, a type called Clovis, was equally ancient, making it older than the Folsom artifacts and among the oldest evidence of people in North America.


Excerpted from Colorado by Carl Abbott, Stephen J. Leonard, Thomas J. Noel. Copyright © 2013 University Press of Colorado. Excerpted by permission of University Press of Colorado.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Maps vii

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction xiii

1 Mountains and Plains 1

2 The First Coloradans 9

3 New Mexico's Northern Frontier 23

4 The Pikes Peak Gold Rush 43

5 The Era of the Booster 63

6 "Exterminate Them!": Natives 1850s-90s 81

Interlude: Coloradans in 1876 97

7 The Bonanza Years 103

8 The Businessman's State 123

9 A Generation of Industrial Warfare 143

10 Farming and Ranching in the American Desert 161

11 Women in Politics and Society 183

12 A Diverse People 197

13 Scenery, Health, and Tourism 223

14 Denver and the Reform Crusade 243

Interlude: Coloradans in 1917 261

15 The 1920s 267

16 The Great Depression 283

17 World War II 299

18 Postwar Boom 315

19 Postwar Politics and Other Diversions 329

20 Troubled Times 349

21 Environmental Challenges 369

22 Economic Peaks and Valleys 397

23 Sports 421

24 Cultural and Political Wars 443

Colorado Chronology 461

Colorado Biographies 467

Colorado Officials 483

Colorado Population and Economic Statistics 486

Colorado Facts and Symbols 489

Notes 491

Further Reading 521

Index 551

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews