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Increase in Colorado's population


Nathan C. Meeker
Nathan C. Meeker

The state’s economy and its population grew rapidly in the 1870s and 1880s. The population increased from about 40,000 in 1870 to more than 412,000 in 1890. In the late 1860s cattle ranching began on Colorado’s unsettled eastern plains. In the 1870s cattle barons like John Wesley Iliff amassed fortunes raising cattle on the open range. Sheep ranchers attempted to graze sheep, but most of them were forced out by the cattle ranchers and had to move to poorer rangelands in western Colorado. Thousands of farmers also settled in the eastern part of the state in the 1870s and 1880s, acquiring land under the Homestead Law of 1862, which provides 65 hectares (160 acres) to settlers if they remained on the land for five years. Farmers clashed with ranchers, as both groups tried to fence off water holes and the better sections of the range. Farmers adopted new farming techniques, including drought-resistant crops and tilling that conserved moisture; these techniques allowed them to farm land that did not receive much water. In 1870 irrigation projects were begun at Union Colony, now Greeley, and elsewhere.

In the mountains, mining remained the chief economic activity. Between 1870 and 1880 silver was discovered at several different places in Colorado. In particular, rich deposits of lead carbonate (cerussite) that contained large amounts of silver were found at Leadville. The economic and political life of Colorado revolved around silver. After 1878 silver prices were high enough to create great fortunes for Horace A. W. Tabor, John Routt, and other Coloradans, who became known as “carbonate kings.” When whites began to settle and mine in western Colorado in the 1870s, the Ute, who had only occasionally raided white settlements in Colorado, became increasingly hostile. In September 1879 a band of Utes killed U.S. Indian Agent Nathan C. Meeker and ten other men at the White River Agency in northwestern Colorado. After further conflict, in which many soldiers died, the Ute disbanded, and all but a very few were expelled from Colorado.

Silver Crisis


In 1873 the U.S. Congress had passed the Coinage Act, which authorized the U.S. Treasury to stop minting silver dollars. This had decreased the demand for silver just as new silver strikes in Colorado, Nevada, and other Western states increased the supply, and silver prices dropped rapidly. Silver-mining companies in Colorado and the other Western states vehemently protested against the Coinage Act, which they called the “Crime of ‘73.” For nearly 25 years silver interests in Western states urged Congress to begin the unlimited coinage of silver dollars, a position called free silver. Congress authorized the treasury to buy and coin a limited amount of silver dollars in 1878 and 1890, which helped the Colorado silver mining industry, but production still overwhelmed the market. Meanwhile, Colorado’s farmers, like farmers throughout the West, suffered when overproduction around the world pushed farm prices down to their lowest level since the 1860s.

In 1893 a major economic depression hit the United States. Congress repealed the silver-purchasing act of 1890 and Colorado’s silver mines immediately closed when silver prices fell far below profitable working levels. The free-silver issue continued to dominate politics in Colorado and across the nation and the Populist Party and the Democratic Party attracted support in Colorado during the 1890s by supporting free-silver policies. In 1896 both parties supported the Democratic Party candidate for president, Nebraska editor William Jennings Bryan, but his defeat by Republican William McKinley effectively killed the free-silver movement. During the problems in the Colorado silver-mining industry, new deposits of gold were discovered at Cripple Creek in 1891, and for many years Cripple Creek was one of the world’s leading gold-mining regions. Gold mining helped compensate for the state’s silver-mining troubles and depressed farm economy. Some old silver mines were found to contain recoverable gold. "Colorado" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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