When Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821 it assumed ownership of western and southern Colorado. In order to secure the frontier, the Mexican government awarded large amounts of land to Mexican citizens who were willing to establish colonies in the San Luis Valley and other border areas, but few settlers moved there. Mexico was forced to cede its territories in what later became the southern part of the United States, including Colorado, to the United States following the end of the Mexican War in 1848. The U.S. government recognized the original Mexican land grants, and colonists, mostly Spanish and Mexican, began to settle in the San Luis Valley during the 1850s.
In 1858 gold was discovered in Cherry Creek in what is now downtown Denver by a party of prospectors led by William Green Russell. Mining camps appeared at Denver and Auraria, now a part of Denver, that same year. Thousands of hopeful prospectors flocked to Colorado. By the spring of 1859 the Colorado gold rush was at its height, and “Pikes Peak or Bust” was the slogan for many westbound adventurers.
In 1859 John Gregory made an even richer strike at Clear Creek, and nearby Central City quickly became a boomtown. Mining camps also developed at Fairplay, Georgetown, Gold Hill, and Breckenridge. But by 1861 the gold rush was over, and thousands of luckless miners left the mountains.
At the start of the gold rush most of the eastern section of Colorado was a part of the Kansas Territory. In 1859 Coloradans established Jefferson Territory, but the U.S. Congress, preoccupied with the growing hostility between North and South, failed to recognize it.
Jefferson Territory existed until 1861, when Congress created the Colorado Territory on February 28. William Gilpin was appointed the first territorial governor and Congress selected the name Colorado. Colorado City was the first territorial capital, but the legislature quickly began meeting in Denver. Golden was then chosen as the capital in 1862, but the legislature continued to meet mainly in Denver, which finally became the permanent capital in 1867.
The discovery of gold had drawn thousands of Midwesterners to the “Pikes Peak or Bust” gold rush. Although many left quickly, in the early 1860s those who remained, especially farmers, slowly began encroaching on Native American hunting areas. Denver itself had been built in 1858 on lands that Congress had reserved for the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples, some of whom raided the stage routes between Denver and the Missouri River. During the Civil War (1861-1865), most of the federal troops posted in Colorado were withdrawn, leaving Colorado without adequate defenses against the raids. At that time the Ute lived in the mountain and plateau regions, and the Cheyenne and Arapaho controlled most of the plains. To retaliate for a series of earlier Cheyenne and Arapaho attacks that had killed isolated settlers, the Third Colorado Cavalry, led by U.S. Colonel John M. Chivington, attacked a village of sleeping Cheyenne and Arapaho at dawn on November 29, 1864, killing as many as several hundred men, women, and children. Known as the Sand Creek Massacre, this attack caused nationwide concern for the plight of Native Americans in the West. Nevertheless, in 1867, regular army troops forced all of the Native Americans except the Southern Utes off the Colorado plains and onto reservations in Oklahoma.
The first bill for Colorado’s statehood was introduced in Congress in 1864, but it died when Colorado voters rejected the proposed state constitution. Subsequent efforts at statehood were lost in the fight between President Andrew Johnson and Republicans in the U.S. Congress over how the defeated Southern states should be treated after the Civil War. Johnson vetoed statehood, partly because the territory’s population was too small. Congress did approve a Colorado statehood bill on March 3, 1875. A state convention at Denver adopted a proposed state constitution on March 14, 1876, and on July 1 the voters approved it by a three-to-one margin. Colorado became the 38th state to join the Union on August 1, 1876, and John L. Routt, the last territorial governor, was elected the first governor of the state of Colorado. "Colorado" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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