Colorado History


Come learn the stories of Colorado History. You will learn about the competing claims to Colorado dating back to the Native Americans who originally lived here. We will cover the 15 year struggle to become the 38th state as well as the role of mining and oil in the evolution of the state. Bring your favorite Colorado stories to share!

Key Lecture Points

  • Long before Colorado became the nation’s 38th state, the land we now know as Colorado was the site of intense competition between various empires and peoples. First inhabited by various Native American tribes (since 9200 BCE), Colorado became a region of interest first for French explorers and then for the Spanish Empire. Spain’s Colorado holdings fell to the Mexican government after Mexican independence in the early 19th century, only to be settled by Americans in the lead up to Texas’ drive for independence. The Mexican-American war that followed resulted in Mexico’s ceding western Colorado to the United States. Eastern Colorado had already been bought by the US from France in the 1803 Louisiana purchase. All the while, white settlers from the eastern US, coming to Colorado en masse by the middle of the 19th century to mine gold, silver and later oil, frequently fought with various Native American tribes for land.
  • Given a history of struggle over Colorado, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Colorado Territory’s bid for statehood in the 1860s became the center of a new fight—over slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction. Fifteen years after the 1st bid for statehood, CO became the 38th state in 1876.
  • Colorado’s 20th century history in many ways mirrors the larger historical narrative of the United States. Like much of the US, CO was swept up in the Progressive movement at the beginning of the century, leading to the beautification of Denver, the installation of massive irrigation systems, fights for worker rights, and the right of voters to initiative and referendum. Likewise, WWII saw thousands of Coloradans enlist in the military and others’ working the land to feed the war machine. Colorado was also home to Japanese internment camps, as well as a host of new military installations. Just as Colorado’s WWII effort mirrored that of the US as a whole, so too has Colorado’s experience with oil reflected America’s energy politics more generally. The 1970s gold rush in Colorado came at a time of spiraling energy costs and concerns about energy independence. Today, new proposals to tap into CO’s huge oil shale reserves have arisen amidst similar circumstances, while many Coloradans continue to push for renewable/alternative energy exploration.

Exploration Questions

  • What are some of the pros and cons of CO’s oil wealth?
  • What are the challenges that Governor Ritter faces in trying to move Colorado toward renewable energy sources?
  • To what extent can CO’s early experiences with Native American tribes still be seen in CO politics and society today? What has changed? Stayed the same?

Reflective Questions

  • What is your favorite story about Colorado? Why?
  • Who is your favorite person in Colorado history? Why?
  • What is your favorite town/city in CO? Why?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Noel, Thomas J. Colorado: An Illustrated History of the Highest State. American Historical Press, 2006. 400 pages. Starting with archaeology and geography and then onto the Spanish explorers, this book contains hundreds of black and white and color images.
    Click here to order
  • Moulton, Candy. Roadside History of Colorado. Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2006. 277 pages. “Colorado's roads wind through country that is steeped in history, sometimes tracing routes with a history of their own, from the Santa Fe Trail to the Million Dollar Highway. But no matter where you roam in this beautiful state, this book can guide you.
    Click here to order