The State of Colorado’s name is Spanish for the “color red,” and refers to the muddy Colorado River, which originates in the state. The State Nickname is “Centennial State, Colorful Colorado” (Colorado was admitted to statehood during the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and today its official nickname is the Centennial State).The State Motto is “Nil sine Numine” – Nothing Without Providence.
In the middle of the 1800s, countless homesteaders and prospectors came to Colorado. They were from all walks of life. Between those homesteaders, the Native American people who lived in the area at the time, and explorers from Spain, France, and other countries, it’s easy to see how the various towns and cities in Colorado got their names. Modern-day Colorado is still made up of many wide open spaces, including cattle ranges, but it also includes many urban areas, industrial centers, and research centers. As of 2009, the state had a population of 5,024,748. Its area is 104,094 square miles, which is 269,602 square kilometers.
The name “Colorado” comes from the Spanish term for “color red.” It was named after the muddy, reddish waters of the Colorado River. The first governor of the territory was William Gilpin. He is the one who requested that Colorado retain its original Spanish title. Colorado got its status as a territory in 1861 and stayed a territory for about 15 years. It became a state on August 1, 1876. Coincidentally, the country was celebrating the Constitution’s 100th anniversary at the time. So, Colorado gained the nickname of “Centennial State.”
As the development of Colorado continued, governmental jurisdictions changed multiple times. At various points in its history, it was part of each of the following territories: Spain, Missouri, Mexico, Utah, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kansas.
Of course, it was also part of unorganized Native American lands at one point. Records only exist for the times that it was part of Utah, Kansas, New Mexico and Nebraska territories.
When Colorado was originally formed as a territory, it had 17 counties. When it was finally admitted to the union in 1876, it became the 38th U.S. state.
The town of San Luis, in San Luis Valley, was settled in 1851. It was the first white settlement in Colorado. Fort Massachusetts was founded in 1852, but later became Fort Garland. It was erected to help protect Santa Fe Trail travelers. Most of those travelers were just passing through the area on their way to Oregon or California.
What is now the city of Denver was originally a mining settlement. Beginning in the spring of 1858, there were several reports of gold being found in the area. That same year marked the beginning of the “Pike’s Peak or Bust” gold rush. The next year, the “Second Stampede” began and more speculators and settlers came to the area.
Two censuses were taken in the area in 1860 and 1861. The first census indicated that there were 1,577 white females and 32,654 white males in the state. The second census showed a jump up to 4,484 females and 20,798 males. That clearly indicated that changes were happening in Colorado. Less people were coming just to speculate for gold. More were coming to actually settle permanently in the area.
There were several early native tribes in Colorado. Some of them included: Arapaho, Sioux, Cheyenne, Ute, Apache.
The Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes ceded land in the Pike’s Peak area to the United States when they negotiated a treaty in Kansas, at Fort Wise. That treaty negotiation was finalized on February 18, 1861. Three years later, the Ute people negotiated a treaty ceding land to the east of the Continental Divide to the United States. The Utes then began moving into Utah. The move was complete by 1881. That left many parts of Colorado completely open to settlers.
The Civil War also brought some changes to Colorado. Some of the new settlers stayed during the war. Others went back to where they used to live and joined the Union side in the fighting. There was also a major battle that involved troops from Colorado. It happened in March of 1862 because Governor Gilpin wanted to stop the Confederate Army from blocking the gold supply to the states in the east. The battle took place in New Mexico, at a place called Glorieta Pass. It resulted in a Confederate retreat.
When the Civil War ended, the railroad rapidly expanded in Colorado. That caused an influx of new settlers. It began with the arrival of the first train, or “iron horse,” in Denver on June, 24, 1870. Researchers who are interested in early Colorado settlement should pay special attention to railroad growth in the state during the 1870s. In 1872, the Colorado Board of Immigration was established, which was right in the middle of a population boom that tripled Colorado’s population from 1870 to 1875. The 1870s was also a time of economic depression and crop-destroying grasshoppers, though, which caused several settlers to leave the state and go back east. Nevertheless, agriculture and mining industries still maintained strong presences in the state.
Residents of many other states came to Colorado. Some of those states included Kansas, Nebraska, New York, and Pennsylvania. However, the 1860 numbers showed that, at that time, most new settlers were coming from a different state, Ohio. Illinois was second, with new York, Missouri and, finally, Indiana rounding out the top five. After the Civil War, most native-born immigrants to Colorado came from Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri. The foreign-born immigrants included: Czechs, Slovaks, Irish, Russians, Canadians, Swedish, Scots, Italians, Chinese.
In fact, there were so many foreign-born immigrants to Colorado that, as of 1880, they made up one-fifth of the residents in the state. Then, in 1890, Germans came to the state as well. There are still many Germans in modern-day Colorado, especially in eastern parts of the state.
Colorado Ethnic Group Research
Colorado History Databases and other Helpful Links
The websites below will provide state-specific details to those in search of information for Colorado genealogy work.