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Colorado: A History of the Centennial State, Fourth Edition: A History of the Centennial State, Fourth Edition

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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 this revised edition, co-authors Carl Abbott, Stephen J. Leonard, and Thomas J. Noel incorporate more than a decade of new events, findings, and insights about Colorado in an accessible volume that general readers and students will enjoy. The fourth edition tells of conflicts, new 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 balanced coverage 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, this edition broadens its coverage. The authors expand their discussion of the twentieth century with several new chapters on the economy, politics, and cultural conflicts of recent years. In addition, they address changes in attitudes toward the natural environment as well as the contributions of women, Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian Americans to the state. Dozens of new illustrations, updated statistics, and an extensive bibliography of the most recent research on Colorado history enhance this edition.

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These vast plains of the western hemisphere may become in time
equally celebrated as the sand desarts [sic] of Africa.1


“When our small party arrived on the hill they with one accord gave three cheers to the Mexican mountains.”2 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.




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.1


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.

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 supporting that theory was unearthed in 1932 at Dent, a rail stop forty miles northeast of Denver. There the Reverend Conrad Bilgery, S.J., 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 archaeologist Jesse 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.”2 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.3




A place has as many histories as it has had peoples. Each individual
and each culture understand that place and history differently.1


In the 1600s and 1700s the province of New Mexico stretched as far to the north as military expeditions could enforce recognition of Spanish power among the Native Americans. To the east it reached into Apache and Comanche country until it encountered the sphere of influence of the French settlements at New Orleans and St. Louis. After France ceded its claim to middle America to Spain in 1763, French lands became Spanish territory. In 1800, when France took back what it had given up in 1763, the vast region known as Louisiana was left, as it had always been, with poorly defined boundaries.

When the United States bought Louisiana from the French in 1803, many Americans thought the “noble bargain” included the western drainage basin of the Mississippi, but lacking an agreement with Spain and without precise maps, U.S. officials were not sure of legal boundaries until 1819. That year the Adams-Onís Treaty set the border between Spanish and U.S. territory along the Red River to the 100th meridian, north on that line to the Arkansas River, west again to the river’s source, north to the 42nd parallel, and thence to the Pacific.




Here you are, gentlemen; this ace of hearts is the winning card.
Watch it closely. Follow it with your eye as I shuffle. Here it is, and
now here, now here and now [laying the three cards on the table
facedown]—where? If you point it out the first time, you win but if
you miss, you lose.1


Reports on Colorado in 1859 often mentioned the professional card shark. During the winter of 1858–1859 a thousand or so people who had wintered among the cottonwood groves along the South Platte River had been amply entertained by experts in monte and faro who came from Santa Fe, Salt Lake, and the western army posts to deal hands to new customers. When journalist Albert Richardson penned his description of three-card monte in June, gamblers in the canvas-roofed hotel known as the Denver House kept six tables busy day and night. The constant cries of “Who’ll go me twenty? The ace of hearts is the winning card!” kept Richardson’s associate, editor Horace Greeley, who had come out from New York to see the excitement, awake past midnight.2




Sometimes it is hard to tell the boosters from the suckers. They may
be the same people. . . . Many boosters have been deluded deluders, true
believers, wishful thinkers, blindfold prophets, at once the agents,
the beneficiaries, and the victims of the vast real estate deal that is
Western American history.1


Speculation fueled Colorado’s growth in its early years of Anglo-American settlement. Boosterism—that uniquely American combination of faith in tomorrow and vociferous promotion—was the key to the future. Success on the frontier came to those with visionary minds, to those who could see towns and railroads where none existed. A fluid society offered rewards for the versatile entrepreneur who could edit a newspaper one month, organize a bank the next, and maneuver for political office before the year was out. Successful businesspeople, journalists, and politicians exuded self-confidence and a willingness to promote the territory. They anticipated growth and recruited others to share their expectations and risks.




There has never been a time or locality more favorable for individual or
company investments and organizations than this year of 1879, among
the mines of Colorado. With a reasonable amount of ready capital to
open and push mining development a harvest is very sure to follow that
cannot be blighted by floods, frost, nor insects, nor increased or
diminished in value, but one that is sure, substantial and enduring—the
pure metal itself.1


As many Coloradans recognized at the time, the Leadville bonanza of 1877–1879 foretold a boom in the 1880s. The actual results of the decade—doubling of the state’s population, tripling of its property values, sextupling of investment in factories—all reflected the supernova that was Leadville. Nor was Leadville alone. Flash-in-the-pan hamlets and substantial boomtowns blazed from the late 1870s into the 1890s. Aspen, Creede, Ouray, Silverton, and Telluride turned out to be bona fide bonanzas. In addition, the great Cripple Creek–Victor treasure chest produced more gold after 1890 than had all of Colorado before 1890.




Like the star of Bethlehem, it [Colorado] is rising and the wise men of
the east are beholding it and coming to it.1


During the late 1800s, enterprising publishers capitalized on Colorado’s boom by selling panoramic maps of the state’s towns and publishing hefty local histories filled with flattering biographies of leading citizens. Entrepreneurs often paid to be included because they wanted to be praised as fulsomely as was railroad builder and newspaper editor William Loveland: “a man of great force of character, of extraordinary energy and executive ability, an enthusiast in his faith in this Colorado country, an unwavering friend to his friends, and a tireless antagonist to his opponents, and withal gentle, kindly, and loveable in his personal relations.”2 By the same token, the panoramas of more than a dozen aspiring cities, from Greeley to Salida, graphically signaled their pretensions to greatness. Moreover, if the bird’s-eye views did not sufficiently advertise their communities, local businessmen were happy to do the job.




Is Colorado in America?
Martial Law Declared in Colorado
Habeas Corpus Suspended in Colorado
Free Press Throttled in Colorado
Bull-pens for Union Men in Colorado
Free Speech Denied in Colorado1


From midnight until dawn on the cold night of September 30, 1903, Emma Langdon worked to get out the Victor Record. While state militiamen hammered on the door of the Record office demanding entrance in the name of the governor of Colorado, she composed the morning edition on the cumbersome linotype machine. When householders in the mining town stepped out into the crisp morning air for their daily paper, they saw a headline that read “SOMEWHAT DISFIGURED, BUT STILL IN THE RING!”

The story on page 1 reported that at 11:05 the previous evening, a squad of armed soldiers led by Major Thomas McClelland had arrested Langdon’s husband and other members of the newspaper staff as “prisoners of war.” The alleged offense that precipitated the raid and kept the Record staff in the military lockup for more than twenty-four hours was an article detailing the criminal records of several guardsmen on duty in the Cripple Creek mining district.




Our opinion is that farmers who stay at home, and spend as much
money to improve and cultivate their farms will realize more clear profit
by so doing than they will to go to the mines.


Colorado’s first agricultural fair opened September 21, 1866, a mile and a half northwest of Denver. An early snowstorm had turned the forty acres of fairgrounds to cold mud, but visitors were delighted with the facilities. The exhibition hall, an octagon 300 feet in circumference, was filled with displays—quilts, ore specimens, and mammoth vegetables such as fifteen-pound turnips and thirty-five-pound cabbages from the South Platte Valley. Outside were stalls for prize livestock and a half-mile racetrack. The highlight came at the end of the four-day event, when 3,000 people watched nine women match their equestrian skills.

Staged seven years after the Gold Rush, the fair demonstrated the fact that farming got off to a slow start in Colorado. Pioneer boosters gushed about gold, but they had to admit that the territory’s agricultural bounty was slim. In 1866 perhaps only 50,000 acres were planted along the South Platte River and its tributaries. Four years later the 1870 federal census found only 1,700 farms (most in southern Colorado) and fewer than 100,000 acres of improved farmland.




The crucial step in women’s history is to see women as actors,
not as onlookers in history. No longer are women and women’s
concerns marginal; now they are central.1


Colorado’s admission to the Union seemed so certain by July 4, 1876, that the people of Denver gathered by the hundreds on the banks of the South Platte River to celebrate the nation’s centennial and the birth of the Centennial State. The marchers and merrymakers that day included Scandinavian and German athletes, the Odd Fellows astride their milk-white horses, the Knights of Pythias, the Governor’s Guard, and thirty-eight women, each representing a state in the Union. The twelfth of thirteen ceremonial toasts honored them: “Woman—the last and best gift of God to man. . . . May there yet be had a fuller recognition of her social influence, her legal identity and her political rights.”2

The twelfth toast hardly satisfied those Coloradans who had hoped to include full voting rights for women in the new state constitution. Henry P. Bromwell of Denver and Agipeto Vigil representing Huerfano and Las Animas counties at the constitutional convention favored equal suffrage, but most of their colleagues sidestepped the issue by granting women the right to vote in school elections and referring the question of fuller suffrage to a referendum set for 1877. Susan B. Anthony and Lucy Stone, national suffrage leaders, stumped the state that year, only to be stymied by sermons from the pulpit and cannonades from the press. Despite Vigil’s leanings, most of his fellow Hispanics opposed equal suffrage. Males bred in the United States or Europe also generally followed tradition. Boulder County alone approved of equal suffrage. Dismissed as “bawling, ranting women, bristling for their rights” by the Reverend Thomas Bliss, a Presbyterian divine, and as “battalions of old maids disappointed in love” by Roman Catholic leader Joseph P. Machebeuf, women found that Colorado held fast to the past.3




Her climate mild and varied
From plain to mountain dome
Invites the poor from all the world
Who here can find a home1


Coloradans have always been a diverse people. Unfortunately, the labels scholars use to designate different groups fail to describe that diversity. Historians employ the term Native American as shorthand to write about numerous groups ranging from the Apaches to the Utes, each with distinctive languages and customs. The term Hispanic is also overly simplistic because it attempts to encompass a people of immense complexity, having Native American and European roots as well as New Mexican, Mexican, Caribbean, Latin American, and other homelands.

Similarly, the designation Anglo-American is at best a convenient way to package the waves of newcomers, most from eastern and midwestern states, who came to Colorado in the nineteenth century, only a few of whom were purely English. In truth, the newcomers were a blend of peoples. Many had been born in the United States, but their ancestors had come from elsewhere—English to the English colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; Africans as slaves to those colonies, particularly the southern ones; Germans and Scotch-Irish to Pennsylvania; Dutch to New York; French to Louisiana and the Mississippi Valley.




In short, this view combined the sublime and beautiful; the great and
lofty mountains covered with eternal snows, seemed to surround
the luxuriant vale, crowned with perennial flowers, like a terrestrial
paradise, shut out from the view of man.1


From the day in early February 1807, when Zebulon Pike first saw the San Luis Valley, to the present, Colorado has been something special for the tourist. It has made a determined effort to attract vacationers and with a barrage of publicity has made the word Rockies mean Colorado to much of the nation. Easy to get to, comfortable to see, and filled with famous sights, the state has fully exploited the American propensity for traveling.

Today, many of the tourists who visit Colorado think of themselves as explorers. The same routes Coloradans have long traveled without hazard are adventures with unknown dangers around each curve. Each pass surmounted is a triumph to be photographed, each postcard like an official report on the findings of the expedition. Vacationers try gold panning and pronounce Colorado a humbug or an El Dorado, according to their luck. Many return home with souvenirs—a cowboy hat, a lump of ore—and become instant boosters of the wonders of the Great West.




Proudly the City of Denver stands out in the “spotlight” as a truly great
western capital.1


Since the Gold Rush, Denver has been Colorado’s gateway and major metropolis. With its location at the intersection of the plains and the mountains, its people and institutions have tied together the sections of the state and served as a point of contact between Colorado and the wider world. As the political capital and largest city, Denver has been the natural center for decision-making. New programs and ideas have normally spread outward through the public agencies and private organizations that have Denver headquarters. By the early twenty-first century Denver had become the hub of a swath of communities from Fort Collins on the north to Pueblo on the south—a Front Range megalopolis. On the ranches of Wyoming, in the small towns of Colorado, in the western counties of Kansas and Nebraska and South Dakota, the Denver metropolitan area stood out as a place of opportunity, the city one read about in the papers, the city where friends or relatives found jobs, the place that offered a refuge from the loneliness of cold winds and the big sky.


14 THE 1920s


I will work with the Klan and for the Klan in the coming
election, heart and soul. And if I am reelected, I will give the Klan
the kind of administration it wants.1


Gangsters, bootleg whiskey, jazz, Model T Fords, and silent movies provide the stock images of the supposedly exuberant United States during the “roaring” years from the end of World War I in 1918 to the start of the Great Depression in late 1929. In fact, for much of the nation that period was more a time of retreat than of roar, an era marked by fear, bigotry, and missed opportunity. Those years and the Depression decade of the 1930s constituted a great detour for Colorado, where normally growth, progress, and optimism had reigned.

Colorado’s economy slid downhill after World War I. Grain and livestock prices fell 60 percent within three years. Large wheat growers and cattle raisers on the high plains could survive by expanding their production, but smaller farmers were squeezed between declining revenues and fixed mortgages. In dry-land farming areas low prices led to unpaid mortgages and foreclosures. Mining also suffered. Copper and zinc production dropped by 70 percent, and the Climax molybdenum mine north of Leadville shut down temporarily in the early 1920s. Cheap tungsten from China and vanadium from the Belgian Congo ruined Colorado producers. In western Colorado, speculators hoped to cash in on oil shale, but by 1925 refining problems and competition from cheap Texas oil dashed their dreams.




Within the last three years—a bank failure—a motor
accident—long severe illness of my son, and this thing called
depression. Now we are really quite hungry.1

MAY 12, 1932

In 1930 most Coloradans—or at least most of the official spokespersons—would have denied that their state was suffering from the Great Depression. “Look at The Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News,” they might have told a visitor, “as fat as ever with advertising. Does that show a state in trouble? Look at the employment rate, higher than that in the rest of the country. The Depression may be a problem for the industrialized East, but it isn’t for us. Our resources protect us. Our climate protects us. It won’t happen here.”

Such bravura was short-lived. By late 1931 the entire state was in trouble, as farm commodity prices fell and trade slowed. By 1932 Denver’s bank clearings were less than half those in 1929. The economic disaster of the 1930s hit Coloradans especially hard because many of them had struggled during the 1920s. As in other parts of the Rocky Mountain West, agriculture and mining had been depressed since the end of World War I, leaving many people without surplus wealth to fall back on. The twenty years between 1920 and 1940, two decades of reduced income and limited opportunities, shaped a society that was like a hibernating bear: sluggish and resentful of change.




Out of this threat to our country a new spirit will evolve.

DECEMBER 8, 1941

The Japanese bombing of the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, transformed Colorado more profoundly than any other single event except the Gold Rush of 1859. Before Pearl Harbor Colorado was a backwater state, a slow place with its glory years far behind it. World War II and the forces it unleashed changed that. By mid-1941 many Coloradans could see that they would soon be involved in the conflict already raging in Asia and Europe. Japan had been at war with China since 1931. In September 1939 most of Europe went to war when Germany invaded Poland. As Nazis piled victory upon victory in 1940 and 1941, the United States increasingly supported Great Britain in Europe and tried to restrain Japan in the Far East. Even earlier, in the late 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt began beefing up U.S. defense.

Colorado benefited from that preparedness. During World War I the state had fruitlessly tried to obtain a significant U.S. Army camp. As a consolation prize, Denver won Fitzsimons Army Hospital, initially a facility for soldiers and veterans suffering from tuberculosis (TB). Located east of Denver in the small suburb of Aurora, Fitzsimons expanded in the late 1930s, making its huge general hospital ready to receive war casualties by early 1942.




When Colorado’s business and political leaders struck off on a postwar
course of continued growth and development for the state, they were
following a path their predecessors had pursued for years.1


Boulder began celebrating victory over Japan in the predawn hours of August 14, 1945, shortly after unofficial news of the Japanese surrender flashed around the world. Gathering around a bonfire at Pearl and Broadway, University of Colorado students sang patriotic songs so loudly that sleepy residents asked the police to quench the festivities. Police in Loveland controlled the crowd by hauling in a piano and organizing a street dance. In Denver soldiers tossed their undershirts into bonfires.

Well-behaved citizens of Colorado Springs waited until President Harry Truman made the news official at 5:00 P.M. before they started snake-dancing through the streets. With abandon seldom seen in that city, “Pretty girls began kissing soldiers and sailors. They ran into the streets and smacked them as they rode along in cars.”2 Confetti rained from the Thatcher Block in downtown Pueblo where a drenching rain could not keep revelers inside. Leadville’s merrymakers fired guns as they celebrated with troops from Camp Hale. In Alamosa, Norman Kramer soared in his yellow crop-dusting plane to write thousand-foot-high Vs in the sky.




[Colorado] is conservative politically, economically, financially. I do
not mean reactionary. Just conservative—with the kind of conservatism
that does not budge an inch for anybody or anything unless
pinched and pushed.1


At the end of World War II, much of the power in Colorado still rested with its interlocked family dynasties. In his mid-nineties, Charles Boettcher no longer tended to the day-to-day doings of his sugar, cement, banking, and brokerage domain, but his son Claude was in firm command.2 In Pueblo, Mahlon D. Thatcher Jr. still ruled his family’s fiefdom as he had for three decades. Under the watchful eyes of the Boettchers, the Thatchers, and other like-minded patriarchs, the state was in no danger of radical change.

John Vivian, governor from 1943 to 1947, was noted for never having driven a car, for writing poetry, for amassing a $13 million state surplus, and for the red fireman’s hat he wore when gardening. “His tenure,” said the Rocky Mountain News, “was marked by no spectacular achievements. It was wartime and there were a lot of things he couldn’t have done if he had wanted to.” His detractors charged that he “wouldn’t have done anything even if he could.”3


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