The Bonanza Years

Gold was discovered in 1858 on the South Platte River, at what is now Denver. A larger strike in 1859 at the present site of Central City began a great gold rush. About 50,000 prospectors poured into the region during the so-called Pikes Peak rush. Much of the mining activity centered in and around what is now Gilpin County; several towns were founded, including Black Hawk and Nevadaville.

In the 1850's, Colorado was part of Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, and New Mexico territories. The miners, however, wanted their own government. In 1859 they established a provisional territorial government in what they called Jefferson Territory, which encompassed an area somewhat larger than the present state. Congress refused to recognize it, and instead created Colorado Territory in 1861 within the present state boundaries. William Gilpin was appointed the first governor. Colorado City, Golden, and Denver served as the territorial capital at various times until 1867, when Denver was named the permanent capital.

Conflict over white settlement on tribal lands led to warfare between the settlers and the Indians in the Cheyenne-Arapaho War, 1864–65. Governor John Evans raised a militia to defend against Indian raids and to force the tribes onto reservation land. Some whites called for extermination of the Indians. In 1864 the militia attacked a Cheyenne and Arapaho encampment at Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado, killing about 150 men, women, and children. Retaliatory Indian raids followed before an agreement was reached in 1865 to end the warfare. The Treaty of Medicine Lodge was signed in 1867, but some fighting continued until 1870, when most of the Cheyenne and Arapaho were resettled in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

During the 1860's and 1870's, the Utes lived a peaceful nomadic life in western Colorado. When the federal government decided to relocate all tribes onto reservations to open more land to white settlement, the Utes resisted. After years of fighting, a treaty was signed, in 1880; under its terms, the Utes were removed to lands in Utah and southwestern Colorado.

Meanwhile, in the 1870's, railway lines were built to connect the territory with the rest of the nation. The Denver Pacific was the first; it linked Denver with the transcontinental railroad at Cheyenne, Wyoming Improved transportation brought more settlers, who established farms and ranches and built towns. With the population increase came demands for statehood. A constitution was adopted, and on August 1, 1876, Colorado was admitted as the 38th state. John L. Routt was elected governor.