August 1, 1876: Colorado Joins the Union as the 38th State

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The United States acquired the eastern part of Colorado in 1803 through the Louisiana Purchase and the western portion in 1848 through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In 1850, the federal government also purchased additional territory from Texas that went to Colorado and other states. [During its early years of statehood, Texas claimed territory about fifty percent larger than its present boundary, including parts of the present states of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming.] The combined property eventually became the Colorado Territory in 1861.

Of the land claimed by Texas after annexation (left), about 1/3 was ceded to the U. S. in exchange for $10 million in the Compromise of 1850.

Of the land claimed by Texas after annexation (left), about 1/3 was ceded to the U. S. in exchange for $10 million in the Compromise of 1850.

In 1857, the U.S. suffered one of the most severe economic crises in its history. The contraction of the economy that followed the panic of 1857 was profound. Thus many were enticed westward by the discovery of gold flakes near the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River in 1858. Rumors of gold in the Rocky Mountains brought so many that by 1860 Denver – “the instant city” – had 5,000 people. The census of 1860 counted over 34,000 in the Pike’s Peak district.

Travel Circular from 1860

Travel Circular from 1860

This growing population, eager for government services, petitioned Congress for recognition as a territory. Congress considered the names of Jefferson, Osage, Yampa (mountain bear), Idahoe (mountain gem), Lula (mountain fairy), Arapahoe (mountain Indian), and Tahosa (mountain dweller), finally opting for the Territory of Colorado. (The word Colorado is Spanish for the “color red,” and refers to the muddy Colorado River.)

Pike's Peak District:  Panning for gold

Pike's Peak District: Panning for gold

As it generally happened in America’s westward expansion, the Indians were considered to be in the way, and years of Indian warfare disrupted the growth of the territory. Moreover, the easily mined surface gold was depleted and there were many “go-backers” who returned to the East. But in 1870, the Denver Pacific Railroad was completed, and a second wave of settlers arrived. Factories along the railroad sprang up, including the Coors Brewery in 1873. The Republican Congress resisted statehood for the territory, however. As William McDougall explains in Throes of Democracy, “ …Congressional Radicals were in no mood to fight for greedy frontiersmen who massacred Indians and denied Negroes the vote.”

By 1876, however, Republicans needed to increase their electoral count, and the Colorado constitution, ready and waiting, was approved by Congress. Colorado became a state just three days before the nation’s centennial, and so is known as The Centennial State.

Today, Colorado is the 8th largest state in area, and the 24th largest state in population.

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