Colorado, state in the western United States. The Rocky Mountains, or Rockies, form the most dominant physical feature of the state. To the west of the Rockies lie the high plateaus of the Colorado Plateau, and to the east are the Great Plains. High, rugged mountains and plateaus occupy fully two-thirds of the state, and make Colorado a state of striking beauty. All of Colorado is more than 1000 m (3300 ft) above sea level. The state, with an average elevation of about 2070 m (about 6800 ft), is the highest of all the states. The mountains and plateaus are rich in gold, silver, and other minerals and are the source of most of the state's water. The mountains have played a major role in the development of Colorado, most recently by attracting a steady flow of tourists, but they have also been a barrier to travel, communication, and settlement. Except for small cities and towns in the sheltered river valleys and mountain basins, most of western Colorado is sparsely populated.

In contrast, eastern Colorado has flat, treeless plains that extend from the Rockies to the Nebraska and Kansas state lines. Cultivated where there is sufficient moisture or irrigation, they consist of croplands and grasslands. On the plains just east of the Rockies is Denver, which is the state capital, the center of the state's largest metropolitan area, and a major city of the Western United States.

The state's name, Colorado, is a Spanish word meaning "reddish colored." It was the name early Spanish explorers gave to the Colorado River, which originates in the state. When Colorado became a territory in 1861, William Gilpin, the first territorial governor, formally requested that it be called by the old Spanish name. Colorado was admitted to statehood on August 1, 1876, during the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and today its official nickname is the Centennial State.

Physical Geography


Colorado ranks eighth among the states in size. It has an area of 269,618 sq km (104,100 sq mi), including 961 sq km (371 sq mi) of inland waters. The state is rectangular in shape, measuring 623 km (387 mi) from east to west and 444 km (276 mi) from north to south. Colorado straddles the Continental Divide, which separates rivers flowing to the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. In Colorado the lands west of the divide are referred to as the Western Slope, while those to the east are often called the Eastern Slope.

Natural Regions


Colorado includes parts of three major physiographic provinces, or natural regions, of the western United States. They are, from east to west, the Great Plains, the Southern Rocky Mountains, and the Colorado Plateau. In addition, Colorado includes small sections of two other natural regions, the Wyoming, or Green River, Basin and the Middle Rocky Mountains, which lie in the extreme northwest. Both of these regions are, like the Southern Rocky Mountains, part of the vast Rocky Mountain System.

The Great Plains, a broad expanse of flat or rolling prairies that extend from Alberta to Texas, cover the eastern third of Colorado. They rise gently from about 1200 m (about 4000 ft) above sea level along the Kansas state line to about 2100 m (about 7000 ft) above sea level at the eastern foot of the Rocky Mountains. The plains are used mainly for growing wheat and other crops and for grazing cattle.

The physical features of the Great Plains are not uniform throughout the state. The plains are sometimes divided into three sections: the High Plains, the Colorado Piedmont, and the Raton section.

The High Plains, which include the most level land in the Great Plains, extend along the eastern border of Colorado. The only significant variations in relief occur where steep-sided river valleys, such as those of the Arkansas and Republican rivers, cross the plains or where there are shallow saucer like depressions.

The Colorado Piedmont, to the west of the High Plains, is more varied in relief, and many low ridges, steep bluffs, flat-topped mesas, and conical hills, called teepee buttes, rise above the surface. In the south the piedmont merges with the Raton section. The Raton section, more rugged than the Colorado Piedmont, includes numerous mesas and buttes of volcanic origin and narrow, rocky canyons.

The Southern Rocky Mountains occupy most of central Colorado and extend in a north-south direction across the state. In Colorado the Rockies are between 120 and 280 km (75 and 175 mi) wide and include 53 peaks that are more than 4250 m (14,000 ft) in elevation.

The mountains do not form a single highland area but are divided into two roughly parallel groups, or belts, of ranges. The mountain belts are separated from each other by several broad, high-altitude valleys and mountain basins called parks.

The eastern mountain belt includes the Laramie Mountains, the Front Range, and part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The highest peaks of these eastern ranges are Blanca Peak, Longs Peak, and Mount Evans, all of which are more than 4340 m (14,250 ft) high. Pikes Peak, a conspicuous landmark at the southern end of the Front Range, rises to 4301 m (14,110 ft). Arapaho Glacier, in the Front Range, is the largest glacier in the Southern Rocky Mountains.

In Colorado the Continental Divide, or Great Divide, follows the crest of the eastern mountain belt as far south as Mount Evans, then crosses over to the western belt and continues southward. The western belt of high mountains includes the Park Range, the Sawatch Range, and the San Juan Mountains. The Sawatch Range contains Mount Elbert, the state's highest peak at 4399 m (14,433 ft). The Sawatch Range and the San Juan Mountains combined contain 27 of the state's mountains over 4250 m (14,000 ft). The parks and valleys between the two mountain belts of the Southern Rockies are broad, relatively flat, grass-covered areas. The principal ones are, from north to south, North Park, Middle Park, South Park, and the San Luis Valley. They are separated from each other by spur ranges of the mountain belts that flank them. They vary from about 1800 to 2700 m (about 6000 to 9000 ft) above sea level.

The Colorado Plateau occupies most of western Colorado. It is made up of dozens of separate plateaus that range from about 1500 to 3400 m (about 5000 to 11,000 ft) high and are arranged in seemingly haphazard tiers and groups. Many are separated or cut by deep canyons. Most of the canyons were formed by tributaries of the Colorado River, such as the Gunnison River. Rugged hills and a few mountain ranges rise from the Colorado Plateau.

Rivers and Lakes


On or near the Continental Divide rise headstreams or major tributaries of four great North American rivers, the Rio Grande, the Colorado, the Mississippi, and the Missouri. The Rio Grande rises in the San Juan Mountains and flows southward through the San Luis Valley into New Mexico. The Colorado rises on the western side of the Continental Divide near Longs Peak and flows in a southwesterly direction into Utah. Principal tributaries of the Colorado River that rise in Colorado are the Gunnison, Dolores, and San Juan rivers. East of the divide the chief rivers are the South Platte River, a tributary of the Missouri, and the Arkansas River, a tributary of the Mississippi. On the Arkansas River about 50 km (about 30 mi) southwest of Colorado Springs is the famous Royal Gorge, where the river makes its way eastward between red granite cliffs that tower more than 300 m (1000 ft) above the water.

Although the rivers of Colorado are navigable only by small boats, they are important as a source of irrigation water for use in Colorado and adjoining states. However, the water level of the rivers fluctuates seasonally and from year to year. The level is generally low in winter and high in spring and summer, during the runoff of melted snow from the mountains.

Colorado has no large lakes of natural origin, but there are numerous small lakes in the mountains. The largest bodies of water in Colorado are the large reservoirs created by dams and used for irrigation and flood control. Among the largest are John Martin, Granby, Pueblo, and Blue Mesa reservoirs.



The Great Plains in eastern Colorado have hot dry summers and cold dry winters. In the mountains and on the high plateaus the climate varies greatly from place to place. There, as in most highland regions, temperatures and precipitation (rainfall and snowfall) vary with elevation, exposure to sunlight, and prevailing winds.


Average January temperatures on the Great Plains range from about -4° C (about 24° F) in the north to about 1° C (about 34° F) in the south. In the mountains they are cooler, ranging from -12° to -1° C (10° to 30° F) in the lower valleys and mountain slopes and falling considerably lower at high elevations. Often the coldest spots in the state are the high mountain valleys. Extremely cold conditions occasionally occur on the plains when arctic air sweeps down from the north. On such occasions, temperatures drop to the upper -20°s C (lower -20°s F) or colder. When a warm, dry wind, known as the chinook, blows eastward across the plains in winter, temperatures rise rapidly.

Average July temperatures range from 18° to 24° C (64° to 76° F) on the plains and on the Colorado Plateau. On the lower mountain slopes and in the valleys, summer temperatures are between 10° and 16° C (50° and 60° F). Cooler conditions prevail in the higher mountains. Hot daytime spells are common on the plains and the Colorado Plateau but are rare in central Colorado. Although Colorado's summers are hot, they are generally not uncomfortable because the relative humidity is usually low. In addition, summer nights are relatively cool.


Most of Colorado receives about 250 to 500 mm (about 10 to 20 in) of precipitation annually. The high mountains receive considerably more, while the San Luis Valley and the Colorado and Gunnison river valleys receive less than 250 mm (10 in). The eastern part of the Great Plains are generally wetter than the western part along the base of the Rockies. More than half of the annual precipitation on the plains usually falls in spring and summer. Snowfall is heavy in winter in the mountains. However, the amount of precipitation varies greatly from year to year and drought is an ever-present possibility. Severe droughts, although infrequent, can occur, as they did in the southeast during the 1930s and again during the 1950s and 1960s.

Growing Season

The growing season, or length of time between the last killing spring frost and first killing fall frost, ranges from 120 to 200 days on the plains. Except for some small areas, the mountains have a frost-free period that is generally less than 80 days, too short a growing season for most crops.


The most fertile soils in Colorado are the irrigated alluvial soils of the river valleys. Alluvial soils occur in the San Luis Valley, Colorado's most productive agricultural area, and in the three parks in the Rockies. Mollisols, which are suitable for wheat farming, are found in the moister parts of northeastern Colorado. Aridisols, which are less fertile but still productive, are found in the drier areas of the plains in southern Colorado. The soils of the mountain slopes and plateaus of Colorado are generally thin and are ill-suited to cultivation.

Plant Life


Forests cover about one-quarter of Colorado. Most of the forests are located in the Rocky Mountains below 3500 m (11,500 ft) and in the wetter sections of the Colorado Plateau. Among the trees common to Colorado are the conifer species of cedar, spruce, fir, and pine. Different species of trees are found at different altitudes. The ponderosa pine, which is economically the state's most valuable timber tree, grows on the lower mountain slopes. The blue spruce, the state tree, grows on the higher slopes. The quaking aspen, a deciduous tree, is found in scattered groves up to the timberline. The Great Plains region is almost treeless, except for certain areas that contain peach leaf willow and cottonwood trees.

Natural grasslands once covered most of Colorado's plains but are now limited to those areas that are not cultivated. Buffalo grass and blue grama are the most common grasses, and they produce a continuous sod covering. In the driest sections of the plains bunch grasses such as Western wheatgrass, Indian ricegrass, and needlegrass grow in tufts or patches and are sometimes interspersed with sagebrush, cactus, and other plants. Natural grasslands are also found high in the mountains, above the timberline.

Wild flowers of many different kinds grow in Colorado. In spring and early summer the sand lily, parry's primrose, and other flowers provide splashes of color against the somber brown of the plains, and the mariposa lily, wallflower, purple fringe, and larkspur flourish on the low mountain slopes. At higher elevations, in the shade of aspen groves, grows the Rocky Mountain columbine, which is the official state flower. Above the timberline, species of tiny colorful flowers appear as soon as the snow melts. In summer, skypilot and old man of the mountain dot the high alpine landscape. In the driest parts of Colorado, particularly on the Colorado Plateau, several species of drought-resistant yucca (Spanish bayonet) and cactus produce spectacular flowers.

Animal Life

Millions of pronghorn and bison (popularly called buffalo) roamed the plains and parks of Colorado before the species were hunted nearly to extinction. Today only small herds of bison remain on private land, although herds of wild pronghorn have recovered and are again common throughout the state. On the plains, small mammals, such as the skunk, ground squirrel, and prairie dog, are numerous, as is the larger coyote. Among the many animals found in the mountains are the black bear, moose, red fox, gray fox, bobcat, porcupine, marten, beaver, and mule deer. The bighorn sheep, which is the state animal, is found in the Rockies, where mountain lion populations have been increasing in recent years.

There are many species of birds, both migrant and resident, in Colorado. They range from the golden eagle, which lives on high rock outcrops throughout the state, to the western mockingbird, red-winged blackbird, western meadowlark, and robin, which are common on the plains. Game birds, such as species of grouse, quail, pheasants, ducks, turkeys, and geese, are also plentiful. Birds common to cultivated areas include the sparrow, the blackbird, and the yellowthroat and other warblers. The lark bunting, the state bird, is found throughout much of the state but is more common on the eastern plains than elsewhere.

Fish in Colorado's lakes and streams include carp, perch, bass, catfish, walleye, sunfish, and the kokanee salmon. Several kinds of trout, which live in cold mountain streams, are the state's most popular game fish. Turtles, lizards, snakes, and other reptiles are found throughout the state, while the boreal toad and tiger salamander live in the high mountain areas. There is only one common poisonous species of snake in Colorado: the western rattlesnake, which is native to the plains.


In Colorado the two principal conservation goals are the prevention of soil erosion and the protection of the watersheds. Erosion is a problem on land in the plains of eastern Colorado, where the soils are generally light in texture and are easily removed by high winds when left bare for any length of time. Erosion was limited when grass covered the plains, but became increasingly severe as the grass cover was removed. Prolonged droughts, which have occurred periodically in Colorado, dry out the topsoil, which is the most productive layer. The topsoil is then carried away by the winds that sweep across the plains. Since the 1930s modern farming techniques have been introduced to decrease the destructive effects of soil erosion.

Protection of the watersheds, especially in western Colorado, is undertaken by maintaining the plant and tree cover on them. This slows down the rate of runoff and increases the amount of rainwater that eventually finds its way into the groundwater and rivers, and therefore into the water supply.

Wildlife conservation is conducted in the national and state parks and wilderness areas. Hunting is permitted seasonally, but it is carefully controlled. Fishing is also controlled, and rivers are stocked with fish.

The work of protecting the environment in Colorado is done by the state departments of Natural Resources and Health. Divisions within the departments oversee air pollution control, the disposal of hazardous waste, and water quality issues. In the early 1990s Colorado spent 1.7 percent of its annual budget on the environment, ranking it among the middle one-third of the states. During the same period the state had 18 hazardous waste sites placed on a national priority list for cleanup due to their severity or proximity to people. Progress was being made in efforts to reduce pollution; by 1993 the amount of toxic chemicals discharged into the environment had been reduced by 64 percent from four years before, one of the greatest reductions among the states.

Economic Activities

Since prospectors first discovered gold, less than a century and a half ago, Colorado has been transformed from a few frontier mining communities to a modern state of major economic significance to the nation. The mining booms beginning in the late 1850s spurred Colorado's initial growth. The state's economy broadened when irrigated agriculture developed, and by the late 19th century livestock raising had become important on the plains of the eastern part of the state. Early industrial growth was based on the processing of minerals and agricultural products. In the second half of the 20th century the industrial and service sectors have expanded greatly. World-class winter resorts and expansive summer recreational opportunities draw tourists year-round. The state's economy is now diversified and is notable for its concentration of scientific research and high-technology industries. Denver is an important financial center.

About 2,232,000 people held jobs in Colorado in the early 1990s. Of those the largest share, about 30 percent, worked in the diverse service industry, doing such jobs as working in restaurants or programming computers. About 22 percent were employed in wholesale or retail trade; 16 percent in federal, state, or local government, including those in the military; 9 percent in manufacturing; 8 percent in finance, insurance, or real estate; 6 percent in construction; 5 percent in transportation or public utilities; 3 percent in farming (including agricultural services), forestry, or fishing; and 1 percent in mining. The number of people working in mining fell by nearly one-half between the early 1980s and early 1990s; meanwhile employment in services increased by three-fifths. In the mid-1990s, 11 percent of Colorado's workers were unionized.


There were about 25,300 farms in Colorado in the mid-1990s. Of those little more than one-half produced annual sales of more than $10,000; many of the rest were sidelines for operators who held other jobs. About 40,000 people worked on farms in the early 1990s, a decline of about one-fifth from the early 1980s. Farmland occupied 13.2 million hectares (32.7 million acres). About one-quarter of the farmland was used to grow crops. While a small part of the rest was tended pasture, by far the major share was used as range for the grazing of livestock. In addition to areas classified as farmland, there are extensive grazing lands in the national forests and other federal lands in Colorado. These grazing lands are leased by ranchers on a seasonal basis.

The sale of livestock and livestock products (mostly cattle and calves) accounted for about 70 percent of farm income in the early 1990s. The sale of crops was much less important.



Sheep and cattle are raised in large numbers throughout the mountains and the drier sections of the plains. The leading cattle-raising area is in the north central part of the state, just east of the Rockies. Colorado is the nation's fourth largest producer of cattle. Most of the state's livestock are beef cattle raised on ranches, but some dairy cattle are also raised on irrigated pastures near Denver and other urban markets. In addition, sheep and cattle from other states are fattened for market in Colorado.

Most ranchers use additional grazing lands both in Colorado and in neighboring states for their herds. Western Colorado is the leading sheep-raising area in the state. The sheep are raised for both wool and meat, especially spring lamb. Each spring, lambs from the western flocks are sent to the Fort Collins area for fattening. Hogs, poultry, and horses are also raised in the state.


Wheat is the leading cash crop. It is raised chiefly on the High Plains and is the only major crop grown in the state without the aid of irrigation. Because annual rainfall fluctuates, the greater part of the plains is often too dry for cultivation every year. Therefore fallowing land and other forms of soil and water conservation are important. Corn is the second most important crop grown in Colorado. However, much of the corn is fed directly to livestock. Hay which includes alfalfa, timothy, and wild hay, is also important.

In some plains areas, barley, grain sorghum, and oats are also grown, often in rotation with wheat. In addition, many stock farms raise both wheat and cattle.

Patterns of Farming

More than one-third of all the cultivated land is irrigated. Irrigated crops include alfalfa, as well as dry beans, sugar beets, potatoes, and a variety of other vegetables and fruit. The chief irrigated areas are the San Luis Valley, the High Plains of east central Colorado, and the South Platte, Arkansas, and Gunnison river valleys. Alfalfa, an important forage crop, is grown in all these areas. In addition to growing alfalfa, farmers in the South Platte Valley and the High Plains specialize in sugar beets, and farmers in the Arkansas Valley grow melons, other fruits, and vegetables. The San Luis Valley is noted for potatoes and lettuce. Apples and peaches are the chief crops in the Gunnison Valley. Flowers are grown commercially in fields and hothouses near Denver.

The major sources of irrigation water, in addition to the South Platte, are the Rio Grande and the Arkansas and Colorado rivers, as well as numerous wells. Among the principal irrigation projects in the state are the Uncompahgre and Pine river projects, both in southwestern Colorado, and the Colorado-Big Thompson and Fryingpan-Arkansas projects, both in central Colorado. In the Colorado-Big Thompson and Fryingpan-Arkansas projects, water from the headwaters of the Colorado River, west of the divide, is transported by tunnel to the Eastern Slope.


The annual income from forestry in Colorado is small. Commercial forests are relatively limited in extent; most forests are under federal control and are concentrated in the western part of the state. Almost all output is softwoods, principally pines and firs.



While gold is what drew the first miners to Colorado, the production of fossil fuels is by far the most valuable resource extraction done in the state today, representing more than three-quarters of the state's mineral output. Natural gas is the leading mineral product, taken from the ground at more than 7000 wells across the state. The production of natural gas more than doubled between the mid-1980s and early 1990s. Meanwhile falling prices for petroleum decreased the value of the state's second most valuable mineral. Oil and natural gas are produced at more than 300 fields, although the most productive are found in the northwestern part of the state.

Bituminous coal, Colorado's third most valuable mineral, is found in beds that underlie about one-quarter of the state. Extraction is about equally distributed between surface and subsurface mines, and Moffat and Routt counties in the northwest are the leading producers. Nearly all of the coal is used to fuel electricity-generating plants inside Colorado and in nearby states. Some coal is shipped to industrial centers in Utah and Illinois.

Colorado is the nation's second leading producer of molybdenum, which is added to steel as a hardener. Other minerals produced in Colorado include sand and gravel, cement, gold, silver, zinc, stone, tungsten, limestone, and lead. Vast reserves of oil shale underlie much of western Colorado. Colorado also has large tracts of oil shale lands, estimated to contain several billion barrels of recoverable crude oil. Attempts to extract this oil were made in the 1970s and 1980s. However, extraction of the oil was too costly to be practical.


Manufacturing in Colorado is dominated by the processing of local raw materials and by technology-dependent light industries. Leading manufactures include the production of scientific instruments, food processing, and the making of industrial machinery. The chief instrument manufactures are those making a variety of products for use in medicine, devices to measure electricity, and photographic equipment. The brewing of beer is the leading employer among food processing industries, although the state has a diverse selection of industries preparing and packaging Colorado's farm output. Industrial machinery manufactures are led by the makers of computer storage devices and peripheral equipment. Other large employers in the state are firms engaged in making ordnance, components of guided missiles and space vehicles, and semiconductors.

The Denver metropolitan area is the state's leading manufacturing center, specializing in food processing and in the manufacture of scientific equipment and electronic and transportation components. Industrial activity has developed in a number of other communities located in the Front Range area. In the university city of Boulder, printing and publishing, instrument manufacture, and research and development activities predominate. Heavy industry is still important in Pueblo. Colorado Springs has a wide variety of high-technology industries. Food-processing facilities can be found in many of the communities in the state. Most of the sugar refineries in Colorado are located in communities near the state's chief sugar beet-growing areas in the South Platte Valley near Greeley.


Most of the electricity produced in the state comes from coal-powered thermal plants. Hydroelectric power accounts for only about 5 percent of the state's electricity generation.

Tourist Industry



Tourism in Colorado is an important and vital part of the state's economy, although its relative contribution has declined in recent decades as the state's economy has diversified. About 108,000 jobs in Colorado were directly related to tourism in the early 1990s. Hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, skiing, and automobile touring all contribute to the state's economy. More money is spent on hunting licenses in Colorado than any other state, and Colorado is second only to Montana in the number of out-of-state licenses issued. But skiing remains the state's most visible and important tourist activity. Mountain resorts such as Vail, Aspen, and Steamboat Springs have made Colorado synonymous with winter recreation.



Denver is the chief railroad center in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region. The development of the railroads, and transportation in general, has been hindered by the Rocky Mountains, and it was not until 1934, after the construction of the Moffat Tunnel under the Continental Divide and the completion of the Dostero Cutoff, that the state was served by a direct transcontinental railroad. Coal is the main commodity shipped by rail in the state, representing about three-fifths of the tonnage of goods. Farm products and processed foods are about one-sixth of the tonnage of goods originating in Colorado. In the early 1990s the state was served by 4955 km (3079 mi) of railroad track.

Denver is the focal point of most of the principal highways crossing Colorado. A number of highways follow passes over the Rocky Mountains. Winter snow, often a serious hazard to driving, sometimes closes the passes. A new route through the mountains was opened in 1973 with the completion of the Eisenhower Memorial Tunnel, about 100 km (about 60 mi) west of Denver. Built to carry Interstate 70 under the Continental Divide, it is the longest vehicular tunnel in the United States at 2.7 km (1.7 mi). The highest road in the United States carries drivers to the top of Mount Evans (4348 m/14,264 ft). In the mid-1990s Colorado had 125,962 km (78,271 mi) of highway, including 1535 km (954 mi) of the federal interstate highway system.

In the mid-1990s there were 391 airports in Colorado, many of which were private airfields. For many years Denver's Stapleton International Airport was the largest airport and an essential link in the nation's air transportation system. In 1995 Stapleton was supplanted by the new Denver International Airport.

The People of Colorado

Population Patterns



According to the 1990 national census, Colorado ranked 26th among the states, with a total population of 3,294,394. This figure represented an increase of 14.0 percent over the 1980 population of 2,889,735. The estimated population for 1995 was 3,747,000. Colorado's average population density in 1990 was about 12 persons per sq km (about 32 per sq mi). However, the population is not evenly distributed. About five-sixths of all Coloradans live in a narrow belt that extends for about 300 km (about 200 mi) along the eastern foot of the Rocky Mountains and includes Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, and Pueblo. Meanwhile most of the mountains and the Colorado Plateau are sparsely populated. In 1990 about 82 percent of the people of Colorado lived in areas defined as urban.

The people of Colorado are from diverse origins. Many of them are descendants of immigrants from the British Isles. The gold rush of 1858 and 1859 brought the first permanent settlements of Europeans and Americans of European descent to Colorado. Among the immigrants were former tin miners from Cornwall, England, who were accustomed to hardrock mining, and, later, farmers from central Europe. In addition, there are numerous people of Spanish and Mexican descent. Blacks have been living in Colorado since the first gold rush. In the 1970s there was a considerable influx of Vietnamese. Immigration from Vietnam continued in the early 1990s, and the state also gained a number of people from countries of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and from China.

Whites comprise the largest share of the people, representing 88.2 percent of the population. Blacks are 4.0 percent of the people, Asians and Pacific Islanders are 1.8 percent, Native Americans are 0.8 percent, and those of mixed heritage or not reporting ethnicity are 5.1 percent. Hispanics, who may be of any race, are 12.0 percent of the people.

By 1900, most of the Plains Native Americans in Colorado had been moved to reservations in other states. Only about 1500 remained in Colorado. They lived mostly on a reservation in western Colorado, and their numbers remained relatively constant until the 1950s, when the Native American population grew to more than 4200. Nearly seven times that number lived in the state in 1990. Many of the people belong to Ute tribes, but Sioux and Navajo are also represented.

Principle Cities


Most of Colorado's major cities lie at the foot of the Rockies. Denver and cities in its metropolitan region account for nearly two-thirds of the total population of Colorado. Denver, located on the South Platte River in north central Colorado, is the state's largest city and the leading industrial and commercial center. It is also the state capital, the site of numerous federal agencies and offices, and a popular recreation center. Denver has a population (1990) of 467,610. The Denver metropolitan area, which covers parts of five counties and includes Aurora and Lakewood, the third and fourth largest cities, has a population estimated to be 1,715,000 in 1992.

Colorado Springs, with 281,140 residents, is the state's second largest city. Colorado Springs is primarily a residential, light industrial, and resort city. Nearby are the United States Air Force Academy, the headquarters of the North American Air Defense Command, and Fort Carson, a major United States Army post.

Pueblo, with a population of 98,640, is the fifth largest city in Colorado. An important industrial city, it is also the location of several federal offices, including a branch of the Government Printing Office.

Boulder, just northwest of Denver, is the seat of the largest campus of the University of Colorado. Fort Collins is a leading sugar-refining and flour-milling center and university city in north central Colorado. Grand Junction has a population of 29,034 residents and is the largest city in western Colorado. Greeley is a trade and processing center in north central Colorado.


Roman Catholics, mainly of Spanish and Mexican descent, were among the first church members to settle permanently in what is now Colorado. Their numbers were increased when Roman Catholic immigrants from central Europe entered Colorado in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The Roman Catholic church, with about one-quarter of all church members in the state, is the largest religious body in Colorado.

The three largest Protestant denominations are the Baptists, the Methodists, and the Lutherans. Mormons live in all parts of the state and are especially numerous in Denver and in the San Luis Valley. There are small Jewish congregations, mostly located in Denver.

Education and Cultural Institutions


The first school in Colorado was opened in Auraria, now part of Denver, during the gold rush, in 1859. The first schoolhouse was built at Boulder in 1860. The first free tax-supported schools were established after Colorado became a territory in 1861.

School attendance in Colorado is now compulsory for all children from ages 7 to 16. In addition to the public schools there is a growing number of private schools, most of which are operated by religious denominations, which in the mid-1990s educated about 9 percent of the state's children. Education is supervised by the state board of education, which is made up of seven members elected by the voters of Colorado, and by a commissioner of education, who is appointed by the board.

In the mid-1990s Colorado spent about $4580 on each student's education, compared to a national average of about $5310. There were 18.3 students for every teacher, giving the state an average class size larger than the national average. Of those older than 25 years of age in the state, more than 84 percent had a high school diploma, the third best level of educational attainment in the country.

Higher Education

Higher education in Colorado dates from 1864, when Colorado Seminary, which is now the University of Denver, was founded by a group of Methodists. Colorado College was established in Colorado Springs ten years later, and in the same year, Jarvis Hall at Golden was reorganized as the Colorado School of Mines. The University of Colorado at Boulder was founded in 1876, although it was authorized in 1861 by the first territorial legislature. Instruction at the Colorado State University, which was established as an agricultural school at Fort Collins in 1870, began in 1879. By the mid-1990s Colorado had 28 public and 31 private institutions of higher education. Other notable schools included the United States Air Force Academy (founded in 1954), in Colorado Springs; the University of Northern Colorado (1889), in Greeley; Regis University (1877), in Denver; and the University of Colorado at Denver (1912).


Colorado has 120 tax-supported library systems, which are located in the major cities and towns of the state. Each year the libraries circulate an average of 7.8 books for every resident. The Denver Public Library, the oldest library in the state, is noted for its large collection of books on the history of the West. The library of the State Historical Society of Colorado, in Denver, has a collection of books and old newspapers covering early Colorado history. The libraries of the University of Colorado, in Boulder, include a special collection of Mexicana and books on early American history. Other notable libraries include the Colorado State Library in Denver and the libraries of Colorado State University at Fort Collins.


Three of Colorado's leading museums are in Denver. They are the Colorado Heritage Center, the Denver Museum of Natural History, and the Denver Art Museum. Also in Denver are the Denver Botanic Gardens. In Colorado Springs, Native American and Spanish colonial art are on display at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. The Boulder Museum of History chronicles the settlement and industrial development of Colorado, and the University of Colorado Museum in Boulder exhibits the natural history of the state. Buffalo Bill's Gravesite and Museum, near Golden, exhibits historical mementos and photographs of the famous plainsman and scout Buffalo Bill Cody, who is buried on Lookout Mountain. The Colorado Railroad Museum is in Golden.


During the first half of the 19th century, interest in Colorado and other parts of the West was stimulated by the reports and journals of Zebulon Pike and other explorers. An Overland Journey, a report of the Colorado gold fields, was written by an editor of the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley, who arrived in Colorado in 1859.

The Rocky Mountain News, Colorado's oldest newspaper, was first published in Denver as a weekly in 1859. Daily publication was begun in 1860. The Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post are the state's largest newspapers in circulation. Other major dailies include the Gazette Telegraph in Colorado Springs, the Chieftain in Pueblo, the Coloradoan in Fort Collins, and the Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction. In the mid-1990s there were 27 daily newspapers published in the state.

Colorado's first radio station, KLZ, was established in Denver in 1920. Television programs were first transmitted from station KFEL, also in Denver, in 1952. In the mid-1990s there were 61 AM and 98 FM radio stations and 20 television stations operating in the state.

Music and Theater

During the mid-1800s traveling theater companies visited the settlements of the frontier, entertaining audiences with everything from variety shows to the plays of English author William Shakespeare. Many performances today take place in those same venues, such as Central City Opera House, which opened in 1878, where Opera Colorado performs. Most of the major cities have classical ensembles, including the Boulder Philharmonic Orchestra and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, in Denver.

Much of the state's enthusiasm for the arts is celebrated during musical and theatrical festivals throughout the year. The Aspen Music Festival began in the late 1940s as a musical tribute to the German poet and writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Held each summer, the festival brings together an illustrious array of artists, scholars, philosophers, and musicians who perform in the city's variety of concert halls and outdoor venues. Boulder celebrates the music of Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler at MahlerFest. The January event features performances by nationally known musicians as well as lectures. Founded in 1976 by a local musician, the Colorado Music Festival boasts its own orchestra consisting of professional musicians, many of them principal players, from leading orchestras from throughout the world. The festival season runs from June to August in Boulder.

Theater performances are presented regularly at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, as well as at many other venues in the state. Founded in 1958, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival is held from June to August at the Mary Rippon Memorial Theatre, built in 1939 in Boulder.

Recreation and Places of Interest

As a vacation state, Colorado has few rivals. Superb scenery, a wealth of historic sites, and excellent hunting, fishing, and skiing facilities and opportunities combine to attract visitors at all seasons.

National Parks




Rocky Mountain National Park includes some of the highest, most spectacular, and rugged mountains in Colorado. In the park are Longs Peak, at 4345 m (14,255 ft) above sea level, and many other peaks. Wildlife is abundant throughout the park. Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado contains ruins of Anasazi pit houses, pueblos, and cliff dwellings, which are considered some of the best-preserved in the country.

One of the most spectacular tourist attractions is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument, which contains the narrow gorge cut by the Gunnison River. Colorado National Monument, near Fruita, features deep gorges and huge solitary rock formations, such as the 150 m (500 ft) Independence Rock. Dinosaur National Monument, which is located on the Utah-Colorado border, is famous for fossilized remains of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals. Great Sand Dunes National Monument, near Alamosa, contains some of the largest and highest sand dunes in North America. Hovenweep National Monument, which is in both Utah and Colorado, has ruins of many Native American cliff dwellings and other structures. Also in the southwest is Yucca House National Monument. It contains the ruins of an ancient pueblo yet to be excavated by archaeologists and is not open to the public. In southeastern Colorado is Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, a reconstruction of the first American settlement in Colorado. A rich deposit of fossil plants and insects gives a detailed look at life in ancient North America at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, west of Colorado Springs. Curecanti National Recreation Area has fine recreational facilities centering around reservoirs.

National Forests

There are 11 national forests (and part of a 12th) in Colorado. In Rio Grande National Forest are several active mining camps and also vast wilderness sections. In Roosevelt National Forest are Arapaho Glacier and the deep canyons of the Big Thompson, Boulder, Cache la Poudre, and St. Vrain rivers. Routt National Forest includes sections of the Continental Divide above the timberline. In San Isabel National Forest, near Pueblo, are dude ranches and scenic motor drives. San Juan National Forest is the largest national forest, covering more than 800,000 hectares (2 million acres). Manti-LaSal National Forest is shared with Utah. The Arapaho National Forest, established by President Theodore Roosevelt, is named after the Plains people who frequented the region for summer hunting. The forest includes land on both sides of the Continental Divide, which separates the Platte River watersheds that flow toward the Gulf of Mexico and the Colorado River watersheds that flow toward the Pacific Ocean. The White River National Forest is one of the largest and oldest national forests in the Rocky Mountains. Its national popularity is growing because of the many opportunities for recreation. The Uncompahgre National Forest contains primitive routes to old mining operations that are now popular with off-road vehicle drivers. Grand Mesa National Forest contains Grand Mesa, one of the largest flat-top mountains in the world, which boasts hundreds of small lakes and a reputation for excellent fishing. Gunnison National Forest contains many areas popular with backcountry enthusiasts. Pike National Forest features the famous Pikes Peak, the top of which can be reached by a scenic toll road.

State and Local Parks

State parks in Colorado provide outdoor activities for users year-round. Dozens of facilities include opportunities for swimming, boating, fishing, camping, and hiking. Lory State Park is noted for its rock formations and for its numerous ecosystems that change with altitude. The park preserves 970 hectares (2400 acres) of the transition ecosystems of the Rocky Mountain foothills. At Navajo State Park the main attraction is the long Navajo Reservoir that extends well into New Mexico. Barr Lake State Park is lined with cottonwoods, marshes, and aquatic plants, and its southern half has been designated as a wildlife refuge to shelter animals and birds in a number and variety unequaled elsewhere in Colorado. Some 4900 hectares (12,100 acres) of spring-watered meadows, forested ridges, and massive rock formations comprise Mueller State Park and Wildlife Area.

Denver maintains more than 25 parks in the mountains west of the city. The parks offer excellent recreational facilities.

Other Places to Visit

Other tourist attractions in Colorado include a suspension bridge that spans the deep chasm of the Royal Gorge of the Arkansas River. There are also large, red rock monoliths in the Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs and in Red Rocks Park near Denver. There are hot mineral springs at Pagosa Springs and Hot Sulphur Springs. Dozens of ghost towns are scattered throughout the mountains. A few others, such as Central City, have been restored and now prosper as summer resorts or gambling venues. The United States Mint, in Denver, produces more than five billion coins each year. There are free tours of the entire production process, from stamping to counting and bagging. Colorado is the nation's leading ski-resort region, with more than two dozen major ski areas, including those in Aspen, Steamboat Springs, Telluride, and Vail.


The four major-league professional sports franchises in Colorado all play in Denver; they are the Denver Broncos football team, the Denver Nuggets basketball team, the Colorado Rockies baseball team, and the Colorado Avalanche hockey team.

Annual Events

Major events during the summer include a program of opera and theater at Central City and an outdoor music festival at Red Rocks Park. Colorado is home to several well known film festivals: the Aspen Filmfest presents American independent and foreign films, documentaries, and short subjects in early fall; the Telluride Film Festival features four days of independent films in early August; and the Denver International Film Festival, in October, premieres works from around the world.

The state also has its share of grueling outdoor events, including an automobile race to the top of Pikes Peak on July Fourth, and the Leadville 100, a 100-mi (161-km) footrace through the Sawatch Mountain range.

Many local rodeos, fairs and other festivals are held during the summer. They include the Colorado State Fair in Pueblo, which begins in late August and features old-fashioned bake-offs, livestock shows, and musical entertainment; the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, in June, featuring old-school bluegrass yodelers and new folk artists; the Annual Rocky Mountain Ragtime Festival, in Boulder, with dozens of performers during the four-day event; and the Music and Blossom Festival and Royal Gorge Rodeo, one of the state's oldest rodeos, in Canon City in May. The Steamboat Springs Winter Carnival is in February.



Colorado has had only one constitution since it became a state in August 1876. It has been amended many times since its adoption. An amendment to the constitution may be proposed by the legislature, by initiative, or by a constitutional convention. To become effective, an amendment must be approved by a majority of the people voting on the issue in an election.


The executive branch of the state government is headed by a governor, who is elected for a term of four years. The governor appoints most state department and division heads and commissioners. The governor also has the power to veto any laws except those that the voters approve by direct referendum. Other elected executive officials are the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and treasurer, all of whom are elected for four-year terms.


The General Assembly, as the state legislature is called, consists of a 35-member Senate and a 65-member House of Representatives. Senators are elected for four-year terms and representatives for two-year terms. The General Assembly meets yearly in Denver. The governor may also call special sessions. Bills vetoed by the governor can become law if passed by two-thirds of each legislative house.


The highest court in Colorado is the state supreme court, which is mainly a court of appeal. The seven supreme court justices elect one of their number to serve as chief justice. In addition, there are district courts, each of which has one or more judges. The governor appoints judges to the state supreme court and to the district courts. After serving provisional terms, appointees must run for election. Supreme court judges are elected for ten-year terms and district court judges for six-year terms. Lower courts include county, municipal, and police courts.

Local Government

There are 63 counties in Colorado. County officials include three or five elected commissioners, a clerk, sheriff, coroner, treasurer, surveyor, assessor, and judge, justices of the peace, and law enforcement officers. However, Denver County, which is coextensive with the city of Denver, has no county government. The city and county are governed by a mayor and council. Most cities have the mayor and council or council and city manager form of municipal government.

National Representation

Colorado elects two U.S. senators. Colorado elects six members of the House of Representatives and casts eight electoral votes in presidential elections.


In both state and national elections the Republican Party dominated politics in Colorado until the last decade of the 19th century. In that decade the Populist Party was for a time the major party in the state. During most of the 20th century, political power has tended to shift back and forth between the Democratic and Republican parties. In state elections, approximately equal numbers of Democratic and Republican party candidates for governor have been chosen. In presidential elections, however, Republican candidates have carried the state more times than Democratic nominees. Republican and Democratic party registration totals are closely matched, and a large bloc of unaffiliated voters holds the balance in many electoral contests. After one of Colorado's senators switched his party affiliation from Democratic to Republican in March 1995, the Republicans held a majority of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and both seats in the U.S. Senate; Democrats held the governorship. The state legislature has been dominated by the Republicans for many years.



Early Inhabitants


Tools and campsites found by archaeologists in eastern Colorado indicate that humans appeared in present-day Colorado as early as 10,000 BC. The first people known to have settled in what is now southwestern Colorado are called the Anasazi, who seem to have entered the area in about 1500 BC. Little is known today about the early Anasazi, but a flourishing Anasazi culture existed in Colorado between AD 300 and AD 1300. Archaeologists divide Anasazi culture into two major periods, the Basket Maker period and the Pueblo period.

In southwestern Colorado the Basket Maker period lasted from about 1500 BC to about AD 700. The Basket Makers were (as the name implies) very skilled at making baskets, which they used for storing food, cooking, and carrying water. At first they lived mainly in shallow caves on the tops of mesas (plateaus that have eroded), where they grew corn, squash, beans, and other crops. In about 500 BC they began to live in shallow, roofed-over pits, make pottery, and use pots as well as baskets.

The Pueblo period lasted from about 700 to 1300. The peoples of this period built houses of stone and adobe (sun-dried brick) and lived in pueblos, or villages, on the mesas. By about 1100 they were living in elaborate pueblos of several stories. In about 1200 these peoples moved from the mesa pueblos into new pueblos built along the canyon walls just below the overhanging rims of the mesas. These peoples are sometimes referred to as Cliff Dwellers. Toward the end of the 13th century increasing population, changing climate, decreasing natural resources, and a severe drought forced the Anasazi to move. It is thought that the Pueblo people of today are their descendants.

By the early 18th century, other Native American groups were living in what is now Colorado, including the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche, and the Ute. The Ute moved from Utah east into the Colorado plains, where they lived at the highest altitude of any Native American group—often at 3000 m (10,000 ft) above sea level. The Ute traded elk and deer hides for horses and hardware with the Spanish and with Pueblo people of the Rio Grande valley.

Spanish and French Exploration

The Spanish were the first Europeans to reach Colorado, and Spain formally claimed the entire region early in the 18th century. Various Spanish expeditions entered Colorado, including the 40 soldiers led by Juan de Ulibarri in 1706 and the expedition of Father Francisco Atanasio Dominguez and Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante in 1776. French interest in Colorado dates from 1682, when the French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, claimed for France all the land between the Allegheny Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. La Salle, who never went west of the Mississippi River himself, named the vast region Louisiana (Louisiane, in French), after Louis XIV, the king of France. French trappers and traders ventured into Colorado during the 18th century.

Early 19th Century

In 1803 France sold the Louisiana Territory, including Colorado, to the United States. In 1806 James Wilkinson, the governor of the Louisiana Territory, sent Zebulon Montgomery Pike to explore the region and to survey its boundaries. Pike led the first U.S. expedition into Colorado and explored southeastern Colorado and the San Luis Valley, but the Spanish arrested him when he crossed into Spanish territory. The boundary between Spanish America and the United States remained in dispute until 1819, when the Adams-Onis Treaty gave southern and western Colorado to Spain and northern and eastern Colorado to the United States. Another U.S. exploration party in 1820 under Stephen H. Long investigated the area's resources. Long reported that the eastern Colorado plains constituted part of one great desert.

In the 1820s and 1830s hardy traders and fur trappers, called mountain men, began pushing into Colorado in search of beaver and other fur-bearing animals. Trading posts were built and both the Native Americans and the mountain men traded furs and manufactured goods. One of the most famous trading posts was Bent's Fort on the Arkansas River, where American hunter, trapper, and scout Kit Carson occasionally lived. By the 1840s, however, the beaver trade in Colorado had declined. The posts were abandoned one by one, although Bent's Fort was, for a time, a post on the Santa Fe Trail, the overland trade route extending from western Missouri to Santa Fe in present-day New Mexico.

Colorado and Mexico

When Mexico gained its independence from Spain in 1821 it assumed ownership of western and southern Colorado. In order to secure the frontier, the Mexican government awarded large amounts of land to Mexican citizens who were willing to establish colonies in the San Luis Valley and other border areas, but few settlers moved there. Mexico was forced to cede its territories in what later became the southern part of the United States, including Colorado, to the United States following the end of the Mexican War in 1848. The U.S. government recognized the original Mexican land grants, and colonists, mostly Spanish and Mexican, began to settle in the San Luis Valley during the 1850s.

Gold Rush

In 1858 gold was discovered in Cherry Creek in what is now downtown Denver by a party of prospectors led by William Green Russell. Mining camps appeared at Denver and Auraria, now a part of Denver, that same year. Thousands of hopeful prospectors flocked to Colorado. By the spring of 1859 the Colorado gold rush was at its height, and "Pikes Peak or Bust" was the slogan for many westbound adventurers. In 1859 John Gregory made an even richer strike at Clear Creek, and nearby Central City quickly became a boomtown. Mining camps also developed at Fairplay, Georgetown, Gold Hill, and Breckenridge. But by 1861 the gold rush was over, and thousands of luckless miners left the mountains.

Colorado Territory

At the start of the gold rush most of the eastern section of Colorado was a part of the Kansas Territory. In 1859 Coloradans established Jefferson Territory, but the U.S. Congress, preoccupied with the growing hostility between North and South, failed to recognize it. Jefferson Territory existed until 1861, when Congress created the Colorado Territory on February 28. William Gilpin was appointed the first territorial governor and Congress selected the name Colorado. Colorado City was the first territorial capital, but the legislature quickly began meeting in Denver. Golden was then chosen as the capital in 1862, but the legislature continued to meet mainly in Denver, which finally became the permanent capital in 1867.

White Expansion and Warfare


The discovery of gold had drawn thousands of Midwesterners to the "Pikes Peak or Bust" gold rush. Although many left quickly, in the early 1860s those who remained, especially farmers, slowly began encroaching on Native American hunting areas. Denver itself had been built in 1858 on lands that Congress had reserved for the Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples, some of whom raided the stage routes between Denver and the Missouri River. During the Civil War (1861-1865), most of the federal troops posted in Colorado were withdrawn, leaving Colorado without adequate defenses against the raids. At that time the Ute lived in the mountain and plateau regions, and the Cheyenne and Arapaho controlled most of the plains.

To retaliate for a series of earlier Cheyenne and Arapaho attacks that had killed isolated settlers, the Third Colorado Cavalry, led by U.S. Colonel John M. Chivington, attacked a village of sleeping Cheyenne and Arapaho at dawn on November 29, 1864, killing as many as several hundred men, women, and children. Known as the Sand Creek Massacre, this attack caused nationwide concern for the plight of Native Americans in the West. Nevertheless, in 1867, regular army troops forced all of the Native Americans except the Southern Utes off the Colorado plains and onto reservations in Oklahoma.


The first bill for Colorado's statehood was introduced in Congress in 1864, but it died when Colorado voters rejected the proposed state constitution. Subsequent efforts at statehood were lost in the fight between President Andrew Johnson and Republicans in the U.S. Congress over how the defeated Southern states should be treated after the Civil War. Johnson vetoed statehood, partly because the territory's population was too small. Congress did approve a Colorado statehood bill on March 3, 1875. A state convention at Denver adopted a proposed state constitution on March 14, 1876, and on July 1 the voters approved it by a three-to-one margin. Colorado became the 38th state to join the Union on August 1, 1876, and John L. Routt, the last territorial governor, was elected the first governor of the state of Colorado.

Early Growth of the State

The state's economy and its population grew rapidly in the 1870s and 1880s. The population increased from about 40,000 in 1870 to more than 412,000 in 1890. In the late 1860s cattle ranching began on Colorado's unsettled eastern plains. In the 1870s cattle barons like John Wesley Iliff amassed fortunes raising cattle on the open range. Sheep ranchers attempted to graze sheep, but most of them were forced out by the cattleranchers and had to move to poorer rangelands in western Colorado. Thousands of farmers also settled in the eastern part of the state in the 1870s and 1880s, acquiring land under the Homestead Law of 1862, which provides 65 hectares (160 acres) to settlers if they remained on the land for five years. Farmers clashed with ranchers, as both groups tried to fence off waterholes and the better sections of the range. Farmers adopted new farming techniques, including drought-resistant crops and tilling that conserved moisture; these techniques allowed them to farm land that did not receive much water. In 1870 irrigation projects were begun at Union Colony, now Greeley, and elsewhere.

In the mountains, mining remained the chief economic activity. Between 1870 and 1880 silver was discovered at several different places in Colorado. In particular, rich deposits of lead carbonate (cerussite) that contained large amounts of silver were found at Leadville. The economic and political life of Colorado revolved around silver. After 1878 silver prices were high enough to create great fortunes for Horace A. W. Tabor, John Routt, and other Coloradans, who became known as "carbonate kings."

When whites began to settle and mine in western Colorado in the 1870s, the Ute, who had only occasionally raided white settlements in Colorado, became increasingly hostile. In September 1879 a band of Utes killed U.S. Indian Agent Nathan C. Meeker and ten other men at the White River Agency in northwestern Colorado. After further conflict, in which many soldiers died, the Ute disbanded, and all but a very few were expelled from Colorado.

Silver Crisis

In 1873 the U.S. Congress had passed the Coinage Act, which authorized the U.S. Treasury to stop minting silver dollars. This had decreased the demand for silver just as new silver strikes in Colorado, Nevada, and other Western states increased the supply, and silver prices dropped rapidly. Silver-mining companies in Colorado and the other Western states vehemently protested against the Coinage Act, which they called the "Crime of '73." For nearly 25 years silver interests in Western states urged Congress to begin the unlimited coinage of silver dollars, a position called free silver. Congress authorized the treasury to buy and coin a limited amount of silver dollars in 1878 and 1890, which helped the Colorado silver mining industry, but production still overwhelmed the market. Meanwhile, Colorado's farmers, like farmers throughout the West, suffered when overproduction around the world pushed farm prices down to their lowest level since the 1860s.

In 1893 a major economic depression hit the United States. Congress repealed the silver-purchasing act of 1890 and Colorado's silver mines immediately closed when silver prices fell far below profitable working levels. The free-silver issue continued to dominate politics in Colorado and across the nation and the Populist Party and the Democratic Party attracted support in Colorado during the 1890s by supporting free-silver policies. In 1896 both parties supported the Democratic Party candidate for president, Nebraska editor William Jennings Bryan, but his defeat by Republican William McKinley effectively killed the free-silver movement.

Gold Mining

During the problems in the Colorado silver-mining industry, new deposits of gold were discovered at Cripple Creek in 1891, and for many years Cripple Creek was one of the world's leading gold-mining regions. Gold mining helped compensate for the state's silver-mining troubles and depressed farm economy. Some old silver mines were found to contain recoverable gold.

Labor Troubles

Although mining made some of the company owners rich and supported much of the economy, Colorado miners did not always feel they got enough of the rewards. In 1880 at the Chysolite mine in Leadville, miners struck after they were told they could not talk while on the job. Mine owners organized a private army and persuaded the governor to declare martial law. They forced the strike leaders out of the area and the strike ended.

Other, more violent strikes followed. At Cripple Creek in 1893 miners struck after mine owners tried to increase the work day from eight to ten hours. In 1903 another strike broke out at Cripple Creek; it was settled only after the governor sent troops.

The worst strike occurred near Ludlow in 1913 and 1914 at coal mines owned by John D. Rockefeller. Striking miners, many of them Greek and Slavic immigrants, had built a tent settlement after they had been evicted from company-owned housing. On April 20, 1914, National Guard troops attempted to clear the camp, but the miners resisted; 39 people were killed in the ensuing battle. Ten days of near civil war followed, as armed miners tried to destroy mine property, while militia and private guards tried to protect it. The violence ended only after President Woodrow Wilson sent troops to the area.

World War I and After


Prosperity did not return to Colorado until after World War I began in 1914. Great Britain, France, and the other Allied Powers needed raw materials, especially metal and food products, and Colorado's economy grew by supplying them, especially after the United States entered the war in 1917. The state's mining industry was greatly expanded, and new mineral resources, such as molybdenum and tungsten, were also developed. The economic boom continued into the 1920s.

Several years of good rainfall encouraged many farmers to extend cultivation to the drier parts of the plains. Oil production, which had started in the 1860s, approached 5 million barrels in the 1920s with the opening of new fields near Fort Collins and Craig. In 1930 Colorado had more than one million people for the first time in its history.

But the Great Depression, the economic hard times of the 1930s, hit Colorado and the rest of the nation hard. There was widespread unemployment in the state, and many people, including bankers and farmers, went bankrupt. In addition, between 1932 and 1937 a prolonged drought struck the Great Plains. There was little or no water for crops, soil erosion was extensive, and many farms were abandoned. Farm prices throughout the nation dropped to very low levels. In an attempt to help farmers and those without work, Colorado and the federal government created programs to build highways and public buildings. Despite the general economic stagnation during the 1930s, the state's mineral production increased. Silver and gold mining grew after 1934, when the Silver Purchase Act and the Gold Reserve Act were passed by the U.S. Congress. The price of gold increased, and unemployed people panned for gold in streams miners had originally worked in 1859.

World War II and After

As a result of government policies during the Great Depression as well as World War II, which the United States entered in 1941, the state entered a boom that lasted 40 years. Farming recovered briefly during the war, but manufacturing greatly increased, and Denver became a "second Washington," with government offices, defense plants, and training camps. Colorado Springs and other cities also thrived.

After the war, population grew rapidly, especially in Denver and its suburbs. Between 1940 and 1960 the state's population increased by more than 600,000 people, to more than 1.7 million, and Denver, Adams, and Jefferson counties accounted for nearly half of the increase. By 1980, over 80 percent of Coloradans lived between Fort Collins and Pueblo, and in 1993 the Denver metropolitan area topped 2 million people. As the population grew, so did the problems of urbanization, including pollution, transportation, and crime.

By contrast, rural, eastern Colorado lost population. Mirroring a nationwide pattern, agriculture slumped in the late 1940s after wartime demand for food products vanished. Family farms were replaced by large agricultural businesses. The population decrease affected every aspect of rural counties, from business to medical care to schools. By the mid-1950s manufacturing had replaced agriculture as the state's most important economic activity. Eventually, the region lost political power when the state legislature was reapportioned to reflect the shift in population.

Mining, like agriculture, did not do well. Oil and natural-gas production increased in northeastern, northwestern, and southwestern Colorado during and after the war, but then declined. Two more brief mining rushes temporarily stimulated Colorado's economy. From 1946 to 1963 uranium mining was important in western Colorado. Then, after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) raised oil prices in 1973, creating an energy crisis, Colorado oil shale seemed to provide some answers, although that industry declined when Exxon sold its interest in 1982. Both times Grand Junction expanded and then contracted rapidly.

Environmental concerns began transforming Colorado in the 1970s. Growth, population, and pollution became major political issues. In 1972 a bill to fund the proposed 1976 Winter Olympics was defeated, which seemed to indicate that the progrowth attitude was changing. How water was to be used became an important issue. The area east of the Continental Divide had more than 90 percent of the population and 63 percent of the land, but the western part of the state had the large majority of the water. Questions included how water should be allocated between rural or urban areas and how water management projects would affect the environment.

Tourism, the service industries, federal money, and other smaller industries became the new pillars of the Colorado economy. Skiing, in particular, grew after the war. Skiing gave old mining communities like Aspen, Telluride, and Breckenridge a new life, and created towns like Vail.

In 1992 Colorado voters captured national attention after they approved an amendment to the state constitution that prohibited local governments from passing laws that protected civil rights for homosexuals. The amendment had been sponsored to repeal Aspen, Boulder, and Denver ordinances that gave homosexuals the right to fight housing and job discrimination in court. The amendment was immediately challenged in court, however, and in 1994 the Colorado State Supreme Court ruled that the amendment was unconstitutional. That ruling was appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States, which in May 1996 upheld the Colorado State Supreme Court decision overturning the amendment.

The history section of this article was contributed by Duane A. Smith. The remainder of the article was contributed by Thomas P. Huber.


Contributed by:

Thomas P. Huber

Duane A. Smith