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Field Division of Education
Historical Background for the Rocky Mountain National Park
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"That part of Colorado lying north and east of the Arkansas River was originally a portion of the Louisiana country which was ceded by France to Spain in 1762, retroceded to France in 1800, and purchased by the United States in 1803. That part not originally comprised within the Louisiana region belonged to Spain until the Mexican revolution of 1821, after which it formed a part of Mexico. The eastern part of this Mexican territory became a part of Texas, which achieved its independence in 1836, and in 1845 was annexed to the United States; the western part was included in the lands ceded by Mexico to the United States in 1848 at the close of the Mexican War."

"The section of Colorado included in the Louisiana Purchase belonged successively to the district of Louisiana (1804-5), the territory of Louisiana (1803-12), the territory of Missouri (1812-34), and the "Indian Country" (1834-54) when the territories of Utah and New Mexico were organized; in 1850, the western portion of what is now Colorado was included in Utah; the region east of the Rocky Mountains, south of the Arkansas and west of the 103rd meridian was made a part of New Mexico; and the area east of the 103rd meridian and south of the Arkansas was left without organized government, as was the Indian country to the north of it. In 1854, when Kansas and Nebraska were organized, all the Colorado region not included in Utah or New Mexico became a part of Kansas if south of the 40th parallel, and a part of Nebraska if north of that line.

"In February, 1861, the region lying between the 37th and 41st parallels and extending from the 25th to the 37th meridian from Washington (approximately the 102d and 109th meridian from Greenwich) was organized as the territory of Colorado; and in August, 1876, the territory, without a change of boundaries, became a state of the Union." (U. S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Census, Thirteenth Census of the U. S. taken in the year 1910, Statistics for Colorado, 567).


It has been shown that Colorado was not terra incognita in 1858 and 1859, the years when Americans flocked to the region to dig for gold and to remain to develop its agricultural resources. "Traders, trappers and explorers, both official and unofficial, had visited North, Middle and South Parks, the headwaters of the North and South Plattes, the Arkansas, the Rio Grande, and had been on all other principal streams of Colorado. Again and again the South Platte and the Arkansas had guided parties of men into the limits of Colorado or had pointed the way back to the States". (University of Colorado, 1927, 68).

"With the decline of the fur trade in the forties and fifties passed the great days. of the trading posts; in their stead came the government forts": Fort Massachusetts (1852) in the San Luis Valley for protection against the Utes; Fort Garland taking its place in 1858; Fort Wise (1859), later called Fort Lyon (1861), on the Arkansas. (Ibid., 68). As a result of the uprising of the Plains Indians in 1864, Fort Morgan was established on the south branch of the South Platte River to guard the stage lines. ... Its walls were originally of sod, and later of adobe. Nothing marks the spot now. Its site is now included in the edge of the town of Fort Morgan. (Parsons, 1911, 238). The town of Fort Collins, county seat of Laramie County, was named after Colonel William O. Collins, on the site of Fort Collins established in 1864 by the Colonel. It was never a fort, "only a cluster of log houses and tents occupied by the troops. The camp was abandoned in 1874." Parsons, 1911, 198).

Since the decline of trapping in the late '40's the Rocky Mountains of Northern Colorado had few visitors. Nothing to take the place of trapping had come to stir the interest of people in the mountains. "The chief overland trails passed either to the north or to the south of the lofty mountains in which the South Platte and the Arkansas take their rise. The transcontinental railroad was still a dream. The agricultural frontier was no farther west than central Iowa and eastern Kansas. On the prairies there was room for indefinite expansion, and on beyond lay the 'Great American Desert'. So far as any one could foretell, the Utes would not soon be disturbed in their mountain hunting grounds, and the Arapahoes and Cheyennes would be allowed to enjoy without molestation from the whites the land along the eastern base of the mountains between the Oregon and Santa Fe trails, which had been granted to them by a treaty made in 1851. Colorado was remote, not easily accessible, and uninviting. All this was changed suddenly and violently by the discovery of gold on the South Platte and its tributaries in the summer of 1858." (Colorado University, 1927, 68).

In June, 1858, the so-called Russell Company, composed of men from Georgia, Missouri, and Kansas, were successful in gold digging about the present site of Denver. Shortly afterwards, the Lawrence Company reached the Pike's Peak region. "The movement that followed was stimulated by hard times in the Mississippi Valley, the result of the panic of 1857." During the winter of 1858-9 town building, largely of log houses, proceeded, in preparation for the expected great rush of the spring. Many of these speculative towns are cities today but many others have disappeared from the map. (See Willard, James, F. in Colorado University, 1927, pp. 101-121, for a more detailed treatment of the gold rush and after). Denver and Boulder are among the cities that owed their births to the gold rush.

The overflow of gold prospecting brought men into the area of the present Rocky Mountain National Park. Little, of the precious mineral was found, however, so the bulk of the mining activity was confined to the region to the south. The mining area of Gilpin and Boulder Counties was in close proximity, however.

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