The Urban Frontier
Individual pioneers who braved mountains and plains of northeast Colorado during the late nineteenth century were important to the land's development, but equally crucial were the townspeople of the time. They faced many of the same hardships with some problems peculiar to urban environments. Towns served as centers of political and commercial activity. Settlements came to exist for various reasons. Some grew because of boosters, while others were founded as part of larger projects such as agricultural colonies. Some places thrived due to locations near mining areas or on transportation corridors.  All these "cities" rose and fell depending upon whether they were centers of commercial activity. Trade volume varied, but each town that survived did so because it developed a hinterland exchange network. Mining towns were among the first to use such connections. Shopkeepers who moved to these communities realized the transitory nature of mining and how their livelihoods could be wiped out overnight if the lodes played out. Businessmen sought to establish a wider economic base. One way was to build on existing trade relationships and broaden them through connections in other camps. Merchants also supported projects to improve transportation and communication. As the mining frontier spread outside northeastern Colorado, mercantilists in the older towns worked to establish themselves as outfitters for new mining districts. These efforts often paid handsomely but only if local mineral business continued to prosper. If the mines closed for lack of ore or other reasons nearby "cities" melted into ghost towns. The process could only be reversed was if new strikes were made or replacement industries like ranching or lumbering could be established.  Throughout their lives, these mountain communities were dependent upon cities along the front range to funnel goods and services into the mining areas. Four northeastern Colorado towns, in particular, developed this role by the late nineteenth century. They were Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs. Of these Denver and Boulder began as supply centers. Others grew thanks to their locations near the mountains or their good transportation connections. All four cities experienced changes identified with major metropolitan areas of the period. They were not only centers of commerce but also of politics, communications, culture and finance. Their place as financial centers, especially Denver, became significant after 1870 when Colorado's industries attracted investors from around the world. The city's banking houses acted as funnels for new dollars as they came into the state. The same institutions served as information disseminators and boosters of local enterprise. 
These four cities realized that if they were to fulfill their roles they had to encourage farming on the plains and attract farmers to urban markets. Initially, agricultural exchanges were simple affairs that allowed farmers to deal on a personal basis with merchants. After purchasing crops from growers, middlemen sold and shipped goods to mountain consumers. As transportation became readily available, this pattern changed. First was specialization of labor that led to the creation of facilities like grain exchanges and stockyards. This trend was furthered after railroads reached northeastern Colorado which was then connected to national markets. 
The major front range towns soon became dependant upon communities out on the plains as a connection with producers. This was due, in large part, to rapid growth in the area. As more farmers and ranchers settled, it became impractical for each one to deal on an individual basis with brokers and dealers at trade centers. Instead, bargains were struck with buyers in smaller towns who then shipped to larger towns. Farmers also had needs like supplies and clothing, and communities sprang up across northeastern Colorado to meet these demands. Some places grew into medium-sized cities that became quite permanent. Other villages founded during the dryland farming boom of the late 1880s, turned into ghost towns by the late 1890s when drought and low prices ended local expansion of agriculture. 
All the cities in northeastern Colorado served functions other than simply economic. They became centers of activity for those living near them. One facet was to serve as a focal point for varieties of social events, ranging from square dances to weddings to horse races. Celebration of national holidays like the Fourth of July and local festivals like Founder's Day all drew local crowds. When families went to town for these holidays not only did they participate in the "jubilee" but they also shopped and did other business. During the late nineteenth century most transactions occurred because of personal contacts, not advertising. Merchants therefore found it important to maintain such relationships and to do so they often co-sponsored local celebrations.  Smaller towns scattered around the region served as social centers too. They offered retreats like saloons and pool halls where the men gathered to relax, chat and exchange ideas. Women usually had no equivalent "clubs". However, the men's organizations were strong supporters of ladies church groups and choirs. Churches were normally located in towns as were schools, especially those for the higher grades. Religious and educational events drew residents to urban areas from their farms and ranches. Larger towns could often support opera houses and the theaters to entertain residents. In smaller villages those seeking this diversion either traveled to bigger communities or depended on troupes of traveling actors, orators or musicians. Such arrivals were sometimes "the" social event of the year. 
Another function northeastern Colorado cities performed was to act as spokesmen for themselves. Businessmen founded Chambers of Commerce, Boards of Trade, Boards of Immigration, and town companies, to encourage commercial activity and to attract new settlers to Colorado. These organizations assisted other "boosters" like the state, or railroad companies, that also worked to entice farmers and ranchers to the land. Occasionally, they set up locator services and arranged credit through local banks to help newcomer arrivals. The boards, at times, also found temporary housing. During times of famine and in dry years they operated as a local welfare service, soliciting aid and distributing contributions in cooperation with church groups and charitable institutions. Despite periodic bad times, promoters always painted a picture of unlimited opportunity and easy wealth for those bold enough to make the move to Colorado. Each proclaimed their town to be the "Athens of the West", the "new Denver" or the "Center of Western Civilization". 
The towns of northeast Colorado supported another booster that, in many ways, was almost as unique to the American West as cowboysthe frontier editor. Newspapers of the time were not only methods to relate events of the day but also served as promoters of the local economy. William N. Byers' Rocky Mountain News set the tone for these publications when it printed its the first issue in April, 1859. Byers proclaimed Colorado as the home of all things good and a land of unbounded wealth. This style was copied by local newsmen across the region well into the twentieth century. When editors penned their lines, they hoped that papers elsewhere in the country would pick up stories about their region. A spirit of optimism permeated most of the area's journals. In addition to boosting their particular towns, the scribes also used their editorial pulpits to preach to residents on the virtues of various civic undertakings from a new railroad to closing saloons on Sundays. The local paper was a point of great civic pride for citizens in their communities. 
All this booster activity was aimed at one goal. Each town sought to grow and duplicate earlier eastern lifestyles. During the late nineteenth century no one dared question the desirability of growth. A city that did not increase in size was considered "dead" and awaiting burial. To encourage expansion, as well as to ease the shock of relocation, builders attempted to recreate midwestern agricultural towns wherever they could. That is why today's physical remains in Colorado's small plains towns greatly resemble their counterparts throughout the United States. The brick schoolhouse and bank, the white frame church, the railroad hotel and the false-fronted main street could easily be moved from northeast Colorado to Iowa or Illinois and not look at all out of place.  Often the fight for growth slipped from boosting settlement into criticism of neighboring towns. Usually, these rivalries involved the location of a railroad or highway businesses, the county seat or some state facility like a college. When plums like county offices were available each town not only put its best foot forward but did what it could to cast doubt on its neighbor's worthiness for such an honor by questioning its moral climate, vitality or progress. Battles like these raged across northeast Colorado throughout the late nineteenth century, often becoming quite heated, with threats of violence exchanged. Competition continued into the twentieth century as the "booster spirit" remained strong.  Promoters and salesmen began their work as soon as cities were founded. There were nearly as many reasons for towns to spring up as there were why people moved to northeastern Colorado. The first settlements developed at the sites of gold and silver strikes.  Agricultural cities were founded for different reasons, such as colonies. A few places like Evans or Green City started as speculative ventures for the enrichment of their founders through the sale of land and lots. In this same manner, some towns were set up by town companies that gambled on future growth in the area. Denver and Boulder were in this category. Yuma and Wray were examples of towns that developed because people in the area needed a place to trade. Both Fort Collins and Fort Morgan got their starts when settlers took up land near military posts to exploit local markets the Army offered. The beef trade of the later nineteenth century led to the development of "service centers" for cattlemen and cowboys. Karval was an outstanding example of such a community. However, northeast Colorado never had cities that survived being founded as "cattle towns", rather they were like Karval in that they evolved into this role from different beginnings or they grew up near the headquarters of major ranches. 
The spread of railroads, and other transportation, across northeast Colorado served as the impetus for some cities to begin life. Colorado Springs for example, was founded as a subsidiary venture of the D&RG railway. Other places grew because of rail service facilities locations. Junctions, division points, engine houses and coaling stations all tended to increase a town's potential for expansion. One example of a new town at an important rail facility was Julesburg. It was built where the Union Pacific's cut-off for Denver joined the main transcontinental route. In fact, it was first called Denver Junction. Two towns that also found their growth stimulated by railroads were Sterling and Limon. Rail companies were well aware of the effect their choice of facilities had on the area and did what they could to encourage good will between themselves and local residents. 
The cumulative effect of town building and promotion was rapidly felt in northeast Colorado. Between 1870 and 1875 towns doubled their population as the region became urbanized. These growth trends continued throughout the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth. The presence of towns had major impacts on the region's history during this period of intense use.  Life in northeastern Colorado cities and villages during the years 1860 to 1890 was similar to most such areas of the United States while at the same time having a certain commonality with the rest of Colorado. Townspeople needed certain services that could best be supplied by local government or through volunteerism. Most important were police and fire protection. Nearly every community in this area went through a lawless period. For some it was short as local administration quickly established itself. Elsewhere, residents were not so lucky and had to live in fear of crime. Many factors contributed to lawlessness or lack thereof. The "boom" atmosphere and get-rich-quick mentality of mining camps was quite different from the more sedate Greeley or Fort Collins. This came not only from differences in organization but also from the settlers themselves. Miners were somewhat more accustomed to violence and had little regard for the future of their towns, while farmers sought to create utopia in Colorado. When severe infractions occurred miners took care of matters directly in their "miners courts", having little desire to pay for jailhouses. When crime could not be controlled by these rump courts, "vigilence committees" formed and took more permanent steps in problem solving. After the boom years passed in the high country, a territorial government was formed (1861) and the problem of law enforcement was turned over to counties or towns. In farm villages, generally founded after territorial (or state) status was conferred on Colorado, residents tried to avoid lawlessness by appointing a town marshall and setting up a local court system as part of the charter process. If taxes could not be raised to pay salaries for law enforcement agents, volunteers served as watchmen. All Colorado towns passed through these stages as they developed. However, it was only the larger cities, like Denver, that turned to a paid police force to replace marshalls and to control crime. 
Protection from violence was only one service citizens sought from local government. Second on their list of needs was fire suppression. Most buildings were made of wood, or contained considerable lumber, that dried to tinder in the arid west. The slightest spark could ignite a fire capable of turning an entire town into smoldering ashes. To combat these events, the citizenry turned out and formed bucket brigades to stop the flames. This volunteer spirit was organized into fire companies. These groups not only raised money to buy equipment and build houses to store it, but also proved social outlets for the members. Firehouses turned into club rooms and the companies became fraternities, of sorts. Some of the larger towns were served by more than one such company and competition developed. Each sought to beat the other to a fire, to be the most efficient at extinguishing it, and to gain "glory" for the company. Contests were held between volunteer firemen during town festivals. However, at times rivalry was carried into action at fires when fist fights broke out between companies. More than one resident recalled watching as his or her home burn to the ground while firemen ignored the flames and wrestled with each other instead. To control freewheeling fire companies, communities put local government in charge of volunteer fire protection. As with police services, only a few major cities could afford fulltime paid fire departments. 
One area that nearly every northeastern Colorado community left to private enterprise, between 1860 and 1900, was public utilities. Providing water or gas proved lucrative in the larger communities. Colonel James Archer and his Denver Gas Company and Denver Water Company were prototypes for others in Colorado. He originally came to the area with the Kansas Pacific railroad during the late 1860s. Once he saw the Queen City, Archer was convinced that this town would become the business and political center of Colorado, and possibly the Rocky Mountain West. Archer likewise felt this city was an excellent place to promote water and gas operations and to supply these necessities to the population. With help from local boosters, especially real estate magnate Walter S. Cheesman, Archer was able to get his companies started. By the early 1870s, less than fifteen years after it was founded, Colorado's capitol city had running water and gas for illumination. In places large enough to support similar systems, they were built, either by private individuals or by stock companies. In only a few cases did local government take care of securing these services. For those places too small for such luxuries, people used private wells for water and kerosene or coal oil for lighting. 
The sense of civil accomplishment was further enhanced if a town was able to support its own urban transit system. Again, Denver took the lead in this development. During the seventies the most reliable forms of mass transit were horsecars and cable cars. Horsecars were small wagons pulled by animal power along pathways, whereas cable cars moved by long cables set between the wheels. They were in continuous motion and the vehicles hooked on to them and then released when stops were made. Both types of cars ran along rails laid in the streets. Neither method was particularly efficient and both were limited in the distances they could cover. Therefore they were not well suited to larger, dispersed cities. However by the 1890s, horsecars were popular in smaller towns where only short hauls were involved. The 1880s saw improvements in intraurban transportation technology when the use of electrical power was introduced. Eastern cities were first to take advantage of the changes. But, once systems were proven, Denver developers William G. Evans, David H. Moffat and Walter Cheesman, who owned the cable car company, investigated the possibilities of electrifying their operations. They founded the Denver Tramway Company to serve the city. The tramway served Denver with trolley cars powered from overhead wires by 1881. During the 1890, and into the 1900s, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs and others followed the capitol city's example and converted their horsecars to electric streetcars. These towns proclaimed themselves as thoroughly modern as any city back East. 
Support of public education was yet another way residents demonstrated their commitment to civic betterment. Debates on how best to provide "learning" for area children began as soon as the gold rush was well established. In 1859 Professor Oscar J. Goldrick, teacher and journalist, moved to Denver and by the end of that summer he had found enough students to open a subscription school. In this institution the teacher's salary and expenses were paid by fees from parents of the students, not by taxes. Goldrick's example was duplicated in other early settlements, especially mining camps that did not have strong local governments during the early years. As more settlers filled northeastern Colorado after the Civil War, consideration was given to the creation further public schools. In areas where they were set up, educational facilities came under the control of elected boards of education, organized by city or rural area. This region's early residents placed a high value on education and by the 1890s nearly every child in northeast Colorado had available at least a primary education. Brick, stone woodframe schoolhouses were present in nearly every community and dotted many rural places. 
The high literacy rate of residents and a need for information led to creation of libraries throughout northeast Colorado. The first appeared in the early 1860s as reading clubs and subscription facilities where those who wished to borrow books either paid membership fees or contributed volumes to the organization. Private libraries became popular by the 1890s. The benefits of a well informed public were not lost on town councils and other governmental groups. In towns where population and tax revenues warranted, a movement took place to create publicly supported libraries. The trend developed slowly and not until the early twentieth century did public libraries became a major form of book circulation in northeast Colorado.  Another way that northeastern Coloradans kept in touch with current events was by attending lectures put on by travelling orators. Topics ranged from debates on social problems to literary figures offering interpretive readings. Such cultural shows were very popular with residents during the late nineteenth century. These road shows offered information and social exchange not otherwise available. Eventually national popularity of these events led to the creation of a nationwide Chautauqua Society and subsequent development of a Chautauqua lecture circuit throughout northeast Colorado. These organizations were outgrowths of a summer adult education program started in 1874 at Chautauqua, New York. 
As an outgrowth of early evolution, at least a few of the region's cities developed "unique" images as seen by outsiders. Once boosters realized this asset they did what they could to enhance such perceptions. One place with quite individualistic characteristics was Colorado Springs. The town was founded by William J. Palmer as a perfect place for America's genteel and European tourist society to have their own hideaway. Because of close ties that many of Palmer's associates maintained with England the new community took on a marked resemblance to a British country town during the 1870s. Outsiders soon referred to Colorado Springs as "Little London". During the late 1870s the city lost some of its "Englishness" yet it remained "genteel". Residents actively supported the performing arts and other aspects of culture. For more than one travelling troupe, Colorado Springs was their only Colorado stop and shows that were hits elsewhere in the state often were closed in the Springs because of poor quality. The Springs became a favorite summer resort for eastern society. To further its elitist image, town fathers discouraged industrial growth that could harm the city's pristine appearance. Instead, a renewed Colorado City became an industrial suburb of Colorado Springs with smelters, rail yards and factories located there. 
If Colorado Springs was the region's cultural center Denver, seventy miles to the north, evolved into the most cosmopolitan of northeast Colorado's cities by 1890. Because civic leaders placed heavy emphasis on growth and made no attempt to restrict most types of business, the community developed a heterogeneous population. In its attempt to become the commercial center of the Rocky Mountain West Denver was home to some of the West's major stockyards and grain depots. Railroads, smelters and heavy industry were all welcomed with open arms. So too were banking houses and businesses that facilitated economic dealings, like fine hotels. Due to intense industrial activity, nearly every ethnic group was represented in the population. Entertainment and dining facilities of all ethnic types could be found in the Queen City. These factors and the leadership role the community played in Colorado plus development of public utilities and services gave the city a good reputation that was known across the United States and western Europe.  Two other cities in northeastern Colorado also gained attention that they used to promote themselves between 1870 and 1890. They were Greeley and Fort Collins; both best known as centers of farm activity. Their image was due to two factors. First was the early successes settlers in those two places enjoyed. Prosperity made for good advertising. Secondly, town fathers in each community sought to enhance their public images by supporting farmers' markets, stockyards and other ancillary facilities. In the case of Fort Collins, this extended to winning the state agricultural college. Fort Collins and Greeley were leaders in agri-business. 
Each northeastern Colorado city sought growth and then when it occurred, was forced to deal with attendant problems. One of the first was sanitation. Typical practices of the era left refuse disposal to individuals. Human waste was disposed in privies, while roadsides and alleys were the usual receptacles for general refuse. This led to dirty, germ infested gutters. While towns remained small, occasional clean-ups of the curbs controlled the problem but as the cities grew they found such methods impractical. This matter led to calls for sewers as a way to remove waste. Many communities eventually built systems.  Growth led to increased crime in urban areas. To prevent robberies and acts of violence, local government either increased police protection or organized citizen self-help groups such as neighborhood patrols. Certain parts of some cities were turned over to thugs and hoodlums and instead of trying to solve crimes police exerted more of an effort to contain the problem. This philosophy was also applied by peace keepers when facing problems such as prostitution or saloons. Accepting that those vices would continue despite efforts to eliminate them, the law enforcement officials allowed certain parts of their towns to be used for these activities, usually on an informal basis. Because each of the towns had ordinances to control vice, policemen often extorted payments from operators. In Boulder, the town council could brag that all brothels were closed within the city limits, however, they flourished beyond the border. In spite of periodic reform drives, little happened to permanently close the bars and bordellos until early in the twentieth century. 
Despite these problems, early northeastern Colorado cities found themselves popular with vacationers from around the nation and Europe. The primary reason was Colorado's environment. Its scenery attracted visitors as did the chance to see the "Wild West". Also, the dry climate was reportedly good for health and vitality, especially for those with respiratory ailments. People hoping to find cures flocked to the area and they were especially attracted to Colorado Springs because of its genteel atmosphere and the Manitou Hot Springs, allegedly medicinal waters that would cure all manners of ailments from venereal disease to cancer. While the waters and climate were not really capable of miracles, the Colorado Springs area did prove life-giving for some and it became home of the "one-lung army" because of a large number of its residents who suffered from tuberculosis. To serve those who came west to recover, hospitals and sanatoriums were built in both Colorado Springs and Denver in addition to other towns throughout the region. 
Railroads were another reason that tourists visited northeastern Colorado. Transportation companies worked hard between 1870 and 1910 to promote Colorado vacations and these efforts were rewarded by increased numbers of visitors. The mountains became a major lure as described in rail brochures. Not only did these pamphlets talk of fine air, picturesque landscapes and outdoor activities, they also touted excursion rates and special trains to facilitate travellers' needs. In one case the railroad itself became a tourist attraction: the Georgetown Loop between Georgetown and Silver Plume. If the loop was not enough, by the 1890s, passengers could continue on to the end of track and then transfer to the Argentine Central Railway and ride to the top of Mt. McClellan. Natural beauty combined with railroads' promotional work all came together to make tourism an important and lasting segment of the region's economy by 1900. 
In addition to being centers of tourism and business, cities and towns of northeast Colorado were also the places of higher education in this state. Colorado territory's first college was located in Denver. It was established by John Evans to help give a further air of permanence and stability to Denver and to offer a service considered desirable. It was known as the Colorado Seminary but this name was later changed to Denver University. Other educational institutions located in or near the "Queen City" during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries included Loretto Heights College, Regis College, Colorado Women's College, and Westminister College. This latter facility was forced to close soon after its opening in 1915.  Denver was not the only city in northeastern Colorado to become a center of learning. Boulder beat several other contestants during the 1870s to become the home of the University of Colorado in 1876. Fort Collins boosters, a few years later, convinced the legislature to locate the state's new agricultural college there. This school was much later renamed Colorado State University. Not to be left out when Colorado was establishing these institutions both Greeley and Golden made bids and received the honor of having higher education facilities located in their towns. Greeley got the State Teachers College, later becoming the University of Northern Colorado. Golden became home of the Colorado School of Mines because of its proximity to the mountains and its long involvement with mining. It specialized in training geologists and mining engineers. Unable to get a state school until the mid-twentieth century Colorado Springs nonetheless supported its own place of higher learning; Colorado College. It was begun as a religious school and is privately funded to this day. With most of these colleges in operation by 1890 it was not surprising that the cities in which they were located became the centers of thought on social and political problems faced by Coloradans of the time. However, ferment was not limited to college communities. Rather, most towns became points of political action as both the nineteenth century and northeast Colorado's frontier period drew to a close together. 
1Charles N. Glaab and A. Theodore Brown, A History of Urban America, (New York: MacMillan, 1976), pp. 99-112, hereafter cited: Glaab and Brown, Urban America, and Daniel J. Boorstin, The Americans: The National Experience, (New York: Random House, 1965), pp. 119-122, hereafter cited: Boorstin, Americans.
2Duane A. Smith, Rocky Mountain Mining Camps: The Urban Frontier, (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1967), pp. 242-252, hereafter cited: Smith, Rocky Camps, and Mrs. Alice Griffin Buckley interview, volume 355, Civilian Works Administration Interviews, Colorado State Historical Society, hereafter cited: CWA, CSHS.
3Lyle W. Dorsett, The Queen City, A History of Denver, (Boulder: Pruett, 1977), pp. 4-6, 57, 87, hereafter cited: Dorsett, Queen; Guy Peterson, Fort Collins: The Post, The Town, Ft. Collins: Old Army Press, 1972, pp. 58-63, hereafter cited: Peterson, Ft. Collins; A.A. Woodbury interview, vol. 343, CWA, CSHS, and Tobias Mattox interview, vol. 343, CWA, CSHS; Amanda May Ellis, The Colorado Springs Story, (Colorado Springs: House of San Juan, 1975), pp. 33-36, hereafter cited: Ellis, Springs, and James E. Fell, Jr, Ores to Metals, The Rocky Mountain Smelting Industry, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979), p. 53, hereafter cited: Fell, Ores.
5Lucas Brandt interview, vol. 353, CWA, CSHS; J. G. Abbott interview, vol. 352, CWA, CSHS; Kizzie Gordon Buchanan interview, vol. 341, CWA, CSHS; L. B. Gifford interview, vol. 353. CWA, CSHS; and "Larimer Towns," CWA, CSHS.
13Peterson, Ft. Collins, pp. 24-38; Mary Liz Owen and Dale Cooley, (eds.), Where Wagons Rolled, The History of Lincoln County and the People Who Came Before 1925, (n.p.: Lincoln County Historical Society, 1976), pp. 9-10, hereafter cited: Owen and Cooley, Wagons, and Woodbury, CWA, CSHS.
26Herbert M. Sommers, "My Recollections of a Youngster's Life in Pioneer Colorado Springs, (Colorado Springs: Dentan & Berkeland, 1965 ), pp. 54-57, hereafter cited: Sommers Youngster; Dorsett, Queen, pp. 91-94, and Ketley, CWA, CSHS.
29Morris Cafky, Colorado Midland, (Denver: Rocky Mountain Railroad Club, 1965), pp. 4-9; Cornelius W. Hauck, Narrow Gauge to Central and Silver Plume, (Golden: Colorado Railroad Museum, 1972), pp 79-81, and Athearn, Coloradans, pp. 230-231.
31"The Colorado School of Mines," vol. 354, CWA, CSHS; James F. Willard, "Early Days at the University of Colorado," The Trail, 7 (May 1915): 5-16; Peterson, Ft. Collins, p. 63, and E. C. E., CWA, CSHS.
Last Updated: 20-Nov-2008