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Colorado's Beginnings

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Before white settlers reached what would become Colorado, the area was home to several Indian tribes, including the Utes in the mountains; the Cheyenne and Arapaho on the Eastern plains; and the Ancestral Puebloans (formerly called Anasazi) in southwestern Colorado, whose cliff dwelling houses at Mesa Verde can still be seen today.
The first Europeans to explore Colorado were the Spanish, who came looking for gold in the sixteenth century. Hispanic Americans would make their homes in the San Luis Valley beginning in the 1840s, the earliest non-Indians to do so.

In 1806, Zebulon Pike, a U.S. Army officer, was sent to explore the land that Stephen Long had termed the “Great American Desert.” Here Pike recorded seeing the mountain that would later be named in his honor, Pikes Peak. It wasn’t until 1859, however, that white settlers would finally start pouring in to the Rocky Mountains. Gold had been discovered, and now, fortune-seekers traveled to what was then mainly part of Kansas Territory to make their fortune, claiming “Pikes Peak or Bust.” Two years later, as the population grew, the area became Colorado Territory.

Meanwhile, as white settlers moved in, Indians like Little Raven and Chipeta worked hard to bring peace between the settlers and the tribes, while men and women like William Byers, Helen Hunt Jackson, and Uncle Dick Wootton, and others came to Colorado to make a new life in Colorado, shaping the future of the territory as they did so. It was a time of great change for an area that would become, in 1876, the State of Colorado.