|The history of the European settlement of Colorado links very closely to the progress of development and subsequent discovery of mineral deposits worthy of mining in the West. The first big wave of Northern Europeans came West for the 1849 California Gold Rush, which drew many tens of thousands of men and women (though at first, mostly men) across the continent on a long, arduous wagon journey, or by an equally long sea voyage through the Straits of Magellan at the southern tip of South America.|
|Colorado was right in the middle of the continent, near the end of crossing the Great Plains and at the beginning of the portions of the journey that must have seemed even more foreboding: crossing over the mountains and the deserts and badlands that lay beyond, leaving some 2,000 miles' journey winding through some of the vastest wildernesses this continent has to offer. Certainly, with no roads or support services along the way, it must have seemed even more hostile than anything they'd seen in the Midwest. Many came through the cities of the Pre-Civil-War-Era United States that was, in the opinion of its former European patrons, mostly still a small and quite novel experiment in a new form of government.|
|The prosperity and economic developments of the Renaissance brought overpopulation and overcrowding in Europe. Following hundreds of years of fluctuating population (the result of plagues and other diseases created by the unhygienic living conditions in their own cities) and slow development, the technical and cultural advancements of the 17th Century drove a huge increase of the European economy. The increase of available food supplies brought on a great surge in the number of Europeans in the 19th century, all competing for the same space, jobs, and resources, resulting in both rural and urban overcrowding. Escaping to the vast new wilderness that was the Colonies sounded dangerous but worth it to legions of European colonists, who were willing to leave everything they'd known behind for the prospect of a new life with available land and the promise of democracy.|
|Certainly it wasn't just the farmers who were actively fleeing the tyranny of European land ownership and the feudal arrangements of life they'd long suffered. Tales of real private land ownership was a powerful driving force for many. Miners were among the groups of skilled and semi-skilled laborers who were actively recruited in Europe's mountainous regions, where declining natural resources and job opportunities offered miners little hope of prosperity, financial or otherwise. Promised bonuses and private houses, many came to these United States with dreams of a better life and a better future for their children, but this tale is common in this nation. The difference here is that many who were brought from overseas as miners in this period, “...Welsh, English, Scottish, Irish, central European, Hispanic, Italian and Swedish workers and their families” (Foote, Trumbo, 2004: 1), came across the sea and didn't get stuck in the cities, but got on a train straight off the ship and went to places like Tennessee and West Virginia and Kentucky, where coal mining has a rich and varied history all its own.|
|By the time of the Mexican-American War, in which Mexico ceded California, New Mexico, and Texas to the U.S. in 1848, followed closely by the California Gold Rush, then, there are multiple flows of people across the plains migrating of their own will across the prairie in covered wagons to California and Oregon Territory, a slow and treacherous journey, as we have seen. In 1858, the discovery of “a few hundred dollars' worth of gold near what would become Golden,” heralded a new wave of immigration to Colorado for the Colorado Gold Rush. By the time of the 1860 census, Colorado's population had reached 39,000, with twenty men to every woman. (Knight, 1971: 2) It would be another thirty years before the Klondike Gold Rush would send people north to Alaska for similar reasons. New technology also heralded change for the wild frontier country that was Colorado, when|
railroad reached Denver in 1870. Between
1870 and 1880, Colorado's population multiplied some five-fold, to
195,000, its greatest percentage increase in any decade.
White and black “gold” (silver and coal) vied with yellow gold
as wealth producers. ...When Colorado gained statehood in 1876, it had...
railroads building from Denver and southern Colorado westward; mines
producing gold, silver, lead, and coal; smelters and foundries springing
up; and farming and ranching well established.” (Knight,
these decades of rapid growth, “The proportion of foreign-born among the
migrants to Colorado rose from 7.7 percent in 1860 to 16.5 percent in
1870, and 20.4 percent in 1880.... During
the entire period, however, about two-thirds were from the British Empire.
While 600 Chinese brought to work in the building the railroads
were recorded in the 1880 census, the influx of non-English-speaking
foreigners was to come later.” (Knight, 1971:
Some miners spread out across the plains around Denver to mine the local coal seams that constituted the Northern Field, an area spread across modern-day Boulder and Weld counties where the Laramie Formation's faulting and cracking at the base of the mountains exposes numerous coal-bearing rock strata. Initially these efforts were small and primitive, but Denver was a growing regional industrial hub; in keeping with its role as a major stop on the railroad, as “the coming of the railroad and of metal fabrication, to say nothing of the expanding domestic market, greatly increased the demand for coal.” (Knight, 1971: 15-16) Coal mining created communities on the plains East of Boulder, most notably Marshall, Louisville, Lafayette, Erie, Superior, Frederick, Dacono, and more. Boulder City was an intermediary stop between the hard-rock mining of Nederland, Gold Hill, and Ward and the coal mining on the plains. The other primary location for coal mining was in southern Colorado in what are now called Huerfano and Las Animas counties, called the Southern Field, connected to Denver by over 110 miles of railroad track to carry the coal to its destination. Most of this area was dominated by the 'company mine', and miners had many problems with the associated fight for workers' rights in those mines.
||Click on either of the two highlighted areas to read more about these mining areas and the conflicts that occurred there. This map of Colorado shows current county boundaries (grey), major highways (blue), and railroads (red). Notice how the railroad lines follow the coal fields. In those days, rail transport was (and still is) the cheapest way to transport large amounts of heavy material like raw coal.|
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This page created by Will Muhovich on April 8, 2005; last updated on 04/08/2005 . If you find anything to be in error or non-functional, please feel free to contact me.