Colorado History and Genealogy Project





General Description of Colorado, 1906

Colorado is situated about midway the country north and south, and about two thirds of the distance from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast. On the north are Wyoming and Nebraska, on the east Nebraska and Kansas, on the south New Mexico, and Utah on the west. The State is a quadrilateral in shape, its north and south boundaries being respectively the forty-first and thirty-seventh parallels of latitude; its east boundary is the meridian of 25° west of Washington, and its west boundary that of 32°. Thus its length from north to south is 4° of latitude or 276 miles, and its breadth from east to west is 7° of longitude. The length of its north boundary is 366 miles, and of its south boundary 387 miles. The gross area of the State, as computed by square degrees, is 103,948 square miles. Deducting a few small lakes and other bodies of water leaves 103,658 square miles of land area.

Colorado Gazetteer 1906


In general terms, the eastern third of Colorado is composed of high plains, the middle third of the Rocky Mountains, and the western third of plateaus stepping down toward Colorado River. The Rocky Mountains form a complex system not easily analyzed. They rise from the highest part of the Cordilleran Plateau, and in this State attain their greatest altitude. The most eastern range, known as the "Front Range," enters the State from Wyoming on the north, and extending southward terminates in Pikes Peak. The rise from the east is in long spurs stretching from 10 to 30 miles from the summits to the plains along the base. The plains range from 6,000 to 8,000 feet in altitude, while the summits throughout the greater part of its length exceed 13,000 feet, and there are many peaks higher than 14,000 feet. Among these are Longs, 14,271 feet; Grays, 14,341 feet; Torrey, 14,336 feet; and Pikes, 14,107 feet.

West of the Front Range is the Park Range, which also enters the State from Wyoming, and running nearly south terminates in about the same latitude. In the northern part of the State this is the westernmost range of the system, and from its western flanks the plateaus descend in series toward Green River. This range is but slightly inferior in height to the Front Range, containing several peaks exceeding 14,000 feet, among which are Quandary, 14,266; Lincoln, 14,297 feet; Bross, 14,100 feet; and Sheridan, 14,038 feet.

Between the Front and Park ranges is a series of high mountain valleys extending from north to south, separated by high cross ranges. The most northerly of these is North Park, in which rises North Platte River. It is mainly a level expanse with an average elevation of 8,000 feet. South of it is Middle Park, in which heads Grand River, which flows westward across the park and cuts a gap (Gore Canyon) through the Park Range on its way to join Green River, forming the Colorado. Middle Turk consists mainly of secondary ranges of mountains and hills, alternating with broad valleys. The altitude differs greatly in different parts, but it is generally less than that of North Park. The third is South Park, in the northwestern part of which heads South Platte River, which traverses it in a southeasterly direction. South Park is the highest of the three, its altitude ranging from 8,000 to 10,000 feet, It is generally very level.

West of South Park and of the southern portion of the Park Range, Arkansas River heads in Tennessee Pass; and beyond, forming the west wall of Arkansas Valley, is the Sawatch Range. This is a high, broad and massive range with many peaks exceeding 14,000 feet. At the north is the Mountain of the Holy Cross, with a height of 14,179 feet; then follow Massive, 14,421 feet; Elbert, 14,421 feet; La Plata, 14,342 feet; Harvard. 14,375 feet: Vale, 14,187 feet; and Princeton, 14,196 feet.

West of the Sawatch Range is a succession of high ranges and more or less isolated mountains, known collectively as the "Elk Mountains" or the "Gunnison Country,' and beyond them are the plateaus.

Returning to the eastern part of the mountain region we find facing the plains the Sangre de Cristo Range, which stretches from Arkansas River south into New Mexico. This is a narrow ridge of great altitude, with a number of peaks exceeding 14,000 feet, and only two passes lower than 10,000 feet. On the north near Arkansas River is a high range know n as the "Wet Mountains," standing as an outlier east of the Sangre de Cristo Range.

West of the Sangre de Cristo Range is the great San Luis Valley, which extends nearly from Arkansas River into New Mexico, its surface is extremely level and ranges in altitude from 7,000 to 8,000 feet. West of San Luis Valley rise the San Juan Mountains in which head Rio Grande, flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, the San Juan flowing west ward to the Colorado, and many blanches of Grand and Gunnison rivers. In this group are many peaks exceeding 14,000 feet. Among t hem are Bandies, 14,008 feet; Sneffels, 14,158 feet; Wilson, 14,250 feet; Eolus, 14,079 feet; Sunlight, 14,053 feet; Windom, 14,084 feet; and Uncompahgre, 14,289 feet.

The plains rise from an altitude of 3,000 or 4,000 feet at the east boundary of the State to 6,000 or 8,000 at the foot of the mountains. Their surface is rolling and in some places broken. At the foot of the mountains the' stratified beds are tilted up, forming hogbacks, which run in long, regular lines parallel to the base of the mountains.

Within the mountains head North Platte, South Platte, and Arkansas rivers. The first flows northward into Wyoming, while the South Platte and Arkansas, after forcing their way through numerous ridges and spurs, enter the plains. The South Platte pursues in the plains a course nearly north and then northeast, finally uniting with North Platte River at the town of North Platte, in Nebraska. The Arkansas after reaching the plains pursues a course nearly east to the eastern boundary of the State. Except near the mountains the plains contain few perennial streams; indeed, water is very scarce except immediately after rains.

From the westernmost of the mountain ranges the country descends in a series of plateaus, some of which are horizontal and others inclined at different angles and in various directions. Most of the streams, whether perennial or not, are in canyons cut to varying depths. This plateau region is drained entirely by tributaries of Colorado River. The higher of these plateaus are well watered and covered with forests, but as one descends the region become more desert like, the lowest parts of the plateau having all the aspects of a desert.

Colorado has the highest average elevation of all the States, 6,800 feet.

The principal rivers are North Platte, South Platte, Arkansas, Rio Grande, Yampa, White, Grand, Gunnison, Dolores, and San Juan. None of these streams are navigable. They head in the mountains, and with steep and rugged courses flow to the plains or plateaus. These rivers, with their numerous branches in the mountain country of Colorado, probably furnish a more abundant supply of water for irrigation purposes than the streams of any other State in the arid region. Most of them are drawn upon heavily in aid of irrigation.


Although Colorado is greatly elevated above sea level, the lowest portion along the east boundary being 3,000 feet in altitude, the temperature is but slightly lower than in regions of the same latitude near sea level, because the isothermal lines are carried up by the great mass of country. The mean annual temperature of the plains and plateaus ranges from 45° to 55°, while that of the higher mountain valleys or parks is 40° or even less, and upon the mountain ranges it is still lower.

The range of temperature between day and night, between summer and winter, and between the highest and lowest temperatures recorded, is very great, far greater than in the Mississippi Valley or on the Atlantic coast. Thus the difference between the temperatures of the coldest and warmest months is, on an average, not far from 50°. Upon the plains, at such points as Denver and Colorado Springs, the temperature frequently falls below zero in winter, while summer temperatures above 100° are often recorded, and on the low plateaus in the western part the range of temperature is even greater.

Colorado lies within the arid region. The plains to the east of the mountains and the plateaus to the west have an annual rainfall of less than 20 inches, decreasing in some localities, especially in the western part, to 10 inches or even less. In the mountains the rainfall is greater, exceeding 30 inches. The distribution of rainfall throughout the year is peculiar to the Rocky Mountain region; instead of falling mainly in the winter time, as is the case on the Pacific coast, the summer is the rainy season, and instead of long storms the rain comes in the form of showers. At Denver five-sixths of the annual precipitation falls from May to October, inclusive, and in other parts of the State the proportion in these months is from two-thirds to nine-tenths of the total annual precipitation. The cause of this phenomenon is that in winter the ranges bordering the Pacific (this ocean being the source of precipitation for the entire western country) take practically all the moisture from the vapor-laden winds coming off that ocean, while in summer, owing to the fact that these ranges are relatively warmer, a part of the moisture is carried over to the interior country. The aridity of the region is shown not only in the light rainfall, but in the relative humidity of the atmosphere. On the plains and plateaus the average relative humidity is not far from 50 per cent, that is, the air contains on an average only about one-half the moisture which it is possible for it to absorb.


The eastern part of Colorado was a part of the Louisiana Purchase acquired from France in 1803; a narrow strip across the center from north to south was a part of the Texas Acquisition; while the western part was from the Mexican Cession under the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

The Territory of Colorado was organized February 28, 1861, from parts of Kansas, Nebraska. Utah, and New Mexico, and was admitted as a State on August 1, 1876. The region which is now Colorado was inhabited by the Ute tribe of Indians when first known to white men. Their homes were in the mountains, while the plains, then swarming with buffalo, were the common hunting grounds for this and other tribes. The first white settlers were of Spanish blood and entered from New Mexico at an early date. Their descendants still form an important element in the population of the southern part of the State. The first American immigration commenced about 1860, and was induced by the discovery of gold placers in South Park and in the Arkansas Valley to the west. From that time the population of Colorado has increased rapidly. The population in 1905 was probably not far from 600,000.

The males were in excess, there being in 1900, 295,332 males to 244,386 females; or of the entire population, 55 per cent were males and 45 per cent females. The number of foreign born were 91,155, or 17 per cent; while the native born were 448,545, or 83 per cent, of the entire population.

The following table shows the distribution by race, in which it appears that 98 per cent of the population were white, 1.6 per cent Negro, and the remaining 0.4 percent Indians, Japanese, and Chinese:

Population by race in 1900
White 529,046 Negro 647

Indian 1,437
Chinese and Japanese 637

The literacy of the people of Colorado is high. Of the population 10 years of age and over, only 4.2 per cent were unable to read and write. In this Colorado is exceeded by only nine of the States and Territories. The following are the chief cities with their population in 1900 and the estimated population in 1903:

Population of principal cities.
Denver 1900, 133, 859; 1903. 144,588
Pueblo 1900, 28,157; 1903, 29,237
Colorado Springs 1900, 21,085; 1903, 21092
Leadville 1900, 12,455; 1903, 13,076
Cripple Creek 1900, 10,147; 1903, 7,000
Boulder 1900, 6,450
Trinidad 1900, 5,315


Of the four great branches of industry, namely, agriculture, manufacture, mining, and transportation, the most important, as measured by the value of its product, is mining, while agriculture and manufacture follow closely.

Owing to the location of the State within the arid region, agriculture is in large part limited by the supply of water for irrigation. It is true that in some localities, which by reason of local topography enjoy an unusual rainfall, dry farming is carried on. The total number of farms in the State in 1900 was 24,700, and their total value was $161,045,101. This value was made up of four items, as follows:

Land and improvements, $90,341,523;
Buildings, $16,002,512;
Implements and machines, $4,746,755;
Livestock, $49,954,311.

The average value per farm was $6,520. The value of all farm products in 1900 was $33,048,576, an average per farm of $1,338. The value of farm products averaged about 20 per cent of the capital invested in farms.

In the farms of Colorado there are 9,474,588 acres, of which 2,273,968 acres or 24 per cent were improved or cultivated. This cultivated area is only 3.4 per cent of the entire area of the State, and yet it is a larger proportion than in any other State in the arid region. The average number of acres per farm was 384, which is more than twice the size of the average farm in the United States. About 77 per cent of all farms were owned by their occupants, 14 per cent being rented on shares, and 9 per cent rented for cash. Of the cultivated land, 1,611,271 acres or 71 per cent were under irrigation. The area irrigated was 2.4 per cent of the total area of the State. The following table shows the production of the principal crops and the enumeration of livestock in 1900:

Statistics of farm products and of livestock in 1900

Wheat - 5,587,770
Potatoes bushels - 4, 465, 748
Oats bushels - 3,080,130
Corn bushels - 1,275,680
Hay and forage - 1,647,321
Neat cattle - 1,433,318
Horses - 236,546
Mules - 6,784
Sheep - 2,044,814
Swine - 101,198

The value of all domestic animals in 1900 was $49,359,781, and the value of animals sold in 1899, $9,570,952.


Manufactures are assuming great proportions in Colorado. In 1900 there were 3,570 manufacturing establishments of all kinds, with a capital of $62,825,472. They employed 24,725 wage-earners and paid them $15,146,667. The cost of the materials used was $66,886,016 and the value of the production $102,830,137, showing a net increase in value produced by manufacture of $35,944,121. This figure, which measures the importance of the manufactures, is slightly in excess of the value of agriculture.


In its mines Colorado finds its chief source of wealth. In 1902 the output of these mines had a value of $40,603,286, being exceeded only by Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and West Virginia, of all the Western States and Territories Colorado is easily first in production. It produced the largest amount of gold and silver; was third in the production of load, being exceeded by Idaho and Utah; was fourth in the production of zinc, and sixth in the production of copper; in the product ion of coal it was exceeded by seven States, and in petroleum by eleven.


In 1904 Colorado contained 4,976 miles of railway, which is 2.33 per cent of the entire mileage of the United States.

Exploration and Mapping

The exploration of Colorado began in 1807, when Capt. Zebulon M. Pike, of the United States Army, crossed the plains and followed the Arkansas River to the present site of Pueblo, arriving there in early winter. From this point he attempted to climb Pikes Peak, but abandoned it after several 'lays' struggle with deep snow, remarking that only a bird could reach the summit, yet there is now a cogwheel railroad to the top of the mountain and thousands of people visit it every summer. The next few months were devoted to an attempt to explore the hills north of the Canyon of the Arkansas bordering South Park on the south, in which work he and his men suffered extremely from cold. Toward spring they crossed Sangre de Cristo Range into San Luis Valley, where, being in Mexican territory, they were captured by a detachment of Mexican troops and taken to Santa Fe. After a period of detention they were released and returned to the United States.

During the following years many expeditions, under Fremont, Long, and others, traversed the plains in various directions. In 1840 45 Fremont explored the mountain regions, and in 1853 Captain Gunnison, commanding one of the Pacific Railroad expeditions, traversed the State from east to west by way of the Arkansas San Luis, Gunnison, and Grand River valleys. Several other army expeditions explored parts of the State, so that in its broader aspects the topographic features were pretty well known at the beginning of the American settlements. In 1870 and 1871 the Fortieth Parallel Survey mapped a strip of country between 40° 30' and 41° in latitude and extending across the mountain and plateau portions. Between 1873 and 1876 the Hayden Survey mapped, on a scale of 4 miles to an inch and with contour intervals of 200 feet, that part of the State lying west of longitude 104° 30', including all the mountain and plateau regions. This Survey published a topographic and geologic atlas of the State, which in subsequent years had a powerful influence in its development. Since the commencement of topographic work by the present Geological Survey much detailed work has been done, 34 sheets upon a scale of 1:125,000 and 18 sheets upon a scale of 1:62,500 having been prepared. The total area surveyed is in the neighborhood of 38,000 square miles, or considerably more than one-third of the total area.

There are 14 forest reserves in the State, comprising most of the mountain and plateau country. The total area of land thus reserved is 18,236 square miles, or 17 per cent of the total area.

Source: United States Geological Survey, by Henry Gannett, Department of the Interior, United States Geological Survey of Colorado, Charles D. Walcott. Director, Washington, Government Printing Office, 1906.

Colorado Gazetteer | Colorado


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