Colorado, which joined the union as the 38th state in 1876, is America’s eighth largest state in terms of land mass. Located in the Rocky Mountain region of the western United States, the state’s abundant and varied natural resources attracted the ancient Pueblo peoples and, later, the Plains Indians. First explored by Europeans in the late 1500s (the Spanish referred to the region as “Colorado” for its red-colored earth), the area was ceded to the United States in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the Mexican-American War (1846-48). In 1858, the discovery of gold in Colorado attracted new settlers. During the Plains Indian Wars (1860s-80s), Colorado’s wild frontier was the scene of intense fighting between Native Americans and white settlers. In the 21st century, Colorado continues to rely on its natural resources as well as agriculture and tourism to sustain its economy.
Date of Statehood: August 1, 1876
Population: 5,029,196 (2010)
Size: 104,094 square miles
Nickname(s): Centennial State; Colorful Colorado
Motto: Nil sine Numine (“Nothing without the Deity”)
Tree: Colorado Blue Spruce
Flower: White and Lavender Columbine
Bird: Lark Bunting
- Mesa Verde National Park contains more than 4,000 archaeological sites—including around 600 cliff dwellings—from the Ancestral Puebloans who inhabited the area from about AD 550 to 1300. By the late 13th century, they began to migrate south to New Mexico and Arizona, where their descendants continue to live today.
- Discovered by Lieutenant Zebulon Pike in 1806 during an expedition to determine the southwestern boundary of the Louisiana Purchase, Pikes Peak became a landmark to the thousands of fortune hunters who traveled west with the slogan “Pikes Peak or Bust” on their wagons after gold was found in the area in 1858.
- On November 29, 1864, more than 150 peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians—believing themselves to be under the protection of the U.S. government—were slaughtered by close to 700 Colorado volunteer soldiers under the command of Colonel John Chivington. The atrocity devastated the tribes and served as a catalyst for years of subsequent warfare between Native American Indians and the U.S. Army.
- The lyrics to “America the Beautiful” were written by Katharine Lee Bates after an awe-inspiring trip to the top of Pikes Peak in 1893. Although it is now commonly sung to the tune “Materna,” composed by Samuel Ward in 1882, the patriotic poem was often sung to “Auld Lang Syne” in the early 20th century.
- The Colorado Rockies are part of the North American Cordillera, which sweeps the western part of the continent all the way from Alaska into northern Mexico. With 58 named peaks over 14,000 feet and an average altitude of 6,800 feet, Colorado has the highest elevation of all the states.