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Prehistoric Times

130 million years ago dinosaurs roamed the earth. They left behind their bones, their eggs, their teeth, their footprints. As the earth entered a wetter era, these were covered with mud and the waters of an inland sea. When the earth began to dry again, remains of these ancient creatures were gradually exposed. The fossilized remains of the dinosaurs have been found throughtout Colorado, but some of the most important discoveries were made just north of Caņon City, beginning in 1877. For more information about this aspect of the history of Fremont County, visit the Dinosaur Depot web site.

20,000 B.C.E. to 1300 C.E. humans visit the Colorado Country for the first time as nomads hunting mammoths, bison and deer. Over time, these Paleo-Indians learn increasingly complex skills--they weave baskets and sandals, carve wood and stone into weapons, make pottery, grow crops and construct shelters. Eventually they live in close-knit communities called pueblos or cliff-dwellings. But, then they are gone. Reasons for their disappearance are still being debated. The later-arriving tribes knew them only as "the Ancient Ones." A helpful site for more information is the Colorado Bureau of Land Management's Anasazi Heritage Center.

New Era in an Old Land

1492 Columbus reaches North America.
1540 Francisco Vasquez de Coronado fails to locate the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola but claims the entire desert southwest for Spain as he travels as far north as the Arkansas River.
1610 Santa Fe is settled by Spain and becomes the colonial capital of New Mexico
1620 The Mayflower brings English Pilgrims to North America where they establish Plymouth Colony, later to become part of Massachusetts. Far to the west, the Utes hunt long-established territories in the Rocky Mountains.
1682 Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle claims lands drained by the Mississippi River for France. This includes the Arkansas River and its tributaries.
1706 Juan de Ulibarri leads a party of Spanish soldiers from Taos to the Arkansas River. Their reports reveal that Apaches living in villages east of present-day Pueblo are using French trade goods.
1727-1740 Utes are at war with the Comanches for control of the Arkansas basin. Comanches' tribal name said to be from the Ute word Komantcia - "anyone who wants to fight me all the time."
1763 Treaty of Paris ends the French & Indian War, granting French territories east of the Mississippi River to England and western areas known as Louisiana to Spain.
1776 Continental Congress in Philadelphia officially proclaims its Declaration of Independence from England, causing escalation of the American Revolution.
1779 Juan Bautista de Anza sent north by Mexico to control the Indians. His troops kill Chief Cuerno Verde (Greenhorn) and others southwest of present-day Pueblo. The name given to Greenhorn peak commemorates this event.
1800/1801 Napoleon orchestrates the Secret Treaty of San Ildefonso & Treaty of Madrid, which returns Louisiana to France.

Enter the United States

1803 The Louisiana Purchase acquires 800,000 square miles for the United States at a price of $15 million. Boundaries of the territory are only tentatively known.
1806 While searching for the boundaries of the Louisiana Territory, Zebulon Pike first sights the mountain peak that will one day bear his name and camps at the mouth of the Grande Canyon of the Arkansas (Royal Gorge).
1819 Adams-Onis Treaty sets the border between Spanish and American territories at the Arkansas River.
1820 Men from Major Stephen Long's party are the first to scale Pikes Peak. They are here searching for the headwaters of the Platte, Red and Arkansas Rivers.
1821 Santa Fe Trail opens, increasing access to newly independent Mexico, who has inherited Spain's claims to Colorado.
1824-1840 Fur trade sends brigades of mountain men into the Rockies in search of pelts. William Bent, of Bent's Fort fame, may have built his first trading post between present Florence and Portland. He protected Cheyenne allies from Comanche raiders before moving downriver to La Junta in 1833.
1836 Sam Houston leads the Texas army to victory, winning independence from Mexico. Future Fremont County south of the Arkansas River and all of Custer County are claimed by the Republic of Texas. Texas will not become a state until 1845.

White Settlers Arrive

1838 Maurice Le Duc and others establish Buzzard's Roost, a trading post at the foot of the Wet Mountains above Hardscrabble Creek. He allies himself with the Utes, who have been forced to retreat into the mountains by encroaching Plains tribes.
1843-1848 Matthew Kinkead starts a ranch at the mouth of Penasco (Hardscrabble) Canyon, and, downstream, an adobe trading post and agricultural settlement known as Hardscrabble is populated by a lively mix of Europeans, Mexicans, Indians and Americans. The birth of Isabel Simpson is celebrated there as the first known white birth in the Fremont/Custer County region. John C. Fremont passes through on his way home from the 1843 expedition. He returns in 1845 and 1848, stopping at Hardscrabble each time for supplies and scouting advice.
1846-1848 Mexican War fails to return Texas to Mexico, but new boundaries are drawn. Present Fremont County south of the Arkansas and all of Custer County are placed in New Mexico Territory.
1854 Southern Colorado north of the Arkansas and as far west as the Continental Divide is attached to Kansas Territory.

Gold in Them Thar Hills

1858-1859 Parties of 49ers return to Rocky Mountain regions they first visited on their way to or from the California gold fields a decade earlier. Some prospectors believe they struck it rich. Others know the value of exaggeration. Boom towns are laid out by speculators and a gold rush named for Pikes Peak, the travelers' landmark, has begun. Supply towns appear up and down the front range, including one called Caņon City that sits on the trails to new diggings in Bayou Salado (South Park). Jefferson Territory is proclaimed to exist, but never made a legal entity. Its boundaries resemble those of the future Colorado.
1860 Caņon City Claim Club is organized to govern the newly-platted settlement. A newspaper called the "Canon City Times" premiers that autumn and announces meetings to discuss a school and a church in the community. First water rights for agricultural irrigation are recorded on Hardscrabble Creek. The presence of both coal and oil are noted by Fremont County settlers.

Colorado Territory

1861 Colorado becomes a territory and the First Territorial Legislature authorizes formation of Fremont County with Caņon City as the county seat. Custer County is part of Fremont County at this time. Civil War causes many men to leave the frontier and return to "the States" to serve. Both sides recruit in this area, with a Union unit training at Caņon City and Confederate units drilling at Fairplay and Mace's Hole (Beulah). Families left to fend for themselves trickle away until Caņon City is nearly abandoned.
1862 Homestead Act is passed granting 160 acres to anyone who will live on the land and make improvements. America's farm-minded citizens begin to move west onto the eligible public lands. The first producing oil well west of Pennsylvania is drilled in the Garden Park area north of Caņon City, but the Florence Oil Field will soon be the hub of the petroleum industry in this area.
1864-1869 Wagon trains of immigrants arrive from "the States", settling throughout the Fremont/Custer County region. Fruit-growing industry blossoms as the first apple trees are imported and orchard planting begins.
1870-1873 Germans from Chicago arrive in the Wet Mountain Valley to establish an agricultural colony they call Colfax. The cooperative effort fails, but some members stay and succeed as individual ranchers. Elsewhere in the Valley, mineral strikes lead to organization of the Hardscrabble Mining District. Ula and Rosita are among early towns laid out there.
1870-1875 First inmate arrives at Colorado's Territorial Penitentiary, built on the west edge of Caņon City. Denver & Rio Grande railroad reaches Florence on its way to Coal Creek, the first of the coal camps.

Colorado Statehood

1876 Colorado becomes a state at a time when the United States is already 100 years old. This accounts for Colorado's nickname, the Centennial State.
1877-1881 Custer County is established as a county independent from Fremont County. Ula is chosen to be the county seat, but within months that title is given to Rosita. Huge silver strike called Bassick is the beginning of Querida. Silver Cliff and Westcliffe soon follow. Some ore is being shipped to Caņon City for processing. Wetmore becomes a trading center for eastern Fremont and Custer County cattlemen.
1877-1880 Although the nation is at peace, "War" is the local word of the day. Dinosaur fossils found north of Caņon City have drawn national interest, and "bone wars" between such eastern experts as Marsh and Cope continue for several years. Meanwhile, "railroad wars" between the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad and the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe cause both lines to frantically survey and build into the Royal Gorge. A court has to decide which line has rights through the Gorge because there is only room for one. The D&RG is the victor. Howard, Coaldale and Cotopaxi areas develop to the west, Rockvale and Williamsburg appear in the east, and new mining strikes at Leadville increase traffic through the entire area.
1882 Cotopaxi agricultural colony is settled by Jews from Russia. Unprepared for the dry climate or the altitude, many choose to leave rather than to go to work in the mines.
1881-1884 Custer County is booming. The county seat moves from Rosita to Silver Cliff. Westcliffe is founded as the Denver & Rio Grande opens its Grape Creek line to the area.
1886-1891 Orchards and produce production give birth to Lincoln Park, while the booming coal companies establish Brookside and Chandler.
1890-1894 Attention turns to the north, where gold has been found at Cripple Creek. Shelf Road opens between Caņon City and Cripple Creek. Florence builds nine smelters and reduction mills and the Florence & Cripple Creek rail line up Phantom Canyon opens to transport ore and miners.
1900-1902 The Texas Creek railroad branch opens to Westcliffe. DeWeese Reservoir is designed and built in the Wet Mountain Valley north of Westcliffe to deliver irrigation water through a series of ditches to Caņon City and Lincoln Park. Caņon City's James H. Peabody is elected Governor of Colorado. His tenure is plagued with labor unrest.
1900-1905 Portland Cement and U.S. Portland have mills east of Florence. Their company towns are named with humor: Portland, Cement and Concrete. The two companies will merge in the 1920s to form Ideal Cement.
1905-1908 Prospect Heights and Penrose are platted. Inmate labor builds Skyline Drive on the hogback west of Caņon City, Congress deeds Royal Gorge Park to the City of Caņon City and Tunnel Drive is opened. It appears that the tourism era has arrived.
1910-1914 Movie companies discover the pleasant climate and grand scenery and locate studios in Caņon City, but their presence is short-lived. Labor unrest throughout Colorado's coal fields becomes a local problem as violence shakes Chandler.
1921 Heavy rains cause Shaefer Dam on Beaver Creek above Penrose to burst. The resulting floods destroy Glendale and cause horrific damage downstream all the way to Pueblo. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe suffers such damage that the lines are never rebuilt causing AT&SF to lease track rights from D&RG.
1924-1928 The Ku Klux Klan organizes a Klavern in Caņon City. Upset by the immigration of southern European miners and the growing influence of the Catholic Church, the Klan gains local political power, and eventually locates its state headquarters in Caņon City briefly. Gaining control of the Republican party, they elect Klansmen for governor and many lesser offices.
1929 The most deadly prison riot ever to occur in Colorado kills twelve at Canon City. Royal Gorge bridge, the world's highest suspension bridge, opens.
1930s The Depression is felt throughout the area. Radiant mine camp becomes a transient camp called Kenwood. When it closes, the buildings are sold and moved into local towns.
1939 Rosita native Ralph Carr is elected governor of Colorado.
1941-1945 World War II boosts agricultural production and military installations in our area of Colorado. German prisoners of war housed at Camp Carson near Colorado Springs are used to replace laborers lost when local men leave to serve in the war.
1967 Last Denver & Rio Grande passenger train runs through Caņon City.
1980s Rafting industry comes to the area, eventually transporting a quarter million tourists down the Arkansas River each season.
1990 Groundbreaking for the Federal Correctional Center south of Florence. Since the single territorial penitentiary has gradually grown to nine state prisons, Fremont County becomes known as the Corrections Capital of America with a total of thirteen facilities.


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