Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Colorado

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COLORADO, one of the United States of North America. Boundaries: N., Wyoming and Nebraska; E., Nebraska and Kansas; S., the Indian Territory and New Mexico; and W., Utah. Latitude, between 37° and 41° N.; longitude, from 102° to 109° W. Breadth N. to S. about 280 miles, length E. to W. about 380. Area estimated at 106,500 square miles, or 68,160,000 acres. Population, 120,000.

Mountains.—This territory is traversed from north to south by the great continental chain of the Rocky Mountains, and according to its orographical configuration may be divided into a mountain district, a hill district, and a plain district. The principal range of these mountains bears the name of the Sawatch Range. It consists of a solid mass of granite, has an average elevation of 13,500 feet, presents a broad and massive outline, and has a mean breadth of from fifteen to twenty miles. It is really a prolongation of the Sierra Madre of Mexico, and up to about 40° N. lat. it forms the dividing line between the Atlantic and the Pacific versants. Beginning at the south we have the following peaks:—Mount Bowles, 14,106 feet; twelve miles northward, Mount Howard, 14,208; eleven miles to the north-east, La Plata Mount, 14,126; seven miles from La Plata, Grizzly Peak, 13,786, and Mount Elbert, 14,150; and six miles from Mount Elbert, Massive Mountain, 14,192. For about eighteen miles north of this last elevation the range is comparatively low, but it rises again in the great terminal peak of the Holy Cross, which attains a height of 13,478 feet, and owes its name to the figure emblazoned on its summit by the white lines of its snow-filled ravines. Second only in importance to the Sawatch range are the Elk Mountains, which strike off from it in a south-west direction, and extend for a distance of upwards of thirty miles. They are geologically interesting for the almost unexampled displacement of the strata of which they are composed, and the apparent confusion which has thence arisen. Among the most remarkable of its separate summits are Italian Mountain, 13,431 feet in height, so called because it displays the red, white, and green of the Italy national colours; Whiterock Mountain, 13,847 feet; Teocalli Mountain, 13,274; Crested Butte, 12,014; Gothic Mountain, 12,491; Snow Mass, 13,961; Maroon Mountain, 14,000; Castlepeak, 14,106; Capitol, 13,992, and Sopris Peak, 12,972. Of less importance, but still distinct and well defined, are the Wet Mountains in the south-east, the Raton Mountains in the south, and the Uncompahgre Mountains in the south-west. The eastern series of elevations which abut on the region of the plains are known as the Front Range, and present a fine bold outline, broken by several peaks of about 14,000 feet or upwards in height. One of the most remarkable features of the orography of Colorado is the unusual development of its upland valleys, or “parks,” to use the term that has become distinctively their own. The four most extensive are known respectively as the North, the Middle, the South, and the San Luis; the last is by far the finest of the four. They stretch almost in a line from the southern to the northern boundary of the State, just on the western side of the Front Range, and occupy an average breadth of 50 miles. The San Luis Park is, as it were, an “immense elliptical bowl” with an area of 9400 square miles, bounded on the E. by the Wet Mountains and the Sangre de Cristo range, and on the W. by the Sierra de San Juan, which is part of the great Sierra Miembres. Its surface is nearly as flat as a lake, and it almost certainly was at one time the bed of a great inland sea. The centre of the northern part, which bears the distinctive title of the Rincon, is still occupied by a considerable sheet of water, fed by nineteen mountain streams, and accustomed in the winter to overflow a large stretch of the neighbouring savannah. The southern part, which continues onwards into New Mexico, is traversed by the Rio del Norte and several of its tributaries.

Rivers.—Of the rivers of the Atlantic versant, the most important are the South Platte, the Arkansas, and the Rio Grande del Norte; those of the Pacific are all members of the great Colorado River. The South Platte has its head waters in Buckskin Mountain, and its earlier tributaries flow from the slopes of the northern part of the Front Range. At its source at Montgomery it has a height above the sea of 11,176 feet; at its exit from the upper cañon it is still 7623, but by the time it reaches Denver it is only 5176. The Arkansas rises in the same district, at a height of 10,176 above the sea, in Tennessee Pass, but as it leaves Chalk Creek has come down to 7877. In the upper part of its course it passes through a cañon from 1000 to 1500 feet in depth. The Rio Grande del Norte has its head waters in the Sawatch range and the Sangre de Cristo range, and flows south through the valley San Luis Park. The river which gives its name to the State belongs to the territory only by some of its most important tributaries, of which it is sufficient to mention the Bear River, and the Gunnison and Grand River, which unite before they pass into the territory of Utah. The numerous minor “creeks” which feed the main streams must not be forgotten in forming an idea of the main features of the country.

Minerals.—Colorado is pre-eminently a mineral district, and to this fact it owes its colonization. It possesses extensive deposits of gold and silver ore, and between the years 1859 and 1872 it furnished to the United States mint upwards of $20,000,000 worth of the former metal and $1,114,542 of the latter. Iron is pretty widely diffused, and zinc and copper occur in many of the mines. Coal is also found extensively on both sides of the main range of mountains; the area occupied by the Tertiary deposits being no less than 7200 square miles, and the annual yield about 200,000 tons. The mining districts are five in number, and are distinguished as the district of the northern mines, the mines of the eastern base, the Conejos county mines, the southern mines, and the mines of Summit County. At Murphy's mine, about twelve miles from Denver, the stratum is about 16 feet thick, and the percentage of fixed carbon is found to be 55·31.

The climate of Colorado is remarkable for its regularity and salubrity. During the day the thermometer not unfrequently rises to 90° in summer, but the nights are always cool and dewless. In winter the weather is generally mild,—the lowest thermometric marking being only 7° below zero, in Middle Park 15°, and in Denver 13°. Snow often lies deep in the higher inhabited districts, but in the lowlands it is never more than 10 or 12 inches, and it disappears again almost immediately. All through the year the atmosphere is so dry and light that butcher meat can be preserved by the simplest process of desiccation. Between July and October there is very little rain, day after day bringing a bright and cloudless sky. “An air more delicious to breathe,” says Bayard Taylor, “cannot anywhere be found; it is neither too sedative nor too exciting, but has that pure, sweet, flexible quality which seems to support all one's happiest and healthiest moods.” For asthmatic and consumptive patients it exercises a restorative influence which cannot be disputed; and the State consequently promises to become an extensive sanatorium for the eastern districts of the continent. The only flaw in the climate of Colorado is its violent storms of wind, and in some parts of the country heavy falls of hail. It would seem, however, that the humidity is on the increase; and whatever be its cause, the change is quite perceptible since the colonization of the territory. The Cache à la Poudre, for instance, is said to be yearly increasing in volume, and streams which formerly dried up in the summer now maintain a continuous flow. Among the secondary hygienic advantages of which Colorado can boast, the mineral wells hold an important place. They occur in various parts of the country, and belong to different classes. Chalybeate waters are found at Manitou, Carlisle, and Red Creek; soda springs at Manitou, Trinidad, and Cañon City; sulphur springs at Fairplay, on the Navajo River, and at Idaho springs; and thermal springs, partly sulphur and partly soda, exist at Pagosa, in the Middle Park, in Seguache County, at Wagon Wheel Gap, and at Del Norte. Manitou is already becoming a fashionable watering-place; the fountains and the surrounding land were purchased by a company in 1870; and in 1873 there were already six large hotels and numerous private residences erected round the spot. In the lowland districts water for drinking is very scarce; but supplies can frequently be obtained by the sinking of Artesian wells.

Vegetation.—The mountains of Colorado were, till a comparatively recent date, richly clothed with forest; but owing partly to natural causes, and still more to the lavish consumption and reckless destruction of the early settlers, the quantity of growing timber in the State is exceedingly small, and before long, if restorative measures are not adopted, the Colorado demand for wood will require to be supplied from without. Whole mountain sides often present the appearance of monstrous cheavaux-de-frise, the dead trunks of the wind-thrown pines being tossed about in all directions. The principal trees, after the pine, are the so-called hemlock and cedar, the cotton wood, and the aspen (or Populus tremuloides). The minor flora of the country is exceedingly rich; and especially in the plain region the abundance of flowers is amazing. “The colour of the landscape,” says |Dilke, “is in summer green and flowers; in fall time yellow and flowers; but flowers ever.”

Agriculture.—Wherever irrigation can be obtained the soil of eastern Colorado is well fitted for agriculture. Wheat, oats, and barley afford heavy crops; potatoes succeed except in the extreme south, and owing to the dryness of the atmosphere are easily kept; onions vie in size and flavour with any in the continent; beans might be grown more extensively, but they suffer from the attacks of a small insect, possibly a species of Haltica; and almost all the garden products of the same latitude in Europe can be satisfactorily cultivated. The wheat affords a very white dry flour, and competes with the finest in the markets of the world. The yield often reaches forty or fifty bushels per acre, and in exceptional cases considerably exceeds this amount. In the higher districts—the parks and the mountain-valleysa greater proportion of ground is devoted to pasture either of sheep or cattle. The native grasses are of excellent quality as fodder; and during the winter the natural hay that has withered where it grew is preferred by the cattle to the best that can be furnished by the labours of the husbandman. In certain districts the pastoral departments of husbandry have had to be abandoned, owing to the presence of poisonous plants, the most important of which seems to be Oxytropis Lamberti; but these districts are of very limited extent. The cost of pasturing is merely nominal, as the cattle can be driven over extensive districts, under the charge of Mexican or Indian herdsmen. Wool can be produced for ten cents per lb., and a four-year-old steer for ten dollars. The chief plague of the agriculturist is the locust, or grasshopper, as it is called in America. This insect is usually hatched in the month of June, when the cereals are well advanced; but occasionally in dryer and warmer seasons it appears as early as April and does great damage to the young crops. Another insect, the Doryphora decemlineata, popularly known as the Colorado Beetle (see p. 134 of the present volume), has recently become famous for its attacks on the potato, not only in this State but as far east as Ohio. It appears formerly to have fed on the Solanum rostratum, but to have found the new tuber a better habitat.

History.—Recent explorations have shown that the western parts, at least, of the Colorado territory were at one time inhabited by a native American race of considerable civilization, who were perhaps connected or even identical with the Moquis of the regions further south. The first important European mission was that of Vasquez Coronado, despatched from Mexico in 1540. In 1821 the Rocky Mountains were visited by S. T. Long, the American engineer; and part of the northern district was pretty fully explored by Captain J. C. Fremont during the great expedition of 1843. It was not till 1858 that the Indian tribes were disturbed in their sparsely-peopled hunting grounds; but in that year the discovery of gold by W. G. Russell, a Georgian, on the banks of the River Platte, near the present city of Denver, attracted general attention, and bands of pioneers poured in from Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri. During 1860, 1861, and 1862, there was a continuous stream of immigration; Denver, Black Hawk, Golden City, Central City, Mount Vernon, and Nevada city were all founded in 1859; next year saw the rise of Breckenridge, Empire, and Gold Hill; George Town and Mill City were added in 1861, and Ward District was settled in 1862. In 1861 the region was organized as a territory in accordance with the wish of the inhabitants, who had held a convention at Denver in 1859; its area was declared to include 47,657,000 acres previously assigned to the territories of Utah and Kansas, 10,262,400 from that of Nebraska, and 8,960,000 from New Mexico, making a total of 66,880,000. The first governor was William Gilpin, a Pennsylvanian by birth and a Quaker in religion, who has done a great deal for the development of the territory, and was the originator of the scheme by which it was made to include part of both slopes of the Sierra. From 1862 to 1865 the natural progress of immigrational movement was checked, partly by the great national struggle, and partly by the local Indian war which broke out in 1864, and for a time rendered the routes extremely unsafe, and even threatened the existence of the new settlements. Many of the sites, indeed, were deserted, and large numbers of the miners left the country. In this way Empire greatly decayed, and Gold Dirt and Bakerville absolutely disappeared. Happily it was only the Indians of the plains who took part in the attacks, and though they numbered from 10,000 to 15,000, they were quickly quelled. In 1865 the immigration again flowed on; and it was found that at the census of 1870 the population was 39,864 citizens, distributed into 9358 families, and inhabiting 10,009 houses. The proportion of males to females was 24,820 to 15,044. Since that date the population has very rapidly increased, and it was estimated at 120,000 in 1874. Colorado was received into the Union as a State in 1877.

(Compiled according to Census of 1880 and latest surveys.)
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