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Government History Chronology        Constitutional Convention of 1875       County History    

Colorado Government

The discovery of gold in 1858 brought people to the fledgling towns of Denver City, Auraria and other front range mining camps. The inhabitants of the new towns quickly realized the need for some form of government to provide law and order and to protect their rights and property. Just as local governments were established by the towns and camps, the movement began toward a territorial and a subsequent state government. The following chronology describes the events that led up to the admittance of Colorado as the 38th state of the Union on August 1, 1876.

The Colorado Constitution: Eighteen Years to Statehood

The following chronology describes the events that led up to the acceptance of Colorado's State Constitution in 1876.
November, 1858
Denver citizens formed the independent government of Arapahoe County within Kansas Territory and elected a delegate.

April, 1859
First constitutional convention met in Blake and Williams Hall on Blake Street in Denver.

September, 1859
First constitution rejected, but a provisional territorial government called the Territory of Jefferson was formed.

February, 1861
Congress created the Territory of Colorado, headed by William Gilpin.

August-September, 1861
First Legislative Assembly elected and convened.

January 5, 1863
Territorial delegate Hiram P. Bennet introduced a bill to provide statehood for Colorado but it did not pass the House.

Another constitutional convention elected and a constitution drafted but later defeated by public vote.

A new constitution framed and approved in a general election but vetoed by President Johnson.

Each session of Congress received Colorado Statehood Bills but did not pass them.

December, 1873
President Grant recommended an Enabling Act for the admission of Colorado as a state.

January, 1874
Jerome Chaffee, Colorado Territory's delegate to Congress, introduced House Bill 435 for provision of a state government.

June 8, 1874 - March 3, 1875
Bill 435 passed the House, was amended and passed by the Senate and signed by the President.

October 25, 1875
Citizens of Colorado elected a constitutional convention.

December 20, 1875
Delegates for the constitutional convention assembled.

March 14, 1876
Final draft of constitution completed and signed.

July 1, 1876
Constitution submitted to people for vote and ratified.

July 25, 1876
An official copy of the constitution taken to Washington, D.C.

August 1, 1876
President Grant issued a proclamation declaring Colorado a state.

The Constitutional Convention of 1875

The year was 1876. Thirty-nine members of the constitutional convention convened on December 20th. The total population of Colorado Territory was approximately 100,000 and a major railroad connected the territory. Knowing the time was now right for statehood, many dedicated delegates traveled almost 1000 miles over mountains and through heavy snowstorms to attend the convention at the Odd Fellow Hall in Denver. They spent 87 days preparing the constitution, taking months longer than the two earlier attempts. Committees carefully examined such topics as the control of corporate bodies, the disposition of public waters and lands, the forming and maintaining of a public school system, taxation of property, non-residents against debts, and the right to suffrage.

The constitution, completed on March 14, 1876, was modeled after the Nation's constitution. Beginning with the Bill of Rights which guaranteed all national and civil rights, it set the terms and duties of government officials and the ways in which a law could be introduced and passed. It established the State Supreme Court, district courts and county courts. It provided for the supervision and maintenance of public schools. The constitution also determined that a state census be taken in 1885 and every ten years afterward. It designated the elimination of dormant corporations. It regulated railroad lines and set up a system for state tax. Finally, it allowed for future amendments of the constitution. When submitted to the citizens for vote, 15,443 favored the constitution from a total of 19,505 votes.

Colorado's original constitution was handwritten by Fred J. Stanton, the engrossing and enrolling clerk for the constitutional convention. A copy was then penned from the original by the assistant engrossing and enrolling clerk, W.A. Salisbury. On July 25, 1876, Governor Routt dispatched his secretary, John N. Reigart, to Washington, D.C. with the copy of the constitution along with certified ordinances, votes and proclamations. President Grant declared Colorado a state on August 1, 1876 and it became known as the "Centennial State." Since then, the constitution has been the foundation of the State's government and the citizen's freedom. Colorado's constitution today remains very similar to the original constitution conceived for statehood in 1876. The original is preserved in the Colorado State Archives. A printed copy of the 1876 State Constitution may be viewed in pdf format on this website.

Creation of Colorado Counties

Colorado Territory was established by Congress on February 28, 1861. The first Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Colorado convened on September 9, 1861. They quickly enacted laws establishing the seventeen original counties.

The Original Territorial Counties and Their County Seats in 1861

     County                   County Seat

1.   Arapahoe                 Denver

2.   Boulder                  Boulder

3.   Clear Creek              Idaho

4.   Costilla                 San Miguel

5.   Douglas                  Franktown

6.   El Paso                  Colorado City

7.   Fremont                  Canon City

8.   Gilpin                   Central City

9.   Guadaloupe(later Conejos)Guadaloupe

10.  Huerfano                 Autobees

11.  Jefferson                Golden City

12.  Lake                     Oro City

13.  Larimer                  La Porte

14.  Park                     Tarryall City

15.  Pueblo                   Pueblo

16.  Summit                   Parkville

17.  Weld                     St. Vrain  

The Present Counties of Colorado

The following list shows the dates of establishment of the present day 64 counties and the origin of the county names.


Named in honor of Governor Alva Adams, who served two terms and sixty days as governor of the state. It was created from the north half of the previously existing Arapahoe County.

Formed from the northern portions of Conejos and Costilla counties. Alamosa is a Spanish word meaning "cottonwood grove". Spanish pioneers gave the name to a creek within the existing county. The name was next given to the town and finally to the county.

Named for the Arapaho Indians who had inhabited eastern Colorado. Originally, the county extended all the way to the Kansas/Colorado border.

Named in honor of Antonio D.Archuleta, who was the Senator from Conejos County when it was divided to form Archuleta county.

Named, at the suggestion of Senator Barela, for the Baca family of Trinidad. A member of this family had been the first settler on Two Buttes Creek.

Takes its name from Bent's Fort which was located on the north bank of the Arkansas River, near present day La Junta, and from the Bent brothers who founded the fort in 1828-1832.

Named after Boulder City and Boulder Creek, which were given their names from the abundance of boulders in the area.

Broomcorn grown in the area originally inspired the name for the community called Broomfield. The city existed in 4 counties until it became the City and County of Broomfield.

Named in honor of Senator Jerome B. Chaffee who retired from the United States Senate the year the county was formed.

Named after the Cheyenne Indians who occupied much of eastern Colorado for many centuries.

Gained its name from the stream that traverses the county. The creek was first called Vasquez Fork, and later changed to the present name.

Conejos is the Spanish work for "rabbit". The name was given to the river which flowed through the area by the early Spaniards of New Mexico long before non-Indian settlement of the region began. The name was then adopted by the town and then the county.

Costilla is the Spanish word for "rib" and for "furring timber". The Costilla River was named by the Spaniards prior to 1800. The town and then the county took the name.

Was one of the later counties created. It was named for John H. Crowley, who was the Senator from Otero County at the time that county was divided to form Crowley.

Named after General George A. Custer, who, along with his men, died at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana.

Took its name from the city of Delta, which was named for its location on the delta of the Uncompahgre River.

Named after General James W. Denver, who was Governor of Kansas in 1858. When Denver was founded it was located in Kansas Territory. The City of Denver prior to 1902 was located in old Arapahoe County.

Derived its name from the Dolores River. The full Spanish name, which was reported by Father Escalante in 1776, was Rio de Nuestro Senora de los Dolores (River of our Lady of Sorrows).

Named in honor of Stephen A. Douglas, who died in the year of the creation of Colorado's first counties.

Acquired its name from the Eagle River which flows through the county. This river had previously been called Piney River by General Fremont who explored the area in 1845.

Named in recognition of Samuel H. Elbert, governor of Colorado when the county was formed.

El Paso is the Spanish word for "the Pass". Ute pass, west of Colorado Springs, was the famous pass the name references.

Named for General John C. Fremont, who explored the region before 1850.

Named in honor of President James A. Garfield.

Named for Colonel William Gilpin, who was the first territorial governor of Colorado.

Named after Grand Lake and the Grand River which are located in the County. The Grand River name was later changed to the Colorado River.

Along with the town and river, this county was named after Captain John W. Gunnison, who explored the region in 1853 and was killed later that year in a battle with the Ute Indians in Utah.

Named in honor of George A. Hinsdale, a prominent pioneer and leader in southern Colorado, former Lt. Governor of Colorado, who died during the month preceding the creation of Hinsdale County.

Huerfano is the Spanish word for "orphan". The county was named after the Huerfano River which flows through the area. It was so named from Huerfano Butte which is an isolated, cone-shaped butte located in the river bottom area.

This county is thought to have been named after President Andrew Jackson.

Took its name from the unofficial Jefferson Territory, the extra-legal government that preceded the Colorado Territory. The name was adopted in honor of President Thomas Jefferson.

Derived its name from the Kiowa Indians who hunted and lived in eastern Colorado before European's arrived.

Named after the mountain man and Indian scout Kit Carson, who lived from 1809-1868.

Assumed its name from the Twin Lakes, a large geographic feature of the area.

La Plata is the Spanish word for "silver". Silver was discovered by the Spaniards in the region during the 18th century. The name La Plata was first given to the river and mountains. The name was subsequently adopted by the county.

Named in honor of General William Larimer, who was one of the founders of Denver and prominent pioneer of Colorado.

LAS ANIMAS COUNTY (1866)Took its name from the main river which flows through the area. The complete name of this river, discovered and christened by the early Spanish explorers, is El Rio de los Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio (River of the Souls Lost in Purgatory).

Named to honor President Abraham Lincoln.

Named for General John A. Logan, who passed away shortly before the organization of the county.

Mesa is the Spanish word for "table". The county was named because of the mesas, or tablelands, which were quite common in the county. However, some say the name originated from the geographic feature called "Grand Mesa", which is the largest flat top mountain in the world.

Named for the many valuable minerals which were found in the mountains and streams of the county.

Was one of the last counties created. It was named for David H. Moffat, who was a Colorado pioneer and railroad builder.

Acquired its name from the famous chief of the Aztec Indians of Mexico. The prehistoric building ruins of Mesa Verde National Park, which are located in the county, were originally thought to have been built by the Aztecs.

Received its name from the City of Montrose which is surmised to have been named after Sir Walter Scott's The Legend of Montrose was published in 1819.

Took its name from Fort Morgan. The original fort was in existence from 1865-1868. It was established as a protection post against the indians and was originally called "Junction" or "Camp Wardell". In 1866 the post became known as Fort Morgan in memory of Colonel Christopher A. Morgan, who died earlier that year.

Named after Miguel Otero, one of the founders of the town of La Junta. He was also a member of a prominent Spanish family of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.

Named for Chief Ouray, who was a distinguish Ute Indian chief. Chief Ouray and his wife Chipeta were one of the several native American chieftain's who sought to live in peace with the non-Indian settlers and miners.

Was one the seventeen territorial counties and acquired its name from the geographic region known as "South Park". This area was named by the early fur traders and trappers who first explored the region.

Named for the secretary of the Lincoln Land Company, R.O. Phillips, who organized several towns in eastern Colorado.

Named for the Colorado governor Frederick Pitkin, who was in office at the time the county was formed.

Named after John W. Prowers, who was a leading pioneer in the lower Arkansas valley region.

Pueblo is the Spanish word for "town" or "village". The group of adobe houses built at the site of the present City of Pueblo in 1841-1842 came to be known as "the pueblo". The name was then adopted by the city and then suggested as the name for the county.

Rio Blanco is the Spanish name for White River. The county adopted the name Rio Blanco from the river which runs through the area. It is said that the Spanish explorer, Father Escalante, originally named the stream Rio San Clemente.

Was one of the counties created before Colorado became a state. The county derived its name from the river of the same name which flows through the county. The original name given to the river by the Spanish was Rio Grande del Norte (Great River of the North).

Named in honor of Governor John L. Routt, the last territorial and first state governor of Colorado.

Acquired its name from a Ute indian word meaning "blue earth" or "water at blue earth". The name was initially applied to a stream in the area, then the town and eventually to the county. The county sits at the upper end of the San Luis Valley.

Was originally part of La Plata County. Its name is Spanish for Saint John. Early explorers to the region applied the name to the river and mountain ranges. Eventually, the name was given to the region and the county.

San Miguel is the Spanish word for Saint Michael. The name was used by the early Spanish explorers to reference the main river of the area. It was later chosen as the name for this county.

Named for Fort Sedgwick, a military post along the Platte Trail, which existed from approximately 1864- 1871. This fort was located across the South Platte River, from the present day town of Ovid. The post was named in honor of General John Sedgwick who led Union military campaigns into the area.

Was one of the seventeen territorial counties. The county derived its' name from the many mountain summits located within the county.

Named to honor U.S. Senator Henry M. Teller, who served the state for a number of years.

Named in honor of President George Washington.

Named for Lewis Ledyard Weld, who was appointed by President Abraham Lincoln as the first Secretary of the Colorado Territory.

Was originally part of Washington County and named after the ancient Yuma Indians who inhabited the area.

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Last modified April 18, 2001