Updated: Aug 3, 2022
Before Colorado was a safe utopian haven for consumption patients, it encountered an influx of prospectors looking for gold. What was originally called Pike’s Peak Gold Rush (later known as the Colorado Gold Rush) was the boom in prospective gold found in the region beginning July 1858 and lasted until Colorado was named a territory on February 28, 1861. It is estimated that around 100,000 prospectors took part in this gold rush – one of the greatest gold rushes in North American history and is a major contributor to Colorado’s rich heritage.
Pike’s Peak or Bust!
The Pike’s Peak Gold Rush followed California’s famous gold rush by about a decade, and those in participation were referred to as “Fifty-Niners” after 1859 – the peak year of Colorado’s gold rush. The motto used by those in participation was “Pike’s Peak or Bust!” and soon became synonymous with the excursion due to Pike’s Peak, the prominent mountain at the eastern edge of the Rockies that guided many of the migrants and immigrants to the region over the Great Plains.
The Prospect of Gold Following California
As the California Gold Rush died down, discouraged gold seekers began going back home, but rumors of gold within the Rocky Mountains kept surfacing. Small parties of prospectors began searching the area in search of the rumored gold, and in 1857, a party of Spanish-speaking gold seekers out of New Mexico worked a placer deposit along the South Platte River near Cherry Creek, which is now currently the Denver metropolitan area.
The first decade of Pike Peak’s Gold Rush was highly concentrated along the South Platte River. This was where Denver City and Boulder City would be established as mining camps. The influx of mining camps and the prospect of gold in Colorado sent more people into the area, which helped boost the population and create the eventual Territory of Colorado. Even at the peak of the gold rush in Colorado in the spring of 1859, many of them tried to get a head start on the action by arriving in the winter of 1858 but were forced to wait until the snow cleared.
The Creation of Mining Camps
As prospectors moved in, mining camps began popping up across the region. While many of the smaller camps like Auraria and Saint Charles City would be absorbed by larger camps, some of them survived, including Central City, Black Hawk, Georgetown, and Idaho Springs. Some would even turn into major cities that still exist today, like Denver City and Boulder City.
Colorado’s Heritage Lives On
Even with the gold rush fizzling out around the same time that Colorado became a recognized territory, it was still the beginning of establishing the area and recognizing its significance. As time went on, more people began moving into the area, not for gold but for Colorado’s environmental resources – namely the climate, fresh air, and altitude – said to be good for those who were living with consumption (tuberculosis). Today, Colorado is still a land of immense beauty and riches, even if the gold rush ended over a century ago.