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The territory of Kansas completed the political organization of the prairies. Before 1854 there had been a great stretch of land beyond Missouri and the Indian frontier without any semblance of organization or law.

Indeed within the area whites had been forbidden to enter, since here was the final abode of the Indians. But with the Kansas-Nebraska act all this was changed. In five years a series of amorphous territories had been provided for by law.

Along the line of the frontier were now three distinct divisions. From the Canadian border to the fortieth parallel, Nebraska extended. Kansas lay between 40° and 37°. Lying west of Arkansas, the old Indian Country, now much reduced by partition, embraced the rest. The whole plains country, east of the mountains, was covered by these territorial projects. Indian Territory was without the government which its name implied, but popular parlance regarded it as the others and refused to see any difference among them.

Beyond the mountain wall which formed the western boundary of Kansas and Nebraska lay four other territories equally without particular reason for their shape and bounds. Oregon, acquired in 1846, had been divided in 1853 by a line starting at the mouth of the Columbia and running east to the Rockies, cutting off Washington territory on its northern side. The Utah territory which figured in the compromise of 1850, and which Mormon migration had made necessary, extended between California and the Rockies, from Oregon at 42° to New Mexico at 37°. New Mexico, also of the compromise year, reached from Texas to California, south of 37°, and possessed at its northeast corner a panhandle which carried it north to 38° in order to leave in it certain old Mexican settlements.

These divisions of the West embraced in 1854 the whole of the country between California and the states. As yet their boundaries were arbitrary and temporary, but they presaged movements of population which during the next quarter century should break them up still further and provide real colonies in place of the desert and the Indian Country. Congress had no formative part in the work. Population broke down barriers and showed the way, while laws followed and legalized what had been done. The map of 1854 reveals an intent to let the mountain summit remain a boundary, and contains no prophecy of the four states which were shortly to appear.

The West In 1854 Great amorphous territories now covered all the plains, and the Rocky Mountains were recognized only as a dividing line.The West In 1854 Great amorphous territories now covered all the plains, and the Rocky Mountains were recognized only as a dividing line.

For several decades the area of Kansas territory, and the southern part of Nebraska, had been well known as the range of the plains Indians,--Pawnee and Sioux, Arapaho and Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche and Apache. Through this range the caravans had gone. Here had been constant military expeditions as well. It was a common summer's campaign for a dragoon regiment to go out from Fort Leavenworth to the mountains by either the Arkansas or Platte route, to skirt the eastern slopes along the southern fork of the Platte, and return home by the other trail. Those military demonstrations, which were believed to be needed to impress the tribes, had made this march a regular performance. Colonel Dodge had done it in the thirties, Sumner and Sedgwick did it in 1857, and there had been numerous others in between. A well-known trail had been worn in this wise from Fort Laramie, on the north, through St. Vrain's, crossing the South Platte at Cherry Creek, past the Fontaine qui Bouille, and on to Bent's Fort and the New Mexican towns. Yet Kansas had slight interest in its western end. Along the Missouri the sections were quarrelling over slavery, but they had scarcely scratched the soil for one-fourth of the length of the territory.

The crest of the continent, lying at the extreme west of Kansas, lay between the great trails, so that it was off the course of the chief migrations, and none visited it for its own sake. The deviating trails, which commenced at the Missouri bend, were some 250 miles apart at the one hundred and third meridian. Here was the land which Kansas baptized in 1855 as the county of Arapahoe, and whence arose the hills around Pike's Peak, which rumor came in three years more to tip with gold.

The discovery of gold in California prepared the public for similar finds in other parts of the West. With many of the emigrants prospecting had become a habit that sent small bands into the mountain valleys from Washington to New Mexico. Stories of success in various regions arose repeatedly during the fifties and are so reasonable that it is not possible to determine with certainty the first finds in many localities. Any mountain stream in the whole system might be expected to contain some gold, but deposits large enough to justify a boom were slow in coming.

In January, 1859, six quills of gold, brought in to Omaha from the mountains, confirmed the rumors of a new discovery that had been persistent for several months. The previous summer had seen organized attempts to locate in the Pike's Peak region the deposits whose existence had been believed in, more or less, since 1850. Parties from the gold fields of Georgia, from Lawrence, and from Lecompton are known to have been in the field and to have started various mushroom settlements. El Paso, near the present site of Colorado Springs, appeared, as well as a group of villages at the confluence of the South Platte and the half-dry bottom of Cherry Creek,--Montana, Auraria, Highland, and St. Charles. Most of the gold-seekers returned to the States before winter set in, but a few, encouraged by trifling finds, remained to occupy their flimsy cabins or to jump the claims of the absentees. In the sands of Cherry Creek enough gold was found to hold the finders and to start a small migration thither in the autumn. In the early winter the groups on Cherry Creek coalesced and assumed the name of Denver City.

The news of Pike's Peak gold reached the Missouri Valley at the strategic moment when the newness of Kansas had worn off, and the depression of 1857 had brought bankruptcy to much of the frontier. The adventurous pioneers, who were always ready to move, had been reënforced by individuals down on their luck and reduced to any sort of extremity. The way had been prepared for a heavy emigration to the new diggings which started in the fall of 1858 and assumed great volume in the spring of 1859.

The edge of the border for these emigrants was not much farther west than it had been for emigrants of the preceding decade. A few miles from the Missouri River all traces of Kansas or Nebraska disappeared, whether one advanced by the Platte or the Arkansas, or by the intermediate routes of the Smoky Hill and Republican. The destination was less than half as far away as California had been. No mountains and no terrible deserts were to be crossed. The costs and hardships of the journey were less than any that had heretofore separated the frontier from a western goal. There is a glimpse of the bustling life around the head of the trails in a letter which General W. T. Sherman wrote to his brother John from Leavenworth City, on April 30, 1859: "At this moment we are in the midst of a rush to Pike's Peak. Steamboats arrive in twos and threes each day, loaded with people for the new gold region. The streets are full of people buying flour, bacon, and groceries, with wagons and outfits, and all around the town are little camps preparing to go west. A daily stage goes west to Fort Riley, 135 miles, and every morning two spring wagons, drawn by four mules and capable of carrying six passengers, start for the Peak, distance six hundred miles, the journey to be made in twelve days. As yet the stages all go out and don't return, according to the plan for distributing the carriages; but as soon as they are distributed, there will be two going and two returning, making a good line of stages to Pike's Peak. Strange to say, even yet, although probably 25,000 people have actually gone, we are without authentic advices of gold. Accounts are generally favorable as to words and descriptions, but no positive physical evidence comes in the shape of gold, and I will be incredulous until I know some considerable quantity comes in in way of trade."

"Ho For The Yellow Stone" Reproduced by permission of the Montana Historical Society, from the original handbill in its possession.

Throughout the United States newspapers gave full notice to the new boom, while a "Pike's Peak Guide," based on a journal kept by one of the early parties, found a ready sale. No single movement had ever carried so heavy a migration upon the plains as this, which in one year must have taken nearly 100,000 pioneers to the mountains. "Pike's Peak or Bust!" was a common motto blazoned on their wagon covers. The sawmill, the press, and the stagecoach were all early on the field. Byers, long a great editor in Denver, arrived in April to distribute an edition of his _Rocky Mountain News_, which he had printed on one side before leaving Omaha. Thenceforth the diggings were consistently advertised by a resident enthusiast. Early in May the first coach of the Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Express Company brought Henry Villard into Denver. In June came no less a personage than Horace Greeley to see for himself the new wonder. "Mine eyes have never yet been blessed with the sight of any floor whatever in either Denver or Auraria," he could write of the village of huts which he inspected. The seal of approval which his letters set upon the enterprise did much to encourage it.

With the rush of prospectors to the hills, numerous new camps quickly appeared. Thirty miles north along the foothills and mesas Boulder marked the exit of a mountain creek upon the plains. Behind Denver, in Clear Creek Valley, were Golden, at the mouth, and Black Hawk and Central City upon the north fork of the stream. Idaho Springs and Georgetown were on its south fork. Here in the Gregory district was the active life of the diggings. The great extent of the gold belt to the southwest was not yet fully known. Farther south was Pueblo, on the Arkansas, and a line of little settlements working up the valley, by Canyon City to Oro, where Leadville now stands.

Reaction followed close upon the heels of the boom, beginning its work before the last of the outward bound had reached the diggings. Gold was to be found in trifling quantities in many places, but the mob of inexperienced miners had little chance for fortune. The great deposits, which were some months in being discovered, were in refractory quartz lodes, calling for heavy stamp mills, chemical processes, and, above all, great capital for their working. Even for laborers there was no demand commensurate with the number of the fifty-niners. Hence, more than half of these found their way back to the border before the year was over, bitter, disgusted, and poor, scrawling on deserted wagons, in answer to the outward motto, "Busted! By Gosh!"

The problem of government was born when the first squatters ran the lines of Denver City. Here was a new settlement far away from the seat of territorial government, while the government itself was impotent. Kansas had no legislature competent to administer law at home--far less in outlying colonies. But spontaneous self-government came easily to the new town. "Just to think," wrote one of the pioneers in his diary, "that within two weeks of the arrival of a few dozen Americans in a wilderness, they set to work to elect a Delegate to the United States Congress, and ask to be set apart as a new Territory! But we are of a fast race and in a fast age and must prod along." An early snow in November, 1858, had confined the miners to their cabins and started politics. The result had been the election of two delegates, one to Congress and one to Kansas legislature, both to ask for governmental direction. Kansas responded in a few weeks, creating five new counties west of 104°, and chartering a city of St. Charles, long after St. Charles had been merged into Denver. Congress did nothing.

The prospective immigration of 1859 inspired further and more comprehensive attempts at local government. It was well understood that the news of gold would send in upon Denver a wave of population and perhaps a reign of lawlessness. The adjournment of Congress without action in their behalf made it certain that there could be no aid from this quarter for at least a year, and became the occasion for a caucus in Denver over which William Larimer presided on April 11, 1859. As a result of this caucus, a call was issued for a convention of representatives of the neighboring mining camps to meet in the same place four days later. On April 15, six camps met through their delegates, "being fully impressed with the belief, from early and recent precedents, of the power and benefits and duty of self-government," and feeling an imperative necessity "for an immediate and adequate government, for the large population now here and soon to be among us ... and also believing that a territorial government is not such as our large and peculiarly situated population demands."

The deliberations thus informally started ended in a formal call for a constitutional convention to meet in Denver on the first Monday in June, for the purpose, as an address to the people stated, of framing a constitution for a new "state of Jefferson." "Shall it be," the address demanded, "the government of the knife and the revolver, or shall we unite in forming here in our golden country, among the ravines and gulches of the Rocky Mountains, and the fertile valleys of the Arkansas and the Platte, a new and independent State?" The boundaries of the prospective state were named in the call as the one hundred and second and one hundred and tenth meridians of longitude, and the thirty-seventh and forty-third parallels of north latitude--including with true frontier amplitude large portions of Utah and Nebraska and nearly half of Wyoming, in addition to the present state of Colorado.

Map showing the routes used to get to the Pikes Peak gold fields through Kansas.
Map showing the routes used to get to the Pikes Peak gold fields through Kansas.

When the statehood convention met in Denver on June 6, the time was inopportune for concluding the movement, since the reaction had set in. The height of the gold boom was over, and the return migration left it somewhat doubtful whether any permanent population would remain in the country to need a state. So the convention met on the 6th, appointed some eight drafting committees, and adjourned, to await developments, until August 1. By this later date, the line had been drawn between the confident and the discouraged elements in the population, and for six days the convention worked upon the question of statehood. As to permanency there was now no doubt; but the body divided into two nearly equal groups, one advocating immediate statehood, the other shrinking from the heavy taxation incident to a state establishment and so preferring a territorial government with a federal treasury behind it. The body, too badly split to reach a conclusion itself, compromised by preparing the way for either development and leaving the choice to a public vote. A state constitution was drawn up on one hand; on the other, was prepared a memorial to Congress praying for a territorial government, and both documents were submitted to a vote on September 5. Pursuant to the memorial, which was adopted, another election was held on October 3, at which the local agent of the new Leavenworth and Pike's Peak Express Company, Beverly D. Williams, was chosen as delegate to Congress.

The adoption of the territorial memorial failed to meet the need for immediate government or to prevent the advocates of such government from working out a provisional arrangement pending the action of Congress. On the day that Williams was elected, these advocates chose delegates for a preliminary territorial constitutional convention which met a week later. "Here we go," commented Byers, "a regular triple-headed government machine; south of 40 deg. we hang on to the skirts of Kansas; north of 40 deg. to those of Nebraska; straddling the line, we have just elected a Delegate to the United States Congress from the 'Territory of Jefferson,' and ere long we will have in full blast a provisional government of Rocky Mountain growth and manufacture." In this convention of October 10, 1859, the name of Jefferson was retained for the new territory; the boundaries of April 15 were retained, and a government similar to the highest type of territorial establishment was provided for. If the convention had met on the authority of an enabling act, its career could not have been more dignified. Its constitution was readily adopted, while officers under it were chosen in an orderly election on October 24. Robert W. Steele, of Ohio, became its governor. On November 7 he met his legislature and delivered his first inaugural address.

The territory of Jefferson which thus came into existence in the Pike's Peak region illustrates well the spirit of the American frontier. The fundamental principle of American government which Byers expressed in connection with it is applicable at all times in similar situations. "We claim," he wrote in his _Rocky Mountain News_, "that any body, or community of American citizens, which from any cause or under any circumstance is cut off from, or from isolation is so situated as not to be under, any active and protecting branch of the central government, have a right, if on American soil, to frame a government, and enact such laws and regulations as may be necessary for their own safety, protection, and happiness, always with the condition precedent, that they shall, at the earliest moment when the central government shall extend an _effective_ organization and laws over them, give it their unqualified support and obedience." The life of the spontaneous commonwealth thus called into existence is a creditable witness to the American instinct for orderly government.

When Congress met in December, 1859, the provisional territory of Jefferson was in operation, while its delegates in Washington were urging the need for governmental action. To their influence, President Buchanan added, on February 20, 1860, a message transmitting the petition from the Pike's Peak country. The Senate, upon April 3, received a report from the Committee on Territories introducing Senate Bill No. 366, for the erection of Colorado territory, while Grow of Pennsylvania reported to the House on May 10 a bill to erect in the same region a territory of Idaho. The name of Jefferson disappeared from the project in the spring of 1860, its place being taken by sundry other names for the same mountain area. Several weeks were given, in part, to debate over this Colorado-Idaho scheme, though as usual the debate turned less upon the need for this territorial government than upon the attitude which the bill should take toward the slavery issue. The slavery controversy prevented territorial legislation in this session, but the reasonableness of the Colorado demand was well established.

The territory of Jefferson, as organized in November, 1859, had been from the first recognized as merely a temporary expedient. The movement for it had gained weight in the summer of that year from the probability that it need not be maintained for many months. When Congress, however, failed in the ensuing session of 1859-1860 to grant the relief for which the pioneers had prayed, the wisdom of continuing for a second year the life of a government admitted to be illegal came into question. The first session of its legislature had lasted from November 7, 1859, to January 25, 1860. It had passed comprehensive laws for the regulation of titles in lands, water, and mines, and had adopted civil and criminal codes. Its courts had been established and had operated with some show of authority. But the service and obedience to the government had been voluntary, no funds being on hand for the payment of salaries and expenses. One of the pioneers from Vermont wrote home, "There is no hopes [_sic_] of perfect quiet in our governmental matters until we are securely under the wing of our National Eagle." In his proclamation calling the second election Governor Steele announced that "all persons who expect to be elected to any of the above offices should bear in mind that there will be no salaries or per diem allowed from this territory, but that the General Government will be memorialized to aid us in our adversity."

Upon this question of revenue the territory of Jefferson was wrecked. Taxes could not be collected, since citizens had only to plead grave doubts as to the legality in order to evade payment. "We have tried a Provisional Government, and how has it worked," asked William Larimer in announcing his candidacy for the office of territorial delegate. "It did well enough until an attempt was made to tax the people to support it." More than this, the real need for the government became less apparent as 1860 advanced, for the scattered communities learned how to obtain a reasonable peace without it. American mining camps are peculiarly free from the need for superimposed government. The new camp at once organizes itself on a democratic basis, and in mass meeting registers claims, hears and decides suits, and administers summary justice. Since the Pike's Peak country was only a group of mining camps, there proved to be little immediate need for a central government, for in the local mining-district organizations all of the most pressing needs of the communities could be satisfied. So loyalty to the territory of Jefferson, in the districts outside of Denver, waned during 1860, and in the summer of that year had virtually disappeared. Its administration, however, held together. Governor Steele made efforts to rehabilitate its authority, was himself reëlected, and met another legislature in November.

When the thirty-sixth Congress met for its second session in December, 1860, the Jefferson organization was in the second year of its life, yet in Congress there was no better prospect of quick action than there had been since 1857. Indeed the election of Lincoln brought out the eloquence of the slavery question with a renewed vigor that monopolized the time and strength of Congress until the end of January. Had not the departure of the southern members to their states cleared the way for action, it is highly improbable that even this session would have produced results of importance.

Grow had announced in the beginning of the session a territorial platform similar to that which had been under debate for three years. Until the close of January the southern valedictories held the floor, but at last the admission of Kansas, on January 29, 1861, revealed the fact that pro-slavery opposition had departed and that the long-deferred territorial scheme could have a fair chance. On the very day that Kansas was admitted, with its western boundary at the twenty-fifth meridian from Washington, the Senate revived its bill No. 366 of the last session and took up its deliberation upon a territory for Pike's Peak. Only by chance did the name Colorado remain attached to the bill. Idaho was at one time adopted, but was amended out in favor of the original name when the bill at last passed the Senate. The boundaries were cut down from those which the territory had provided for itself. Two degrees were taken from the north of the territory, and three from the west. In this shape, between 37° and 41° north latitude, and 25° and 32° of longitude west of Washington, the bill received the signature of President Buchanan on February 28. The absence of serious debate in the passage of this Colorado act is excellent evidence of the merit of the scheme and the reasons for its being so long deferred.

President Buchanan, content with approving the bill, left the appointment of the first officials for Colorado to his successor. In the multitude of greater problems facing President Lincoln, this was neglected for several weeks, but he finally commissioned General William Gilpin as the first governor of the territory. Gilpin had long known the mountain frontier; he had commanded a detachment on the Santa Fé trail in the forties, and he had written prophetic books upon the future of the country to which he was now sent. His loyalty was unquestioned and his readiness to assume responsibility went so far as perhaps to cease to be a virtue. He arrived in Denver on May 29, 1861, and within a few days was ready to take charge of the government and to receive from the hands of Governor Steele such authority as remained in the provisional territory of Jefferson.