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Happy 136th Birthday, Colorado!
Colorado was admitted to the Union on August 1, 1876, when President Ulysses Grant proclaimed Colorado the 38th state. It immediately earned the nickname, “Centennial State” as it became a state 28 days after the Centennial of the United States.
Statehood had not come easy for Colorado; it was a long, arduous fight that began in 1859. Colorado settlers voted 2,007 to 1,649 for becoming a territory rather than a state. As a territory, the federal government paid for administering the government, which the majority of settlers believed were in favor of. In 1861, Colorado became a separate territory.
Of course, politics was involved. In 1864, Territorial Governor John Evans proposed statehood. It would have likely meant two more Republican U.S. Senators and three more electoral votes for President Lincoln’s re-election. Again, the population voted against statehood.
Lincoln won re-election anyway, but when he was assassinated his Vice President, Democrat Andrew Johnson, became president on April 15, 1865. A democrat, President Johnson clashed with the Republican Congress, which delayed Colorado’s statehood. Johnson believed the southern states should come back into the Union with full rights, but Republicans wanted to punish the South. There was also the issue of citizenship rights for African-Americans. Both Colorado and Nebraska territories were thought to bring more Republican power to Congress if they became states.
In 1865, voters in the Colorado territory did approve statehood and adopted a constitution. According to Democrats in Colorado, the decision was the result of fraudulent Republican votes. Many attempts were made to the U.S. Congress for Colorado statehood, but they all failed. By the time the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (for civil rights) was ratified in 1868, only Nebraska had become a state, the 37th.
On March 3, 1875, The United States Congress finally passed an enabling act specifying the requirements for the Territory of Colorado to become a state. Jerome Bonaparte Chaffee was the territorial representative from Colorado in Congress. He had to convince Congress that by 1875, Colorado had 150,000 people. He used projected figures, but the 1880 census showed Colorado to have194, 000 residents, proving him right. He is credited for being the “father” of Colorado statehood.
The 1876 Pueblo Celebration
The Pueblo Chieftain was low-key in its coverage of the events leading up to statehood for Colorado, and when the territory became a state on August 1, 1876 the news was acknowledged with only a small story on Page 1. Southern Colorado apparently was not terribly supportive of the idea of statehood. Even then, there was a fear that Denver would dominate the rest of the state and taxes would rise.
It was a reason to celebrate, however. In Canon City “prairie schooners, mine wagons, stagecoaches and folk on foot passed in parade before the few left on the walkways not joining them. Games, races and fireworks marked the occasion.”
Settlers from the Greenhorn Valley joined the celebration held in Pueblo. “One lady, a Mrs. Sullivan, rode horseback on her little side-saddle to the celebration and back to her home on one of the farms owned by the Christensen family little the worse from the trip excepting a bad sunburn.” Three sisters from the Valley, Katie Saylor Thomas, Mary Saylor Moore and Ida Saylor Miller rode on a float in the Pueblo parade. “Each lady attending the celebration brought home some yardage of the Centennial calico. The calico had a white background with a scroll design in brown. Within the scroll were the dates 1776 and 1876.” The fabric was used in many quilts and became familiar in the Valley.