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Colorado Springs History & Heritage

Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum

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Colorado Springs history stretches back many hundreds of years. The area’s first inhabitants were American Indian people. The Ute, Cheyenne, Arapaho and other tribes gathered at the base of Pikes Peak, near its abundant springs and in what is now called Garden of the Gods Park. During the 1700s both French and Spanish flags flew over the region. But with the Louisiana Purchase more Anglo-American explorers and settlers began to venture west.

In November 1806, American explorer Zebulon Pike traveled through the area and is credited for “discovering” Pikes Peak. He and his group attempted to reach the summit, but they were neither dressed nor equipped to climb the mountain that ultimately came to bear his name.

In 1859, Colorado Springs history is marked with the founding of Colorado City which became the first settlement in the Pikes Peak region. It was the territorial capitol for a short period and served as a supply camp for miners traveling to the mining camps west of Denver.

General William Jackson Palmer, a Civil War hero from Pennsylvania, ushered in a new era in Colorado Springs history in 1869. During his first visit to the area, he fell in love with its “most enticing scenery.” He predicted that there would soon be a great resort town at the base of Pikes Peak. One year later, he founded the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad and purchased land to create Colorado Springs along its route. In 1871, the Victorian spa resort town Palmer envisioned became a reality.

Throughout Colorado Springs history, the stunning scenic beauty was not the only thing that attracted people to the area. The sunny conditions and dry, mild climate of Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs made these communities popular for people suffering from poor health, especially tuberculosis.

In the 1890s, gold was discovered on the western slope of Pikes Peak, one of the richest gold strikes in American history. Almost overnight, the Cripple Creek Mining District grew from an isolated cattle pasture to the home of more than 50,000 people. As a result, by the turn of the 19th century, Colorado Springs was called "the city of millionaires." One of these millionaires was Spencer Penrose, who made his first fortune in Cripple Creek. He used his vast resources to build the Pikes Peak and Cheyenne Mountain Highways and to establish the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Will Rogers Shrine and The Broadmoor Hotel. He and his wife, Julie, created the El Pomar Foundation, which still supports many worthy causes in the Pikes Peak region and across Colorado.

At the turn of the century, inspired by a trip to the summit of Pikes Peak, Katharine Lee Bates penned what has become our country's most famous poem and song, "America the Beautiful."

In the 1940s, the U.S. Army opened Camp Carson, marking the beginning of what is now a strong military presence in this region. In 1954, the Air Force broke ground for the United States Air Force Academy to continue this military tradition. Today’s Colorado Springs history is capped with a military flair. Colorado Springs is home to major military installations including Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, the U.S. Space Command, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), Schriever Air Force Base and the United States Air Force Academy.