Thursday, November 3, 2016

Creating Colorado Territory

In 1854, a two large territories, Kansas and Nebraska, were created in the previously unorganized lands lying between the Continental Divide and the states and territories lining the western side of the Mississippi River, extending from the 37th degree latitude to the Canadian border. Kansas Territory lay to the west of Missouri; at the western edge of the territory rose the Rocky Mountains, with the majority of the territory consisting of an undeveloped Great Plains. It was only the eastern parts of the territory, near the Missouri border, which were settled by Anglo-Americans, the rest of the territory almost exclusively inhabited by nomadic Indian tribes.

In 1858, gold was discovered along the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, near the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek. As thousands flooded into the area, in what was called the Pike’s Peak gold rush, settlements (such as Denver City) were established and the population boomed. This area was located well away from the Kansas territorial government far to the east, and the locals realized that their interests were not necessarily the same as the interests of those located in the eastern part of the territory. Besides there was no machinery available for the enforcement of law & order, a real concern to those who hoped to make their fortune. Thus these miners and other settlers wanted a new territory to be carved out of the western part of Kansas, to provide local government.


A delegation was sent to Washington for the creation of such a territory. On January 6, 1859, Schuyler Colfax, representative from Illinois, introduced a bill in Congress to organize a “Territory of Colona” along the eastern slope of the Rockies. The territory was to include the western-most parts of Kansas and Nebraska as far north as the 42nd parallel, as well as the northeastern part of New Mexico. This name was taken from the Spanish for Columbus and the New York Times stated that this name was favored by the settlers of the area.
This new territory lay north of the 36° 30’ latitude line, and by the Missouri Compromise of 1850 this meant that slavery would be prohibited there. In this period of great conflict in the country over the question of slavery, there was no way Southerners in Congress would allow the creation of such a new “free” territory, so there were not enough votes to support Colfax’s bill and the territory was never created.


The desire by citizens of the front range for a local territory continued however, and a group of prominent citizens met on April 15, 1859 in Uncle Dick Wootton's Tavern in Auraria, voting to try to organize a new, local government. A convention was held to draft a constitution for a state of Jefferson, but this was rejected in a popular referendum, many feeling that a state would prove to be too much of a financial burden. Proponents tried again, this time drafting a constitution for a territory of Jefferson, which was subsequently approved by referendum on October 24, 1859.
The constitution was adopted, government bodies established, including a territorial legislature that met and elected Robert W. Steele as provisional governor. Meanwhile, Beverly D. Williams was sent to Washington as a representative of the territory, but Congress refused his petition. Still, a Jefferson government did operate for about sixteen months, though it has been said to have "remained extralegal, factious, and semieffective." (Historical Atlas of Colorado) The territory as proposed would have been considerably larger than today's Colorado, encompassing more of Utah and much of Wyoming.

Governor Steele tried to reach an accord with the territorial government of Kansas to recognize Jefferson, as well as petitioning Congress to the same end, but neither effort succeeded. With the election of Lincoln in November 1860, all chance of Congress recognizing Jefferson ended, for Steele was a Democratic foe of Lincoln and the Republican Party.

However, after all the Southern Congressmen left the government with their state's secession in early 1861, Congress swiftly created a new, free state of Kansas out of the eastern part of the territory, leaving the western part unorganized. Shortly thereafter, Congress organized a new territory out of the lands, as well as part of southwestern Nebraska, eastern Utah and northeastern New Mexico. As Thomas Jefferson, a Southerner, was not popular in Congress in early 1861, the new territory was named Colorado.


Neither Colona nor Jefferson were ever recognized by the Federal government and so never officially existed. However, that does not mean that they did not appear on contemporary maps. Mapmakers hated to have their maps not up-to-date. Any map that did not include a depiction of a newly created territory would be considered out-of-date, and because there was a time delay between when the map was drawn and when it was published, mapmakers tended to jump the gun a bit with potential new territories. They kept their ears to the ground to learn as soon as possible about new territories that might be created by Congress, and if a mapmaker believed that such a new political entity was about to be approved, he would put it on the map even before the bill was actually passed. If the territory was created, his map would be amazingly current, ahead of his competitors, and if it never came into existence, the mapmaker just hoped no one noticed.

This happened to both Colona and Jefferson, which appeared in various forms on a number of maps, and in fact together on some maps. These are not the only American chimeric territories to appear on nineteenth century maps, and maps showing such are always popular with collectors. If you ever come across a map of the western U.S. from 1859 to early 1861, take a look to see if either of these territories appears. Click here to see maps with Colona or Jefferson Territories in the inventory of The Philadelphia Print Shop West.

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