This article first appeared in the Broomfield Enterprise June 17, 2007.
A couple years ago, my nephew, Chas, and I went out to dinner with a colleague of mine visiting from Texas. During an otherwise pleasant and predictable meal, this colleague suddenly announced, “Y’all were part of Texas once, you know.” Chas and I found this quite amusing and subsequently enjoyed reminding each other, “Hey, y’all were part of Texas once, you know.”
The thing is, that claim only runs true in the mind of my Texas colleague and perhaps the rest of Texas. On the other hand, it was a close one.
Before Colorado became a territory with its present borders, everything east of the Continental Divide and north of the Arkansas River fell under the domain of the United States by way of the Louisiana Purchase. That included all of the Front Range north of Pueblo, along with northeastern Colorado. Everything west of the Divide and south of the Arkansas was Mexico. Left out of this equation were the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Ute and other tribes that inhabited the region.
In 1836, the Texas Revolution brought independence from Mexico and the creation of the Republic of Texas. The Republic claimed an L-shaped strip of Mexican territory in future Colorado, west of the Divide and south of the Arkansas. Mexico disagreed with this view, and the area became known for a time as the “Disputed Territory.”
Of course, the Disputed Territory did not include the Front Range. Here’s the real story: y’all were not a part of Texas once, y’all were part of Kansas.
In 1845, the United States annexed the Republic of Texas and in 1848, the US victory in the Mexican-American war brought the Mexican portion of Colorado into the fold. In 1854, the US government created the territories of Nebraska and Kansas. These territories extended west from present state borders to the Continental Divide. The border between the Nebraska and Kansas Territories followed the 40th Parallel, which runs along today’s Baseline Road in Boulder. So, everything north of Baseline Road was Nebraska; everything south (including today’s Broomfield and Denver) was Kansas.
This explains why you might sometimes see historical references to the “Kansas Gold Rush,” and why early settlers named Colorado’s capital after the governor of Kansas Territory, James W. Denver.
This state of affairs didn’t last long either. In February of 1861, Colorado became a territory with today’s borders. The first occupants of the Front Range area, the Arapaho and Cheyenne, were strenuously persuaded to cede their lands. While most of the country was fighting the Civil War, surveyors in Colorado were recording tracts of land. The area comprising today’s Broomfield had been completely surveyed and recorded by 1864.
If you wanted a piece of the action, you had only to become a “squatter,” then purchase the land for a small fee, which, as y’all can imagine, was probably a bit more difficult than it sounds.