Compiled by Rosemary Lewis for the Sesquicentennial, 2011.
Join us for our weekly look at Jefferson County’s history 150 years ago. This page archives all “Peek” entries for the Year of Change, 1861. Follow us on Jefferson County’s Twitter for updates and historical tidbits. Current “peeks” are on the Sesquicentennial page.
With the election of Abraham Lincoln in November of 1860, the nation stood on the brink of disaster. South Carolina became the first state to secede, as of December 20, 1860, and the specter of a nation divided consumed the front page of the nation’s newspapers, including the Rocky Mountain News. Meanwhile the initial excitement and local population explosion resulting from the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1858-59 was beginning to die down as disappointed miners returned to their homes and families in the east.
The Pike’s Peak country, remote from the surrounding governments of Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, New Mexico, and Washington Territories, needed a local government. So, over the spring and summer of 1859 a small convention of white men formed the self-proclaimed Territory of Jefferson, carved out of the surrounding recognized territories, and on October 24, 1859, held an election for the Provisional Government. The first session of the provisional legislature of November 7, 1859, led by Governor Robert W. Steele, organized Jefferson Territory into 12 counties, including Jefferson County. On January 2, 1860, Jefferson County held its first election. From 1859 to 1861 the territorial capital wandered between Denver City and Golden City, but much of the administration was handled at the home of Gov. Steele in the Jefferson County foothills town of Mt. Vernon, located south of the present-day Interstate 70 and west of the Morrison Road exit.