COBWEB CORNERS: How this region became part of America

By Mel McFarland

       Indians roamed the hills around Pike's Peak for centuries. In Mexico there were tales of cities of gold somewhere to the north. Spanish expeditions were sent to find them. Coronado may have been the first European to pass through what we call Southern Colorado. In 1540 he traveled north to the Arkansas River. He reported only natives with mud and sod buildings. It would be 40 years before the Spanish returned.
       In 1598 the Spanish established a new community near an Indian village commonly called Santa Fe. From there they looked at routes to other Spanish colonies in California. The French, rivals to the Spanish, also ventured into the "new world." They laid a claim to areas westward along the Mississippi River. The French ventured into the west from the north and New Orleans. By the late 1790s, they were able to control the land west of the Mississippi River, but the area remained largely Indian Territory. The French left their marks on the area, naming many features, including the Arkansas River.
       Napoleon had plans for his American lands, but because of closer, more pressing problems they were falling apart. To turn a liability into an asset, Napoleon offered to sell the area to the United States. President Jefferson felt that it was in the country's best interest to have the land, but the view was not commonly shared by the public. Many in the United States government believed that such an expansion was too ambitious, even unconstitutional. The purchase was, however, arranged and the territory of the fledgling United States doubled in size. The new addition was recognized as a wide, unknown land. Some were curious about the region, while others would just as soon leave it alone. To the general public, it was a great waste of the little country's meager resources. Few in the government supported exploration of the new territory. In 1803 Jefferson sent Zebulon Montgomery Pike to explore an area along the Missouri River west of the Mississippi. Starting in March 1804, the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition followed the Missouri River into the Pacific Northwest.
       Today, few argue that the Louisiana Purchase was a bad idea. South of the Arkansas River, it was a different story. We'll do that next.