The Gold Rush and the Plains of Colorado

Central City, circa early 1860s - March 2014

Central City, circa early 1860s. Photo courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western History and Genealogy Collection. Call Number L-586

This article is part of a series by the National Park Service concerning the 150th Memorial of the Sand Creek Massacre.

One of the contributing factors to the Sand Creek Massacre, the Colorado Gold Rush encouraged thousands of people to move across the plains, seeking their fortunes in Colorado’s gold fields. Over fifty thousand people came to the Pike’s Peak area in 1859 alone, moving over Cheyenne and Arapaho tribal lands. These settlers pushed some tribes from the gold fields and relied on caravans coming from the East for survival and trade.

With thousands of new faces in Colorado Territory in 1858-63, the Gold Rush produced tensions that helped contribute to conflict between the white settlers and Plains Indians. Settlers called for removing Indians from the land, while the Cheyenne and Arapaho largely sought a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Violent confrontations ended with murders on both sides during 1864, leading to the massacre on Sand Creek, followed by years of warfare on the plains.

To find out more about the ways the Gold Rush affected the High Plains and its people, go to or visit the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site outside of Eads, Colorado.

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