Colorado Territory, Homestead Act and Colorado Statehood

Congress created the Colorado Territory in 1861.  Douglas County was one of the original 17 counties.  Its boundaries stretched from the South Platte in the west, to the Kansas border in the east.  Named after Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, it included 5160 sq. miles and a population of 1000.  Most early settlers engaged in agriculture--farms, cattle ranches, and sawmills.  Life here was more difficult than originally advertised, thanks to grasshopper invasions, hailstorms, drought, the settlers' lack of experience in such and climate, and frequent conflicts with Indians.  New territorial roads and the historic Cherokee and Smoky Hill Trails cut through the county and accommodated stagecoach and freight lines, mail routes, and immigrant wagon trains.

The Homestead Act of 1982, signed by President Abraham Lincoln,  accelerated the settlement of the western territory by allowing adult heads of families to get free government land and laid a foundation for future growth. The Law enabled any U.S. Citizen or immigrant who planned to become a citizen, who was at least 21 years old, and the head of a household, to receive title free and clear to 160 acres of government land after living on it for 5 years, building a house, making certain improvements, and paying a small registration fee.  Title could also be acquired after only 6 months residency, making trivial improvements, and paying $1.25 an acre. Additionally, much of the federal land went to speculators, cattlemen, miners, lumberman and railroads.  There were many such first landowners (railroads) here in the Highlands Ranch area.

The majority of homesteads in the region sprouted in the 1880's, with the west side of Highlands Ranch being checkerboarded with alternate sections being given to the railroads.  Many of the ranchers who purchased smaller homesteads quickly found that Colorado's dry climate required more lands.  They sold their properties to their neighbors to create several larger ranches.  Since the Homestead Act only allowed one limited-sized property per person, this prompted homesteaders to purchase adjacent lands under the names of wives, children, and extended family members to gain larger parcels.  Farmers and cattle ranchers had to learn how to conserve water, use dry-land farming techniques, and experiment with new crops. The rugged people of Douglas County make the necessary adjustments and prospered. 

On August 1, 1876 Colorado became the 38th state to join the Union.  President Ulysses Grant signed the proclamation of statehood.  This occurred 28 days after the Centennial of the United States (1776-1876).  Thus Colorado became known as the "Centennial" state.