Colorado Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Colorado has a unique immigration history that has been affected by its mining, agriculture, and tourism industries. The history of immigrant groups within the state is not limited to those that reside in Denver, but also includes immigrants from Europe, Asia, and Africa who have settled throughout the state.

Colorado’s history regarding new immigrants is complicated by the fact that immigrant labor was eagerly welcomed in some areas and strongly opposed in others. After establishing its railroads and utilizing inexpensive labor in its mining industry during the nineteenth century, the state took an anti-immigrant stance. During the 1920’s, it sought to reduce or eliminate foreign immigration into the state. However, by the late twentieth century, the state had become dependent on its substantial Hispanic population for labor, and its Hispanic leaders were making a dramatic impact both on Colorado and throughout the United States.ColoradoColorado[cat]STATES;Colorado[01200]

Late Nineteenth Century Immigration

Even before Colorado became a state in 1876, waves of new settlers and immigrants peppered its plains, foothills, and mountains in search of fortune, employment, or simply arable farmland. Even as the state’s first railroads were nearing completion during the 1880’s, new settlers and miners were already living in Colorado. Many of them had come during the 1859 Pikes Peak gold rushPikes Peak gold rush and the formal annexation of the Rocky Mountain region into the United States. By 1880, Colorado had a population of nearly 200,000 people, who included, with sizeable numbers of Scandinavian immigrants;ColoradoScandinavians, Irish immigrants;ColoradoIrish and Scottish immigrantsScots working in the mining, railroad or farming industries. The discovery of silver in 1879 in Leadville continued to draw speculators and miners into the region.

The expansion of coal mining throughout the Colorado basin encouraged new waves of immigrants to move to the state. The exhausting and dangerous work of extracting coal from open-pit mines was often the only employment available to immigrants with limited education and limited access to working capital. Many immigrants from Italy, Germany, and Russia were hired to replace striking workers through the numerous violent clashes that erupted during Colorado’s labor wars during the first decade of the twentieth century.

Twentieth Century Arrivals

Immigration into the region was slowed during the early part of the twentieth century as numerous groups protested and demonstrated against new arrivals into the state. During the early 1920’s, the Ku Klux Klan;ColoradoKu Klux Klan possessed considerable political clout and targeted immigrants, African Americans, and Roman Catholics through intimidation and violence. The Klan reached the peak of its influence in Colorado in 1924, with the election of Klansman Morely, ClarenceClarence Morely as the state’s governor. Throughout cities such as Denver, Pueblo, Canyon City, and Grand Junction, the organization sought to intimidate followers of the Roman Catholic Church, especially those of Italian descent.

In the years immediately following World War II, there was an influx of immigrants from Lithuanian immigrants;ColoradoLithuania because of the Soviet occupation of that east European nation. However, that influx was limited and not sustained in subsequent years. In addition to the Lithuanian immigration, a sizable number of German immigrants;ColoradoGermans and Latin American immigrants;ColoradoCentral Americans moved into the area. Many of them were fleeing the aftereffects of the war. Some of the German immigrants were families of former prisoners of war who had been interned in Colorado Prisoners of war;Colorado campscamps during the war.

The second half of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century saw a dramatic growth in Colorado’s total population, from 1.3 million persons in 1950 to 5 million in 2008. Although the state’s population continued to be predominantly white, Hispanic residents constituted about 20 percent of the total population by the turn of the new century. The majority of early Hispanic immigrants worked in various agricultural roles–either as migrant workers during the sugar beet and melon harvests or in meat-processing factories throughout the northeastern region of the state. Meanwhile, the increasing Hispanic population began to influence regional, state, and national politics with the election of numerous Hispanic leaders to offices. These included Denver mayor Pena, FredericoFrederico Pena, who served from 1983 to 1991, and U.S. senator Salazar, KenKen Salazar, who was elected in 2004.

During the first decade of the twenty-first century, Colorado’s Hispanic population continued to grow rapidly throughout the state. Other groups, however, were also being drawn to Colorado as the state’s agriculture and tourist industries expanded. These new immigrants have continued to follow the traditional patterns of Colorado settlement by expanding beyond the urban centers located along the Front Range–the north-south corridor stretching from Fort Collins to Pueblo. Western Colorado, the eastern plains, and the central mountain areas of the state have also become homes to new arrivals. For example, in 2009 meatpacking houses in northeastern Colorado employed 650Somali immigrants;ColoradoSomali immigrants, and anotherAfrican immigrants;Colorado500 Africans–mostly from Senegal, Nigeria, andMoroccan immigrants Morocco–were working in the resort areas of Colorado’s mountains.Colorado

Further Reading
  • Dorsett, Lyle W. The Queen City: A History of Denver. Boulder, Colo.: Pruett Publishing, 1977.
  • Mehls, Steven F. The New Empire of the Rockies: A History of Northeast Colorado. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Land Management, 1984.
  • Ubbelohde, Carl. A Colorado History. Boulder, Colo.: Pruett Publishing, 1976.

Economic opportunities


History of immigration after 1891

Irish immigrants

Ku Klux Klan

Labor unions


Categories: History