Happy Birthday, Colorado

On August 1, 1876, Colorado was the 38th state admitted to the union. The state was named for the Colorado River, named Rio Colorado by early Spanish explorers. Colorado is nicknamed the "Centennial State" because it became a state one century after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

State Symbols

  • Motto: Nil sine numine (nothing without providence)
  • Nickname: Centennial State
  • Slogan: Colorful Colorado
  • Bird: Lark bunting
  • Amphibian: Western tiger salamander
  • Fish: Greenback cutthroat trout
  • Flower: Rocky Mountain columbine
  • Insect: Colorado hairstreak butterfly
  • Mammal: Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep
  • Pets: Colorado shelter pets
  • Reptile: Western painted turtle
  • Tree: Colorado blue spruce
  • Fossil: Stegosaurus
  • Songs: "Where the Columbines Grow" and "Rocky Mountain High"
  • Sport: Pack burro racing*

*Fun fact: Pack burro racing originated in Colorado and is rooted in the state's mining heritage. While prospecting in the early days of mining, miners would take burros to carry their supplies and they would lead the donkey while walking. Burro races are held throughout small towns in Colorado to commemorate these men and women. One of the legends regarding the origins of burro racing says two miners found gold in the same location at the same time and were in a race back to town to get to the claims office. The other legend has to do with drunken miners at a bar in Leadville.

Historically Important Persons

You might have heard these names, but do you know their history?

Adolph Coors: Coors founded the Coors Brewing Company in 1873. His grandson, Adolph Coors III, was murdered in a foiled kidnapping attempt near Morrison. Read more: The Death of An Heir

Buffalo Bill Cody: Cody is buried on Lookout Mountain in Golden. Read more: The Great Plains Guide to Buffalo Bill

Emily Griffith: She founded The Emily Griffith Opportunity School in 1916. She believed everyone had the right to an education regardless of age, race, gender or background. Today the school is a technical college within the larger Colorado Community College System and is also affiliated with Denver Public Schools as an alternative high school. Read more: Emily Griffith

Federico Peña: The road leading to Denver International Airport (DIA), Peña Boulevard, is named after him. He was Denver's first Hispanic mayor and in addition to leading the effort to build DIA, he was instrumental in bringing the Colorado Rockies team to Denver in 1993 and the revitalization of the Denver economy with the Colorado Convention Center. Learn more: Federico Peña, opens a new window

Justina Ford: She was Denver's first female African-American doctor. When she first moved to Denver, racial discrimination prohibited her from joining the Colorado Medical Association or practicing at a hospital, so she set up a practice in her home at 2335 Arapahoe Street. Ford treated anyone regardless of race, gender, language or ability to pay, and patients paid her in goods, services or money. The Justina Ford House was moved to its present location, 3091 California Street, and is now the home of the Black American West Museum, opens a new window. Read more: Justina Ford, Medical Pioneer

Little Raven: He was an Arapaho chief and peace negotiator between Native American tribes in the 1800s. He was known to welcome White Americans into his Denver tipi during the gold rush. Little Raven Street, between 15th and 20th Street near the South Platte River, commemorates him. Read more: Little Raven

Margaret "Molly" Brown: The Titanic survivor, known as Maggie to friends and family, became very wealthy after her husband's mine struck gold. They bought a home in Denver and Maggie took the opportunity to learn several languages, work for women's suffrage, help the poor and give money to build St. Mary's Academy. Her home in Capitol hill is now a museum, the Molly Brown House Museum, opens a new window. Read more: Unsinkable

Mary Elitch: Mary Elitch and her husband John Elitch Jr moved to Denver and opened the Elitch Palace Dining Room and bought a nearby farm so they could provide fresh fruits and vegetables to their customers. She started a garden and brought stray animals to the farm, which became the only zoo west of Chicago. The couple opened Elitch's Zoological Gardens in 1890. After her husband died, Mary became the sole owner of the zoo during a time when women did not have political or economic power. She ended up adding more animals to her collection, as well as a theater and eventually a roller coaster. The Elitch Theatre, opens a new window became home to the oldest summer stock theater in the country starting in 1893 until 1991. A new Elitch's Amusement Park was built at a different location in Denver. Learn more: Mary Elitch, opens a new window.

Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales: Gonzales was a boxer, writer and Chicano activist who was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1988. During John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign, he successfully registered more Mexican Americans to vote than any other time in Colorado's history. He founded the Crusade for Justice, led a march on Washington and organized a resistance at West High School, among many other achievements. Denver opened the Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales Branch Library in 2015. Read more: Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales

William Byers: Byers established the first newspaper in Denver, the Rocky Mountain News, in 1959. After moving to Denver he built and lived in several mansions, including the mansion now know as the Byers-Evans House Museum.He became the spokesperson for Denver and promoted Denver as the "Queen City of the Rockies." The town of Byers, Colorado is named after William Byers. Learn more: William Byers, opens a new window

Learn more about historically important persons with connections to Colorado, opens a new window

Library Resources

Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection, opens a new window
Check out these headlines from the past! This database features almost a million digitized pages from more than 200 individual newspaper titles published in Colorado primarily from 1859 to 1923.

Exploration Pass, opens a new window
Learn more about Colorado history and culture by booking an Exploration Pass to a place like the Molly Brown House Museum. 

To learn more about our great state and its history, check out these books:


A Wild West History of Frontier Colorado

Colorado Women

Colorado Profiles

The First Coloradans

Explore More Colorado