Gunnison Colorado History

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Gunnison History

Historically, Gunnison, CO was a ranching and mining town, but after booming and busting, today, Gunnison is a thriving tourist mecca that sits at the heart of outdoor adventure. Read More

  • 1870: The Colorado mining boom hits Gunnison county and an influx of people move to the area in hopes of finding riches.
  • 1880: Gunnison is incorporated and the railroad comes to town.
  • 1883: The town goes bust, losing over half of its population.
  • Today: Gunnison is a thriving community.

The town of Gunnison has seen some highs and lows with a long history of booms and busts. The town was named after John W. Gunnison, leader of the expedition charged with finding a transcontinental rail route through the Rocky Mountains. Even though its history may have been full of booms and busts, today Gunnison is a strong and thriving community with tons to explore. My bet would be that this town is around for many years to come.

1200 A.D.- 1870's: Most history reports of Gunnison start in the 1800's, but long before settlers and the Spanish arrived in Colorado the Ute Indians called this area home. The Ute Indians were a traditionally peaceful tribe, moving seasonally, to take advantage of different food sources found in various ecosystems.

The Ute lived in this way until they were displaced from the area by the white settlers in the late 1800's.

1680's: The Spanish begin selling horses and other goods to the Ute Indians.

1800's: Traders and trappers began arriving in the early 1800's. Trapping was a difficult task in the harsh mountain climate and most trappers had moved on by the mid-1800's.

1870: The yet unincorporated town of Gunnison, began to boom simultaneously with Colorado's mining boom. Hopeful, men flooded into the area looking for riches.

1880: This was a big year in Gunnison history. Not only did Gunnison become an incorporated town but the railroad arrived. This meant more people, more mobilization, and more industry to the town which in turn led to more wealth. These were high times for the people of Gunnison.

1883: But, with booms come busts and Gunnison experienced one of the quickest boom, bust cycles. By 1883, the town had lost over half of its population. It turns out that the ore deposits were over-hyped. In reality, the deposits were shallow and low producing and quickly ran dry.

Those that remained in Gunnison survived by mining the coal deposits found to the north, through seasonal cattle and ranching operations, and with lumber revenue.

1901: In 1901, Colorado State Normal College, the first college on Colorado's western slope, was established, although it didn't open until 1911.

1923: As the role of the college changed from a preparatory school for teachers to a liberal arts focus, so did its name. In 1923, the name was officially changed to Western State College.

1930o's to 1950's: By this time, the railroad industry had taken a major hit, due in part to the overall economic downturn of the country. Gunnison was no longer the mining or distribution hub of its heyday. By the 1950's trucking had become a more practical mode of hauling goods and thus made rail routes in and around Gunnison obsolete. By the late 50's rail service had been shut down completely and the lines torn up.

Today: Originally a mining and ranching town, today Gunnison survives off tourism, cattle ranching, and education. The natural landscape around Gunnison offers some of the most picturesque scenery in Colorado and the United States, and folks from all over come to experience what it has to offer.