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Steamboat Magazine

Far From the Heart of Texas

09/05/2022 09:00AM ● By Paul Knowles

Mitchell’s “A New Map of Texas, Oregon and California,” from 1846, show’s the boundaries of the newly acquired state of Texas on the eve of the Mexican-American War. (COURTESY OF THE MUSEUM OF NORTHWEST COLORADO)

Steamboat Springs, CO - Not that long ago in downtown Steamboat Springs, I overheard somebody exclaim that Texans walked around like they owned the place. As someone originally from Texas, this struck me as sweeping generalization. But as a local historian, I couldn’t help being amused by how close to the truth they actually were.

It’s hard to believe, but if you’re reading this anywhere near the city of Steamboat Springs, you are standing on land once owned by Texas – both as a sovereign nation and as a U.S. state. That included all of today’s Routt County and a portion of Moffat. ‘But exactly how?’ you might ask.

In 1821, after roughly 300 years of Spanish rule, Colorado’s Western Slope was relinquished to Mexico as the victors of the Mexican War of Independence. However, just 15 years later 
in 1836, Mexico’s province of Texas revolted and won its own independence (remember the Alamo?). The result saw a large portion of the central Rocky Mountains suddenly claimed by a brand new nation: The Republic of Texas.

The Rocky Mountain portion of Texas included land that stretched due north from the headwaters of the Rio Grande River (near Silverton) and the Arkansas River (near Leadville). This long “stovepipe” reached all the way north of what is today Rawlins, Wyoming. Either by sheer coincidence or amazing prescience, Texas’ claim included what would eventually become many of Colorado’s major ski resorts: Aspen, Vail, Crested Butte and, yes, Steamboat. 

Very soon after winning its independence, Texas found itself in significant debt and seeking annexation to the United States. In 1845, after just nine years of sovereign reign, the U.S. admitted Texas as the 28th state.

Texas’ annexation was contentious on several fronts. Perhaps the biggest point of contention was the fact that Mexico never recognized the massive amount of land that Texas claimed – including the stovepipe that encompassed the Yampa Valley. This was ultimately settled with Mexico’s defeat in the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848.  

Just two years after the U.S. victory over Mexico, Texas signed the Compromise of 1850, which ceded all lands north of 36°30’ (Texas’ northern-most border still today). With this large cession of land, Texas’ 14-year claim on the Yampa Valley officially ended and it became part of the newly-organized Utah Territory – but not for long. 

In 1859 gold was discovered near today’s Idaho Springs, and national interest exploded in the areas surrounding the new mine fields. In 1861, with the threat of a civil war looming, the Territory of Colorado was formed to help solidify Union ownership of the mineral-rich land. Then, on Aug. 1, 1876, Colorado was finally admitted as the 38th state.

While I surely don’t condone sweeping generalizations about Texans, or walking around with a sense of entitlement, in this case perhaps both parties should get a pass.