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Historical Atlas of Colorado, by Thomas J. Noel et al.

Review by Ed Quillen

Colorado history – May 1994 – Colorado Central Magazine

Historical Atlas of Colorado
by Thomas J. Noel, Paul E. Mahoney, and Richard F. Stevens
Published in 1994 by University of Oklahoma Press
ISBN: 0-8061-2555-1

NO OTHER SINGLE Colorado reference book provides as much convenient, if brief, information as the Historical Atlas which has finally emerged as part of a series of Western atlases from Oklahoma.

Just flipping through the pages — generally, a map on the left and text on the right, and the book should be held sideways as befits our state’s “landscape” orientation — is a delight for the Colorado buff:

— A cache of gold, wrapped in the hide of a burro, was reputedly buried near Round Hill on Poncha Pass by miners who were being pursued by Utes.

— The Arapahoe and Cheyenne did not arrive in present-day Colorado until the 19th century; before that, the Pawnee, Apache, and Comanche lived on the High Plains.

— The only Mexican land grant in central Colorado was the Luis Maria Baca Grant No. 4, today’s Baca Grande. Altogether there were five land grants in Colorado.

— Before Colorado Territory was organized in 1861, our part of the world was mostly in Fremont County, Kansas; the Gunnison Country was in Sanpete and Beaver counties of Utah.

— Custer County holds the regional record for seats; it has enjoyed four: Ula, 1877-78; Rosita, 1878-86; Silver Cliff, 1886-1928; Westcliffe, 1928 to present. Chaffee, Park, and Lake have each had three, while Saguache, Fremont, and Gunnison counties have always had the same seats.

— Ghost towns produced by mining are mentioned in almost every book about Colorado; here you’ll find 200 ghost farming towns such as Ula and Riverside, as well as abandoned ski areas like White Pine and Pioneer. Conquistador, a/k/a “Mudcliffe,” is shown as operating.

Perhaps it’s unfair to expect a book to be so current that it reflects the parlous state of Westcliffe’s ski area, but the Atlas is out-dated in less forgivable ways.

For instance, it shows the evolution of Colorado’s congressional districts, but only through the redistricting after the 1980 census. A couple years have passed since the lines were redrawn to reflect the 1990 census, ample time to put the information in the book. Similarly, an excellent map-graph with county population trends fails to include the 1990 census.

It doesn’t have some things that it should include — say, the “New Mexico Notch” of early Colorado Territory, or sites of Indian agencies, which could have easily been placed on the series of reservation maps. The map of federal lands omits BLM holdings. A map of major extractive industries includes the Salida Granite quarry, but neglects the much larger Monarch Quarry.

Some maps don’t seem to serve any purpose; a list of either labor wars or literary sites would have served as well as dotting a map of the state.

Such carping and nitpicking could go on indefinitely, and in general, the authors’ judgments as to what to include are reasonable, and the Atlas displays it in a convenient and attractive form. Further, their data appear solid; no glaring errors jumped up from the page.

In an ideal world, you could wait for a second edition that would include the most recent census (after all, it was four years ago) and fill in some of the omissions. But in Colorado, historic or present, the first edition will probably be the only edition for a long time to come.

Despite its flaws, it’s worth having on hand when you need some Colorado lore; we already reach for it almost daily when we need to check something quickly.

— Ed Quillen