Brief by Central Staff
American History – June 1997 – Colorado Central Magazine
This isn’t the place to discuss the recent group of terrorists and forgers who called themselves “the Republic of Texas,” but it is a good place to point out that a fair portion of Central Colorado is inside the boundaries of the historical Republic of Texas.
It started with the Transcontinental Treaty of 1819 between the United States and Spain. That treaty set the northern border up the Arkansas to its start, thence north to the 42nd parallel. Mexico became independent of Spain in 1821, but kept the same border. Texas declared independence from Mexico in 1836, however, and that complicated matters.
Mexico did not recognize Texas, for one thing. For another, some Texians were happy with the Rio Nueces as a southwestern boundary (it had been the border between the Mexican state of Tamaulipas and the Mexican province of Texas), but the more ambitious declared for the Rio Grande.
Since hardly anybody (except the Comanche, who didn’t much care about such things) lived between the Nueces and the Rio Grande back then, that was about the least of the many contentions between Mexico and the Republic of Texas.
The larger Texas claim used the old Arkansas River border as one boundary, and the Rio Grande — along with a line north from its source to the 42nd parallel — as another boundary. But this border isn’t as definite as it sounds.
The Rio Grande is generally agreed to start on the east side of Stony Pass, deep in the San Juans between Creede and Silverton.
But precisely where does the Arkansas start? Two branches, both of contender size, come together near Leadville. The East Fork begins under Mt. Democrat near Frémont Pass and Climax, and the Tennessee Fork starts about eight miles west at Tennessee Pass.
One historian we respect, Virginia McConnell Simmons (in The Upper Arkansas), says the Arkansas’s source when the boundary was set in 1819 was “considered at that time to be at Tennessee Pass.” Another historian we also respect, Robert Black (in Island in the Rockies), discussing the same 1819 treaty, put the source of the Arkansas as “near modern Climax, Colorado” — that is, the East Fork.
No matter which source you take, Leadville was never in Texas, since it sits east of both branches. Salida was in Texas, but Tenderfoot Hill wasn’t. South Park and the Gunnison Country weren’t in Texas, but the Wet Mountain Valley was, along with most of the San Luis Valley. San Luis was in Texas, since it’s east of the Rio Grande, but Antonito was in Mexico, since it’s west of that boundary river.
Not that Texas Rangers ever patrolled this remote northern area or that the Lone Star ever flew over these Rocky Mountains — but it was formally claimed by the sovereign nation of Texas until it joined the Union in 1845. And in 1850, in exchange for some federal money to pay off its old Republic bills, Texas ceded its northern claims and agreed to its present boundaries.
All this should make us feel more charitable toward Texas tourists — we might properly consider them pilgrims visiting lost portions of their homeland.