Long before gold was discovered deep in the rock of Pikes Peak, Native Americans lived off the land in the mountain’s shadow. The earliest inhabitants were the Utes, a people whose tribal elders say didn’t migrate here, but instead lived for generations in the mountains, foothills and high plains. The name “Ute” means “land of the sun.”
The Utes lived on and around Pikes Peak, hunting and gathering on the high plains during the warmer months and in the lower foothills in the coldest seasons. Ute Pass (now U.S. Highway 24) was called “the doorway into the Red Earth Mountains.” It was one of the major passageways into the mountains from the hillsides of the Front Range. That same route would later bring thousands of gold-seekers into the Cripple Creek and Victor area and, in 1894, became a rail bed for the Midland Terminal Railroad.
Over the years, several skirmishes occurred among the Utes, the gold-seekers and the settlers in the region. At the same time, the Utes were allies of the United States in its wars with other tribes, but were slowly losing control of their own territory. A series of treaties in the 1860s and 1870s whittled away at the Ute holdings. The Utes were moved onto three reservations west of Criple Creek, and many Ute descendants still live in the area today.
The Ute Pass Wagon road was the primary method of transportation from Colorado Springs to Cripple Creek in the early days of the gold rush.