Early Settlement and the Gold Rush

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Early to Mid-1800s

Long before white settlers from the east crossed the Continental Divide, the area that would become Breckenridge was part of the summer hunting grounds of the nomadic White River and Middle Park Ute Native Americans. Although there were a few white trappers and traders roaming the area in the 1840s, the town was developed out of America's mid-nineteenth-century rush to settle the West. In 1859, the Pike's Peak Gold Rush was on, and the discovery of gold in the Breckenridge area brought miners and fortune seekers to the "Blue River Diggings."

Intent upon locating in the Blue River Valley near Fort Mary B, General George E. Spencer's prospecting company founded the town of "Breckinridge" in November of 1859 and, presumably, named it after President James Buchanan's Vice President, John Cabell Breckinridge (1857-1861).

By June of 1860, a U. S. post office had been granted, and a single row of log cabins, tents, and shanties lined the banks of the Blue River. A Denver, Bradford, and Blue River Wagon Road Company connection was secured in 1861, giving lifeblood to the infant community. That summer, Breckenridge boasted several stores, hotels, and saloons and became the permanent county seat of Summit County, Colorado. But, the Civil War and increasing difficulty in locating free, accessible gold cleared the camp of miners. Consequently, by 1870, the population of Breckenridge had plummeted to 51.