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Colorado statutes from 1861

It was part of Spain, France — no, Spain — no, France — both Spain and France, the United States and Mexico and Texas, and then just the United States. At least some part of its land at one time or another had been in the Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Utah, and New Mexico territories, was organized into a provisional Territory of Jefferson, and was even claimed by the “State” of Deseret.1

And it is The Legal Genealogist‘s native turf — today, the Centennial State, the State of Colorado.

Colorado as a separate United States territory didn’t exist until 1861.2 Before then, at least some part of its land area had been part of the Louisiana District,3 then Louisiana Territory,4 then Missouri Territory,5 unorganized territory until the Compromise of 1850 created the Utah and New Mexico Territories with portions of Colorado in each,6 then portions were carved out into the Kansas and Nebraska Territories in 1854.7 Not to mention a big chunk of western Colorado being claimed by the never-to-be-recognized Mormon State of Deseret from 1849 to 1851.8

With all that crazy history, you might think that finding the laws of this great big gorgeous state from its establishment as a territory might be a tough project.

Fortunately, thanks to the William A. Wise Law Library of the University of Colorado at Boulder, nothing could be further from the truth.

Colorado laws

On its website in its Digital Archive, we have one-stop-shopping for all of the session laws from that very first territorial legislature in 1861 through to 1997 — and there’s a link to get the 1998-today laws at the website of the Colorado Office of Legislative Legal Services — and more: a collection of Colorado House and Senate Journals to get more background on particular laws.

According to the Colorado Session Laws page at the Wise Law Library:

“Colorado Session Laws” is a digital replica of the print Colorado Session Law volumes as published by the State of Colorado. All volumes were gathered from the William A. Wise Law Library’s collection and digitized with the permission of the State of Colorado.

Researchers can locate session laws by performing a keyword search of documents’ full text, matching keywords in a document’s title, or filtering the collection by year, chapter number, page number, session type and document type. Researchers can enter values in multiple fields to narrow results further.

Researchers can also see where an enacted bill was discussed in the General Assembly by using links provided in the collection’s document records. These links reference our Colorado House and Senate Journals Collection and will flag all citations to the bill number in a particular journal.9

It’s not the easiest site to use, since there doesn’t appear to be any way to simply read through the laws of, say, 1861. But choosing 1861 as the year and Index as the document type produces links to both the General Index and the index to private laws passed in that session. Using keywords from those, it’s possible to find particular laws of the Territory and State of Colorado, and to learn that — for example — among the very first laws were enactments to prevent the sale of intoxicating liquors to soldiers,10 to organize the militia,11 to create counties and fix the county seats,12 and to provide that there wasn’t to be any debtor’s prison in the territory.13

And you know there’s a story behind the very first private law passed in the Territory — to change the name of James Lee Longbottom of Denver to James Longbottom Lee…14

So if you’re looking for those early Colorado laws, from territorial days into statehood and well into the late 20th century, check out the Colorado Session Laws page at the Wise Law Library.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Centennial State laws,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 26 Sep 2019).


  1. See generally Wilbur Fisk Stone, editor, History of Colorado, vol. I (Chicago : S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1918); digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 26 Sep 2019).
  2. An Act to provide a temporary Government for the Territory of Colorado,” 12 Stat. 172 (1861); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 26 Sep 2019).
  3. An Act erecting Louisiana into two territories, and providing for the temporary government thereof,” 2 Stat. 283 (1804).
  4. An Act further providing for the government of the district of Louisiana,” 2 Stat. 331 (1805).
  5. An act providing for the government of the territory of Missouri,” 2 Stat. 743 (1812).
  6. As to New Mexico, “An Act … to establish a territorial Government for New Mexico,” 9 Stat. 446 (1850). As to Utah, “An Act … to establish a Territorial Government for Utah,” 9 Stat. 453 (1850).
  7. An Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas,” 10 Stat. 277 (1854).
  8. Wikipedia (, “Colorado,” rev. 16 Sep 2019.
  9. Colorado Session Laws,” William A. Wise Law Library, University of Colorado at Boulder ( : accessed 26 Sep 2019).
  10. “An Act to prevent the sale of Intoxicating Liquors to Soldiers,” General Laws … of the Territory of Colorado, … 1861 (Denver : Thos. Gibson, 1861), 34; digital images, “Colorado Session Laws,” William A. Wise Law Library, University of Colorado at Boulder ( : accessed 26 Sep 2019).
  11. “An Act to organize the Militia,” ibid. at 35.
  12. “An Act to define County Boundaries, and to locate County seats in Colorado Territory,” ibid., at 52.
  13. “An Act Concerning Imprisonment for Debt,” ibid., at 67.
  14. “An Act to Change the Name of James Lee Longbottom,” ibid., at 439.
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