The story of how the Royal Gorge was discovered is as compelling as how the Royal Gorge Bridge was made. The first to visit were Native American Indians, who hunted and camped in sheltered canyons and mountain parks of this Colorado region.
The Ute Indians, a mountain tribe, frequently wintered in the Cañon City area. In fact, many of the Plains Indians – Sioux, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Blackfeet and Comanche – followed the buffalo herds as they moved to the mountain meadows during spring and summer.
Spanish missionaries knew of the Royal Gorge area as early as 1642. Fur traders and trappers visited the region during the 1700s. And in 1806, Lt. Zebulon Montgomery Pike – for whom Pikes Peak is named – established a camp at the eastern portal of the Royal Gorge and sent a scouting party to explore the canyon.
In 1877, silver was discovered on the upper waters of the Arkansas River. This sparked a controversy between two competing railroads: the Rio Grande and the Santa Fe. Both wanted the rights to build the new freight railroad to carry the ore down from the mountains.
From dynamiting competitor’s railway efforts to exchanging gunshots, the Royal Gorge War eventually evolved into a six-month court battle. The Santa Fe Railroad was unhappy with those results and hired legendary gunfighter and U.S. Marshal Bat Masterson and part of his Kansas posse to help protect their crew and materials, while the Rio Grande Railroad countered with a 200-man posse led by former Governor A.C. Hunt. The Rio Grande Railroad eventually won out.
There are so many more stories and fascinating details to share about the Royal Gorge, which is why we have a multimedia show daily at the Plaza Theatre. And while you’re there, be sure to check out our Historical Display.