How Did Colorado’s Counties Get Their Names?

Colorado has 64 counties. The 17 original counties were established in 1861, when Colorado was still a territory. The most recent county, Broomfield, was established in 2001. Most of the counties’ names can be grouped into a few categories:

Presidents: Garfield, Jackson, Jefferson, Lincoln, Washington

Governors: Adams, Elbert, Gilpin, Pitkin, Routt

Explorers: Fremont, Gunnison, Kit Carson

Other historical figures: Archuleta, Chaffee, Crowley, Custer, Denver, Douglas, Larimer, Logan, Moffat, Montezuma, Ouray, Teller, Weld

Early settlers and landowners: Baca, Hinsdale, Otero, Phillips, Prowers

Indian tribes: Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Kiowa, Yuma

Forts: Bent, Morgan, Sedgwick

Rivers: Costilla, Dolores, Eagle, Grand, Las Animas, Rio Blanco, Rio Grande

Other geographical features: Boulder, Clear Creek, Delta, El Paso, Lake, Mesa, Park, Summit

Spanish words: Alamosa (“cottonwood grove”), Conejos (“rabbit”), Huerfano (“orphan”), La Plata (“silver”), Pueblo (“town” or “village”)

Indian words: Saguache (“water at blue earth”, Ute)

Saints: San Juan, San Miguel

Local economic resources: Broomfield, Mineral

Literary: Montrose

Colorado State Archives has compiled a list of all 64 counties noting the story behind where their names came from, as well as the year each county was established. The Colorado Encyclopedia also features articles on each county. Search our library catalog for resources on individual counties and places throughout Colorado.