From the Museum Archives: The land no nation claimed |

From the Museum Archives: The land no nation claimed

Paul Knowles/Museum of Northwest Colorado

Until just 83 years ago there was roughly 2,000 square miles of Colorado that belonged to no country on earth. This means that perhaps some of your Colorado family, or even you, might not be natural-born citizens of the United States — theoretically.

In 1803, the United States made what is considered one of the best land deals ever transacted: the Louisiana Purchase. This acquisition gave the U.S. roughly 828,000 square miles of fertile land for $15 million — about $300 million in today’s dollars. That’s only about 50 cents per acre today! The land spanned west from the Mississippi River all the way to the Continental Divide in the Rockies.

In 1819, with disputes growing about the actual boundary between the U.S. and New Spain, The Adams-Onis Treaty set the eastern boundary of New Spain partially along the Arkansas River all the way to its source, then straight north to the 42nd Parallel in present-day Wyoming. The only problem was that nobody at the time had a clue where the headwaters of the Arkansas really were, located near Leadville.

Unrealized at the time, the 1819 treaty created a huge tract of land left technically unclaimed by either Spain or the U.S. It was west of the Continental Divide — the western U.S border set by the Louisiana Purchase — and east of New Spain’s border set by the Adams-Onis Treaty. A 2,000 square mile “no-man’s land”. 

In 1936 the Breckenridge Women’s Club recognized the glaring anomaly and went to the state capitol where they met with Governor Ed Johnson, originally from Craig. Mr. Johnson, who was campaigning for a U.S. Senate seat at the time, came to Breckenridge on Aug. 8, 1936 and raised a flag declaring the area as now part of the United States of America, Colorado and its respective counties.

It was later declared that even though the land was technically left unclaimed, it was already lawfully the United States through its repeated acts of sovereignty in the area. Regardless, every June since 1936, Breckenridge has celebrated “Kingdom Days” to commemorate their own sovereign days in the not-so-distant past.

Paul Knowles is assistant director of the Museum of Northwest Colorado. To learn more, drop by the Museum of Northwest Colorado at 590 Yampa Ave., or visit the museum’s Facebook page,

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