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Past & Present

Information on this page comes from various (sometimes conflicting) sources, including: Town records, The History of Calhan and Vicinity 1888–1988, Wikipedia, and various family history websites.


The U.S. Congress created the Colorado Territory on February 28, 1861, but Native Americans roamed the plains of present-day Colorado long before white men arrived. Explorers in the early 1800s found Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, and Pawnee Tribes on plains abundant with buffalo, pronghorn elk, wild horses, coyote, prairie foxes, and prairie hawks. The Utes lived in mountain valleys similarly filled with wildlife. Artifacts found in the Paint Mines have been dated to more than 9,000 years old.

In 1849, gold-seekers bound for California found small nuggets in the South Platte River valley but it wasn’t until 1858 that significant deposits were found. The Colorado Gold Rush was in full swing bt 1859, exemplified by the motto “Pike’s Peak or Bust!” The rapid influx of immigrants lead to the creation of the Colorado Territory in 1861 and large silver discoveries in 1864 prompted even more immigration.

By 1870, Native Americans no longer controlled the prairies and the buffalo were largely gone, thanks to hunters from the east who killed them for sport and their hides. Most Native Americans had moved (voluntarily or not) to reservations in Oklahoma and the eastern plains of Colorado become home for cattle ranchers and farmers. On August 1, 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the proclamation making Colorado the 38th state with the moniker “Centennial State”.

The Big Sandy

Big Sandy Creek starts in the hills north of Peyton, Colorado—approximately 8 miles northwest of present-day Calhan—and sits at the bottom of a large drainage basin named “The Big Sandy” after the creek. It flows both above and below ground eastward and then southward until it empties into the Arkansas River 160 miles (257 km) and 3650 feet (1113 m) away. The open prairie and adequate water supply made for good ranching and the The Big Sandy soon had dozens of cattle and dairy ranches.


In 1887, Dad McRae caught news that the Rock Island Line was extending its tracks though eastern Colorado to Colorado Springs. Scouting around the path planned for the tracks, he found water at a fairly shallow depth at the site where the Town now stands and marked the spot as a likely gamble for where the Line would put a depot and purchased the surrounding land. A year later—1888—his gamble paid off as tough “two fisted” Michael Calahan, who had the contract to lay track through the area, built a water tower and loading platform on McRae’s spot. As the spot had no name, Calahan named it with his own, but by the time the train depot was built in 1906, the middle “a” had disappeared and the town officially became “Calhan”. Coincidentally, Calhan is a fairly common Hungarian and Eastern European family name, and an indicator of the settlers that were to come.

On November 5, 1888, the first Rock Island Line steamer came through, bringing with it a boom that lasted until the Great Depression. Following closely on its heels, the first U.S. Post Office in Calhan opened on November 24, 1888 taking mail from the fading Pony Express service and the new railroad. Calhan was now directly connected to the rest of the continent.

The Town became an incorporated Colorado Statutory Town in 1919.

Boom and Bust
Oil, cattle, land

Shake, Rattle, and Roll
War and 50s

End of the Line
Rock Island Line is no more

Big, little town

book5The History of Calhan and Vicinity 1888–1988by Larry L. King © Copyright 1987

Extensively researched and filled with wonderful details, hundreds of photos, and dozens of family histories.

Available at Town Hall. Also available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine booksellers