On the Map: The Spot Where Modern Denver Began
The confluence of two rivers in downtown Denver — Niinéniiniicíihéhe (the South Platte River) and Cherry Creek — marks the 1858 gold strike that launched a major city.
This spot also marks the prospectors’ encounter with the Arapaho, whose winter camping grounds and sovereign land this was, as affirmed in the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. In addition to white settlers, Cherokee Nation citizens made up a significant number of the early prospectors, pushed off their own land after the 1828 Georgia Gold Rush and subsequent Trail of Tears.
At the site of Confluence Park, it was William Greenberry “Green” Russell who led the group that began a search for gold there in May 1858. When they found indications four miles south, their temporary settlement became what is now known as Denver.
In the intervening century, the 10.5-mile stretch of the South Platte River where Confluence Park rests fell on hard times, like many urban rivers. By the 1970s, it was a polluted, not only neglected but a frequent dumping site, “Denver’s receptacle for anything they wanted out of sight, out of mind.” according to Colorado State Senator Joe Shoemaker, who led the campaign to restore the riverfront. In 1974, Shoemaker co-founded the Platte River Development Committee with then-Denver Mayor Bill McNichols, eventually transforming it into the Greenway Foundation. The park underwent a long renovation and reopened with more amenities in 2018.
Today’s Confluence Park is a public gathering place that offers recreation, paved paths and nature trails, river views and natural landscapes; tubing, and a kayak run. Fishing is permitted, as are wading and shallow swimming at a small beach. Shopping and dining are close by.
Find out more about the Cherokee Nation’s participation in the Colorado Gold Rush
Sources: Colorado Encyclopedia; “Confluence Park,” The Cultural Landscape Foundation; “RIVER TOWNS: Denver | The South Platte’s dirty past promises a pristine future,” September 18, 2021 Colorado Politics; OsiyoTV; Uncover Colorado; “The Birth of Denver, from Boom to Bust to Boom,” Indian Country Today, Oct. 29, 2013.