Heritage is our link to the past. Heritage is what it means to be “Pueblo.” It is the literal foundation of our city — the sandstones and shales below us. It is also our inheritance, the legacy of those who came before us. This history can be found at the Pueblo Heritage Museum, where we say: “Pueblo’s story starts here.”

Pueblo’s story began millions of years ago. Over unimaginable time, the landscape here took shape. Terrible dinosaurs and ancient shellfish lived here. We know from fossils that Pueblo was once the bottom of the sea. Our museum collections include fossil baculites and inoceramids, creatures who thrived in the ancient marine environment.

Almost 100 million years later, humanity came to Colorado. Archaeologists confirm that Native-American bison hunters thrived here around 8,000 BC. These native peoples, and the extinct Bison occidentalis they hunted, are a part of Pueblo’s heritage, too. They came here for the same reason so many stay in Pueblo today — a relative abundance of animal life, water and mild weather.

Prehistoric indigenous cultures are also part of Pueblo’s story. Around 1100 AD, the Apishapa culture gained prominence in this region. Utilizing the local sandstones, this group built villages overlooking rivers. At the Wallace site near Swallows, prehistoric peoples painted rock art murals. These paintings remind us of the indigenous contributions to our heritage. Today, mural art continues to be an important aspect of Pueblo’s culture.

Around 1600, the Ute became one of the first tribes to acquire horses from Spanish pioneers. As Neomexicanos and later fur trappers arrived to this area, they married into indigenous tribes.

These cross-cultural relationships paved the way for establishments such as El Pueblo and the Greenhorn trading posts in the 1840s. These were the first examples of capitalism in this part of the West — creating a major turning point in Pueblo’s story and introducing the first wave of Anglo-American settlement.

In 1848, the international border with Mexico was moved from the Arkansas River to the Rio Grande River. Tragically, all the Mexicans living between Southern Colorado and Texas became “immigrants” without ever moving. Still, the native and Mexican cultures left an imprint on Pueblo’s food, religion and art.

Shortly after 1860, empire builders realized the economic potential of Southern Colorado. While water and natural resources had attracted people here for millennia, in the second half of the 1800s this area was recognized as ideal for building an industrial city. Pueblo’s story would never be the same.

Innovations in ranching, steel and mining set Pueblo apart from other cities. The population expanded in response to jobs, and in 1886, the “three Pueblos” consolidated to form Pueblo.

Immigration is significant in our heritage, as the various ethnicities created a cultural landscape unlike any in the world. This part of Pueblo’s story is celebrated at the Pueblo Heritage Museum.

During the last 125 years, there have been significant moments in Pueblo’s history, such as women’s suffrage, the 1921 Flood and the construction of the Army Depot. Equally influential are the Mesa farms and Pueblo’s mail-order saddle industry. All of these “blips in time” can be experienced in an afternoon at the Pueblo Heritage Museum.

Located in the 1924 freight depot, the Pueblo Heritage Museum features artifacts ranging from millions of years old fossils to a Motorola cell phone from the 1990s. An 800-year-old Apishapa rock art mural is a part of our display on North American archaeology. “Beulah red marble” is exhibited beside the desk of Gov. Alva Adams. Our diverse exhibits tell Pueblo’s comprehensive story.

The Pueblo Heritage Museum is community driven, supported by memberships from individuals and organizations. The FACC Hispanic Genealogy group, the Pueblo Archaeological and Historical Society, the Irish Club, and the Pueblo County Historical Society stand alongside innumerable groups as keepers of Pueblo’s heritage. The collections and passion of these groups add depth to the museum and volunteers keep the gears of the museum turning. These organizations are Pueblo’s heritage.

In recent months, we have been reaching more groups. The Pueblo Police Department is helping us design a new exhibit to premier this summer. With the help of a Colorado State University-Pueblo intern, we are creating a walking tour of Union Ave’s “sporting houses.”

If it has been a while since you’ve visited, come see what is new. Each time you visit one of the fabulous museums here, you are helping preserve and propagate Pueblo’s story. We look forward to welcoming you.

 Spencer Little is the museum coordinator at the Pueblo Heritage Museum. The museum is across from the Union Depot at 201 W. B Street and is open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays.