The region originally served as a trading outpost comprised of Spanish Settlers to the region known as Neuvo Mexico, after Philip II claimed and created the administrative province. Most of the trade was conducted with French trappers living in the mountains to the north and with the people of the Ute Nation to the east of this settlement. There remains in town remnants of the old Spanish Fort and a small Cathedral.

For several decades it was a Mexican Territory, following their declaration of independence in 1821. It was during the Mexican-American War of the late 1840s that the growing town was captured and held under a provisional government by the Captain Higgs of the 3rd Cavalry, known as the Storm Riders.

Even after the cessation of the war and relinquishing of territories in the north by Mexico, the town remained integrated. Slowly the military withdrew and it wasn't until the era of the gold rushes of the later parts of the 19th century that the city boomed again. The combination of mining and the growth of the railroad in the region thanks to the Denver United Rail Company (DUR) saw the need for an administrative center. Former Colorado Governor Alexander Braxton named the city in the 1880s. Named after a recollection of finding the skulls of cattle in the area on a scouting trip from his younger days, he called the location Calaveras.

This move seized the location as the administrative center for mining in the area, cutting off other nearby cities, later incorporated into Calaveras. Of note, the Braxton Mining Co. that still exists in the region today was founded by one of the sons of Alexander Braxton, a move made possible by his work with the DUR.

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