Breckenridge is famous for being a festive town with much to offer including shopping, dining, yearly events and world-class skiing. The town’s popularity can be attributed to Breckenridge’s first viral campaign launched a century ago declaring Breckenridge an independent territory referred to as the Kingdom of Breckenridge.
However, the town wasn’t always the bustling community it is today. At the end of the gold and silver mining boom that had attracted many to the area in the 1800’s, Breckenridge’s population began to dwindle during the Great Depression. In an effort to establish a new identity, the Kingdom of Breckenridge drew crowds to the area.
The town was in search of its next claim to fame after the allure of mining expired. In 1936, a woman’s club discovered a map from 1880 with a “donut hole” mistake leaving the town of Breckenridge off of the map.
Breckenridge had been completely missing from the map amid the jigsaw puzzle of treaty lines showing the westward expansion of the United States – remnants of conflicts including the Mexican-American war, the annexation of Texas and the Louisiana Purchase.
The women’s club consisted of the “movers and shakers” of the time according to Larissa O’Neil, executive director of the nonprofit Breckenridge History.
“These women took this map, and they ran with that,” O’Neil said. “They ran with it big time”.
O’Neil added the Kingdom of Breckenridge would become the first “viral” campaign for the area.
The women spun the absence of Breckenridge on the map they discovered to indicate Breckenridge an independent territory. This led to the establishment of the first “No Man’s Land” festival on August 7, 1936.
The event hosted dignitaries, politicians and navy officers to welcome Breckenridge to the State of Colorado and was held outside of the county’s courthouse.
Despite the theories of Breckenridge as an independent territory being debunked by a state historian that same year using a map from 1961, the celebration as Breckenridge as “No Man’s Land” lived on for years to come.
The present day infamous “Ullr Day” celebration is a spinoff of the “No Man’s Land” gimmick.
In 1963, at the first Ullr Day celebration, then referred to as “Ullr Dag”, Breckenridge rebranded itself as “The Kingdom”, a reference to the 1880 map that neglected the town.
The town took the bold tourism strategy a step further by featuring a king and queen, posted checkpoints where visitors were required to show Visas and minted its own currency. The US Treasury Department later declared the currency as fake money.
Today “The Kingdom” spirit still lives on in Breckenridge as the town is known for its festivities. Summer 2023 continues Breckenridge’s festive legacy with events including bacon and bourbon hog fest, beer festival, food and wine festival and Breck Epic – a multiday mountain bike race held in and around the backcountry surrounding Breckenridge.
“I think that the whole idea of The Kingdom and No Man’s Land is a fun, quirky part of our past that relates to who we are today,” O’Neil said.
History enthusiasts can learn more about Breckenridge’s history by visiting the historical society’s Dillon Schoolhouse Museum as well as the Breckenridge History’s Barney Ford Museum, located in the home of the Black civil rights pioneer.