Fort Collins Time Line Pre-1860
The following links are to a chronological index of Fort Collins information compiled by Fort Collins Museum volunteers in the 1990s. The information is from these reference sources and they are noted in the Time Line.
Many men of different races and nations had undoubtedly
traversed what would be Larimer County long before 1820. But that
was the year the U.S. government exploring expedition, commanded
by Major Stephen H. Long, recorded no name for the river they
found emptying into the South Platte. In 1835 an expedition
journalist with Colonel Henry Dodge on his diplomatic mission to
the Plains Indians, reported passing the "Cache la
Poudre." Apparently at some time in that fifteen year gap
the river, which refers to "the hiding place of the
powder," acquired its name.
Abner Loomis, who settled in the Poudre Valley in 1860,
reported a story told to him by Antoine Janis, a French trader
and interpreter who helped organize the valley's first
settlement. The tale claimed that a party of trappers, which
included Janis' father, were carrying supplies to a rendezvous on
Green River. They passed through what is now Pleasant Valley and
cached gunpowder near the south bank of the Poudre, thus giving
the river its name.
While facts are sketchy, accumulated evidence suggests that a
party of trappers led by William H. Ashley, founder of the Rocky
Mountain Fur Company, travelled along the Poudre River with
supplies for the Green River rendezvous in the winter of 1824-25.
They camped near a river, which was probably the Poudre, for
three weeks while making short excursions for trade. One report
indicates the party made a cache while they were camped. Records
two years later show that Antoine Janis' father was an employee
of Ashley's and thus could have been on the 1825 expedition.
Other parties of traders and explorers, including John C.
Fremont, would pass through the area on their way to the Laramie
Plains. The group which gave the trail they travelled its'
lasting name was a party of Cherokee Indians on their way to the
California gold fields in 1849. The Cherokee Trail began at the
Arkansas River and ran along the foot of the mountains to the
Poudre. From there it went up to the Laramie Plains and west to
the Platte road near Fort Bridger.
The late 1840s brought many travelers across the plains on
their way to California gold, Oregon settlement, or the Mormon
colony in Utah. In 1854 the Kansas-Nebraska Act created the
Nebraska Territory, which included the present site of Fort
Collins. Land claims in the region were consequently given more
legal definition. Many claims were made as men found it
profitable to settle near the trails and supply stock and hay for
the military and for immigrants. The Poudre River Valley was an
attractive place to establish such enterprises.
Prior to this period of transition and settlement, the Indians
had accepted many of the early trappers and traders and let them
travel their lands freely. Antoine Janis, a Creole Frenchman,
enjoyed such a privilege. In the early 1840s he traded with the
Oglala Sioux out of Fort Laramie. He later married a woman from
this tribe and raised a family. Following the Colorado gold
strike in 1858, Janis came to Colorado with his fellow traders,
mostly French, hoping to take advantage of the influx of
prospectors. They settled on a claim which had been staked by
Janis in 1844. Arapahos granted them land and they organized the
settlement of Colona, later La Porte, in 1859. Horace Greeley
passed through the settlement on his way to California a few
months after the town was founded.
Janis and his companions were on friendly terms with the
Arapaho Indians in the area, as were most of the pioneers.
Incidents of violence were rare. The two races generally regarded
each other with curiosity. Some Arapahos even worked for area
ranchers. This amicable relationship was due in large part to an
Arapaho Chief named Friday. Raised by mountain man and Indian
agent Tom Fitzpatrick, Friday spoke fluent English. He returned
to the Arapaho tribe following a boyhood which included
attendance at a Catholic school in St. Louis and summers at the
traders' rendezvous in Wyoming. He was one of eleven Indians to
meet with President Fillmore in 1851 as a member of Fitzpatrick's
delegation. The experience gave him prestige and a place of
leadership among the Arapahos.
However, such efforts by men like Fitzpatrick and Friday could
not stop the violent effects on frontier expansion to Indian
lands. Poudre Valley settlers had cause to appreciate the
friendly nature of the local tribe when the Indian wars of the
1860s broke out. These wars led directly to the founding of the
city of Fort Collins.