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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.
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