In Colorado, we have a few old forts from the 1800’s that are still either intact, or they have been refurbished. This is true throughout the west. In fact, one of my relatives owned a portion of Fort Laramie, in Wyoming, after it was de-commissioned by the army. The whole fort has since been restored and is run by The National Park Service now.
Other forts that come to mind include Bent’s Old Fort in Southern Colorado, a very neat place, with a mini me version in the foothills west of Denver, which operates as The Fort Restaurant. Another very nice fort I recently visited is in Bluff, Utah, and was the site of a fort built by Mormon pioneers. It was the first Anglo community in southern Utah.
When we think of forts, we usually think of military barracks, but in fact, most of the early forts, including two I mentioned earlier for sure, started out as trading posts. They were built and run by fur trappers and entrepreneurs of that time, who had come west to make their fortunes. Some of these same forts were then taken over by the army during The Indian Wars.
Fort Uncompahgre, the closest fort to my home is in Delta, Colorado and is currently owned by The City of Delta and run by The Interpretive Association of Western Colorado. It’s important to note that this is an interpretive center, and not the original fort. It is however, built to the same exact size and layout as the original fort, and with wood from that era, so it’s very realistic. It’s also not that large. The other forts I have visited have been much larger.
When I was in grade school, I learned about the pioneers moving west and how, at the end of the day, they would circle their wagons for protection. They did the same thing when building their forts and communities when they reached their destinations in the west. They built structures with no windows or doors to the outside, and all the buildings faced the center of the circle. This describes how Fort Uncompahgre was built.
The person who built this fort was an American of French descent, by the name of Antoine Robideau. He is believed to be the first white person to cross The Rockies. There are inscriptions he made in The Bookcliffs in 1837 that can still be seen today. He explored throughout Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and other parts of the west, most areas of which were still part of Mexico at that time. He and his brother both became Mexican citizens so they could do business in that country. He opened his fort to sell and trade beaver pelts and buffalo hides, which were plentiful at the time. The fort was destroyed during an Indian attack in 1844 and Robideau chose not to re-open it.
In the 1830’s, when the fort was originally built, Western Colorado was still a part of Mexico, and all the people who worked at the fort were Mexican, except for Antoine’s little brother Louis, who was usually left in charge there when Antoine went out to explore and take care of other business.
Most of the doors to the various buildings are not even 6 feet tall, so you must be careful when walking through there, not to bump your head or knock yourself out. People of 200 years ago were apparently much smaller than we are today. It must be all that Wonder Bread we ate as kids! Everything is super-sized now: Hamburgers, French fries, cokes, even humans!
This Interpretive Center is built a bit of a distance away from the site of the original fort, which was located at the confluence of The Gunnison and Uncompahgre rivers. Currently, there is a park in that location known as Confluence Park in Delta. The interpretive center is located near the park. Admission is free for kids 12 and under, and only $4 for seniors, but it’s free for anyone if you have a National Park Pass! This is a certified info site for public lands and a place where you can purchase park passes, wood permits and Christmas tree permits in season. There is a wonderful gift shop there, with lots of interesting and affordable gifts, books, and various items of interest. I would encourage anyone who is able to enter for free to support the good, historical work they are doing there by purchasing something at the gift shop, which we did.
There is also a small stage on the property where plays are held, and some bleachers where the audience can sit and take in the entertainment. There were signs outside the fort, posted about a Shakespeare play taking place in June, but I don’t see anything about this on their website. John did take a picture of the sign though:
Another upcoming fun day for everyone takes place during Deltarado Days in July. Deltarado Days is sponsored by The Delta Chamber of Commerce and takes place July 21st through July 24th this year. The Fort will be open on Saturday the 23rd and admission that day is FREE! There will be volunteers in period clothing doing demonstrations of cooking and other fort activities. This will be a fun activity for parents, grandparents, and kiddos alike.
There is a lovely xeriscape garden planted just outside the fort.
The address and phone number of the fort is:
440 North Palmer Street
HOURS OF OPERATION:
Open M-Sat 9am to 5pm
Being closed on Sundays is so civilized, don’t you think? Not everywhere needs to be open 24/7/365, even though most places are these days. OK I’ll get off my soapbox now.
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