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Alfred A. Edwards
Alfred A. Edwards

Alfred A. Edwards Tells of Valley as It Was When He Came in 1869

Fort Collins Express   Page Six-B September 29, 1935

On August 2, 1869, a party of six departed from the town of Mercer, Pennsylvania bound for the Cache La Poudre valley in Colorado. The leader of the party was the Rev. W. T. McAdam, a retired Presbyterian minister, who had served as chaplain of a regiment in the Civil War. The other members of the party were William Smith and George Sykes, two Civil War veterans, George McAdam, son of the leader, Thomas Bohn and Alfred A. Edwards, we three last being mentioned being each about 18 years of age. We went by rail to Monmouth, Illinois, where we remained for two weeks, during which time the Rev. McAdam purchased fourteen thoroughbred mares, together with four mules and a covered wagon to convey our outfit. There were no bridges over the large streams in those days and the second day out we ferried over the Mississippi river at Burlington, Iowa, and continued on thru that state to Council Bluffs, making about 25 miles each day and camping out at night. We ferried across the Missouri river into Omaha, Nebraska. We intended continuing our traveling thru Nebraska and on to Cheyenne, Wyoming, but learned from merchants in Omaha that the Indians were very hostile along the route and decided to board a freight train which landed us and our outfit in Cheyenne on September 2, 1869.

After spending the night in a corral in that 2 year-old town, we started overland for Laporte, Colorado. We drove the first day to Boxelder creek where we stayed over night at the Whitcomb ranch and next day drove down to Laporte. Mr. Whitcomb, a former resident of Philadelphia, had an Indian woman for a wife and was engaged in the cattle business, his range being the Boxelder Valley. Upon arrival we were met by Captain James W. Hanna and his brother in-law, Addas Carter, both of these men having been former residents of our old home town of Mercer, Pa. Captain Hanna had been in command of Ohio troops stationed at Camp Collins, Colo., after the Civil War and his correspondence with Rev. McAdam regarding the Poudre Valley and its advantages, induced the emigration of our party to Colorado.

We found Laporte to be a small village with 100 inhabitants living in log houses, one general store which contained the Laporte post office. This locality and the Pleasant Valley had always been a favorite resort during the winter season for bands of Indians, and the large cottonwood trees above the town of Laporte were still the receptacles of bodies of the Indian dead which had been enclosed in wild animal robes and skins by their relatives. The next spring, that of 1870, [railroad] ties which had been cut for use in the building of the Denver Pacific railroad were driven down the Poudre river and the bodies of these dead Indian chiefs and their relatives were torn down by the drivers in order to obtain the arrowheads and other Indian relics which had been deposited with the bodies by surviving relatives. One log cabin in the town was used for church services, public and political meetings. Bishop Randall, a Baptist missionary among the Indians, and George Washington Swift, a young Methodist minister, preached in this log cabin frequently. The Rev. Swift was the only regular preacher in the valleys of Big Thompson, Little Thompson and Cache la Poudre. There was only one practicing physician in the Poudre valley, Dr. T. M. Smith, whose office was located on his ranch two miles northwest of Fort Collins. There was not a single lawyer practicing in the Poudre Valley, consequently peace and harmony prevailed.

Four-horse Concord coaches were driven through Laporte each day, conveying passengers between Cheyenne and Denver when we arrived in the Poudre valley, but shortly thereafter, the Denver Pacific railroad which had been constructed between those two towns, carried all passengers and the stage lines were taken off and were seen no more passing through Laporte. Antoine Janis was still a resident on a ranch just west of Laporte which he settled upon in 1884. For several years he had acted as interpreter between the Indians and the white settlers in the Poudre valley and the U. S. patent to his land was said to be the first one issued in the state of Colorado. Messrs. McAdam, Smith, Carter, and Sykes and another former resident of Mercer, Pennsylvania, Joseph Shipler, filed claims upon government land adjacent to the town of Fort Collins, building residences there and their families arrived during the spring of 1870 and all occupied their new homes. The Fort Collins park and lake, Scott-Sherwood West Side addition are located on the lands filed and settled upon by them and a company was formed to construct the Mercer Irrigation ditch, first work being started during the spring of 1870.

From that time on Fort Collins became the post office and trading places for all these Mercer settlers. There were no U. S. troops then in Fort Collins, but log cabins were still in evidence that had housed the officers and soldiers, and large barns were still standing that had been used for the cavalry horses. The "Old Grout" building stood on the corner of Linden and Jefferson streets, the first story used for a general store and the second story containing the town hall where all church services, court sessions, lodge meetings, political meetings and all other gatherings of the citizens of Fort Collins and vicinity were held. Only one tavern or road house was in operation, Mrs. Elizabeth "Auntie" Stone being the proprietor and conducting her hostelry in a very popular fashion. During the latter days of September, 1869, I left the other members of our Mercer party to accept employment in a hay camp down on the Platte valley. Judge A. F. Howes of Fort Collins had contracted with the U. S. government to deliver baled hay into Fort Russell (now Fort Warren) located at Cheyenne, Wyo. The large native hay meadows were located on government land and situated about twenty miles up the Platte river from Fort Morgan, the present line of the Union Pacific railway crossing that stream near the meadows which were located on the first bottom on north bank.

I worked that hay camp two and one-half months, during which time hay was cut from hundreds of acres, baled by ox and "beater" presses, loaded onto wagons and trailers and hauled by "bull trains" and delivered to Fort Russell. On our way down the Poudre and Platte valleys to the hay camp, we passed the ranch owned and occupied by Benjamin H. Eaton, who afterward filled the office of governor of Colorado, also the ranch of the Boyd Brothers, arriving at the ranch of W. J. Cram where we sent the night. The Cram ranch was located on the north bank of the Poudre river and directly across the valley from the present city of Greeley. The land covered by that city at present was at that time a raw prairie devoid of any habitation or settlement, remaining in that condition until the following spring of 1870 when the Greeley colony under the leadership of N. C. Meeker arrived and started the building of the present beautiful city of Greeley.

Continuing on our way from the Cram ranch the next morning, we reached Crow creek where the home of Elbridge Gerry was located at a point about one mile from where that stream emptied into the Platte river. Mr. Gerry had two Indian squaw wives and seven children. He had been an early day fur trapper and was well known all over this Western country. He was a native of the state of Vermont and nephew of Former Governor Gerry of Vermont. The home in which the Gerry family lived and the stables for his horses were all constructed of adobe material and at that time the buildings were comfortable and in good condition. The Gerry home was known as "Old Fort Gerry" and Mr. Gerry and family were noted for their kindness and hospitality to travelers. Being the only boy in the Howes' hay camp, I was given the job of camp mail carrier and three times I rode a mule, "Old Trump" by name, back and forth to a post office up the valley within a few miles of where the city of Greeley now is located. The second week in the following December, the cutting and baling of the hay had ended and Judge Howes' contract with the U. S. government was completed. We "broke camp" and I returned to Fort Collins, arriving there December 13, 1869, glad to be with my Mercer friends again.

About one week after returning to Fort Collins, I was employed by James B. Arthur to act as a herder to assist James Israel who was in charge of about 320 head of cattle that were owned by the Arthur brothers and at that time were on a range near Round Butte about 30 miles north of Fort Collins. We started for the cow camp on December 21 going through Laporte, and passing Park station, Whitcomb ranch on the Boxelder creek and the "Burnt Station", the latter having been a stage station which the Indians burned down a few months prior to that time. We reached the cattle camp that same evening where we found Jim Israel, foreman for the Arthur brothers, living in an excavation or "dugout" in the side of a ridge located about one mile north of Round Butte and about the same distance south of "Jack Springs" a former stage station for the stage line.

My experience in the Arthur cattle camp during the following two and one-half months was very interesting. There were numerous bands of antelope on the range and black-tail deer in the adjacent foothills a few miles to the west of camp and we kept our camp well supplied with venison. During the latter part of March, 1870, we rounded up the cattle and drove them all down to the Arthur ranch located on the Poudre river near where the town of Windsor is now located. There were no bands of sheep at that time and the ranges were occupied and used by the cattlemen under a kind of "gentlemen's agreement", and as I remember it at this date, the ranges were allotted and used by several of the cattle men as follows:

The cattle of Mr. E. V. Whitcomb occupied the open range along the Boxelder valley, extending from the foothills on down easterly to the junction with Poudre river. The Meadow Springs ranch located about five miles east of Round Butte was occupied by the herds of Joe Mason. The herds owned by the Arthur brothers during most of the year occupied the divide lying between the Cache la Poudre river and Big Thompson valleys, including the upper reaches of Fossil Creek. The Wyatt brothers occupied the valley of Lone Tree creek in Weld county with a large herd and Jud Brush was located with his herd of cattle in the Platte valley extending from about the point where the Big Thompson emptied into the Platte river on down east to about the present location of towns of Fort Morgan and Brush. The largest herd of cattle owned and ranging in Northern Colorado occupied the Platte valley and open ranges extending on to the Nebraska line. The owner was Mr. Iliff, father of W. S. Iliff who now resides in city of Denver. The several owners of these herds of cattle cooperated in their management and any that strayed from the range to which they belong, were promptly returned to the rightful owner.

After a sojourn of almost one year in the valleys and on the ranges of Northern Colorado, I returned to my old home in Mercer, Pennsylvania, remaining in that vicinity until fall of year 1876, when, the "Western fever" still upon me, I returned to Fort Collins where I have resided since.
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