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.
Before Colorado was organized as a territory,
settlers of the Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson River
Valleys formed a claim club to protect their rights to
their land. Each member of the club was allowed to choose
160 acres of land. Rights to the claim were recognized
and protected by the club, which provided regulation in
the absence of a legal government.
After the Territory of Colorado was created and organized
in 1861, Larimer County was created by an act of the
first territorial legislature. Three county commissioners
and other, lesser officials were appointed by Governor
Gilpin. Frederick W. Sherwood, Alfred F. Howes, and John
J. Ryan headed the first official government of the
county, named after General William Larimer, founder of
Denver. LaPorte was named the county seat in the act.
The following year LaPorte also became a station stop for
the Overland Stage Lines, which transported U.S. mail.
Depletion of western troops during the Civil War followed
by Indian raids along the Platte Trail in Wyoming led Ben
Holladay, owner of the stage, to move the mail route
south. The new road traversed northeastern Colorado. It
followed the South Platte from Julesburg to the mouth of
the Poudre at Latham. The main route then followed the
Poudre to LaPorte and on up the Cherokee Trail into
southern Wyoming. A branch line later went from Latham to
Denver and then back along the front range to LaPorte.
A military escort guarding the move of the stage line
arrived in LaPorte on or near July 22, 1862. The soldiers
would soon erect buildings for a military post created to
protect the Cherokee Trail. General James Craig
recommended that the post be called "Camp
Collins" in honor of William O. Collins, in command
of the 11th Ohio Cavalry, at Fort Laramie.
Following a flood which damaged the camp in 1864, the
army sought a new location for its post. Joseph Mason, a
claim holder along the Poudre south of LaPorte, suggested
a site between his claim and that of Frederick and Jesse
Sherwood. Colonel Collins inspected and approved the site
in August, 1864.
Exactly when the "camp" became a
"fort" is uncertain. References to "Camp
Collins" appeared years later. The post hardly
deserved the term "fort." It had no walls and
no stockade. The buildings included officers' quarters,
barracks, mess halls, a storehouse, and a guardhouse
around a parade ground of 300 square feet. Later
additions would include more storehouses, a stable, a
magazine and additional officers' quarters.
The fort attracted civilians and provided profitable
opportunities for those already settled in the area.
Joseph Mason, a French Canadian engaged in stock raising,
ran Old Grout, the fort sutler's store. Mason and one of
the Sherwood brothers supplied horses to the army.
Elizabeth "Auntie" Stone and her husband,
Lewis, came to Camp Collins in 1864. Upon learning of the
relocation of the camp they began building a log cabin
which served as officers' mess and as a hotel. Although
in her sixties, Auntie Stone added some excitement to the
dull routine of camp life with her parties. Her garden
also improved the diet of the soldiers.
Henry C. Peterson also came to Camp Collins in 1864. He
obtained employment as a gunsmith for the soldiers.
Peterson and Auntie Stone, widowed in 1866, became
partners in building a flour mill. It began operations in
1868 and provided a local supply of a basic food staple,
further stabilizing the settlement. Other residents in
the area when the camp was founded included Mr. and Mrs.
John G. Coy, who had a farm across the river from the
fort, and Benjamin Whedbee and E. W. Whitcomb who were
raising cattle in the area.
The primary purpose of the fort was to police their
portion of the Overland Trail. Escorts for supply trains,
paymasters, VIPs, etc., were often called for. Indian
raids would bring calls for troops from the post. At
times the camp commander found it necessary to act in
civil matters, since there was no civilian law
enforcement. Except for these "diversions" camp
life was a monotonous routine of answering duty calls and
performing housekeeping chores. The fort itself needed
little protection. It was located in a region populated
by peaceful (but horse-stealing) Arapahos led by
hospitable Chief Friday.
Indian problems in the area declined in 1866. Abandonment
of the post was proposed. Fort Collins residents
protested the suggestion, citing the need for protection
but, perhaps, more concerned with what the departure of
the military might mean to the area's economy. General
William T. Sherman inspected the fort in September, 1866.
He recommended the post be abandoned. It officially
closed in March, 1867.
Despite the departure of the military there were signs of
potential prosperity for Fort Collins. The town of
Cheyenne sprang up as a railhead of the first
transcontinental railroad. Laramie was also an important
railroad supply center. Thus, located between these two
booming towns and Denver, Fort Collins might hope to
To further enhance Fort Collins prospects, Joseph Mason,
whose business had depended heavily on the fort, led an
effort to have the county seat moved from LaPorte to Fort
Collins. The legislature agreed to this in 1868. County
records were moved to Old Grout, a versatile building
which served as the town's first post office, and as
courthouse, church and community center.
The civilian population of the Fort Collins community
worked to organize and improve their neighborhood during
the years of the fort and afterward. The town of Fort
Collins was first platted in 1867 by Jack Dow, assisted
by Captain Norman H. Meldrum and others. It was laid out
parallel with the river.
School was first taught in 1866 by Elizabeth Keays,
Auntie Stone's niece. Although Miss Keays initially began
the classes for her son, other settlers soon sent their
children. She taught in a small room in her aunt's hotel.
In the summer of 1866 a Fort Collins school district was
formed with Captain Asaph Allen, Henry C. Peterson, and
W. D. Hays as members of the school board. They employed
Miss Keays to teach the first public school in one of the
abandoned officer's quarters, although she quit after
three months and married Harris Stratton, a farmer and
county representative to the territorial legislature.
Miss Keays' little hotel classroom was also the site of
the area's first Catholic services in the fall of 1866.
Father (later Bishop) Machebeuf held Mass on a Saturday.
In 1869 a group of people from Mercer County,
Pennsylvania, established a colony west of the town. They
began construction of the Mercer Ditch from the river.
However, their funds soon gave out and the colony
The end of the 1860s found the small town of Fort Collins
in a period of transition. It had grown up around a
military post. That resource was now gone. New ones would
have to be found or created for the town to survive.
E. W. Whitcomb lived near Boxelder Creek. He was one of
the first to deal in Texas cattle. His parties were a big
county social event. He sold his ranch in the 1870s. He
also was involved in the Johnson County War (Wyoming) in