A Brief History of Larimer County

Above is a portion of a map of Larimer County from 1881.

The area that encompasses present-day Larimer County has been inhabited for at least 12,000 years up to the modern era by indigenous peoples; from Clovis and Folsom cultures to Native American groups including the Ute, Lakota, Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, Arapaho, and Cheyenne, this land has a rich native history.

Early Spanish explorers are said to have visited this territory in the early 18th century searching for gold but they left no traces of any discoveries. Early 19th century fur traders and trappers frequently visited this part of Colorado, and encountered members of the Ute tribe occupying the mountains and members of the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes inhabiting the plains. Although Kit Carson and a band of trappers spent a season in the vicinity of Estes Park, trappers made no permanent settlements. John C. Fremont passed this way on his first and second expedition in 1842 and 1843 and recorded the first known Euro-American description of the area.

The first known Euro-American settler was Antoine Janis, who established a claim on the Cache La Poudre River near the present site of Laporte in 1844. In 1861 when Colorado Territory was established, Larimer County was one of the original 17 counties. Laporte, first called Colona, was the county seat. In 1868 the people voted to move the county seat to Fort Collins.

The county was named for General William Larimer, Colorado pioneer and one of the founders of the City of Denver. The military camp known as Camp Collins was established at Laporte in 1862, and in 1864, after floods had nearly wiped out the establishment, the military was moved further downstream to a new site. This new camp became known as Fort Collins, and was named after Lt. Colonel William O. Collins. Collins was the commander of the 6th Ohio Cavalry sent to patrol portions of the Overland Trail.

Though the military fort was abandoned in 1867, settlers remained in the area and were encouraged by the Fort Collins Agricultural Colony, an enterprise founded in 1872 as an outgrowth of the Union Colony developed two years earlier in Greeley, Colorado.

Fort Collins was laid out as a town and incorporated February 3, 1873. It grew from a frontier outpost in the 1870s to a prosperous agricultural community by the 1920s on the strength of the western expansion of irrigated farming technology, the advent of the railroads, and the development of the State Agricultural College, present-day Colorado State University.

Loveland was founded in 1877. Berthoud was laid out in 1880, while Estes Park was platted in 1905 and incorporated in 1917. Rocky Mountain National Park, partially within Larimer County, was created by Congress in 1915 to preserve 405 square miles of spectacular mountain scenery including 65 named peaks more than 10,000 feet in altitude.

Fort Collins Museum of Discovery          Poudre River Public Library District
Preserving the history of Fort Collins, Colorado & the Cache la Poudre region