Poudre River Public Library District
2733 Council Tree Ave. #200
Fort Collins, Colorado 80525
Drivers heading towards Council Tree Library may not realize that the name of Council Tree Avenue was given in honor of an actual tree that once stood in Fort Collins. Council Tree has a deep history that makes it indispensable to Northern Colorado. The cottonwood tree lived to be at least 120 years old, even though the average cottonwood's lifespan is only about 30 years. Although the actual Council Tree hasn't stood for 70 years, it continues to hold an important place in our community.
This gnarled and twisted tree once stood in southeast Fort Collins, near the Cache la Poudre River, off East Horsetooth Road. The tree was located on tribal land that became property of George Robert Strauss, who settled on the Cache la Poudre River in 1860. Strauss continued to live on this property until 1904, when he died at age 76 as a result of roaring flood on the Poudre. According to some early accounts, the Council Tree was one of the few large trees growing near the river at that time.
Council Tree received its name from the councils held under its branches by Arapaho leader Warshinun, often referred to as Chief Friday. He lived along the Cache la Poudre River in the 1860s. Separated from his Arapaho tribe as a young boy, Warshinun was found by a fur trapper named Thomas Fitzpatrick who unofficially adopted him and sent him to school in St. Louis. While there, he learned English and became a noted interpreter between Native and non-Native peoples. After returning to Northern Colorado, Warshinun gained respect as the leader of the local band of Arapahos and held meetings for tribal members beneath a 100-foot gnarled cottonwood southeast of town known as the Council Tree; his legacy was one of a peacekeeper.
In later attempts to preserve the aging tree, the Colorado Mountain Club built a large fence around the tree to keep cattle from damaging it. The Cache la Poudre chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution marked the tree with a plaque given by their conservation committee. However, in 1938, the Council Tree was accidentally damaged extensively by the farmer who owned the land it was on, as he was attempting to burn weeds around its trunk. Despite the damage, there are records of the tree still standing through the 1940s and into the 1950s. Unfortunately, the tree was so badly damaged it later had to be removed. There is a story, however, that a group of local youths built a bonfire near the tree that spread, burning down what was left from the first fire.
After the tree was destroyed, 300 pounds of lead bullet shells were found lodged in its trunk, and an arrowhead and an arrow were found in the surrounding area. A piece of the bark is on display at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.
In honor of the original Council Tree, the Fort Collins Historical Society planted a new cottonwood near its original site on May 22, 1976. The Council Tree stands as a testament to long history of settlement in the place that would become Fort Collins.
Bayer Properties chose this historic name for the street in the new Front Range Village shops, where Council Tree Library is located.
Preserving the history of Fort Collins, Colorado & the Cache la Poudre region