Randall Chapman | May 3rd, 2020 | Travel
Fort Uncompahgre is a recreation of an old, wild west (or more accurately wild north as it was a province of Mexico at the time) trading post that operated from the late 1820’s to the mid-1840s and was possibly the first permanent trading post west of the Continental Divide. This was along the North Fork of the Old Spanish Trail, the pathway taken to get from Sante Fe New Mexico to Los Angeles California. This was deep in Ute Territory, though claimed by Mexico as part of the Sante Fe de Nuevo Mexico Provence. The fort was originally a few miles west of its current location and sat at a good junction point of the trails coming out of the San Juan’s and the Old Spanish Trail.
The fort was built and operated by Antoine Robidoux, a French-Canadian trapper that came out here to find his fortune. The fort was built as a trading post for guns, knives, whiskey, and other supplies in exchange for beaver pelts and other furs that were shipped back east and to Europe to make hats and other fashionable attire, like much of the trapping trade across the old west. Trappers from Europe and Mexico as well as the Utes all traded here.
The fur trade was in the family for the Rubidoux’s. Joseph Robidoux III, Antoine’s Father, had a fur trading company based out of Saint Louis and most of Antoine’s brothers were in the trade as well, including his brother Joseph IV who established a post in what is now St Joseph, Missouri. Antoine ran two other trading posts, one in the Unita Basin at the confluence of the Unita and Whitrocks Rivers, known as Fort Unita and the other was at the confluence of the White and the Green rivers known as Fort Robidoux.
Antoine resided in Santa Fe for most of his time operating the fur trade and was among the movers and shakers of the town. By the mid 1840s the fur trade was declining in Europe. The Ute were feeling like they had been treated unfairly by the Mexican government for many years and this led to bands of Ute tribes attacked Mexican settlements throughout the area including Fort Uncompahgre where they killed all but one employee, leaving the fort and its contents untouched. This prompted Antoine to return east to St Joseph where he worked as a guide and army interpreter even joining Stephen W Kearney’s campaign to California during the Mexican-American War. Antoine Died in St Joseph in 1860 at the age of 65.
While not in its original location, the fort was recreated by locals in 1990 so that one can come and relive a piece of Wild West history. Built almost 200 years ago, the original fort has been gone for a long time and it’s uncertain exactly where it originally was or what the layout exactly was but
they were able to give the feel, as if you were there.
The Fort’s new location is in the city of Delta, Colorado at Confluence Park, a municipal park that includes a nice lake, boat ramp for the Gunnison River, and a really nice community center. There is a gift shop/book store and this acts as an information center for the region where one can go and get information not just on the fort but also get the low down on what other adventures are available in the area. The shop is run by people that are also members of the local historical society so if you’re a history buff, like me, you can spend hours in there learning about all the different facets of life in this area.
The fort is actually a really cool recreation, not too touristy but still has the elements most tourist are looking for. They built it just like it would have been built back in the day and the all of the items they put in to round it out are open and not behind glass. I get why places do the glass but it had so much more of an authentic feel. I was fortunate to be the only one touring the fort at the time and it allowed my imagination to wonder and when I walked into each building it felt like I was in the wild west.