Heritage: Delta’s Past

The land we know as the Western Slope of Colorado has a fascinating past and a rich history.  The adventure starts with Juan de Onate’s effort to colonize in Northern (New) Mexico.  By 1610 Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico is established and is the oldest surviving capitol in America. To put this into context, Jamestown was established in 1607, St. Augustine was founded in 1565, and is the oldest surviving city in America.  Moving forward, de Rivera explored Southwestern Colorado and Southeastern Utah from 1761 through 1765.  De Rivera left Santa Fe for Taos, moving north westward to the San Juan and Delores Rivers in present day Colorado.  He explored as far north as the Uncompahgre and Gunnison River watersheds on the Western Slope.  Coming on the heals of de Rivera was the Dominguez-Escalante Expedition.  Dominguez and Escalante explored the same area as de Rivera, however they moved farther northwest to Utah Lake before returning to Santa Fe.
With the Louisana Purchase of 1803, American terriroty doubled, and settlement started to move westward over the into the Mississippi River watershed.  Trapping and trading brought commerce to settlements such as St. Louis.  The trappers fanned out up the Missouri for beaver pelts, with Western Colorado seeing its first fur trappers by 1812.   With increasing numbers of trappers, the Santa Fe Trail was established over the Kansas Plains linking St. Louis with Santa Fe in Mexico.  The trail stretched into the drainage of the Arkansas River which was rich in beaver, and the dividing line between the new American nation and Mexico.  By 1821, Mexico had gained independence from Spain and Santa Fe became the capitol of New Mexico.  Through 1824 the fur trappers increased on the Western Slope, with the likes of Kit Carson, Jason Lee, Antoine Rubidoux, William Bicknell, William Huddart, William Wolfskill, and Etienne Provost.  The routes varied, some took the old Dominguez-Escalante route west of the San Juan Mountains, others moved up from Taos into the San Louis Valley, through Cochetopa Pass and into the Gunnison River drainage. By 1828, Antoine Rubidoux built a fort on the Gunnison River near present day Delta, Colorado.  Rubidoux wanted to supply trappers from the Colorado River down to the Gila River to the south.  By the middle 1830’s, the Rubidoux empire was freighting supplies over Cochetopa from St. Louis and Fort Osage.  Rubidoux’s Fort was destroyed in 1844, bringing to a close the heyday of trapping on the Western Slope of Colorado.

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