[Delta, Colo. | February 2020 | San Juan Silver Stage | By Mary Menz]

When fur trader Antoine Robidoux established Fort Uncompahgre in 1928, he met little resistance from the Ute Indians. While they were not historically fond of newcomers to their territory, Robidoux brought with him metalwork, an innovation that the Ute people found beneficial to everyday life.

The Ute men were particularly enamored of the steel files used to put the final touches on new iron arrowheads and the fire steels that made starting fires with flint so efficient. The Ute women quickly accustomed themselves to using steel knives and hatchet axes to skin and process the animals the Utes hunted for food. Copper pots and pans and other sheet-metal objects made cooking game and porridges much easier than lining a hole with animal hide and boiling with hot rocks.

These modern amenities were welcome from the white fur trader who set up shop in Ute territory, and it didn’t take long for Robidoux to gain the trust of the Ute people. He paid them $5 in trade for each elk or beaver hide brought in. The Utes used the money to purchase the metal items they quickly found essential to everyday living, as well as guns, dry goods, and Taos lightening (whiskey).

The beaver trade was at the height of its popularity in the 1820s to ʼ30s because of a demand worldwide for beaver fur felt top hats. In today’s dollars, Fort Uncompahgre saw $1 million in commerce during peak operation. When silk top hats came into fashion in the 1840s, the beaver trade dropped dramatically. The Ute people felt cheated that their trade credits dropped, and Fort Uncompahgre ceased operations when its occupants were attacked and killed in 1844.

A reenactment of trading beaver hides, circa 1830. Image, courtesy Fort Uncompahgre.

Fort Uncompahgre is located at 440 North Palmer Street, Delta, Colorado, just off Confluence Drive adjacent to the Bill Heddles Recreation Center. The Fort itself is closed January and February, but the gift shop and visitor center are open year-round, 9 A.M. to 5 P.M, Monday through Saturday. School tours may be arranged for the months of April, May, September, and October.

The Fort is staffed by volunteers and is always looking for people to help. Please stop by or visit their website for more information.

For more information about the tours or the Fort and its grounds, call 970-874-8349 or visit their website: fortuncompahgre.org/.