Fort Uncompahgre: Heritage Gardens Provide Both a Visual and Edible Feast

[Delta, Colo. | March 2020 | By Mary Menz]

When Fort Uncompahgre was originally constructed in 1828 the kitchen—or “la cocina,” as it is called—was built nearby. Its horno, or adobe oven, cooked many a meal for traveling fur traders as well as for Antoine Robidoux, who established the trading post.

Built at the confluence of the Uncompahgre and Gunnison Rivers, the Fort was situated on fertile soil that provided grass hay for livestock and horses. This location experienced milder winter temperatures and more workable land than the surrounding mountain areas, and small gardens planted on-site provided seasonal varieties of fresh food to supplement the dry goods stocked at the trading post. Today, Fort Uncompahgre boasts four gardens on its grounds for visitors to enjoy. Today, Fort Uncompahgre boasts four gardens on its grounds for visitors to enjoy.

Kitchen Garden. Established 31 years ago, when a replica of the original trading post was built on the grounds of the Fort, the garden is planted annually with the “three sisters” (corn, beans, and squash), as well as chili peppers, onions, tobacco, and other dietary staples of the early West.

Native Plant and Pollinator Garden. Featuring herbs and flowering plants, it lures important insects and butterflies to the property. A variety of culinary herbs and colorful flower-producing healing herbs like comfrey, mint, and echinacea are grown in this garden and are representative of the plants pioneers brought with them from eastern states or Europe for medicinal uses.

It’s not hard to imagine the exchange of knowledge that took place between the indigenous Ute tribes and the people who established gardens at the trading post. The Utes would have shared their extensive knowledge of edible native plants and identified those they used most, such as yarrow or the shrubby Mormon tea, both of which were used for medicinal or traditional purposes.

Heirloom Hollyhock Garden and Hops Garden. More recently planted, these gardens allow visitors to see how plants are used in the natural landscape at the Fort, providing color, structure, and interest to the grounds.

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

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

Spanish, Mexican, and Utes in the Uncompahgre Valley of Western Colorado to 1900

Presentation by
Steven G. Baker,
Local Archaeologist and Historian

Mon., March 16.
Bill Heddles Rec. Center. 6:30 P.M.

In celebration of Hispanic Heritage, the Hispanic Affairs Project, Fort Uncompahgre Interpretive Center, and the Interpretive Association are proud to sponsor a presentation by local historian and archaeologist Steven Baker titled, “Spaniards, Mexicans, and Utes in the Uncompahgre Valley of Western Colorado to 1900.”

The history of the Uncompahgre Valley is typically recounted from the perspective of the late 19th-century white settlement, which commenced in earnest with the removal of the Ute Indians and the few Mexicans who lived among them. There is, however, a seldom-spoken history of the valley when it was claimed by Spain, Mexico, and then the United States. Steven Baker will discuss the early Spanish, Mexican, and Ute presence on the Western Slope.

The program will include discussion drawn from Baker’s many years of research into the early history of the region and his recent highly regarded book, Juan Rivera’s Colorado, 1765: The First Spaniards Among the Ute and Paiute Indians on the Trails to Teguayo (2015.) The book was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award for 2017 and provides the first descriptions of Colorado’s Western Slope, and was the first meaningful book to be written about the Centennial State. A limited number of copies will be for sale at the event, and book signing will start at 6:30 P.M.