A Stop on the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail

Delta, Colorado | July 2020 | By Mary Menz, with Chris Miller, Director, IAWC]

Visitors standing on the banks of the Gunnison River at Fort Uncompahgre in Delta understand why Antoine Robidoux established it here in 1828. This location provided access to clean water from the Gunnison River and afforded prime frontage on the well-traveled North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail.

The Ute Indians and other native American Indian tribes established trade routes thousands of years ago that passed through this area. In 1776, Franciscan priests Atanasio Dominguez and Silvestre Velez de Escalante followed portions of this trail looking for an overland route between Santa Fe and their mission in Monterey, CA. It took on the name Old Spanish Trail and was made famous by the Spanish explorers and trappers in the early 1800s. Visitors standing on the banks of the Gunnison River at Fort Uncompahgre in Delta understand why Antoine Robidoux established it here in 1828. This location provided access to clean water from the Gunnison River and afforded prime frontage on the well-traveled North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail.

The Ute Indians and other Native American Indian tribes established trade routes thousands of years ago that passed through this area. In 1776, Franciscan priests Atanasio Dominguez and Silvestre Velez de Escalante followed portions of this trail looking for an overland route between Santa Fe and their mission in Monterey, California. It took on the name Old Spanish Trail and was made famous by the Spanish explorers and trappers in the early 1800s.

Travelers from both directions would ford the river at the relatively safe and low gravel bed on the Gunnison River. People traded their wares, ate from the Fort’s la cocina, and perhaps camped nearby before continuing their journey.

Robidoux Bottoms

When Robidoux built the fort, this land was part of Nuevo Mexico and could only be owned by Mexican citizens. That was not an obstacle for Antoine Robidoux. He married the governor’s daughter, became a citizen, and began his business in what was commonly referred to as Robidoux Bottoms.

The north-south route ran between Santa Fe to the San Luis Valley to present-day Montrose, Delta, and Grand Junction.

In 1844, Fort Uncompahgre and Fort Robidoux in Utah—both owned and operated by Antoine Robidoux—were attacked and burned to the ground by a band of Ute Indians.

After 1850, railroad survey expeditions, western-bound settlers, ranchers, and others used the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail. Ironically, the U.S. Cavalry moved the Ute Indians out of the area via this same trail to Fort Duchesne where the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation was established.

Today, the North Branch is a congressionally designated route running from Espanola, New Mexico, to Green River, Utah, where it joins the northern or main route. History buffs follow it and visit interpretive sites along the trail, like the one here at 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 is open Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The gift shop and visitor center are open year-round, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information about the tours or the Fort and grounds, visit fortuncompahgre.org or call 970-874-8349. To learn more about the Interpretive Association of Western Colorado (IAWC), visit wcinterp.com  *