Antoine Robidoux and
[January 2020 | San Juan Silver Stage] Excerpt from Antoine Robidoux and Fort Uncompahgre by Ken Reyher. Western Reflections, 1998]
Fort Uncompahgre was constructed in 1828 by Antoine Robidoux, a trader based out of Mexican Santa Fe. The post was situated about two miles down from the confluence of the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Rivers near the present day community of Delta in Western Colorado. This location afforded abundant timber for construction purposes and for firewood, and pasture for pack animals. It was also a gathering spot favored by the Ute Indians, and a nearby natural ford provided easy access across the river. The precise location of the fort has been lost, due to shifting meanders of the Gunnison River.
The Ute Indians apparently encouraged the presence of a trader deep in their territory for purposes of being able to obtain firearms. Tribes located to the north were obtaining firearms from both the Hudson’s Bay Company and from American trappers and the introduction of these guns was upsetting the balance of power among the western tribes. Although Spanish law and later Mexican law prohibited sale or trade of firearms to the Indians, such trade at a remote location in a difficult country to traverse might be conducted without much fear of official sanction.
Robidoux established several trails for supplying goods to Fort Uncompahgre. The first of these, known as the Mountain Branch of the Old Spanish Trail, lead north out of Santa Fe, up into the San Luis Valley, thence northwest across Cochetopa Pass, then down into the valley of the Gunnison River to Fort Uncompahgre. This was a very difficult and challenging route, however, if not snowbound, was much shorter than following the Old Spanish Trail. The second trail, known as Robidoux’s Cutoff, was used for goods being imported from St. Louis. The Cutoff left the Santa Fe Trail near Bent’s Fort, proceeded westward to the vicinity of present day Pueblo, thence around the south end of the Wet Mountains and over Mosca Pass down into the San Luis Valley. Here it joined with the Mountain Branch. The Cutoff was advantageous in that it was far shorter than freighting the goods into Santa Fe and then up, and it avoided Mexican customs, where taxes reached as high as 30 percent. The Cutoff was also useful for importing contraband items such as firearms for trade with the Indians.
Little is known about the construction or layout of the fort except that it was on the south bank of the Gunnison River. Few travelers passed through the fort because of its remote location and difficult access through rugged terrain. There are no known contemporary descriptions of the fort. Fort Uncompahgre probably resembled another fort built later by Antoine Robidoux, Fort Unitah, located in present day eastern Utah. Fort Uncompahgre probably consisted of a few crude log buildings surrounded by a fence of cottonwood pickets. This type of construction would have been acceptable to Ute Indians who were very sensitive about permanent structures being built on their lands.
Fort Reenactor Courtesy Image