When my children and I first moved to Fort Collins, Colorado we spent many days in nearby Cheyenne, Wyoming enjoying the Old West atmosphere. One day, as we returned to Fort Collins, we noticed what appeared to be a natural fort. It is actually a rock formation carved by centuries of wind and rain. It is covered with graffiti--some dating back to 1866--and often littered with beer bottles and garbage from insensitive troublemakers. This natural fort rock formation was the place where many brave Crow, or Apsaalooke, and Blackfoot hunters died when fate brought them together as they searched for food during a drought.
In 1831 a lack of rain forced the buffalo to follow the streambeds and the Crow and Blackfoot, staunch enemies whose tribes were generally on opposite sides of Yellowstone, both risked the wrath of their foes to follow the source of food. The odds were against the Blackfoot hunters when 160 men encountered 600 Crow near what is now the Wyoming and Colorado border not far from the popular Terry Bison Ranch. A fierce battle ensued and the Blackfoot hunters took cover in the natural fort, but they were quickly overcome by the Crow. All 160 of the Blackfoot hunters were killed along with forty of the Crow.
The natural fort is a mysterious place where the wind blows through stone gateways with a howling, haunting sound. Every few feet there are rain-carved holes in the rocks, deep enough for individuals to take cover. There are some areas shaped like rooms with high walls. Walking through these isolated sections one can imagine the fierce, determined warriors of days past crouched in the sand, scratching into the ground with sticks and stones, planning their defense.
Through the years the natural fort was stripped of all remains of the battle, including arrowheads and other artifacts. At one time there was a marker explaining the battle but this, too, has disappeared with time. The January 2007 issue of The Senior Voice reprinted an article by Greeley, Colorado historian Hazel E. Johnson who explained the battle for those who weren’t around when the marker was still in place. Johnson’s father once homesteaded on the property where the natural fort still stands.
Eventually, Interstate 25 came through the area and the natural fort was forgotten by many, but my children and I will never forget the enigmatic feeling of this place. It is sacred, a hallowed ground where dedicated family men surrounded their enemies and equally dedicated family men crouched in holes and took shelter in cold, dark, stone rooms, waiting for the inevitable.