Friday, March 13, 2009

The Natural Fort

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.

12 comments:

Tim Shey said...

I have hitchhiked through the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana many times over the years. I was told that the Crow Tribe was given some very good land for their reservation because they provided scouts for the U.S. Cavalry.

If you ever get to Missoula, Montana, there is a historical marker on the east side of Missoula near the Clark Fork River. I believe "Missoula" came from an Indian word "isul" (spelling incorrect?) which means hell or gates of hell. When the white man first came through that narrow place (gate?) on the east side of Missoula and into the Bitterroot Valley, they noticed all of these skulls and bones. They called it the Gates of Hell. Why? Because this tribe (Blackfeet?) would wait in ambush for this other tribe that was swimming in the river and having a relaxing day and they would massacre them. There is a high school in Missoula called Hellgate High School.

["The narrow valley at Missoula's eastern entrance was so strewn with human bones from repeated ambushes that French fur trappers would later refer to this area as 'Porte d' Enfer,' translated as 'Hell's Gate'. Hell Gate would remain the name of the area until it was renamed 'Missoula' in 1866."--Wikipedia]

I have also hitchhiked across the Wind River Reservation (Shoshone and Arapaho Tribes) in Wyoming many, many times over the years (I think Wyoming is my most-hitchhiked state). There is a joke told there that when the Crow came south and raided the local tribe, they stole their horses because the women were too ugly.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

I'm not sure I would want to hitchhike through Wyoming. The population is so low it would take forever to get a ride! When I originally planned to move to Cheyenne, the only reason I changed my mind was the wind. It was so intense, and the thought of living through that six months of the year was too discouraging--I love gardening, and Wyoming is definitely a cattle state.

Eric Kurtz said...

I just scanned a lot of my father's old photos from the late 1960's into my computer. One of them happened to be the marker that you spoke of that has disappeared. I would be happy to send it to you to post on your blog, courtesy of my father, L. Glenn Kurtz. I couldn't find an e-mail for you, so let me know how to get it to you.

Eric Kurtz said...

In the late 1960's, my father, L. Glenn Kurtz, was vacationing in Yellowstone and snapped a photo of the marker. The text of the marker for the site read as follows:

NATURAL FORT

THE YEAR 1831 WAS AN UNMERCIFULLY DRY YEAR. BUFFALO WERE FORCED TO FOLLOW STREAMS TO THEIR SOURCES TO GET WATER. INDIAN TRIBES WERE FORCED FROM THEIR USUAL PLACES OF ABODE TO FOLLOW THE BUFFALO TO GET MEAT.

THE BLACKFOOT TRIBE BELONGED WEST OF YELLOWSTONE PARK AND THE CROW TRIBE EAST OF IT. THE TWO TRIBES WERE DEADLY ENEMIES.

ONE DAY A GROUP OF AROUND 600 CROW HUNTERS LED BY JIM BECKWOURTH, THEIR MULATTO CHIEF, SURPRISED A GROUP OF AROUND 160 BLACKFEET HUNTERS AND CHASED THEM ONTO THESE ROCKS. A BLOODY BATTLE ENSUED IN WHICH THE CROWS KILLED THE BLACKFEET ONE BY ONE.

[QUOTE]OLD JIM[END QUOTE] MODESTLY ADMITTED HE KILLED NO MORE THAN ELEVEN BLACKFEET, AN UNDERSTATEMENT FOR HIM!

NATURAL FORT PROBABLY RESEMBLED A FORTRESS MORE IN 1831 THAN IT DOES TODAY AS THE AREA HAS BEEN HAUNTED BY SOUVENIR HUNTERS.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Eric, thank you so very much! I can't wait to show this to my children. When I took them to the Natural Fort many years ago the sign was still up. They now have families of their own and can take them to see the fort.

One aspect of the Natural Fort that I find interesting is the age of some of the graffiti, which is over 100 years old now--so even the graffiti has some historical significance, showing that teenagers from Cheyenne, Fort Collins, and surrounding towns have visited the fort for years. On the other hand, it also has many broken bottles, trash, and really does need to be protected and preserved.

You asked earlier about my email, which I have no problem sharing with my readers. It is dsdollman@yahoo.com.

Thank you so much for sharing this with us, and for reading my blog! I am honored that you shared this with us!

Steve n Vickie said...

Natural fort is a wonderful place to take kids. They love climbing on the rocks. We visited this summer.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

It is a great place to visit. I am in the process of moving back to Colorado and would like to generate community support in cleaning it up and restoring the site to its historical status. I often took my children there when they were young and would like to take my grandchildren, but it seems to be filled with broken glass and other dangerous objects lately. It should be protected.

Kathy Johnson said...

Darla, I totally agree the place should be restored! My husband and I recently visited the site after being away for many years. We were appalled at the trash and graffiti not to mention the lack of any kind of marker.

Darla Sue Dollman said...

I am considering starting the project since I recently moved back to Colorado. It is important to my family, as well--it is the place where I introduced my children to history.

ScottyK said...

Thanks for writing this article! Growing up in Colorado, we used to make trips up to Cheyenne for Godfathers pizza and fireworks. Heading back to Denver we would always stop at the "Roadside rocks" and burn off some energy. Back in the 80's it was a "Geological Point of Interest" right off I-25, but now looking at Google maps it appears the direct exit off the interestate is gone. It looks like you can access the east rocks from a frontage road, but the west side exit has been removed. I didn't know until now that it has a name of "Natural Fort".

Darla Sue Dollman said...

Yes it has. I still think this area needs to be protected somehow.

Jesse Perkins said...

Thank you for this information! I flew here in 2015 and created this video of this unbelievably beautiful place
https://youtu.be/0VxNyirm7O0