By Mark Henderson and Rachel Preston Prinz
The Wells Gulch landscape is in many ways, (line, form and color) as it appeared when “Mexicano” and “Americano” entrepreneurs were actively trading hides and durable goods with the Utes and bringing horses and mules back from California for use in the international trade between the US and Mexico. Though firsthand accounts specific to the geography of the Wells Gulch route segment between 1829 and 1848 have not been found, the multiple records in 1853 by Heap (1854) and Beckwith (1855) combined with the account of Brewerton in 1847 confirm the role of this corridor in trading enterprises between New Mexico and California in the second quarter of the 19th Century.
The Wells Gulch trail segment is nominated as an alignment of a mule and horse pack trail (later known as the “Spanish Trail”) associated with the trade in commercial products between the
of Alta California and Nuevo
during the period of 1829-1848. This
section of the North Branch of the Old Spanish National Trail is inextricably
tied to the Ute Indian trading enterprise of Antoine Robidoux who may have
established the trading Mexico Fort Uncompahgre at the Gunnison
crossing west of Delta as early as 1825. The crossing of the Uncompahgre was a
key waypoint in the fur and hide trapping enterprise in Ute territory. was sacked by
Utes and abandoned in 1844. Areas of significance that the sites in this trail
segment represent include Exploration/Settlement, Transportation, Commerce,
Economics, and Social History. The Wells Gulch trail segment is eligible for
listing to the National Register of Historic Places for its association with
the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail, and is eligible at the state level
of significance. The site possesses integrity of location, setting, feeling and
association. This trail segment affords the visitor the opportunity to
vicariously experience the landscape associated with the Old Spanish Trail
during the period of significance between 1829 and 1848 as well as the years
following as a representation of the continued use of the areas in the economic
and cultural development of the American west. Fort
The Wells Gulch Trail segment is eligible for listing to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A for its association with events related to Commerce, Economics, Exploration/Settlement, Social History and Transportation in the development of a trade network between Native American, Hispanic, and Euro-American groups that extended across the Old Spanish Trail. Historical documentation recounts various expeditions along the Old Spanish Trail that encompassed three different routes through six states:
New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and . Eligbility is also determined under Criterion
D, for the ability of the site segments to be likely to yeild information
important to understanding the dynamics
related to creation of the alignments
during the 1829 and 1848 period of
The significance of the Wells Gulch Trail segment is inseperable from Mexican northern frontier and
western frontier resource
extraction (fur trade), emigration and development of trade relationships with
aboriginal people.. Address the areas of significance briefly listed above. US
The Ute bands which held the
San Luis Valley, San Juan
Mountains and as their homeland
were important allies in Spanish Colonial northern frontier protection. The defeat of the mounted Comanche
raiders by Governor Anza in 1779, the
apprehension of the US military expedition led by Zebulon Pike in 1807, and the
development of an international trapping and fur trading commerce extending
into the central Great Basin in the first quarter of the 19th
Century could not have occurred were it not for the participation in shifting
alliances of the various Ute bands. Gunnison
Similarly, if it were not for the incursions of “Americano”, or more-accurately, ex-pat American and French-Canadian, traders and trappers on the New Mexican frontier, and encouragement and incentives offered by the newly independent nation of Mexico, a commercial pack trail route would not have been established in the Gunnison Basin. The history of the “North Branch” of the “Old Spanish Trail” is part of the continuum of Ute fur and hide production and trade extending into prehistoric times, and the adaptation of the Ute lifeways to a far ranging trapping, trading and pastoral economy in the last half of the 18th century through the first half of the 19th Century.
Criterion B: While the Wells Gulch Trail segment is not considered eligible under Criterion B for its association with the lives of persons significant in our past, however, a number of well-know individuals are associated with the Old Spanish Trail and later trails through this area to include: Antoine Robidoux, Kit Carson and George Brewerton. It is into this region of Ute band hegemony that the personalities of Indian trader and trapper Antoine Robidoux and “voyageur” and trapper Kit Carson take on importance.
The Wells Gulch trail segment is inextricably associated with the establishment of the Ute Indian “trading fort” (known as “Fort Uncompahgre” or “Fort Robidoux”) by Antoine Robidoux at the suitable crossing of the “Gunnison River” before it enters a narrow channel formed by cliffs of Dakota Sandstone west of the confluence of the Uncompahgre and Gunnison Rivers. Though the date of its construction is lost to history and its physical remains currently lost to archeology, the general construction and operation of the post can be surmised (Reyher 2007) and the former location projected (Beckwith 1855:59). No person is more important to understanding commercial Indian trading operations on the New Mexican frontier during the second quarter of the 19th Century than Antoine Robidoux, and perhaps no location is more reflective of Robidoux’s entrepreneurial niche than his “trading fort” Uncompahgre, located less than three miles southeast of the boundary of the Wells Gulch Trail segment across the historical ford of the Gunnison River and just east of Robidoux Creek.
The Wells Gulch trail segment is also associated with the guide and hunter (Marcy 1859) specialties for which Kit Carson is renowned as exemplary. Kit Carson’s niche in the
trade of the Mexican period is
not as a trader (like Robidoux) but as a guide, hunter and military scout. While the Wells Gulch trail segment is not
directly associated with an important event in Kit Carson’s career, the “North
Branch” in general is linked specifically with an important event in Kit
Carson’s life as documented by George Douglas Brewerton, the carrying of
military dispatches from Los Angeles to Washington DC through Taos and Santa Fe
in 1848 (Brewerton 1993, Hafen and Hafen 1993:312-339). While on site-specific
geographic detail is sparse, the account gives an illuminating description of
the conditions for mule based transport
along the main route of the “Spanish Trail” up to the Green River crossing, and
then along the “North Branch” into Taos and Santa Fe. The fast moving and lightly loaded
Carson-Brewerton party travelled the distance from Los Angeles to Santa Fe in
just 41 days, perhaps mimicking the speed with which a “caballada” (string or
herd of horses) of horses and mules destined for sale in Santa Fe could have
been moved over this route to New Mexico or directly to Missouri, passing north
of Taos to Bent’s Fort. In the section
of trail from the Green River crossing to the upper Gunnison draining the California San Juan Mountains, Brewerton mentions several encounters
with Indian inhabitants of unspecified ethnic identity. This lack of specificity is in contrast with
the Gunnison account five years later in which
identities of Ute leaders are an important part of the military mission.
Antoine Leroux is another Taos guide and hunter who is closely associated with the Ute trade, a principle contact in Heap’s detour to Taos and later the valued guide-trapper-scout as far as the “Spanish Trail” in the Gunnison Expedition of 1853 (Parkhill 1966). Leroux’s knowledge of the region was gained as part of the ‘Taos Colony’ of multi-ethnic Mexicano and Americano “cazadores” exemplified by Kit Carson (Weber 1971) and distinguished from the trader merchants such as Antoine Robidoux and Charles Bent. Again while the Wells Gulch segment does not reflect any segment specific incidents associated with Leroux, Leroux must have passed this way many times in the Mexican period to become an authority and advocate of the ‘Central Route’ for the first US government trans-continental wagon route and railroad.
D- Property has yielded, or is likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.
The Wells Gulch trail segment, because of the relatively unaltered nature of portions of the “site,” presents substantial opportunities to yield important archeological evidence regarding the imprint of packtrail and livestock driveway activities in a short span of two decades (1829-1848) on the brittle vegetation and soils in the
. Few other opportunities exist where
subsequent land uses and natural events have not obliterated all trace of the
“Old Spanish Trail” period of use. Even
the best documented and substantial features associated with the “North
Branch”- the site of Gunnison River Basin - which is
mapped and described in historic narratives in 1853, is no longer detectable.
Although the argument is made here that the Wells Gulch packtrail alignments
are only detectable because they were used for over a decade as wagon
alignments starting in 1853, it is feasible that future research could result
in archeological and environmental investigations that could conclusively date
these alignments to the time period between 1829 and 1848. Future research might involve archeological
techniques such as soil chemistry, metal detection, ground penetrating radar,
as well as traditional archeological techniques such as fine grained mapping
and excavations. Fort
Pack trail and livestock driveway features do not embody a purposely constructed entity, but rather take on physical characteristics that relate to the surrounding landscape and because they may be the best approach to reaching destinations are repeatedly used over time. The structure of the entity will develop in certain ways dependent upon soil characteristics, vegetation and continued use dependent upon other environmental necessities required for moving people, cargo and livestock.
The packtrail and livestock driveway functions of the Mexican period commercial use of the network are elusive, and alignments surviving from the Mexican period are usually only discernable because of subsequent packtrail, livestock driveway (including cattle, sheep and goats) and particularly freight and emigrant wagon use of the treadway. However, the way these surviving alignments, though altered by subsequent use, lie on the landscape reflects distinctive design considerations of the expedition “captain,” “guides” (Marcy 1859), packers (arrieros) and drovers. Though there are few period accounts of the “Old Spanish Trail,” later accounts indicate that daily travel objectives and routes were a result of coordination between journeymen specialists and their apprentices, depending on previous experience, and expert guides as well as daily weather, seasonal forecasts and encounters with indigenous societies. Adjustments of the trail alignment could be radical - based on changing conditions, seasonal variation, and experience of the specialists in the caravan.
The braided and eroded routes in the corridor, rather than a constructed transportation structure (with embankments, ditches, bridges and retaining walls), become the vernacular “site” of the trail alignment. The design criteria for the trail segments are related to inferences in how the travelers “read the landscape.” The major features of vernacular route design in the Wells Gulch Route segment are the braided nature of alignments once evident in the wide open valley floors, and now only obvious where, as in other locations where intact remnants exist, the trail passed over the top of ridges and around the head of steep gulches running perpendicular to the alignment of the trail.
Protection of this of the Wells Gulch Trail segment is important as a large “linear” site that may yield potential archeological evidence to substantiate that these alignments and this corridor is the route that Robidoux, Carson, Leroux and many lesser known and un-named merchants, scouts, indentured workers, and Ute and mixed ancestry natives travelled.
Developmental history/additional historic context information (if appropriate)
Aboriginal Trails, Trade and Commerce (horse Trails) Trade into Snake River, Lewis and
Ute Trail Nomination. An “Indian Trail” is shown on the 1882 General Land Office plat for the Ute Principal Meridian prepared by surveyor Daniel G. Major (USDI BLM Grand Junction Field Office Microfiche). The trail follows an un-named drainage (today labelled as “Deer Creek” which forms the boundary at the north end of the Wells Gulch segment) from the southwest point of Grand Mesa to the
on the east. The “Indian Trail” depicted on the 1882 map
cross cuts the “Salt Lake Wagon Road” running parallel to the Gunnison River. Gunnison
Mexican Territorial Indian Trader and Trapper Trails, Rendezvous and Commerce to
Fur trade (Weber 1971) in the Southwest and Great Basin is linked to
as the major center on the Mexican frontier.
The fur trade economy built on the historic trade center function of
Taos Pueblo extending back into prehistoric times. Many of the individuals important in the
commerce on the Old Spanish Trail (Kit Carson, Antoine Robidoux, Isaac Slover,
William Workman, John Rowland) were trapper expatriate businessmen who built on
the business and family-friendly policies of the Mexican government in Taos and
Santa Fe (Hafen 1997). There are few
written accounts authored by these independent businessmen, resulting in an
absence of specific trail conditions.
The accounts that do exist tend to emphasize the incidents of travel
when the route was not well established and exploration resulted in particular
danger not the daily routine of travelling established routes. The trappers and Indian traders were not map
makers or journal makers. In fact, the
success of their business ventures depended on the control of proprietary
information about cultural and physical geography. Taos
Foremost of the traders in the upper reaches of the Colorado River and the
was Antoine Robidoux (Lewis 2004:77-102; Wallace 1997:95- 107). Antoine Robidoux, a member of a large and
successful St. Louis family of Indian traders, seemed to have maintained a
virtual monopoly on the Ute Indian trade in what is now west central Colorado
and north eastern Utah, through the establishment of trading posts on the
Uncompahgre River (near Delta, Colorado) as early as 1825 (Lewis 2004:257;
though Weber [1971:213] places construction in 1838-1839) and on the Uintah
River (near modern Fort Duchesne, Utah) in a area that had been an important
trade fair location since the 1820s. Salt
In the early 1820s, Robidoux expanded the family enterprise based in
specializing on expanding trading partnerships with the Ute tribal groups on
the New Mexican frontier who had been long-term allies with the Spanish
Colonial government into the central and northern Great Basins. In essence, Robidoux established a
non-competitive trading franchise into
Northern Ute territory by gaining specialized geographic knowledge of Ute
language and geography. This “franchise”
became possible under the new mercantilist philosophy of the Mexican government
after independence from Missouri . Roubidoux’s business interests increasingly
focused on the commercial opportunities in the region that was accessed from Spain Taos and on what later became known as the “North Branch”
of the Old Spanish Trail. St.
As was typical of other successful expatriates in Mexico’s northernmost territories, Roubidoux’s success was based on becoming a naturalized citizen through marriage with a Mexican citizen (Carmel Benavides), and thereby obtaining legal business licensing, tax and property ownership perks unavailable to “foreign” entrepeneurs. Within months of his marriage in 1829, Roubidoux became president of the town council (Junta del Ayuntamiento) of Santa Fe and began denouncing his non-citizen competitors and business associates for taking advantage of the native population (Lewis 2004:81).
Roubidoux was apparently literate, but left little written documentation of his travels or narrative of his business ventures. A cryptic exception is an 1837 inscription on a canyon wall at Westwater Creek that marked the critical northward turn for travel between Roubidoux’s trading post on the Uncompahgre River to his trading post on the Uintah (Lewis 2004:83).
Apparently Roubidoux had direct geographic knowledge of California trade during this period, and in 1840, promoted US settlers emigrating to California (Lewis 2004:88) until 1846, when he was a participant and was wounded as part of the American Military at the battle of San Pascual (Wallace 1997:106). This does not obviate the probability that Roubidoux was immersed in indirect benefits of commercial ventures returning from
California to . It is possible, if not probable, that
Robidoux was a primary operator and middleman in the unregulated transfer of
California horses and mules, destined to be sold at incredible profit in St
Louis and Santa Fe, through services of Californio, New Mexicano and Ute
“chaguanosos,” ( english translation; horsethieves)made possible by the poorly
regulated frontier market at and to the northwest of Taos and the ambiguity of
what government controlled this territory.
There is anecdotal evidence that horses, mules and even cattle were
transferred from California to the upper reaches of the Green River in
Utah through the complicity of Ute
middlemen and Indian traders and trappers (Lewis 2004:253). New Mexico
There are two accounts that indicate the Robidoux trading posts as landmarks on a travel route to and from the US Oregon Territory in 1842 (Lewis 2004:90-91). These accounts establish that the Wells Gulch alignment between the ford at Grand Junction and Fort Uncompahgre were in use as a pack trail corridor between Taos and Fort Uinta (not to be confused with the trail to California).
In 1844, Fort Uncompahgre was attacked, sacked and burned by Utes, apparently in retaliation for the execution of several Ute men in Santa Fe (Lewis 2004:92). Robidoux abandoned his Ute trading operations but continued to trade in horses, mules and goods.
Commercial Textile and Draft Animal Trade
It can only be assumed, based on a lack of evidence, that the corridor paralleling the
north of the Dominguez Rim and
south of Grand Mesa would have formed the livestock driveway for this traffic,
since there are few other passable routes in the area – especially for large
caravans of livestock. There may have
been other eastbound livestock drovers that used this corridor as a “backdoor”
to sell horses and mules as draught animals for Gunnison River Santa Fe
wagon-based commerce, as Weber states (1971:93-94). Chihuahua
The 1837 Pope-Slover Emigrant Party
Hafen and Hafen (1993:181, 197-202) conclude that the route from Taos to the north through Cochetopa Pass and the crossing at Grand Junction was used as an emigrant wagon route to California by the Pope and Slover families to escape the troubles of the 1837 rebellion in Taos over tax reform,. In a report by Antoine Leroux to “Senator” T.H. Benton in 1853, it is stated (Hafen and Hafen 1993:198):
Wagons can now travel this route to
and have done it. In the year 1837, two
families named Sloover [Slover] and Pope, with their wagons and two Mexicans,
went from California
that way. Taos
To rectify the accuracy of this account with historical evidence requires several inferences. The information was published in 1853, apparently to support deliberations in Congress advocating the planned Railroad Survey on the 38th and 39th parallels (Gunnison Survey) that was ordered in late May 1853 (Beckwith 1855: 1). T. H. Benton (John C. Fremont’s father-in-law), who at the time was serving as US Representative from Missouri, was promoting establishment of a route to the Pacific with origin in Missouri. One of the objectives of the Gunnison Survey was to show the practicability for development of a wagon route to the Pacific, intersecting what he called the “Spanish Trail.” For this purpose,
Gunnison brought 16 frieght wagons, an ambulance and an
instrument wagon (altogether using over 100 draught mules). For the purpose of intersecting the Spanish
Trail, Gunnison enlisted the services of Antoine Leroux, a long time
trapper turned guide and prosperous sheep rancher. Why Gunnison would have departed from the
established trail from Cochetopa Pass to Robidoux’s trading postfort on the
Uncompahgre (via Powderhorn on Cebolla Creek) can be explained by the
impracticality of that route for a wagon route or later railroad and the larger
scale of military freight wagons, as Antoine Leroux advised Gunnison (Horn
The use of the route all the way to
for wagons by the Slover-Pope party or otherwise is almost certainly refuted by
this statement by Gunnison (Nelson 2003:72):
I have had an old trapper [almost certainly Leroux] here [at
] to confuse me about the road onwards.
These fellows were on a different business in early times and never
dreamed of road making in such terribly rocky & chasmy places & their
descriptions are very confused … . Our
road difficulties are ahead no doubt. No
wagons have ever been farther than Fort Massachusetts Grand River
I am now credibly informed. If I get
through it will be a triumph – but I shall at least try … .
Trails and Commerce (1848-1875) US
The only first hand account of travel on the “North Branch” (from Green River crossing to
during the period of significance is that of Brewerton (1993). George Douglas Brewerton was assigned as
part of a “protection detail” to accompany Kit Carson in taking military
dispatches from Taos Los Angeles to . The party moved rapidly, unfettered by any
commercial frieght or Indian trade items, taking only 41 days to reach Washington DC . Taos
Brewerton 1848. There is ambiguous geographic detail in the Brewerton travel account from
Los Angeles to between May 4 and
June 14, 1848 in the company of Kit Carson (Hafen and Hafen 1993:317-339).
There has been debate about the route travelled eastward after the perilous
crossing of the Colorado River at Taos (Simmons
in Brewerton 1993:xviii; Hafen and Hafen 1993:332-335). In his introduction to the Brewerton account,
Stallo Vinton suggests that Brewerton followed the “regular Spanish Trail,
which again is the shortest route” (Brewerton 1993:11) Green
Consistent with the 1776 Dominguez-Escalante (Warner and Chavez 1995) and accounts after 1848 (Heap 1854; Beckwith 1855), Brewerton encounters dense Ute settlements on his route, inferred to pass through the Gunnison River basin between the modern communities of Grand Junction and Montrose.
Heap 1853. Leaving Westport, Kansas on the 6th of May 1853, less than two months in advance of the Gunnison Expedition, Gwin Harris Heap accompanied his uncle Edward Fitzgerald Beale, appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs in California with the overland destination of Los Angeles (Wheat 2004:197- 201). The party consisted of a dozen travellers (Heap 1854:13) and a number of riding horses, mules and pack mules
Heap’s observations on the route give the fullest account of general conditions on the route between Fort Massachusetts (just north of modern Fort Garland and after a detour to resupply in Taos, joining the main route of their passage – which they called and would thusly become known as the “Spanish Trail” near the Green River crossing (on July 24). While after the period of significance of 1829-1848, this account combined with that of
Gunnison (Beckwith 1855) and Brewerton (1993) paint the
narratives of cultural and natural geography of the region reflecting the
Mexican period and establish the “Spanish Trail” as an existing, known network.
Heap’s account to promote the “
is also accompanied by testimonials of Charles W. McClanahan and R.S “Uncle
Dick” Wooten regarding the suitability of the route for emigrant travel and a
commercial livestock driveway because of the directness of the route and the
quality of forage (Heap 1854:123-127).
McClanahan claims to have followed just behind California Gunnison
with 2,000 sheep and between 3 and 400 head of cattle, supported by an unknown
number of wagons (Heap 1854:124,126). The physical treadway that Heap traversed
with a limited number of horses and mules in July of 1853 would have been
greatly affected by this traffic, and all traces of the original route
completely destroyed by a military heavy
wagon expedition and several thousand head of sheep, hundreds of cattle and
wagons which began following the toute the next Spring.
The following excerpt of the Gunnison Expedition Report discusses the native Ute population, as well as the landscape and resources of the Wells Gulch section, from the perspective of a US Army Engineer charged with preliminary layout of a railroad from the
River to the Pacific
Ocean. While the point of
view may be different from that of a New Mexican entrepeneur, a “Mountain Man”
trapper or a Ute resident… it is the same landscape imposing constraints
despite the different modes and reasons to pass through it.
The Gunnison Journal from the encampment near the current site of Delta,
(Beckwith 1855:59-61): Colorado
September 16. – We travelled 18.25 miles down the Uncompahgra to-day, crossing the stream four miles below our morning camp, and again a few miles before encamping this evening, a short distance above its junction with Grand river [now Gunnison River which joins the Uncompahgre at Delta, Colorado]; …
September 17. – Si-ree-chi-wap, the principal chief of the band, who is now so old that he excercises but little authority directly – intrusting it to his son, who accompanies him – arrived during the night, and, followed by his sub-chiefs and warriors, this morning repaired to Captain Gunnison’s tent to talk and smoke. The Captain informed them that “the President had sent him to look for a good road by which his people, who live towards the rising sun, can visit those who live on the great water where it sets; that he was their friend, and had authorized him to make them a few presents in his name.” The son of Si-ree-chi-wap replied: “This is your land, and you can go over it any time. There are bad Indians over the mountains, who kill white men, but
are good, and glad to see the Americans.”
Presents were then distributed, pipes smoked, and the party moved on,
accompanied for several miles by the chiefs.
We crossed the point of land lying between the Uncompahgra and Utahs Grand river, reaching the latter at Robideau’s old
trading fort, now entirely fallen to ruins.
The river is much larger than where we left it a week ago [upstream from
the impassable Black Canyon of the Gunnison];
and its water here is a greenish shade, while there it was colorless. The Uncompahgra, however, is remarkable for
this color of its water, and for a pea green moss, two or three inches long,
covering the stones in its bed, even when the stream is shallow and very
rapid. A mile below the fort we crossed
the river at an excellent ford; the bottom being a mile in width, and covered
with abundant grass.
The cañon which we have been so many days passing around, terminates several miles above the junction of the Uncompahgra, where Grand river receives a large affluent from 500 to 1,500 feet in height above our path, back of which we passed from Lake Fork in avoiding this cañon, and which is itself cut with deep cañones by the Cebolla and other streams, terminates, towards the valley of the Uncompahgra, in buttes and clay hills, of which there are two ridges; the first and lowest, of greay, and the second of red clay, bordering the river. Alkalai is seen in these hills, as it is also in the plain, and is doubtless the chief cause of the barrenness of the soil. From our camp below the mouth of the Cochetopa creek, to the junction of Smith’s Fork with
river, there is nothing deserving the name of valley. Now and then there is a small open bottom,
from a few yards to a mile or two in length, but at the season of high waters
the river sweeps over these spaces, and the stream is not followed even by an
The difference of elevation between the head of the cañon and our camp, a few miles below its termination, on the Uncompahgra, separated from Grand river by a level bottom only, is 2,077 feet; and as the distance between these points by the river does not exceed seventy miles – of which, perhaps, sixty preserves its cañon character – the average descent will vary but slightly from thirty feet to the mile. But from the continuance, for so great a distance, of vertical rocky walls along the river, upon which the road must be carried, and which can be cut only by blasting, and, from the deep side-chasams to be passed, as described by Captain Gunnison on the 7th instant, only by the heaviest masonry, it is evident that a railroad, although possible, can only be constructed in the vicinity of this section of Grand river, at an enourmous expense – for the accrate estimate of which, situated as the work is at so great a distance from civilization, where not only laborers, but their subsistence, must be transported by land carriage nearly 1,000 miles, and where scarcely a stick of timber has been seen for the last 100 miles on the route, nor will be for the succeeding 150 miles, suitable for a string-piece for a small temporary bridge, or even a railroad tie, it is not too much to say, no data exists, nor will until such labor shall be undertaken.
Ascending from the river bottom, our route passed, parallel with it, over a district of perverulent clay, the surface occaisionally incrusted with salt, with small broken crystals of gypsum scattered freely about. This soil is formed from the wash of the impure clay-slate bluffs on our right [east toward Grand
], our animals sinking in it to their
fetlocks. These bluffs rise one above
another until they attain an altitude of 1,000 feet, their summits presenting
the appearance, as we descended Grand River, of an unbroken plain; but as we
pass in front of them they are seen to be cut into deep ravines by the small
streams which descend from them during rains.
In a few miles, however, we passed from this soil to a hard one, covered
with small fragments of black vesicular volcanic rocks scattered over the
surface. The men sent forward to select
a camp, failed to find any access to the river; and having travelled 20.33
miles at dark, we encamped without water, and on so limited a supply of grass,
scattered over the hills, that the most of our animals were tied up to secure
their presence in the morning. Our
elevation was perhaps 150 feet above the river, and during the afternoon we had
repeatedly to cross deep ravines entering the river in cañones, in trap-rock or
in sandstone and clay-slate, where they overlie the trap. The land rises from our camp to the river,
distant half a mile; and beyond it is soon elevated into a mountain: the stream
flowing, consequently, in an immense chasm along the mountain side, made, doubtless,
by volcanic action. Much “cutting and
filling” would be required in constructing a road near this cañon, which the Mesa call Una-weep, or
Red cañon. It extends from a short
distance below Roubideau’s old fort to near the junction of Utahs Grand
river with the Blue or Nah-un-kah-rea of the Indians. The Utahs
also give the name of Una-weep to a small steam which enters Grand
river from the south, in this cañon.
September 18. – At break of day we moved forward for 8.45 miles, over a country like that of yesterday, but less broken , and encamped on a small stream from the west end of the Elk [Grand Mesa] mountain, which is on our right, our course being northwest. This little stream the Indians who visit us call Kah-nah. The grass, though not abundant, is sufficient for our stock. Descent from the Uncompahgra twenty-nine feet per mile, in round numbers.
US Government Territorial Transportation Policy (1855-1881) to the Construction of the Railroad
invasion and acquisition of California and territorries,
there was a radical re-arrangement of government role in regulating commercial
activities. The US Government invested
heavily in collecting resource data to encourage private entrepeneurial
activities and subsidize building infrastructure to support resource extraction
and commercial enterprise. The US
Military was tasked to explore the new territories, inventory natural
resources, build roads and make maps as well as to secure the safety of
citizens against thieves and maurauders.
Even before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the long-range
goal was to
subsidize building railroads to connect the new western possessions. In the short term, the objective was to build
both local and long distance wagon roads which would be secured by military
outposts. Congress debated where the
appropriations should be made and after 1855 the Interior Department was
responsible for construction of long distance wagon roads and the War
Department was responsible for construction of local road networks (Goetzmann
1979:341-374) . US
Wagon Roads. Beckwith was well attuned to the properties of the sediments as the “base” for all kinds of transportation arteries (foot, pack, wagon and railroad) and the particular challenges of hardening natural corridors to repeated, reliable and all season transportation modes of his day. The Gunnison Expedition consisted of sixteen six-mule wagons, a four mule instrument carriage and a four mule ambulance (Beckwith 1855:5). The route is particularly challenging because it is probably the first time that the pack trail has been used by wheeled vehicles. Beckwith says (1855:5):
This method of transportation was determined upon in order, should the train pass successfully over the route, to demonstrate its practacability, at least for a wagon road.
It is clear from this introductory remark and later context that the Gunnison Expedition was expecting to be blazing a route that had never before been traversed by wheeled vehicles. There is nothing in the account, once the party leaves the
San Luis Valley to indicate that wheeled vehicles had been used
before to reach or indeed on to
where the party intersected the critical juncture with the “Spanish
Leroux had been engaged to lead the expedition to the established corridor of the “Spanish Trail.” Beckwith notes (1855:66) for the Expedition entry on September 29 (shown on the map about 15 miles south east of Green River Crossing):
For a mile, in the morning, we continued our course of yesterday, W.S.W., and then changed to S.W. for seven miles, when we came upon the noted Spanish trail which leads from Salt mountain.
Cartography and Topographic Observations. From the orders and list of equipment (Beckwith 1855: 5), a major objective of the expedition, only incompletely accomplished due to equipment failure (Beckwith 1855:97) and death of the expedition topographer R. H. Kern (Beckwith1855:2), was to make an accurate map of the route. It is inferred that rock cairns at highpoints with commanding views are locations of triangulation stations used for map making purposes.
Military Reconnaissance (Loring) 1858.
After the flurry of traffic down the Uncompahgre in 1853 (Beale, Gunnison and Fremont), there is no account of use of the corridor until 1858 when Colonel William Loring commanded a military wagon train of 50 wagons and 300 men from Camp Floyd (Salt Lake City) to Fort Union (near Las Vegas, New Mexico). Loring refers to “Marcy” (Randolph B. Marcy ) traveling this section the winter before (having to cache property because of unspecified difficulties) and before ascending the Uncompahgre a “party of pioneers in advance” (Hafen 1946:66). In turn, Marcy (1859: 330) includes Loring’s route as one of the major available itineraries for “voyageurs” in the Transmississippi West with this statement on the landscape referred to herein as the Wells Gulch section:
18 ½ [Miles from crossing of Grand River at
]. On an Arroya [Windy Creek would fit
distance and description]. – Road runs over an undulating surface, crossing several
small streams issuing from Elk Mountain [Grand Mesa], affording good camps at
almost any place, and strikes Marcy’s and Gunnison’s trails. Good Camp. Grand
15 ¼ [Miles from Windy Creek]. Grand River [
]. Rolling country;
high ridges with abrupt slopes for 6 ¼ miles [Beaver Gulch and Wells Gulch];
thence into a plain for 7 ¼ miles to Double Creek. Good camps. [this distance would put the camps in the
vicinity of Delta on the north side of the Gunnison
River ]. Gunnison River
The Marcy route indicates that by 1859 the crossing of the Gunnison at “
Fort Robidoux” now had an alternate crossing several miles
east of Delta above the confluence of the Gunnison
and the Uncompahgre.