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A Brief History of Lake City:
Pre-Settlement, Pre-1874

Early Exploration & Trade

The San Juan region was investigated and mapped by a series of expeditions during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  In the late 1700s, two different parties came north from Santa Fe to explore the vast Spanish land claim that reached from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean.  In 1765, Don Juan Maria Rivera led the first recorded exploration party to enter southwestern Colorado.  The explorers traveled along the west side of the San Juans then followed the Gunnison River east to present-day Delta before returning to Santa Fe.  In 1776, the Dominquez and Escalante Party sought an overland route between Santa Fe and California.  The party traveled west along the Dolores River and south into present-day Utah and Arizona, before circling back to Santa Fe.*

Following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, President Thomas Jefferson dispatched Lieutenant Zebulon Pike to explore the southern part of the United States' vast new territory, in particular to map the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red rivers.  Pike reconnoitered 50 miles east of present-day Lake City, following the San Luis Valley south into present-day New Mexico in the winter of 1806 - 1807.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, trappers and fur traders entered the San Juans to trap beaver in the headwaters and tributaries of the Gunnison, Rio Grande, Las Animas, and San Juan rivers.  Antoine Robideaux (also spelled Robidoux) negotiated with the Utes for permission to open Fort Uncompaghre around 1830, a trading post below the junction of the Uncompaghre River and Gunnison River, near present day Delta.**  The Utes burned down the Fort Robideaux soon after its construction so most San Juan fur trappers traveled 200 miles southeast to Taos, New Mexico where they exchanged beaver pelts for trade goods and currency.

When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, the southern part of Colorado became Mexican Territory.  The many Spanish place names remain as a legacy of the area's long association with Spain and Mexico.  With the ending of the Mexican War in 1848, Mexico ceded to the United States the entire southwestern region, from Texas to the Pacific Ocean.  Attempts to settle this area were discouraged by hostile tribes.  San Luis was established in 1851, becoming the first settlement in present-day Colorado.  Construction of Fort Massachusetts in 1852 provided military protection for agricultural settlers in the San Luis Valley, although Ute attacks on settlers continued until a treaty was signed in 1855.***

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* Carl Ubbelhode, Maxine Benson, and Duane A. Smith, A Colorado History, Boulder, Colorado: Pruett Publishing Company, 1988, 15-17.

** Wilson Rockwell, The Utes - A Forgotten People, Denver: Sage Books, 1956, 60.

*** Rockwell, 65-66.
 Town of Lake City, PO Box 544, Lake City, CO  81235.  970-944-2333.  
Detail of the 1866 Johnson Map of the western territories.  Click photo for large pop-up view.
Lieutenant Zebulon Pike explored the San Luis Valley, about 50 miles east of present-day Lake City, during the winter of 1806-1807.