Arapaho at Rocky Mountain National Park, Toll Expedition, 1914 NPS, ROMO 10235, Lantern Slide Collection

Arapaho Naming Expedition of 1914

In 1914, two Arapaho Elders, Gun Griswald and Sherman Sage, returned to the hunting grounds of their youth in the Estes Valley – Grand Lake area. Their trip was arranged by the Colorado Mountain Club who wanted to preserve the area as a national park and asked the Elders to provide the Arapaho names for many of the local landmarks they remembered from their childhood before they had been relocated to the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

Since none of the professional anthropologists who were contacted about the project were willing to go on the pack trip, Oliver Toll, an untrained young man, was chosen to go and record the findings. He reported the story of the area just as it was told to him with little editorial comment. So let the reader be the judge. The following is the story of Apache Fort, a story of a great battle told in stone.

It was around the year 1855 and the Arapaho were camped on the west side of present day Moraine Park in the beautiful Estes Valley. The area was plentiful with game and wild plants that the Arapaho were able to use for survival off the land. Elk, mule deer, moose, big horn sheep, cougars, eagles, black bear and many more animals shared the vast valley with them which also meant the area was one the Arapaho band had to protect from other Natives wanting the rich valley for their own.

Sentries were regularly posted at the camp, patrolling the area vigilantly and it was most likely these young men who first gave the alert. Apaches! The Apache war party numbered about 50 warriors and had come into the valley from the south west.

The Arapaho warriors grabbed up their weapons, mainly bows and arrows with a few old Canadian flint locks, and confronted their enemies in Beaver Park, somewhat south of the High Drive.  What followed was a great battle between the Arapaho and Apache that lasted at least two days, if not longer.

Sherman Sage was a boy of four at the time and remembered the wounded being brought into camp. This included his older brother who was most likely tended to by their mother, Long Walker, and other women of the camp.

The story of the battle itself was not retold by firsthand account, but by the story left behind in stone monuments laid down by the warriors themselves. Sage explained the battle to Toll, pointing out the stones at an area the whites called “Indian Fort”.

The first pile of stones was a monument where the first Arapaho man had been killed. Near this pile, there were 3 or 4 stones off to themselves. The farthest rock showed where this first man had been shot with an arrow, the next rock was where he had risen to his feet but had fallen again. The big pile of rock was the monument that marked the place where he had finally died.

From the first rock pile monument, the Apache had been driven to the southwest, back along the way they had come.  Near Glacier Peak, the two warring tribes stood their ground and fought for some time. The Apache then retreated, following along the glacial ridges to the north. At one point in the pursuit, directly west from Stead’s Hotel and south of the “Indian Fort”, there was another pile of rocks which the Arapaho Elders said had been used by the Apache as another small fort. At the top of this rock pile, were heavy stones used as a sheltering wall.

The hill they chose for this fort was steep on all sides except to the north which made it vulnerable to attack. Seventy-five feet north of the top of the hill and on the slope of it, was another pile of rocks where Apaches had been stationed to guard the approach to the hill.

The Apache made their final stand for over a day in the “Indian Fort” or, as it is now renamed, at the “Apache Fort” near the old Hondius Ranch. They fortified themselves by piling up stones along the edge of the rocky cliffs, using them as a shield behind which to hide and shoot at the approaching Arapaho. This four foot wall has since been used as the foundation for the ranch house and only a low, broken wall remained in 1914.

On the Apache Fort, near the south side of the hill and in the direction of the bench mark, the Apaches laid out the bodies of their dead and burned them in the sight of their Arapaho enemies. This, according to Sage, was the practice of the Apache.

From there, the Apache retreated to the north, skirting Trail Ridge and leaving the park to the west of the gap between Horseshoe Park and Beaver Park. The Arapaho war chief gave orders to his warriors to let the Apaches go so they pursued them no farther and returned to their camp in Moraine Park.

After this battle, the western end of “Timbered Flat” in the Glacier Peaks was known to the Arapaho as “Where the Apache was Shot Off the Rock” since that was where some of their enemy was killed during this Apache raid.