Archive for the 'Cultural resources' Category

Trails Thursday: Museo de las Tres Colonias

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

Sugar beet workers, circa 1926. Photo from the Fort Collins Local History Archive

It’s almost sugar beet harvesting time, and if you’re not a long-time resident of Fort Collins (and I mean really long!) or a local history buff, you may have no idea how big a beet can be in the life of a town. Curious? Explore the Museo de las Tres Colonias, one of the stops on the Trails of Northern Colorado cultural heritage driving tour.

The sugar beet is at the heart of a story that helped bring two major ethno-cultural groups to Fort Collins: Germans from Russia (also sometimes known as the Volga Germans), and Hispanics. Both groups were brought here in the early decades of the 20th century to work in the sugar beet fields and processing plants owned by the Great Western Sugar Company, and both groups — first the Germans from Russia and then the Hispanics — lived in the small neighborhoods near the Great Western Plant that we know today as Andersonville, Alta Vista, and Buckingham: the tres colonias.

The Hispanic heritage and stories of these neighborhoods, and the part they played in the growth of Fort Collins, is preserved at the Museo de las Tres Colonias. The Museo is open on the 3rd Saturday of each month, from 12:30 to 3:00, and is located at 425 10th St.


“Trails of Northern Colorado” website launches

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

Now that summer is here, it’s time to get serious about getting out and seeing some sights. If you live in northern Colorado, or are planning on visiting us, we’re excited to announce a new Google Maps-based driving tour that will take you to some of the truly outstanding places in our area.

The Trails of Northern Colorado” is a website created by the Museum as part of a U.S. Park Service Preserve America grant. Literally over 12,000 years in the making, the website offers three different driving tours of the distinctive regions of northern Colorado — the foothills, the river, and the plains. Each tour consists of multiple stops, each with its own unique cultural and natural history story to tell. Taken together, the tour reveals many stories and hidden gems that even long-time residents may not be aware of.

I don’t want to give too much more away, other than to say “Go explore!” We really hope you’ll enjoy this great new resource.

You can read more about the project on the Museum’s website.

Behind the scenes: Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Next in our series of behind-the-scenes looks at what makes the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center tick, the roving More to Explore reporter ambushed interviewed Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation and frequent contributor to this blog. Part I of a two-parter.

Curator Katie Bowell (in ball cap) leading an interpretive program at the Lindenmeier overlook, Soapstone Prairie Natural Area. Photo courtesy City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Program

More to Explore: What does a Curator of Cultural Interpretation do?

Katie Bowell:  My primary job is to be the liaison between the Museum and the City’s Natural Areas Program, and so I help to interpret the historical and cultural stories of our natural spaces. And I also help bring biology, ecology, and other natural processes into the interpretations we’re doing in our museum. Since I’ve been here I’ve also helped develop a variety of interpretive resources, and I work on the Digital Media team and have a lot of fun with our blog and our website and Facebook. So I get to do a little bit of everything, but the main focus in almost everything that I do is still that intersection between history, culture, nature, and science, how to create interdisciplinary narratives and interpretations. It’s really interesting, I haven’t done anything like this before and when I mention what I do to most people, usually they’re surprised, and then they think it’s really cool.

MtE: What are some of the projects you’ve been working on?

KB:  The very first thing that I did when I got here was to work on the Soapstone Prairie project, which had been something that the Museum and the Natural Areas department and the City of Fort Collins had been working on for a couple years before I got here. It’s an incredible shortgrass prairie property, and on it was the Lindenmeier Archaeological Site, one of the largest Folsom-complex sites in all of North America and one of the most diverse in terms of the artifacts found there and the people who lived there. And this is where the Museum-Natural Areas partnership really started, working on the Soapstone project. Mmy first job was to help develop the interpretation up there. So we have interpretive panels, and we have volunteer-led programs that go on all summer long, and in our first summer I think it may have been the most visitors to programs that they had at a natural area—somebody told me that, but I don’t know for sure. And so it’s been very successful. I’ve worked on that, and I worked on the Lindenmeier booklet [recently published by the Museum], and did a whole bunch of interpretations with Natural Areas. We re-did interpretive panels and developed a booklet for Bobcat Ridge Natural Area, focusing on the pioneer and early European history of the property, and interpreted some of the buildings that are still there.

One of the things that I’m really proud of is our blog. I have loved being a contributor to it, and it’s so fun. It’s a great way for me to keep learning too, because along with writing about things that I know, I’ll hear something on the news that I don’t have a background in and half an hour later I have just enough knowledge to be dangerous, and I get to write about it.

I also do training with Natural Areas staff. One of the things that the Museum is very passionate about is that if you’re going to interpret history, if you’re going to interpret people, that you do it with care and consideration,  respect for the stories you’re telling and the people they’re about, and with as much accuracy as you possibly can. So we’ve had great cultural training sessions with Natural Areas staff, so now the people out there are not only fabulous interpreters of biology and ecology but are great interpreters of history too. I’ve given a couple of presentations throughout the state on how to do this as well, for Colorado Open Spaces and even the Colorado Preservation Society, so we’ve gone to people who normally interpret nature and said, how can you add history to this?, and we’ve gone to people who interpret history and say, how can you add some nature and biology to this? And so we keep smushing everything together.

Since I’ve started here, the last year and a half, I’ve gotten to learn the history of Colorado and western America. I’ve been really immersed in learning about the native cultures we work with and their histories, and getting really a much broader and more interesting perspective on our experience here in northern Colorado than I would have ever thought about, I think, if I had lived here and just continued to be a biologist. So I love that part of my job is that I get to keep learning all the time.

Death of a dinosaur

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

Damaged dinosaur sculpture (photo from the Coloradoan)

Such a bummer of a headline in the Coloradoan this morning: the Swetsville metal dinosaur sculpture that has stood watch over cars traveling I-25 for 20 years was crushed in an accident overnight.

My daughter and I pass the dino daily on our way into Fort Collins, her for school and me for work. My daughter is three, so the conversation as we pass the sculpture generally goes as follows:

“Look Mommy! I see a dinosaur!”

“Wow! That’s so cool! What does a dinosaur say?”

“Roar! Roar!” (said with clawing hand motions).

I imagine this same conversation repeated over and over in any number of cars by any number of kids and parents. This simple moment will not be repeated again. One of the Swets family members was quoted in the paper saying that the dinosaur can’t be repaired.

That makes me sad.

The other part of me is mad. The Swets have maintained the Swetsville Zoo on their property for decades. Open to the public for FREE, it’s a wonderland of fantasy and whimsy created from iron scraps. Bill Swets, the creator, was a farmer with imaginative eyes and able hands, an artist whose medium was metal.

One of his creations, “Tiny,” had a home in Old Town Fort Collins before it became a much-loved fixture at the old Discovery Science Center on Prospect. When Discovery Science Center moved to the Fort Collins Museum building in the summer of 2009, Tiny returned home to the Swetsville Zoo. In recent years, some other sculptures have been moved and remaining parts of the zoo consolidated to make way for improvements to Harmony Road. Now comes this additional loss.

Reportedly, the Swets family will be selling the farm at some point in the future. We will be losing this unique part of the artistic landscape of Fort Collins. We’ve already lost pieces of it to progress and reckless driving (the driver admitted to speeding). Happily, the town of Timnath has purchased some of the sculptures for their park areas but they can’t preserve the zoo as in its entirety as it is now.

It’s a reminder to our community to appreciate what we have now – before, like “Dino,” it becomes just a memory.

Keeping the music alive, part II: March on!

by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education

I recently posted a blog, “Keeping the music alive, Fort Collins-style,” about the value of music as a cultural enrichment for our community. Lately, it seems that every time I’m in Old Town I can hear live music, from a band playing at the amphitheater to a kid strumming a guitar sitting on the bench outside Beau Jo’s Pizza. Last Friday night was no exception.

My family met me at the museum after work and we walked into Old Town for dinner at the La Creperie (yum). We had Walrus ice cream cones for dessert and as I wiped the dripping, melting chocolate off my 3 year-old daughter’s chin (and hands, and elbows, and knees…) the unmistakable sounds of drums filled the air. Not one drum, not even two, this was the sound of many drums.

We went to investigate and sure enough, as we rounded the corner onto College Avenue we found, lined up in front of the Stonehouse Grille, a sizable portion of Colorado State University’s marching band! The drum major conducted several rousing tunes including Trumpet Cheer and the CSU Fight Song. People walking along the street and those sitting a patio tables at restaurants and on the roof tops listened and clapped along, applauding and cheering at each new song.

What a great and pleasant surprise! The band was playing on Friday night to build momentum for the CSU football team’s home opener game (played Saturday against Weber State and in case you haven’t heard, the Rams won!), or perhaps the marching band played in celebration of CSU’s win over CU in the Rocky Mountain Showdown the previous weekend. No matter why they played, I’m just thrilled they did! It certainly enriched my family’s time in Old Town Friday night and I would just like to say thank you to those young musicians for doing so … Thank you!

(Editor’s note: Marching bands rock! Univ. of Missouri Class of ’82, Marching Mizzou trumpet section)

Lakota roots in LaPorte: “This was my family”

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

Check out a great article in the current edition of the North Forty News about area history and contemporary Native American connections to northern Colorado:

LaPorte visitor explores his Lakota, French roots

Another perspective on artifact looting

by Terry Burton, Digital Media Coordinator

We’ve written several times in this blog about artifact looting, most recently in regards to the June raid and arrests made by Federal agents in Blanding, Utah. That story in particular has sparked a lot of  interest and emotion, especially here in the West.

People who illegally collect artifacts from public lands offer a variety of justifications, many of which are being used by the folks who were caught in the Blanding sting: it’s a time-honored community tradition; the artifacts will just end up in a box in some archaeologist’s lab, so why not pick them up; we’re just doing what everyone else does. Whatever the justification, the fact still remains that it is a crime to remove artifacts from public land.

Removing artifacts also destroys much of what those artifacts can tell us, scientifically. Without context — where an object was found, what was found with it and around it — all we’re left with are disconnected fragments. Archaeologists and museum professionals have weighed in on this subject in regards to the Blanding cases and artifact looting in general.

But there’s a third consideration that received scant, if any, ink in the Blanding saga, and that’s the voice of the people who are the cultural and spiritual heirs of these artifacts. And while there’s no such thing as a “pan-Indian” perspective or opinion on how to treat artifacts, there are those who believe that these objects retain a spiritual quality that goes beyond antiquities laws and scientific processes. From this point of view, the question of what to do with an artifact has a simple answer: Don’t pick it up. It doesn’t belong to you.

Last year, the Fort Collins Museum began a film project to document Native American elders speaking on this topic. The resulting film, “Meeting in the Center with Respect,” debuted in May 2009 as part of the opening of the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, a place that’s also home to artifacts ranging from 12,000 years old to those of the historic era. It’s an opportunity to hear an often unheard voice and to get a different perspective on what meaning objects have, and how their connections survive across time, space, and cultural disruption.

The situation in southeastern Utah only highlights how much education still needs to be done to help all of us understand the ethical responsibility we have to protect, respect, and conserve ancestral sites and artifacts.

Fighting illegal artifact looting: “A new kind of respect”

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

This past March I wrote about artifacts; specifically, what to do when you come across an artifact or cultural resource in one of our parks, trails, or natural spaces. The main message of the post was “you can look, but you can’t collect.” Collecting historic and prehistoric artifacts on public land is illegal under Colorado law, and transporting illegally collected artifacts across state lines is against federal law. However, even though it’s been over 100 years since the federal government passed the first laws protecting artifacts, illegal collecting still happens all over the country. And while some  illegally collected artifacts may end up on a mantel, others enter the stream of a robust black market that has ties to, among other things, the drug trade.

Last month, 24 people in Blanding, Utah, were indicted on charges of collecting and selling illegally acquired Native American artifacts, part of that very lucrative black market that exists for objects removed from archaeological sites.

NPR’s Howard Berkes wrote about the arrests here and the divided opinions within Blanding after the arrests here (be sure to check out the Photo Gallery “The Lure of Ancient Artifacts”).

I can understand the frustrations some people have over the current laws protecting artifacts; in our not-too-distant past collecting was legal and quite common. I also understand the bonds that people can feel towards artifacts; objects connect you to the past and, ultimately, to people and that is an invaluable experience. However, those reasonings don’t excuse the fact that, to quote Craig Childs, collecting “is a form of archaeological genocide, erasing the record of people from a place.” I hope that here, in Fort Collins, we will treat our archaeological sites with respect and take care of them for the future.

Anne O’Brien, a commentator on Berkes’ second article, put it well. “… it’s still hard to look down, see an arrow point or a pot uncovered by rain or a painted shard and leave it alone. That’s a new kind of respect.”

Learning to Flintknap: Beard not included

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

When I mentioned to an anthropologist friend of mine that I was planning to go to Bob Patten’s (he of world-renowned fame in replicating the fluted Folsom point) house for his annual “knap-in,” she laughed and told me I’d need 3 things: closed toe shoes (for all the big pieces of rock I’d drop on my feet), safety goggles (for all the flint chips I’d send into my eyes), and a beard (for all the…umm, I wasn’t actually sure). While I am the proud owner of several fake moustaches, sadly I had no beards. When I asked her why I’d need one she laughed and told me to wait and see.

When I arrived with Toby Swaford (the museum’s K-12 Education Coordinator) and my boyfriend Keith (whose background in physics and mechanical engineering made him more than geeky enough to enjoy a day of hitting rocks), the slightly cacophonous yet still melodic “ding” of stone falling on stone drew us to Bob’s backyard. And there it was: a tent full of mostly bearded men working on creating beautiful and complex stone tools. While having a beard hopefully isn’t a prerequisite for becoming a skilled flintknapper, I soon learned that having an incredible knowledge of all things “flintknappy” is.

Bob Patten demonstrates how to strike stone with an antler

Bob Patten demonstrates how to strike stone with an antler

In the few hours I spent with Bob and his fellow flintknappers, I was continuously impressed by how much these men knew. Whether it was materials, tools, history, archaeology, or other people’s research, I was surrounded by a group of men who had in their heads everything I have to keep looking up, and they were nice enough to answer all my questions. I (foolishly) got into an argument with Greg Nunn, considered by Bob to be the world expert in Danish flintknapping, over the historical appropriateness of using of copper-tipped tools in his work, and he promptly schooled me on the history of the transition from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age in Denmark. I lost that argument.

Bob shows Toby what to do

Bob shows Toby what to do

Toby gets ready to strike

Toby gets ready to strike



The highlight of my day was getting the chance to try flintknapping myself. It seemed easy enough: hit a rock with another rock. Nope. Bob handed me my own hunk of rock, a hammer stone, and then proceeded to mock my too-slow strike. After a few misses I finally got a hit and over the next couple minutes managed to knap three large flakes off the stone. None of what I was doing had the knowledge, finesse, or skill that went into the work the men around me were doing, yet I proudly held up my first flake and proclaimed to everyone inside the tent, “Look what I did!” They humored me by smiling, and then went back to proper flintknapping.

I missed my thumb - success!

I missed my thumb - success!

When I began working at the Fort Collins Museum, I read everything I could about stone tools. Then one day, a coworker had me pick up a scraper and hold it. As I held it I began to see how my hand would move to use it, and my understanding of the tool moved from the academic to the tangible. This weekend I moved from holding tools to trying to make them, and I left with a deeper appreciation for the craft. It’s incredible to think that, until the development of metalworking, stone tools were what we used. For everything! And they’re not easy to make! It’s also incredible to know that there are people today who are dedicated to the processes of experimental archaeology that recreates those tools and gives us further insights into the history of man. I’ve got a lot more learning to do, but at least I didn’t drop anything on my toes (and I think I’ll pass on that beard…).

Conservation of our natural and cultural heritage: Leave it to Beaver

by Linda Moore, Curator of Collections 

(A personal disclaimer: I grew up in Oregon–the Beaver State; in Corvallis, which is the home of Oregon State University and, of course, the mighty OSU Beavers. Our family drove around with twin stickers on our back bumper declaiming “I’m a Beaver Believer” and “I’ve Got Beaver Fever.” I come by my love for these buck-toothed engineers honestly, and my “beaver fever” is unabashed.)

My experience with historical research has taught me that it can be almost impossible to pick up and follow a single topic: inevitably one thing is knotted on to another, tangled up with a dozen more, and sometimes tied on to its own tail. This has been the way it’s gone with my research on the beaver felt top hat of my last post. My research on that object made me curious to see what other artifacts of beaver history are preserved in the Fort Collins Museum collections. Turns out it is an impressive inventory:

  • 3 beaver felt top hats in addition to the one attributed to President Lincoln
  • 1 elegant felt lady’s riding hat
  • 2 wide-brimmed beaver felt Stetsons
  • 1 pair of beaver fur mitts
  • 1 bearskin coat trimmed at the collar and cuffs with beaver fur
  • 1 sweet beaver fur cape and muff set, made from beavers trapped on George Campton’s ranch in Livermore about 1910 for his sister
  • 1 old beaver trap, pulled out of the Cache La Poudre River and donated to the Museum in the 1960s
  • 1 pelt from a beaver trapped by the donor himself in Colorado and donated in 1979
  • 2 stuffed and mounted beavers (the largest and fattest dang beavers I’ve ever seen)
  • a set of beaver skulls
  • and, finally, various pairs of bright orange upper front beaver teeth

The presence of these beaver-related objects in the Museum’s collections reflects a steady involvement of the species in our region’s history, despite an economically driven “beaver fever” that severely depleted their numbers before Colorado had even become a state. The earliest historical trapping records of the Colorado Rocky Mountain region show sixty to eighty beaver present per mile of stream. By the turn of the 20th century the species’ population nationwide was as low as 100,000 individuals, very few of whom were here in the West.

Two sources I’ve come across recently not only decry the West’s loss of beaver populations, but advocate their protection and reintroduction as a means of conserving our region’s natural and cultural riches. Both recognize that in shaping the region’s waterways to their own purposes, beavers once played, and can play again, a vital role in maintaining the environments in which the region’s unique human history has unfolded. The first of these is Beaver World, a charming book by Enos Mills, a signed copy of which is in the Fort Collins Museum’s Local History Archive. Mills was a passionate advocate for the natural world, and an astute direct observer of wild animals interacting with the environment. Beaver World was published in 1913, and in it Mills not only gushes about the beaver’s emblematic industriousness, “He works not only tooth and nail, but tooth and tail,” but more insightfully recognizes the role the species plays in maintaining both a healthy ecosystem, and a landscape humans find welcoming and pleasing:

Beaver works are of economical and educational value besides adding a charm to the wilds. The beaver is a persistent practicer of conservation and should not perish from the hills and mountains of our land. Altogether, the beaver has so many interesting ways, is so useful, skillful, practical, and picturesque that his life and his deeds deserve a larger place in literature and in our hearts.

The beaver’s role in maintaining healthy, functional Western ecosystems is the central focus in the much more contemporary article “Voyage of the Dammed,” carried in a recent edition of The High Country News. Writing at a time when water conservation is a high profile problem and many of its proposed solutions carry high price tags, author Kevin Taylor outlines the position of environmentalists and other concerned citizens who advocate, at least in part, leaving it to the beavers:

The humble, hardworking rodent, through its dams and ponds, can extend the release of water late into summer, saturating the ground and healing watersheds. It has the power to re-create the primordial, wetter West that existed for millennia.

The article extends the beaver’s vital restorative role to cultural values as well. Taylor quotes a Coeur d’Alene tribal elder, 86 year-old Felix Aripa, who sees within the native ecosystems restored by beaver activity the roots of cultural restoration: in the returning native plants, fish, and animal species are embodied the cultural riches of language and long-held cultural knowledge.

These two sources have whetted my appetite for learning more about this species, and for doing what I can to promote its ongoing presence in our region. I understand that in caring for the beaver artifacts which lie within the Fort Collins Museum collection — clothing, tools, and scientific specimens — we preserve the history of a species which plays a central role in the Native American traditions of this area, as well as in the story of the region’s surge in population and development in the 19th century. As I read the strong praise Enos Mills gives this species and the excited plans of those advocating its restoration, I’m thrilled with the possibility that within today’s beaver population is preserved a solution to our region’s compelling need to conserve both the health of the environment and the wealth of our cultural and historical heritage. “I’m a Beaver Believer” indeed.

beaver blog photo


March 2023

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