Sunday, September 25, 2011

ANTOINE ROBIDOUX, 13 NOVEMBER 1837 - AN HISTORIC INSCRIPTION:



Antoine Robidoux inscription,
Westwater canyon, Utah.
Photo: Peter Faris, 2001. 

On the wall of what is now named Westwater Canyon in the Bookcliffs of Grand County in eastern Utah (about 5 miles west of the Utah-Colorado border) there is a concentration of rock art. Ranging from Archaic to historic the pictographs and petroglyphs include painted Barrier Canyon style figures, pecked Archaic and Uncompaghre Style petroglyphs, painted Ute Indian figures and symbols, and some historic imagery. On the west wall of the canyon a surface approximately 9 feet high and 4½ feet wide bears a prehistoric painted red shield with an inscription carved above it that reads Antoine Robidoux passé ici le 13 Novembre 1837 pour etablire maison traitte a la Rv. Vert ou wiyte. Translated from the French, this means: “Antoine Robidoux passed here 13 November 1837 to establish a trading post at the Green River or White.”


Antoine Robidoux, 1843,
Museum of New Mexico.

Antoine Robidoux had been born in 1794, one of the sons of Joseph Robidoux, Sr., French-Canadian owner of a St. Louis-based fur trading company. In early 1824, Antoine and his brother Louis rode 800 miles to Santa Fe where they visited with an old family friend and close ally, Auguste Choteau. In the late summer of 1824 Antoine had joined a party of trappers led by Etienne Provost from Santa Fe into the wilderness of what would later become eastern Utah and western Colorado to explore the trapping and trading potential of new beaver country. They found streams filled with beaver and the resident Ute Indians friendly and eager to trade.

Antoine and his brother Louis became Mexican citizens and in 1827 Antoine was elected to the Santa Fe City Council. He had also been courting the Mexican Governor’s adopted daughter, Carmel Benevides. Antoine received the governor’s permission to marry Carmel in 1828. As the son-in-law of Santa Fe’s most powerful official, doors opened for Antoine that might otherwise have remained closed. Within weeks he received what amounted to an exclusive license to trade and trap in the mountain territory that would someday become western Colorado and eastern Utah. Antoine shortly organized an expedition into that area. Antoine took his pack animals north out of Taos, traveled into the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado and then took an old Indian track over the continental divide at Cochetopa Pass. From there he descended down into the Gunnison Valley, passed south of what is now the Blue Mesa Reservoir, crossed Cerro Summit and dropped into the Uncompaghre Valley where he built his first trading post.

Fort Uncompaghre was erected in 1828 and trading began that year. It was built on the south bank of the Gunnison River. Antoine selected a site two miles below the confluence of the Gunnison and Uncompaghre rivers, convenient also because it was a short distance from a natural fording place.

Reconstructed Fort Robidoux, in Delta, CO, from
Antoine Robidoux and Fort Uncompaghre, Ken Reyher,
1998, Western Reflections Inc., Ouray, CO.

In September 1844, warring Utes killed the employees of Fort Uncompaghre and took the trade goods. They also killed more than 100 settlers from Abique to the San Luis Valley before attacking the fort.  A new governor in Santa Fe placed part of the blame for the uprising on Robidoux and ordered an investigation of his sale of firearms to the Utes. Facing threatened legal action Carmel closed their Santa Fe home and returned to St. Joseph with her daughter. Antoine, who possibly spent several months in the Wyoming area, also returned east according to a story in the September 17, 1845, Missouri Democrat. After the 1844 destruction of Fort Uncompaghre, and with the trapping business in decline, Antoine spent the next few years as a guiding immigrant parties, and as an army interpreter.

Essentially starting over in 1849-50, Robidoux amassed another fortune outfitting immigrants at St. Joseph and then re-outfitting them at the only blacksmith and supply station in western Nebraska. An 1851 immigrant described "an old man nearly blind" wintering at the post. This was probably Antoine, who died in 1860 in St. Louis.

Although the inscription panel shows numerous bullet holes acquired during the historic period, actually primarily aimed at the Native American shield image, it presents us with a record of a fascinating piece of the history of the American West, an inscription from the latter years of the fur trappers and mountain men and the beginning of written history in the central intermountain area.

6 comments:

  1. Great post! Unfortunately the rock art and inscription broke off earlier this year: http://blog.rockart.me/2011/06/time-takes-its-toll/

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  2. Thank you for your time

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  3. thank you for all the info

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  4. I thank you very much

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  5. my son and wife took a trip there early in the spring of 2016 . its broke and it would be nice if somebody could fix it. it was great seeing it though. my grandpa was llewelyn roubidoux 2nd great nephew of antoine robidoux my name is ricky joe hanse living in salt lake city now

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