Sunday, June 7, 2015


On September 25, 2011, I posted a column entitled Antoine Robidoux, 13 November 1837 – An Historic Inscription. In that posting I told the back story of a historic inscription found along Westwater Creek, in eastern Utah. A lovely little volume, Forgotten Pathfinders Along the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail, 1650-1850, self-published in Grand Junction, Colorado, by Jack Nelson, contains a wealth of scholarship and information about that trail and some of the historic inscriptions found carved into the cliffs and boulders along it. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in historic inscriptions or the history of this part of the west.

Louis Robidoux inscription, May 1841. From Nelson,
2003, Forgotten Pathfinders Along the North Branch
of the Old Spanish Trail, 1650-1850.

The Old Spanish Trail was blazed in part by Frays Dominguez and Escalante in 1776 in their exploration to find a route to the Pacific Ocean. They went north from the Taos area in Spanish New Mexico following Indian trails until they hit the Colorado River near present day Grand Junction, Colorado. Then they struck generally west to the Great Salt Lake before returning back to New Mexico. Later, when mountain men and trappers were combing the Rocky Mountains for beaver pelts in 1824 and 1825, and explorers were searching for mineral wealth this became a favored exit from New Mexico toward “Winty” territory, the Uintah area of Northwestern Colorado and Northeastern Utah, and became known as the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail.

Map of the Trail up Westwater Canyon from Nelson 2003.
Antoine Robidoux inscription in the red star, Louis
Robidoux inscription location in the blue star.

As can be seen in the map the route follows Westwater Creek in Northeastern Utah up through Hay Canyon and then crosses the divide before coming down Willow Creek to join the Green River. This became known as the Robidoux Trail. The Antoine Robidoux inscription alluded to above is to be found along Westwater Creek shortly before it enters the Bookcliffs range (see the map (Nelson 2003:31).

The Robidoux brothers had opened a couple of Trading Posts/Forts in central and northern Western Colorado, Fort Uncompahgre near the present site of Delta, Colorado, and Fort Uintah up in the Brown’s Park country of Northwestern Colorado. Antoine Robidoux’s brother Louis was quite involved in the family business.

“In the late 1820's, Antoine and probably Louis set up a trading agency in Taos, for the centrality of its location and as a means of circumventing the customs office a hundred miles away in Santa Fe. After 1824, and for a period of about six years, the trade, though fluctuating, continued to increase. However, in the year 1830 a recession set in. The import tax steadily increased, while the price of trade goods dropped off. From the 1830's onward, the fur trade steadily declined, and with this decline, the Robidoux's shifted the focus of their activities and interests away from Santa Fe/Taos and more towards the Robidoux posts in the intermontaine corridor. After this date, he appears to have taken up a more permanent residence in Santa Fe, and to not have continued his sojourning in trapping and trading expeditions.

Louis appears in the account books of Manuel Alvarez buying supplies in 1829. In 1829, he also applied along with his brother Antoine for Mexican citizenship and was granted naturalization by the Mexican authorities a day later, on July 17th, 1829. He became Don Luis Robidoux. They are credited with this act in order to circumvent the customs taxes levied on foreign traders - marriage also gave them other distinct advantages in local society.

“Louis probably served as the New Mexico agent for these posts, for they depended on New Mexico for supplies . . . On at least one occasion, in the spring of 1841, Louis Robidoux made the long journey to Fort Uintah . . . as he approached the Green River, he took the time to inscribe his name on a cliff in the Willow Creek drainage, some thirty-five miles south of [present-day] Ouray, Utah . . . The inscription reads:

 Louis Robidoux
Passo qui diade
Mayo de 1841
With the Robidoux brothers’ inscriptions located as they were along the Westwater-Willow Creek Trail, it would appear to be the one must used. - - - With the mouth of Westwater Creek Canyon marking one of the few access routes over the Roan/Bookcliff Range, the trappers undoubtedly used the trail and left other physical evidence to show the way. The Louis Robidoux inscription marks a turnoff along the Willow Creek Trail illustrating the path to the summit above Westwater Canyon.” (Nelson 2003:51)

Louis moved to California in 1844, and settled in the area of modern Riverside, California. (Wikipedia)

If you can find this book I highly recommend it not only for the information about historic inscriptions, but also about a fascinating period in the early exploration and settlement of the West. Thank you Jack!


Nelson, Jack William
2003    Forgotten Pathfinders Along the North Branch of the Old Spanish Trail, 1650-1850, Copyright Jack William Nelson, Grand Junction, CO.

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