By Sue Abbott Schneider

I have often wondered what the Poudre River was called before it was called the Cache la Poudre River.  We know that when Major Stephen Long led an expedition in 1820, he referred to the river as Pateros Creek.  However, it was also called Piteux, French for “piteous”, and some suspect Pateros somehow originated with Piteux.  There were several stories of fur trappers wandering the area, one short on food and delirious, the other being left to guard a trap line and becoming insane due to isolation, both stories led to naming the waterway “piteous” or Piteux.  When William Ashley and Jim Beckwourth spent the winter of 1824-25 and trapped in the canyon, it was still known as Pateros Creek.  But ten years later, in 1835 Colonel Henry Dodge passed through the area and he was the first to officially call it the Cache La Poudre.

We all know the story of the French trappers who supposedly stashed their gunpowder during inclement weather sometime in the 1820s and the subsequent naming of the river and the canyon “Cache La Poudre” (the French was actually Cache a la Poudre, or “cache of powder”).

But before it was Piteux, or Pateros or Cache La Poudre it had names that were not French, but indigenous.  The Sioux called it “Minni Luzahan” which means “Swift Current” (makes sense) and somewhere I read that the Arapaho called it “ce’ einox” or “jai annox” for game bag.

Wondering why it would be called game bag led me down an interesting path of discovery.  Oliver Toll, a 22-year-old volunteer agreed to serve as ethnographer for a trip organized by the Colorado Mountain Club.  Members of the club were inspired to approach Arapahoe elders on the Wind River Reservation and encourage them to come back to Colorado and provide information about the area.  The Club was hoping to convince Congress to create Rocky Mountain National Park.  The trip took place the summer of 1914 (July 14-29) and included Toll, three indigenous men (Gun Griswold who was 73, Sherman Sage was 63, Tom Crispin who was part Arapahoe, 38 and served as interpreter), a “Princeton boy” named David Hawkins and backcountry guide Shep Husted (an early homesteader in the Estes Park area).  They rode horseback and hiked and traversed the continental divide four times in two weeks.  Although much of the report focuses on the Estes Park/Rocky Mountain National Park area, they did camp at Poudre Lakes (headwaters for the Poudre River) and traveled by the site of Lulu City, over Thunder Pass, to the source of the Michigan River (Michigan Lakes and American Lakes).    They also shared many stories, place names, recounted battles and reminisced about their time spent in the area prior to being forced onto the reservation.

Toll pointed out in his report immediately following the trip that it was organized to record the “Indian names for the geographical features of the country, and any other information that was obtained was merely incidental. Probably some of the names, and perhaps some of the stories, were inaccurate, and perhaps manufactured for the occasion, but in the main I am convinced that they were the genuine Indian names and legends.”  Toll’s report is fascinating, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested (Arapaho Names and Trails by Oliver Toll can be purchased on Amazon).

I focused on the areas they visited that were closest to the Poudre Canyon.  On Sunday, the 19th they climbed Trail Ridge and they camped at Poudre Lakes that evening. The indigenous men identified an old Arapaho summer camp about 200 yards down from the lake.  Monday, the 20th they climbed Specimen Mountain and then crossed Milner Pass and descended Beaver Creek to the North Fork of the Grand, where they spent the night.  Tuesday, the 21st, they followed the North Fork up past the town of Lulu and over Lulu Pass (Thunder Pass) to the head of the Michigan.  They pitched camp there “in the early afternoon just as the regular afternoon’s rain was commencing.”  Wednesday, the 22nd, they climbed a shoulder of Saw Tooth Mountain, where they “spent over an hour asking questions, then back in the direction of camp where they traced out the old Indian trail on the north side of the Pass.”

The two older indigenous men had been young boys when the Arapaho roamed the Estes Park area, but the tribe had left the region and traveled north to follow the buffalo which had been driven off by the advance of the white men.  The Utes followed the Arapaho into the area, and many white men regarded it as having always been Ute territory, but in fact it was Arapaho until the mid 1800s.  They regarded it as a huge game preserve and hunted it extensively.  They warred with other tribes to keep the lands entirely to themselves and they migrated with the game, heading to the mountains in the summer and out on the plains in the winter. The bison at that time ranged all through the mountain parks.

In Toll’s report I discovered the following: “Tom told us of one time they had gone quite awhile without finding game, and than they came upon one of these little parks, or as they called them “game bags”.  In fact, the Poudre Valley, the Grand River below Hot Sulpher Springs, Strawberry Creek, Estes Park and Middle Park were all known as “game bags” (jaaianahaw).  So, the Poudre River wasn’t called game bag, it was the Poudre Valley that was called game bag.  Drat!

I never did figure out if the Arapaho had a name for the river itself, but I did find out many other interesting names for our local geography.  The Mummy Range was called “White Owls” (nah ou-baatha), perhaps from finding owls in the neighborhood or maybe a description of the silent snow-covered peaks.  The mountain back of the Mummy Range bordering on the Poudre was called the North Bodies (enon-xawtaa).   When they were on the shoulder of Saw-Tooth Mountain (Nokhu Crags) the Arapaho described quite a few points in North Park.  The mountains to the west of the Nokhu Crags were called “Seven Utes” (nees-o-tox-wahan haatha) because that’s where seven Utes were killed by the Arapaho.  They also referred to the Nokhu Crags as “Eagles Nest” (nea ha noxhu-x).

When referencing Thunder Pass (bonah ah ah-netheson) between Lulu City and Cameron Pass, the Arapaho said that “there was always a black cloud over Thunder Pass”.  The mountains directly north of Lulu they called “Mountain Sheep’s Heart” (hota-neotah) as its shape suggests.  Michigan River, they called “Shell Creek” (baaahachs) probably due to the fossils that could be found on its banks.

The Arapaho also spoke about the numerous Indian trails traversing the area.   The Arapaho marked their trails with monuments, or piles of rocks.  It was customary for everyone to put a rock on the monument as they passed.  If there were a child in the party passing by, they would say “may this child live as long as these rocks last.”  I’m assuming these were the precursors to the cairns marking trials today.  One of these trails, called Warrior’s Trail, ran from Miller’s Fork over the ridge to the east of Crystal Mountain into the Buckhorn and up the valley to Buckhorn Pass.  There it followed a little ridge that swings onto the main Poudre.  From here you could go to either Elk Horn or Manhattan, then to Cherokee Park and north to Laramie.   In the report Toll refers to a monument that was carved with pictures providing a description of the trail to “benefit the traveler”.  He said the rock was twenty or thirty feet high with the carvings above the height of a man so they could not be easily damaged.  The Arapaho told him that particular rock was somewhere along the trail between Rustic and Crystal Mountain, on the right-hand side of the trail as you travel north.  Toll must have been intrigued, because later he followed the “rangers trail” from Miller’s Fork in Estes Park to near Manhattan, but he was not able to find any traces of the old Indian trail until about a half mile east of the Rustic Hotel where he found a teepee circle and was convinced he’d found the Warrior’s Trail.  Although the land has been greatly altered it would be exciting to locate one of these trail monuments from long ago.