LaPorte on the Cache la Poudre River near LaSalle

The sale of Colonial French Louisiana by France to the United States in 1803, at the price of three cents per acre, included a little over half of today’s territory of Colorado State, including the site of its metropolis, namely the city of Denver. That portion of Colorado lying east of the continental watershed divide was sold for less than $400,000.

While at the foot of the Rockies in 1743, the La Vérendrye brothers specifically noted in their road journal that on several occasions Native Americans told them that French Canadians, called “mountain men”, were within two days of riding further south, and they could be available for help if necessary.
Perhaps these indigenous people were referring to the site of LaPorte on the Cache la Poudre River in Larimer County. This particular site was the gateway to the Rockies’ interior for the “Mountain Men”. Many of whom, including Antoine Janis founder of the town of LaPorte in 1844, married Native American women. Thus began, as elsewhere in the American West, the colonization of Colorado and surrounding states where mix marriages were customary.

The Mountain Men

The Cache la Poudre River emerges from the Rockies’ foothills at LaPorte (photo Q.T. Luong)

Mountain men, also referred to as woodsmen, roam the forested valleys of the Rocky Mountains in search of furs, from the Arkansas River in Colorado to the clear waters of Coeur d’Alene, Pend Oreille and Rendezvous lakes in what is now the state of Idaho. In Wyoming, the Laramie River and several other places have been named after Jacques Laramie, a French Canadian woodsman from Yamaska, Quebec. In addition, Wyoming’s Belle Fourche and Gros Ventre rivers also bear witness to a French presence in early American history.

A Mountain Man and his Charge Horse (Artist Clark Kelly Price)

Mountain men, notably Étienne Provost, born in Chambly, Quebec, were the first entrepreneurs of America’s Far West. They acted as precursors to the colonization of the western “frontiers ” of the United States, which was a land of wilderness to be discovered rather than a boundary separating two political or geographical areas. Although these intrepid pioneers had no road maps or GPS to navigate, they nevertheless knew each landmark as the back of their hands.