Malachite’s Big Hole
Fort Vasquez appears to have been constructed in 1835 and was certainly in operation no later than 1837. A license was issued to Louis Vasquez, an experienced trader and Andrew Sublette, a younger brother of William Sublette, on July 29, 1835 by William Clark Superintendent of Indian Affairs in St. Louis. The post was constructed with financial backing from William Sublette and Robert Campbell.
William Sublette and Robert Campbell had previously sold Fort Laramie (earlier known as Fort William) to the Pratte, Choteau & Co. (successor to the Western Division of the American Fur Company, and still known as the American Fur Company). Fort Vasquez was located on the South Platte River, roughly midway between Fort William to the north and Bent’s Fort to the south (see Map).
William Sublette and Campbell had previously done their utmost to make the commercial environment for the American Fur Company more difficult by situating opposition posts immediately adjacent to American Fur Company forts. For William Sublette and Campbell providing financial support for this venture may have been one more opportunity to tweak the big company at Fort Laramie.
Louis Vasquez and Andrew Sublette probably choose this site on the South Platte River for a number of reasons, including the natural resources available at the site to support fort operations, local populations of Indians that frequented the area because of the abundance of food resources available, and the ability to serve Indian customers who might otherwise travel to Fort William or to Bent’s Fort. Fort Vasquez is located at the south end of present day Platteville, Colorado.
Fort Jackson, whose location has never been confirmed, was probably located about 2 miles to the south, and Fort Lancaster just over seven miles to the south. Fort George (Fort St. Vrain) was located approximately 6 miles to the north.
Fort Vasquez was, constructed of adobe, probably using low cost labor from Mexican Santa Fe or Taos. Rufus Sage (Reference) made this comment about Mexican laborers in his journal while at Fort Lancaster in 1842, which probably applies as well to Fort Vasquez: “Their wages vary from four to ten dollars per month, which they receive in articles of traffic at an exhorbitant price;—viz: calicoes, (indifferent quality,) from fifty cents to one dollar per yard; blue cloth, from five to ten dollars per do.; powder, two dollars per lb.; lead, one do. do.; coffee, one do. do.; tobacco, from two to three do. do.; second hand robes, two dollars apiece, —and everything else in proportion. Their wages for a whole year, in actual value, bring them but a trifling and almost nameless consideration. Notwithstanding, these miserable creatures prefer travelling four hundred miles to hire for such diminutive wages, rather than to remain in their own country and work for less. They know of no better way to get a living, and are, therefore, happy in their ignorance, and contentedly drag out a wretched existence as best they may.”
Fort Vasquez was supplied by overland routes from Taos and from St. Louis via the Santa Fe Trail similar to Fort Lancaster.
Although the post initially did a brisk business, the firm of Vasquez and Sublette was doomed to failure from the beginning due to the torrid competition from the three other posts in the immediate area. Louis Vasquez and Andrew Sublette dissolved their partnership in 1840 or 41 and sold the fort and its contents to Messrs. Locke and Randolph. Following a string of bad luck these men then decamped in 1842 without having completed payment for the fort. Again here is what Rufus Sage says about Locke and Randolph in his journal: “Six miles further on, we came to a recently deserted post, which had been occupied the previous winter and summer by Messrs Lock and Randolph. One of our party, an whilom engagé of this company, informed me of its principals' becoming bankrupt. through mismanagement and losses on various kinds;—he stated, that, in May last, their entire "cavalliard," consisting of forty-five head of horses and mules, had been stolen by the Sioux Indians; this, in connection with other bad luck — together with the depreciated value of furs and peltries, the failure of a boat-load of robes to reach the states, the urgent demands of creditors, &c., had caused them to evacuate their post and quit the country.”
The post then fell into disrepair, but was continued to be used into the 1850’s and 60’s as a temporary shelter for emigrants and as a corral for livestock. For a time church services were held within its walls. As farmers and ranchers moved into the region and settled, the crumbling structure became a source of adobe bricks and large portions of the remaining structure were hauled away. The fort was reconstructed in 1935 by the WPA (Works Progress Administration). In the 1930’s the nation was in the grips of a financial depression. The project was first intended to quickly generate and provide jobs and secondarily to restore the historical structure. The final restoration of the structure included only the exterior walls. These were slightly offset from the original, and the shape was somewhat distorted. The interior walls of workshops, storage rooms and living quarters were not restored.