Along the wagon trail from Bent’s Fort on the Arkansas to Fort St. Vrain, there is an old lodge on a butte.
History of the area, summarized and somewhat fictionalized below, can be found in two books by David Lavender, The Rockies and Bent’s Fort. Discerning fact from fiction is left to the reader.
The butte is mostly sandstone, but there is a layer of basalt at the base and a schist spire protruding from the top.
We pick up the story at the time the ancient Rockies were eroding. This erosion resulted in sand and mud deposits in an inland sea, thousands of feet thick, which then became bedded sandstones and shales.
A period of volcanism spread magma over extensive areas. Upon cooling, this magma became basalt. Further erosion covered the basalt with more sand and mud.
Formation of the current Rocky Mountains deformed and metamorphosed the lower layers of sedimentary rock into schist, and upwelling magma created granitic intrusions.
Extensive erosion of these new mountains resulted in sandstone mesas and buttes, and exposure of some of the underlying schist, granite, and basalt.
Groundwater surfacing from a contact zone between the schist and sandstone forms a spring and creek coming off the butte.
The Sante Fe Trail had way stations. One of notoriety was Bent’s Fort on the Arkansas River. You could buy anything you might need on the trail at Bent’s Fort. Charles Bent extended his commercial operations by establishing a similar supply post called Fort St. Vrain in the South Platte River valley (Historic Site on Hwy 85 just south of Platteville).
The proprietor of a way station along this trail built a lodge on a nearby butte (~40 miles west of Pawnee Buttes). When wagon trains stopped on their way to Ft. Saint Vrain, there were wild nights at the lodge on the butte. “You see there is absolutely no place for a man to go here except for the saloon, and you can’t imagine how they gamble up there all night long. I don’t think the saloon has been closed for a week” (Coral Moore, Hyattville, August 5, 1893). F.J. Hiscock took a photograph on one of these nights, including guys like George Inman, Snake River Bill, Morris Anderson, Johnny Kirkpatrick, Two-Dog Johnson, Soo Foo, Cigarette Charlie, and George Gentner.
The daughter of the owner loved these wild nights. She would charm the men with her good looks and wit, bestow special treatment on the most homely among them, and dance. Oh how this lady loved to dance. Folklore has it that on one of these wild nights, treachery at the poker table erupted in gunfire and a stray bullet killed this young lady.
When South Pass was discovered, traffic past the butte all but disappeared, Fort St. Vrain was shut down, and the fledgling town dried up. In ensuing years, the lodge was used as a hangout by various criminal elements, and thus it came to be known as Robber’s Roost.
A few foundations are all that remain of the town, but the lodge, though partially destroyed by fire, still stands. Visiting Robber’s Roost today, you can see, under certain conditions, the ghost of the lodge owner’s daughter, still dancing. One can feel the rush of wind as she spins past and see the bright eyes of one who had no guile and cheered many a weary traveler.
… on Pierre shale, between the hogbacks and the grasslands. If you can’t find it via David Lavender, then … ???
A scale replica of the butte and lodge can be viewed at Rocky Mtn Safari, 103 2nd St, Ault, CO 80610. Contact Frank or Becky at 970-371-4739.
If you see the ghost, the Polynesian beauty who lives in the lair of the dragon next to the butte, will open the letterbox.
It is convenient to stop in Ault on the way to Pawnee Buttes. Daytime is good, but after dark is extra special. Artists and romantics will be particularly interested (but most leterboxers are romantics, no?)
Lavender, David, 1954. Bent’s Fort. Doubleday and Company, Inc., Garden City, New York. 450 pp.
Lavender, David, 1968. The Rockies. Harper and Row Publishers, New York. 404 pp.
Kahin, Sharon and Laurie Rufe, 1983. In the Shadow of the Rockies. Northwest Community College, Powell, Wyoming. 91 pp.