In 1820, Major Stephen Long followed the South Platte River along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, leading the first group of U.S. soldiers into the region. Long’s travels left a significant legacy because he labeled the area the “Great American Desert,” creating an image of bareness that initially discouraged prospective settlers.
One of the first observers to describe the Poudre was explorer John C. Fremont, who, in 1842, crossed the river near present-day Windsor. He may likely have glimpsed Native American bison hunters. Native American tribes considered the river an excellent place to gather plant foods like roots, cattails, and chokecherries. For hundreds of years, nomadic tribes occupied the river valley on a seasonal basis. Native American groups, such as Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Ute, moved through northern Colorado.
Fur trappers combed western waterways for beavers. The fashionable societies of Europe and the U.S. craved beaver-felt hats. Trading posts were never built near the Poudre, suggesting a scarcity of beavers compared to other river basins. Some trappers developed meaningful trade and relationships with local tribes, and marriages to indigenous women were not uncommon.