(Excerpt from “History of Larimer County” by Ansel Watrous, 1911. The date of the letter is unknown, but was probably written around 1890 to 1900.)
Mr. John Coy
You will be surprised at receiving a letter from Oswego, from a man you don’t know, so I will tell you how this came about. I am storekeeper for the Government in Oswego and the building is only a block from where your brother, Ben, lives. He comes down and visits me. We were talking one day about the western country. I told him how far west I had been and mentioned Fort Collins and then Camp Collins. ‘Why’, Ben says, ‘I have been there twice or three times and I have a brother living there now who has been there since 1863, I think, and I get the Courier every week.’ This took place about a year ago. Ben said he would go to the house and bring down one, so he did and has continued letting me have one whenever there is anything in them he thinks would interest me ; and would you believe it, I am as much interested in them as I am in our local paper. So about a year ago I wrote the editor of the Courier, giving him a sketch of the days when I was in and about Fort Collins. I was a member of the 21st New York cavalry, stationed at Fort Collins from 1865 to 1866, and if you were there in 1863-64, why you know about the 21st cavalry.
Well, Ben said you lived down the river from Collins. One day, three or four of us Oswego boys took a stroll down the river, oh, a mile and a half or so. We came to a frame house and if I remember rightly it hadn’t been built very long. We saw some milk pans out drying, so some of us boys says, ‘let’s have some milk.’ We went in. This was in the afternoon. There was a woman and a couple of girls in the house and we asked them to sell us some milk. They said they didn’t like to disturb the milk after it was set, so we said we would buy the whole pan full and pay whatever they thought it was worth. At this stage of the game, the man came in and we got to talking, and finally, he asked us what state we were from. We said Oswego, New York. ‘Why’, he said, is that so? I am from Oswego.” He asked us if we knew Fitchne and Littlejohn and some other early settlers of Oswego. We had all the milk we wanted to drink and he wouldn’t accept any pay for it and wanted us to come down often, as he liked to talk to us.
There was another house across the river from Collins, built that spring or the year before. Then I wondered what anyone wanted to come out in that God-forsaken country and build a house with the intention of staying there. I wouldn’t have stayed there for all Fort Collins and all the buildings in sight.
While out there we went as far as Fort Bridger. We left Fort Leavenworth July 22, 1865, struck the Platte river at Fort Kearney, then up the river to Denver and from there to Fort Collins to a post then called Virginia Dale, Little Laramie, Big Laramie, Cheyenne and on to Bridger. We were guarding the U. S. mail, which was carried by stage.
We left Fort Collins the latter part of June, 1866, and glad we were to get away from there. It used to take a month to get a letter from home.
A man by the name of Mason built a concrete store at Collins just before we got there and Mrs. Stone’s little home was only a little ways from it. I bought bread, pies, and milk from her; 50 cents per quart for milk, $1.50 for a pound of butter. I forgot what we did pay for bread. We paid Mason 25 cents for a small glass of beer, $3.00 for a pint of whiskey. I once paid $1.50 for 13 apples. Who would want to live out there? No work going on; why one would have to live on prairie dogs and rattlesnakes in order to get along.
Now I see Fort Collins has a population of 8,000 or 9,000, and I saw a picture of all your public buildings. They are fine, and were I able to stand the expenses of going out there on a visit, I certainly would go. The winter I was in Collins, there was about three or four inches of snow. Some of the officers built sleighs out of old boards and had a sleigh ride. It only lasted a few days. I could tell quite a lot of things that went on during the year I was on the Plains (that’s what we used to call it); so, wishing you and your family and all the people of Fort Collins a prosperous future, I am.
127 E. Albany St., Oswego, N.Y.