Fort Collins Horsetooth Rock Creation Legend
When my wife and I were driving to Horsetooth to meet some friends for wake sports, I started telling her the story of the legend of Horsetooth Rock.
The rock was the heart of an evil giant that, until the hero of the story slashed the heart, creating the spaces between the rocks and thereby killing the giant, had terrorized the locals.
Sometimes I make up stories like this to see if I can keep a completely straight face while I tell her, and I think she suspected I was doing that with the colorful, dramatic story of the distinct rock formation that overlooks our town. She thought I was pulling her leg.
So, I wanted to dig out the old book of Fort Collins history that I call the internet, and find some backup to my story.
Barbara Fleming tells my favorite legend of Fort Collins as good as I’ve heard it told in her article for the Coloradoan, A Walk Through History: Legend of giant’s bleeding heart attached to Horsetooth Rock
Another Native American legend attributes the rock formation to the downfall of a sleeping giant. This giant was evil and would not permit the braves to hunt in the Valley of Contentment, where deer, buffalo and other game were abundant. (The valley so named now lies under the reservoir and was once the site of a lively town, but that’s another story.)
This angered their leader, Chief Maunamoku (named Great Buffalo in some accounts), who decided that the time had come to slay the giant. But how to do it? The giant would kill any who tried to hunt in the valley. It was said that the rock at the top of the mountain was his beating heart, and the braves did not dare venture close. The chief and his braves conferred. They needed the game to survive.
Read the whole story here.
There are so many things to love about this story. The first thing is simply imagination. These people lived in this amazing landscape under a remarkably unique rock formation and they had to have a story for it. It’s just like finding characters, stories and drama in the constellations.
Then there’s the name of the area the people wanted to hunt–the Valley of Contentment. It’s a perfect name for this area, especially for those who lived off what they hunted. Hiking in this spot around sunset, it’s strange not to see wildlife. What you see will often be in numbers approaching dozens. There are so many deer grazing in the long grasses, runners have to be careful turning corners so they don’t barrel into the animals. This had to be a special place, and a place of plenty for them as it is for us.
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Mentions of the legend have even made it into the city’s parks brochure. I think that may have been my earliest exposure to the tale.
Another legend, related again by Barbara Fleming via the Coloradoan, relies on the red color that can be found on the rocks as a key element of the story. This story is a battle of warriors.
…an Arapahoe legend says, the Great Red Warrior and the Great Black Warrior fought a fierce battle. It was a savage contest that went on for a long time. The Great Black Warrior eventually killed the Great Red Warrior, whose blood, falling from the heavens, colors the rock for all eternity. This legend, however, does not account for the large gaps on either side of the “tooth” — though perhaps they were caused by the warriors attacking each other.