New monument to not-so-unknown Fort Collins Civil War vets

The war is finally over. Time to return to family and rebuild a life. But the military has other plans. Go to the western frontier, the orders say, and protect our homesteaders from attacks by hostiles. Report to a fort in the Colorado Territory (just left of, if not in the middle of, nowhere) under the command of Col. William O. Collins.

Such was the reality for many Civil War vets in the summer of 1865. Some deserted military service on route, but others arrived at Fort Collins. Some made lives in the west, but others died in skirmishes with Native Americans or contracted disease. Many of their names were lost until recently, but now those veterans can be honored again at 11 a.m. on Nov. 5 at Grandview Cemetery. Their descendants can discover the place where their relative’s remains lie, thanks to the devoted efforts of some local volunteers and historians.

One of those volunteers, Lyn Rubenthaler, simply set out on a project with the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution to photograph grave markers at Grandview Cemetery — like the one for her earliest relative in the area, who was buried in 1899. The goal was to put the images online at findagrave.com so that others could trace their heritage more easily. Over eight years, the DAR’s photographic expeditions accomplished much more: they were able to give names to anonymous soldiers’ remains and planted the seeds for a new crop of eager historians.

Another volunteer, Vicki Carroll, said that her grandkids, who accompanied her to the gravesites, have become “little historians” themselves, curious about the lives of the people memorialized there. The DAR has also empowered teachers of second and third graders who study Colorado history by giving them tours of the cemetery and telling the stories of the fallen. They also work with the Boy Scouts of Troupe 96, who put flags on the graves of veterans, to update their lists and make them as accurate as possible.

Their unique historical discovery occurred when Vicki’s husband, Brian, began questioning Mark Young, a member of the cemetery staff, about the transfer of military remains first from the original Fort Collins cemetery (where the Museum of Art now stands) and then to the Mountain Home Cemetery on Laurel Street, and finally to Grandview. Young began rummaging in some old file boxes and cubbyholes and uncovered documents that allowed names to be assigned to twice-moved remains. When officials unveil the monument at Grandview on Nov. 5, 19 names will be revealed.

Those names with relevant details will ultimately be released to the City of Fort Collins for their online database (See lcgsco.org/cemeteries). Likewise, by early November about 80 percent of the grave marker photographic project should be available on findagrave.com. The DAR was very pleased that the Grandview Cemetery donated the foundation and location for the monument and that Rhonda Carey with Fort Collins Landmark Monuments donated the marker and engraving.

It’s hard to imagine Fort Collins as a military fort along a rugged frontier trail with stage stations every 20 miles, although some of the wagon ruts, broken glass and barbed wire are still there to see, if you know where to look. It’s not as hard to imagine scared young men, still traumatized by a long war, thrown into the face of new dangers “in the middle of nowhere.” We can still see that happening in today’s world. This new monument will serve to honor now not-so-nameless young men — perhaps some of your relatives — who helped shape the history of Northern Colorado.

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