NOCO Strong: From the Whispers of Pioneers

Lest we forget (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

Tim Van Schmidt


I made Fort Collins my adopted hometown. I was born elsewhere, but my roots stuck here — my daughter was born here and my grandson was born here. So many others have come after me too.

And so many others have done the same thing before me.

Now, Fort Collins is a bustling city. Not just Fort Collins, but the whole NOCO area. But it wasn’t always so.

To get a perspective on that, I took a three-stop tour of places of area historical interest in order to hear the “whispers of the pioneers”.

NOCO historic site Bingham Hill Cemetary (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

First, I visited Bingham Hill Cemetery, established in 1862 in Laporte.

Now, I don’t find cemeteries creepy at all. My grandfather was the main caretaker for my Illinois hometown cemetery. I remember being there sometimes and it was quiet and beautiful.

And for me, cemeteries have an aura of history. The markers give names and dates and even if you don’t know the people, you can’t help but wonder at what their lives were like.

9 month old NOCO pioneer (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

On the day I visited Bingham Hill Cemetery, the sun was high and the grass was dry. There was a persistent breeze as I respectfully viewed the markers, dates going far back into the 1800s.

I came upon a stone marker that honored the interred as a group: “Our love to these pioneers and any others who may have died alone, forgotten, unloved and unmourned. Lord. Give them lasting peace.”

Indeed, it was peaceful. I came upon a bench and sat down to listen.

What I heard was the wind in the trees, ducks in the water, a far-off dog, and the sound of trucks and cars — in other words, the present. NOCO is a busy region and you can hear that even up on that hill.

I’d like to mention that local author Rose L. Brinks has published an excellent book dedicated to the site: “History of the Bingham Hill Cemetery”. Not only does she track down the names and stories of those buried there — there are also plentiful photos of the people themselves. Thanks to Brinks, you can look these pioneers right in the eyes.

Lindenmeier excavation marker (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

Looking for other “whispers” of the past, I next visited the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.

I knew that the history of “Camp Collins” and its development into a city is well covered at the museum with info and artifacts, but what most interested me this time was the material that went much further back — to the first people who lived here; who made stone tools and hunted and gathered.

Arrowheads at Fort Collins Museum of Discovery (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

One display paid tribute to the legendary excavations done north of Fort Collins at the Lindenmeier Site. There, archeologists found remnants of human settlement from more than 10,000 years ago.

While I was trying to fathom in my mind what NOCO was like one hundred centuries ago, what I heard all around me was the bustle of kids and moms and strollers. The Museum of Discovery is a popular one — as it should be. And the churning downtown where the museum is located was moving at full tilt when I went outside.

The Hand That Feeds at Sugar Beet Park (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

My last “pioneer” stop was to see the brand new sculpture called “The Hand that Feeds” at Sugar Beet Park. It’s an impressive monument to the workers that made the area a top sugar-producing region in the 1900s.

The sculpture features a large hand gripping a short hoe, a tool used by workers to harvest the beets. But “The Hand That Feeds” is not the only tribute to the sugar beet industry — the whole park is dedicated to the contributions it made to the area economy.

Sugar Beet Park (Photo by Tim Van Schmidt)

Did I hear the voices of the beet workers on that morning? Rather, I heard the constant traffic stopping and starting at the intersection of Vine and Lemay. Road construction and development in the area make this an active area.

I also heard my grandson laughing from the playground — in fact, calling me over to do a little playing myself.

Perhaps the reason I was having such a hard time hearing those “pioneer whispers” is that NOCO is such a thriving, busy place. If only those pioneers from the 1800s, from the 1900s, or even from 10,000 years ago could see this area now, they would be speechless.

Our culture and economy in NOCO are strong.

However, I’ll keep on listening for those whispers of the pioneers — the people who came before us. It is still possible to “hear” them, however faintly, because part of our culture is about remembering our people and history.

But mostly what I hear is the busy day, everything going every which way around us. What those pioneers helped create is a place that is still on the upswing and it’s up to us — as the “pioneers” of our time — to make it get even better.

Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins. See his channel on YouTube at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt.”

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