William O. Collins From the Mayflower to the Rockies with Stops In Between
by Brian Carroll
Review by Meg Dunn | northerncoloradohistory.com
In 1861, the United States was a country divided, not only by a tragic civil war between the Union and Confederacy, but also geographically. The fairly new states of California and Oregon, rich with material wealth, were separated from the seventeen Union and eleven Confederate states by eight territorial regions. But the Union relied upon communication with, and gold and silver from, those Western states. So President Abraham Lincoln sent soldiers to guard the Oregon Trail, the main east-west travel route. And this was how a 52-year-old lawyer and state senator, with no prior military experience, ended up leading a cavalry battalion in the Nebraska and Colorado territories — protecting the free passage of mail, goods, and people through Indian lands.
William O. Collins, of Hillsboro, Ohio, volunteered to pull together enough men and horses to provide Lincoln with a full cavalry regiment. Collins was a descendant of Puritan immigrants who had been affiliated with the Massachusetts Bay Company and subsequently, were involved in the Revolutionary war as well as other wars in defense of the United States. The family had proven its loyalty to the U.S. generation after generation and William O. Collins followed suit. He eagerly pledged his services, and a great deal of his own money, to the cause of defending the Union. But rather than protecting the Ohio border, as he had offered and as he had promised his men, they were instead sent westward.
With no cultural sensitivity training, Collins found himself in the midst of the Sioux, Arapaho and Cheyenne. Violence between the Indigenous people and the increasing numbers of Whites was common and misunderstandings were frequent. So how did Collins do? In what way did he represent the U.S. during his time along the Oregon Trail? And was he the kind of man that we’d still consider worthy of having a city named after, the City of Fort Collins to be exact? These are the kinds of questions that local author Brian Carroll set out to answer in this book.
Carroll’s research is in-depth and wide-ranging, pulling from newspaper articles of the time, military records, letters from Collins to his wife, and numerous other sources. Carroll expresses his own opinion of Collins’ record, but he also provides the reader with enough original source material that we don’t have to take his word for it and can form an opinion of our own.
Names matter and for those of us living in and around Fort Collins, it behooves us to better understand the man our community has been named after. Thankfully, Carroll provides an engrossing read into the history of this man.
Pick up a copy of the book, and meet the author, on December 18 at Sanderosa Art Gallery, 1301 Kintzley Court, in Laporte (look for the white Statue of Liberty on the right on Rt. 54 G). Author Brian Carroll will be available to sign books and discuss his research from 12 to 3 pm. Or to order a copy, visit History-Keepers.com
Meg Dunn is chair of the Fort Collins Historic Preservation Commission, secretary of Historic Larimer County, and publisher of the History Now newsletter. For the most comprehensive list of history and heritage events in Northern Colorado, straight to your inbox, go to NorthernColoradoHistory.com, scroll down to the History Now newsletter button and sign up.