Escalante Canyon is a beautiful and historical canyon located near Delta, Colorado. The canyon is named after two Franciscan priests, Silvestre Vélez de Escalante and Atanasio Domínguez. They were part of expedition that happened in 1776 to find an overland route between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and a Roman Catholic mission in Monterey, California. While the priests didn’t actually pass through the canyon, it is still named after Escalante.
The canyon was formed over 600 million year ago and is a 1,300 foot deep gorge, carved by the Escalante Creek. The canyon features petroglyphs that trace back to the earliest people. It is known that the Ute Indians made the North Fork of the Escalante River their winter home, and early settlers eventually moved in to take advantage of the easy water supply, forcing many natives off their lands. Cattle outfits also began using the canyon in the late 1800s.
Escalante Canyon was a notable part of the Colorado Sheep War as well. The Spanish had introduced sheep into America, and their numbers had increased to over 2 million by 1896. Some settlers also brought sheep with them when the area was opened to settlers in 1882. With the rise of cattle in the region, conflicts between two sides for grazing lands was inevitable.
Cattle owners would threaten sheep owners by wearing masks. These marauders eventually became known as the Night Riders. In 1915, the Night Riders attacked at a band of sheep in the Oh-Be-Joyful Creek area. They drove a herd of 200 sheep of a cliff while the owner was tied to the tree. Then, on June 9, 1917, Ben Lowe and a former local Delta County sheriff, Cash Sampson, died during a shootout, each falling to the other’s gun.
The two had supper at J.W. Musser’s ranch. When they were leaving, they got into an argument that left both men dead only a few feet apart. While there were no witnesses to the argument, it is very likely that it was due to Sampson investigating Lowe as being part of the sheep slaughter than had taken place previous year.
Within the canyon, you can find the stone cabin of Captain Henry A. Smith, who was a Civil War veteran. He used local sandstone to build his cabin and made his living as a tombstone carver. The cabin is located 18 miles from the Escalante Bridge.
Historical Marker Inscription
Named after one of the two priests Escalante and Dominguez after their expedition in 1776. Rich in history this canyon has seen its share of human beings starting with the earliest Native Americans since circa 700 AD. After the Civil War, Captain Henry A. Smith, a tombstone carver, made this canyon his home. The canyon hosted the Colorado Sheep War during March 1916 and a shootout left residents Cash Sampson and Ben Lowe dead.
The previous plaque was dedicated June 12, 2003.
This plaque rededicated July 17, 2010 by Al Packer Chapter 100
E Clampus Vitus
US-50 E, Delta, CO 81416
38° 47′ 2.760″ N, 108° 14′ 47.970″ W