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Hell Tree

Road sign

I think the corner of Horsetooth Road and CR7 should be declared a monument to historical ignorance in Fort Collins.

Look to the Northeast and see what’s left of the Strauss cabin. One of the earliest cabins in the area, restored in the 1990s, and then burned down by some teenagers soon after.

Strauss Cabin Ruins

Que lastima.

But watch your back. Turn around and you’re looking right at the abandoned goat farm where grows the Hell Tree. The HELL TREE!!!!

That’s where a goat farmer used to hang his workers, until they rebelled and hanged him from the same tree. And now you can see ghosts swinging from the limbs after dark, they say. (Or maybe that’s goats, and the story is just a big dyslexic mix up.)

How do I know about the hell tree? Not from any old timers. Not from the museum archives. They’ve never heard of it.

I got the story from the Internet! On a web site about supernatural phenom. I’m not sure if the story was written by a  local, or whether someone far away made up the story in hopes of selling ads for local hotels on his ghost story web site.

It doesn’t matter. The Collegian parroted the story last October, and then  some accounts located it on CR7 (though others put it off North Overland, see comments below), and now College students and the internet savvy (or gullible as the case may be) are making the most of its retelling.

But if you know Fort Collins history at all, you know the story is crazy. We NEVER overlooked serial murder.  Oh, we could wink at vigilantism and we could bypass the law when struck by moral outrage. We were especially prone to moral outrage.

But hanging the help?

Not on our church-going, temperate watch.

And a goat farm? Goats=Satan. Get it? Maybe if he’d have raised sheep like everyone else, he wouldn’t have gone mad.

The story of the hell tree seems completely improbable to me.

But I will admit, the abandoned farm  and that cottonwood do look sinister, don’t they?

Hell Tree

Credits

Kendra Spanjer, author of Aldo Zelnick fame, encouraged me to look into the Hell Tree story. From what I can tell, the property was turned over to the county in the early 1970s. It’s surrounded by gravel pits and such today.

Thanks Kendra! It made for a very fun afternoon of exploring.

[Become a fan of Lost Fort Collins on Facebook]

13 comments to Hell Tree

  • I didn’t know about the cabin. Even about the restoration. Wasn’t that one of the ones that used to stand in Lincoln Park, by the library? I think I’ve been inside that, on some sanctioned occasion. (I feel like I’m the only one in my generation who never sneaked into the streetcar when it was in the park there. Well, there was a fence around it, so I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there.)

  • Spencer

    Never ever heard of the “Hell Tree”. Ever. But I’ll go out there and take a gander, why not. Interesting note: since the outside potential life span of a cottonwood pegs at (or under) 100 years, our goat farm lyncher would have had to have been stringing up the help no earlier than the 1930s. Any earlier and their feet would have touched the ground.

  • thedpt

    Sorry to burst your bubble. That’s not the hell tree. You’re not even on the right side of town. The hell tree is off of north Overland.

  • catfc

    My bubble is burst, cruel reader. But on the internet it said that the hell tree was at the end of Horsetooth. (Although I did see one account that put it at Bingham Hill Cemetery. Is that where you saw the tree?)

  • Karl R

    I was always under the impression that the farm belonged to Jim Strang. I don’t know if it’s the same Strang who’s name was on the side of the elevator or not
    Here’s an image for anyone interested.
    http://history.fcgov.com/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/ph&CISOPTR=13888&CISOBOX=1&REC=16

  • Kate

    How sad if The Collegian repeated the story without more verification. This is the journalist pool from which The Coloradoan is hiring?

  • nisperos

    Que lastima indeed! There have been way too many arsons of historical buildings in our area. The real diablos, straight from hell, are the arsonists with the fires they’ve lit.

    To clear up some confusion for people:

    The Strauss Cabin was built in 1864 and used as a supply depot for stagecoaches. It burnt down in 1999. George Strauss survived the 1864 flood and then survived the 1904 flood, but was rescued the next day. Unfortunately, after being rescued, he died from the exposure he’d endured. Read more about the cabin and Strauss here: http://users.frii.com/uliasz/photoart/lost_colorado/ftcollins.htm

    The Strang Cabin was built in the 1880s. It burnt down in 2002 and was located on Strauss Cabin Rd.

    The Franz-Smith Cabin was built circa 1882. It was relocated and is one of the structures in Lincoln Park in the museum courtyard. This cabin was built by the Franz family who were German immigrants. It was later occupied by the Smith family from 1936 to 1948. It was restored to 1920’s and 1930’s appearance to tell the story of Depression area farmers and the remodeling older structures during the time of rural electrification.

  • nisperos

    In 1900, at the turn of the century, the census counted 67 goats in Larimer county. Later, in the teens and 20’s, there were a couple of goat ranches relatively close, but enough of a rarity that the locals were told they might want to go see the goats. These ranches had 700 to 800 goats and they were being raised for their angora wool. One of the ranches was located in Boulder county and the other one (could have been Weld or Larimer) was north and east of Wellington. I also saw a 1920’s ad where someone was offering stud services with the goat they owned. Their property was located west of Shields on Mulberry.

  • cheriey

    thedpt is right it is off Overland on Michaud LN at the end of the road on the south side before you enter the natural area, but I think it may have been cut down. To make room for a hiking trail, but it was creepy when I was a kid!

  • catfc

    Cheriey, I have been flip in my post/comments so far. But seriously, I do want to know more about where the story came from. During what decade were you a kid? And where did you hear the story?

  • I am 95% sure my great grand parents lived in the house you pictured in the early 50’s. I ran it by my mother when I read this but and she confirmed what I already knew. I’m going to speak to my grandma later this week and I know I have some stories to tell. I’m pretty positive one of my uncles was born in said house.

  • catfc

    Norm and I drove past yesterday looking for a blue heron rookery, and I saw a carload of young women stopped to look at the tree. I bet your (Grow Fort Collins) stories are better than the made up ones.

  • CNLfc

    This tree is something I have known about for years! I remember it from when I was in elementary school and I remember the building being burned down when I was young as well. I used to drive by it quite frequently since my parents also lived not far from it. The story you told is the one I heard 20 some years ago. Maybe you need to plan a trip to find out if the stories are true! haha!