The Arapahoe Legend of Horsetooth Rock
If you look to the west above Horsetooth Reservoir you’ll see the large and interesting outcropping of rock known as Horsetooth Rock. It’s visible from many areas of Fort Collins although it looks grey from a distance, and much of the rock formation is actually fairly red.
How did a rock become sculpted to look like a horse’s tooth? The Arapahoe legend tells us that there was once a giant who presided over the area, calling it the “Valley of Contentment”. The giant protected the animals living there from all harm, and they could not be hunted. If anyone were to enter the valley with the intent of harming the animals, death would “rain down upon them”.
In time a great drought came upon the land outside of the valley, and all of the animals that the local tribes once hunted moved on in search of water. The people of the tribes were without meat, and began to starve. They decided to brave the giant in order to hunt the plentiful buffalo, deer and antelope roaming the Valley of Contentment.
The tribes gathered and planned their hunt. They would wait until the Hunter’s Moon as they knew the giant was weakest when the moon was bright. Before embarking on their hunting journey, they chanted and called upon the magic of their ancestors to provide them with the tools they needed. A tomahawk was sent from the heavens and the tribes bestowed on it enchantments until the time they had waited for was at hand.
Chief Maunamoku led his warriors to the valley in search of the giant, and found him sleeping atop the mountain. The chief took the magic tomahawk and heaved it over the chest of the sleeping giant, sinking it deep into his heart. He again raised the tomahawk and sliced back into the giant’s chest, killing the giant and turning him into stone. His blood ran freely down into the valley.
The giant is now Horsetooth Rock, and the slices of his chest reflect the formation of the rock. The red color comes from the giant’s blood.
There are no more buffalo in the valley, and many fewer deer and antelope. The Valley of Contentment is no more and the tribes have been banished to reservations and replaced with a new people who frequently disrespect the land.
When the thunderheads come over the mountains and descend upon Horsetooth Rock, many think it could be the spirit of the slain giant, rumbling his anger and striking the valley below with rods of lightening in retribution for the slaughter of his animals and the theft of his valley.