The 2022-2023 Dean’s Innovation Grant was used to bring awareness to MSU Denver students of the rich diverse history and cultural heritage of southeast Colorado.  Often the focus of Colorado history is focused on Denver and the mountains, but not of the state’s Arkansas River Valley. The grant enabled MSU Denver Senior Lecturer of History Kevin Rucker to travel and research to the region’s historic sites to create the MSU Denver Maymester class “Colorado History: Arkansas River Valley Field Experience” and MSU Denver student internship programs at Bent’s Old Fort Historic Site and Boggsville National Historic Site. The cultural and history of the region encompasses Native Americans, Spanish conquistadors and settlements, Santa Fe Trail, fur trade, Pueblo and steel industry, Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, Sand Creek Massacre, ranchers and farmers, and World War II Japanese-American internment facility at Camp Amache.

The grant award enabled students to attend the five day Arkansas River Valley Field Experience, June 6 – 10, with lodging and museum fees covered by the award. Students provided their own transportation and to bring spouses and children.  The field experience began at Fort El Pueblo and Pueblo Heritage Museum then traveled to Rocky Ford and spend the night at La Junta motel. The second day the tour traveled to Comanche National Grasslands’ Vogel Canyon, then to Bent’s Old Fort where students were treated to a barbecue and spend the night with bedrolls in the fort’s actual rooms.  Third day students toured La Junta’s Koshare Indian Museum and Otero County History Museum, Las Animas’ Bent County History Museum before arriving at Historic Boggsville where they were greeted with a barbecue and spend the night with bedrolls in the two-story 1867 Prowers ranch house.  The fourth day had students travel further east down the Arkansas River to visit Fort Lyon, Bent’s New Fort Historic Site, Lamar’s Big Timbers Museum and Granada’s Camp Amache Japanese-American Internment Camp before retiring for the evening in Lamar Motel.  The final day the tour visited Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site before returning to Denver.

While researching for this class two new internship programs were created at Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site and Boggsville National Historic Site.  During spring of 2023 had one MSU Denver student at Bent’s Old Fort and one student at Historic Boggsville as an inaugural pilot program where they performed site maintenance, acted as docents and learned hands-on historic archival research.

The Maymester “Colorado History: Arkansas River Valley Field Experience” class will be offered again in 2024 as well as internship programs at Bent’s Old Fort and Boggsville.