Riots and acts of civil disobedience are not unfamiliar
occurrences in Fort Collins. Dating as far back as the late 1800s,
old-fashioned showdowns are documented.
Last weekend, city law enforcement members tear-gassed two riots
that took place near the CSU campus. Cars were overturned and
damaged, one person was taken to the hospital and five arrests have
been made so far in the investigation.
CSU expelled six students in 1997 for participating in a riot
that occurred on two successive Friday nights. More recently, in
May, a disturbance broke out where two men were charged for
Fort Collins librarian and local historian Rheba Massey said
riots, war protests and civil disobedience, in general, does take
place in Fort Collins.
“Every year CSU students do something like (civil disobedience),
so this is not uncommon,” Massey said. “In the 1800s the cowboys
and the college kids got into a fight.”
Massey said the downtown showdown was much less violent than the
outbursts this weekend, and he chuckled at the notion of cowboys
with shotguns being demanded to leave town by students armed with
CSU was the site of anti-war demonstrations when U.S. forces
invaded Cambodia during the week of May 8, 1970, which resulted in
the burning of the historic “Old Main” building on campus and minor
rioting. Although the burning was determined to be arson, the
connection between the protests and the fire are unclear, but city
historians say they almost are certainly linked.
Two-thousand people are documented to have marched to City Hall
that day in an uproar against war. Supported by CSU faculty at the
time, students either boycotted class or discussed war issues in
In 1987, a large party in the Baystone area erupted into a
In January 1998, a street riot occurred while people were
celebrating the Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl victory.
Other demonstrations, such as the Hispanic community marching to
the city courthouse in the 1970s, have occurred throughout the
CSU Police Department Capt. Bob Chaffee said last weekend’s
riots are similar to others that have happened during his 28-year
tenure at CSU. Chaffee said they were “up there at the top of
riots” as far as the overall harm they caused.
“People do stupid stuff in the presence of alcohol and in the
anonymity of a group,” Chaffee said.
Chaffee remembers the disturbances in 1997 and during the 1986
and 1987 school season the most vividly, but he does not like to
bring back the memories because they do not accurately represent
CSU or the community he has learned to love, Chaffee said.
Some Fort Collins residents disagree that civil unrest happens
in Fort Collins, instead believing that Fort Collins is a quiet and
Wayne Sundberg, a Fort Collins historian and past affiliate with
CSU’s history department, believes Fort Collins has had no real
outbursts except in the last few years, with the exception of the
“Old Main” burning.
“This was a very sleepy agricultural town,” Sundberg said. He
said college students have recently made occasional disturbances in
“We have had occasional demonstrations in the past, but
peacefully protested,” Sundberg said.
Sundberg, a Fort Collins resident since 1966, said the outbursts
over the past years are due to today’s culture and the
record-breaking student population.
CSU students returned to class Monday. Early estimates from the
university point out that this school season may be the enrollment
record, surpassing last year’s of 25,042 students.
“I think the kids are away from home and have not been taught
proper behavior,” said Sundberg, who lives a few blocks away from
the second melee Saturday night on Bluebell Street.
Seeing riot activity himself in the 1960s war era, Ernie Chavez,
chair of CSU’s psychology department, said he is seeing it all over
Chavez said riots are a “contagious process,” especially in
campus communities where there is perfect recipe for a riot to
occur: Large groups of people mixed with large amounts of alcohol
is a “formula for a bad situation,” he said.
“The more anonymity there is, the higher the probability of
something inappropriate happening,” Chavez said.
Chaffee’s main purpose is to keep the students and staff on
campus safe, he said.
“It is the code of the West: We all have to be responsible for
what we do. As much as people do not want to hear it, it is the
truth,” Chaffee said.