Bent's Fort - Trading on the Trails

September 04, 2021  •  1 Comment

We've been here before, but this year is special for Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site.

 

Bent's Fort, CO - August 2021Bent's Fort, CO - August 2021photo by Dave Alexander

 

It's the 200th Anniversary of the Santa Fe Trail, and this trader's post was a big part of commerce on this route and others. 

 

BentsFort-nps-2Bent's Fort, CO - CaravanPhoto by the National Park Service.

 

Situated on the north bank of the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado, this non-military fort was one of the most significant outposts on the Santa Fe Trail, and as the principal outpost of American civilization on the southwestern Plains, it was instrumental in shaping the destiny of the area.

 

Bent's Fort, CO - Trading Post InteriorBent's Fort, CO - Trading Post Interior

 

In the heart of Indian country, buffalo hunting grounds and at the crossroads of key overland routes, it was a fur-trading center and rendezvous point for traders and Indians; a way station and supply center for emigrants and caravans; and the chief point of contact and cultural transmission between white settlers and Indians of the southern Plains.

 

Bent's Fort, CO - Interior Courtyard - 3Bent's Fort, CO - Interior Courtyard
William Bent, who had apparently been trading independently, erected a large adobe fort on the north bank of the Arkansas River, 12 miles west of the mouth of the Purgatoire River. At first named Fort William, it was also known as Bent’s Fort and finally as Bent’s Old Fort.

 

Bent's Fort, CO - Looking DownBent's Fort, CO - Looking Down

 

Elaborately constructed, it was eventually a massive adobe structure of quadrangular shape having 24 rooms lining the walls.

 

Bent's Fort, CO - Interior Courtyard - 2Bent's Fort, CO - Interior Courtyard

 

For 16 years Bent, St. Vrain, and Co. managed a highly profitable trading empire stretching from Texas to Wyoming and from the Rocky Mountains to Kansas, as well as participating in the Santa Fe trade.

 

Bent's Fort, CO -  Edward Dorris Grave 2021Bent's Fort, CO - Edward Dorris Grave 2021Photo by Dave Alexander

 

Edward Dorris, a stagecoach driver, died of sunstroke or a heart attack en route to Bent's Old Fort, in the 1860s. Like others who had gone before him, the hardship of life on the Santa Fe Trail ended here.

 

Bent's Fort, CO - Edward Dorris GraveBent's Fort, CO - Edward Dorris Grave

 

Of the 13 graves located in this cemetery, twelve are covered with adobe bricks while Dorris' grave is covered with limestone and marked. The cemetery has never been completely excavated.
 

 

Bent's Fort, CO - Dining RoomBent's Fort, CO - Dining Room

 

As the Mexican-American War approached, events beyond their control were destined to destroy the company and the trade. In 1846, the U.S. Army decided to use the post as a staging base for the conquest of New Mexico. 

 

BentsFort-npsBent's Fort, CO - ViewPhoto by the National Park Service.

 

That summer General Stephen W. Kearny and his Army of the West, followed by some 300 to 400 wagons of Santa Fe traders, rested at the fort before proceeding to occupy New Mexico.

 

Bent's Fort, CO - HorseBent's Fort, CO - HorsePhoto by Dave Alexander

 

When Kearny departed, Government wagon trains congregated in ever-increasing numbers. Horses and mules overgrazed nearby pastures. Quartermaster stores piled up at the fort, and soldiers and teamsters in Government employ occupied the rooms. 

 

Bent's Fort, CO - Wagon & OxenBent's Fort, CO - Wagon & Oxen

 

Not only did the Government fail to compensate the company adequately, but trade also suffered because the Indians were reluctant to come near. 

 

Bent's Fort, CO - Blacksmith ShopBent's Fort, CO - Blacksmith Shop

 

When the railroads replaced stagecoaches, the buildings served as cattle corrals and gradually collapsed and disintegrated. 

 

BentsFortCOCarolHighsmithBent's Fort, CO - Covered WagonBent's Old Fort National Historic Site on the Santa Fe Trail in eastern Colorado. Photo by Carol Highsmith.

 

Early in the 1950s the Colorado State Historical Society acquired Bent’s Old Fort and soon arranged for an archeological investigation to determine the fort’s general outlines. These excavations provided the information to entire reconstruct the old adobe trading post.

 

Bent's Fort, CO - FlagBent's Fort, CO - FlagPhoto by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2009.

 

 The site was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960. 

 

Bent's Fort, CO - WelcomeBent's Fort, CO - Welcome

 

Today, living historians recreate the sights, sounds, and smells of the past with guided tours, demonstrations, and special events. You and your family can also take the self-guided tour. Take note that pets are not allowed inside the walls of the fort. 

 

Let's Go Adventure in Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site

Learn about its history HERE

See our Bent's Fort Photo Print Collection HERE

Learn about the Santa Fe Trail - Highway to the Southwest, Celebrating its 200th Anniversary

Check Bent's Old Fort event schedules and Covid status via the National Park Service HERE

 

 

HearHereHearHereGet the HearHere App for iPhone

We're traveling with "HearHere" a travel audio app for your iPhone that shares the depth and diversity of stories - cultural, geographical, historical, and mythological - hidden along the roads of America. 

 

For RV'ers

During our visit to Bent's Fort, we stayed in La Junta just a few miles away, at the KOA campground.  Very friendly folks, nice clean park, dog run and more.  Prices on par with most other KOA campgrounds. See their website here


 


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Where are these places located? It is very attractive.
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