Bent's Fort - Trading on the Trails
We've been here before, but this year is special for Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site.
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.
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.
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
Elaborately constructed, it was eventually a massive adobe structure of quadrangular shape having 24 rooms lining the walls.
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 GraveEdward Dorris, a stagecoach driver, died of sunstroke or a heart attack en route to Bent's Old Fort, a Barlow and Sanderson stagecoach station in the 1860s. Like others who had gone before him, the hardship of life on the Santa Fe Trail ended here at Bent's Fort. Of the 13 graves located in this cemetery, 12 are covered with adobe bricks, while Dorris' grave is covered with limestone and marked. This may be the cemetery described by visitors to Bent's Fort in the 1840s. "In the evening, another Missouri volunteer died and was buried. They were obliged to cover the graves with prickly pear or cocks to prevent the wolves from tearing the bodies out of the ground..." Lieutenant Albert, US Army of the West, 1847.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not only did the Government fail to compensate the company adequately, but trade also suffered because the Indians were reluctant to come near.
When the railroads replaced stagecoaches, the buildings served as cattle corrals and gradually collapsed and disintegrated.
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.
The site was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960.
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
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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