Sitting close by the banks of the Arkansas river, near the present day town of La Junta, Colorado, you will find Bent’s Old Fort. The original fort was constructed in the early 1830’s, and opened for business in 1833. Situated on a leg of the Santa Fe trail, it played a major role in the settlement of the Southwest. The two Bent brothers, along with another partner, Ceran ST. Vrain, ran the fort for sixteen years. They traded with the Indians, fur trappers, buffalo hunters, Mexican’s, both U.S. and Mexican army’s, and anyone else that could bring a profit to the three business men. The downfall of the original fort was a cholera outbreak amongst the Indian population in 1848. It decimated the tribes and removed a major portion of the forts business. William Bent had already lost a wife and three brothers, so he burned the fort, and moved down river forty miles or so to build a new trading post near Lamar, CO. The ruins of the fort were plundered for nearly a century until being established a Historic Site in 1960.
Thanks to a bored U. S. Army Lieutenant named James Abert, Bent’s Old Fort was restored from the ashes', so to speak. While recovering from an illness at the fort in 1845, Abert decided to meticulously draw pictures and diagrams of the entire fort complex. As a topographical engineer, surveying the West for the Army, his sketch’s and watercolors provided all the information needed to reconstruct the fort. This was done in the mid 1970’s, on what remained of the original foundations. It is now a living history National Historic Site.
Built just like the original, with adobe bricks and plaster.
With something like eighteen separate rooms on the ground level, and eight or so on the second level, there was a place for everything. a Council room, for dealing with the Indians, and a trading room filled with everything one could want, or need.
A dining room where one could enjoy a fine meal if deemed worthy enough.
A game room and bar. I assume the same requirements here as in the dining room. One had access to iced drinks and fine wine.
A part of the kitchen. Every room, or group of rooms had a large fireplace connected to central chimneys.
Outside ovens sit between inner and outer walls.
Blacksmith and carpentry shops could build or repair most anything.
Powder magazine. Though the fort was in operation for sixteen years, it never had to defend itself against attack.
Looking down from the second level.
Miscellaneous rooms used by traders, trappers, and military.
St. Vrain’s room. Glass windows.
Though it was a reconstruction, I loved this place. You could smell the old wood smoke in some of the rooms. The stains on the front of the fireplaces were the real thing. The docents that were there took you back in time. Not with their talk; as you were on your own, so to speak, unless you had a question. It was their actions; splitting wood, carrying traps or hides, tending to animals, etc. that made it real. I could have spent hours there, absorbing it all. Sad to say, we only had an hour, or so.
The graveyard had only one marker remaining. Though the person died after Bent’s Old Fort had been destroyed, it still represents the hardships of the area.
To have climbed a hill and seen Bent’s Fort on the horizon in 1840; that had to have brought joy to many a heart back then.
Just your history lesson for the month……jc