Step back to the 1830s and 1840s with a visit to this adobe fort along the historic Santa Fe Trail
This is the first of a series of periodic reports on specific places I’ve visited — and you might want to as well. Post a comment or let me know directly what you think of this new Travel Babel feature.
This “castle on the Plains” is a faithful reconstruction of a fortified adobe trading post built on this this site in 1833 by brothers William and Charles Bent
along the Santa Fe Trail’s
Mountain Route (that is, the northern route). That section of the Santa Fe Trail followed the Arkansas River, which provided water for livestock and humans in the Great American Desert.
Bent’s Fort was the linchpin of the Bent-St.Vrain Company’s trade that stretched from Fort St.Vrain to the north to Fort Adobe to the south. Cheyenne, Arapaho, Arikara, Comanche, Kiowa, Shoshone and Sioux Native Americans were known to have traded at Bent’s Fort, but the main trade was with the Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos. Bent’s Fort took in buffalo robes and passed out supplies, but it also resupplied explorers, adventurers, pioneers and the US Army and also was a place for wagon repairs, livestock, food, water, hospitality and congenial company.
Bent’s Fort welcomed anyone traveling along the Santa Fe Trail, including Indians, soldiers, Mexicans, Germans, French, Irish and blacks — tolerance that was not to be taken for granted in its heyday. William bent encouraged alliances among people who would later war violently on each other.
During Mexican-American War in 1846, Bent’s Fort was a staging area for Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny’s “Army of the West,” which seized land in what is now New Mexico but was eventually defeated in California. Until a combination of disease and the US Army’s unwillingness to compensate William Bent for garrisoning Kearny’s soldiers caused its abandonment in 1849, the fort was the only major permanent Anglo settlement along the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and Mexican holdings.
The fort was reconstructed for the US Bicentennial in 1976 according to archaeological excavations and original sketches, paintings and diaries. A skeleton Park Service staff is on hand all year round, supplemented in summer by costumed docents and re-enactors who recapture life in this frontier fort for 21st century visitors.
Today, visitors see living quarters, workshops, store rooms, ramparts, kitchens and trading areas.
Tips for visiting: Sunscreen, water and bug spray are useful. Mid-day summer temperatures in the 90s or higher are not unusual.
Cost: Adults, $3; children aged 6 to 12, $2 under 6 years , free. Also free are holders of the Interagency Annual Passes, Senior Passes and Access Passes.
The site is open daily except select holidays. Summer hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. From September 1 through May 31, hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Bent’s Old Fort is 70 miles from Pueblo, 8 miles from La Junta and 15 miles from Las Animas. The official address is 35110 Highway 194 East, La Junta, CO 81050-9523; 719-383-5010.