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Bent's Fort...along the Santa Fe Trail
The Bent brothers, Charles and William, sons of a St. Louis judge, along with their friend Ceran St. Vrain were trappers and traders. They operated the Bent, St. Vrain and Company from 1831 at a location just north of the ArkansasRiver near present day La Junta, Colorado. The Arkansas River was the northern boundary with Mexico at the time.
From the early 1800s, businesses such as the American Fur Company founded by John Jacob Astor, sent trappers up the Mississippi and Missouri river valleys. They trapped beavers and the furs were sold to make fashionable hats. Later, as trade with China was opened, silk replaced beaver fur as the material for hats and the price of beaver pelts dropped from $6 to $1.
In 1831, just 10 years after the Santa Fe Trail opened, Charles made 5 trading trips between St. Louis and Santa Fe. He borrowed the money in St. Louis for the trip. Then after the trip was made and the goods bought, he would return to St.Louis and sell them quickly in order to pay back his debt for the trip.
In 1832 Bent's Fort began operation, trading first in beaver pelts, then in buffalo robes. The brothers were on friendly terms with the Cheyenne.
In 1833, Bent's Fort was completed. It was a trading fort, not a military fort. It was the largest structure of its time between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean. Mexican workers from Taos made the adobe bricks ( a mixture of mud, straw, wool, and water) and erected the structure on the spot. They were paid 5 to 10 dollars a month and most in the form of trade goods.  The walls were 15 ft high and 3 ft thick. The outside was 137 by 178 feet. Round towers called Bastians stood at two of the corners and each were equipped with a canon for protection.
The fort provided hot meals and sleeping quarters for the traders. Wagons were repaired and supplies bought. Trappers sold beaver pelts brought down from the Rocky Mountains and bought Mexican products. Native Americans such as Arapahoes and Cheyennes sold buffalo robes.
There were 7 different languages spoken at the fort up until 1849. They were Cheyenne, Comanche, English, French, Sioux, Spanish, and Ute.
There was a well inside the Fort where livestock was kept, milk cows, sheep, oxen, chickens, turkeys, goats, and even a peacock. Goods such as cloth, clothing, sugar, coffee, tea, rice, and kitchen utensils could be bought at the Fort with Mexican gold or silver. They could then be transported and sold in Santa Fe.
In 1847, after war was declared by President Polk with Mexico, soldiers came to Fort Bent. The Missouri Mounted Volunteers, loosely attached to the Army of the West, were organized by General Stephen Watts Kearny, and called to enlist for a year for the war with Mexico. They camped near Fort Bent in July and bought some supplies there before crossing the Arkansas into Mexico. In August General Kearny captured Santa Fe. At this time, Bent's Fort was practically taken over by the United States Army as an important part of the supply line, and normal business was completely disrupted.
Since Bent, St. Vrain, and Company was never paid for goods or services provided to the Army during the war, Ceran St. Vrain offered to sell the Fort to the U.S. government. They refused the offer and William Bent split with Ceran St. Vrain over this attempted sale.
Prior to this time in 1846, Charles Bent was appointed the first American governor of New Mexico by General Stephen Watts Kearny. He served only 4 months before he was killed in an uprising at Taos.
In 1848, St. Vrain turned over the business to William but in 1849, the fort went out of business. A deadly cholera had spread from St. Louis across the plains. In August at the time William prepared to abandon the "adobe castle", Bent's Fort was destroyed by flames. The cause remains a mystery.
In 1976, reconstruction of the fort was begun. Care was taken to reproduce an accurate replica of this large fort on the original site from drawings and plans from the papers of George Bent, one of William Bent's sons.
All rooms are authentically furnished. They include the cook's room, the dining room, kitchen, Trade and Council room, William Bent's quarters, blacksmith and carpenter shops, laborers' quarters, trappers' quarters, military quarters, and a billiard room.
The fort is located 8 miles east of La Junta and 15 miles west of Las Animas on Colo. 194.
Bent's Old Fort is run by the National Park Service. A small fee is charged for admission. Included are tours, guided or self guided, and a short film.
A bookstore is run by the nonprofit Western National Parks Association.
An entry pass can be purchased at the information center where you can view exhibits. A short walk takes you to the fort.Back to Santa Fe Trail Map
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