Friday, October 16, 2015

Bent's Old Fort

One of the first attractions we wanted to see when we came to La Junta was Bent's Old Fort, which we managed on our 3rd or 4th day here. It lived up to our expectations, and is a place we will want to return to many times. I'll touch briefly on the origins and use of the Old Fort. Charles Bent and Ceran St. Vrain, both seasoned traders and trappers, entered the famous Santa Fe trade in 1829. It soon became evident that a headquarters for the lucrative Mexican and Indian trading should be situated near the border with Mexico, then along the Arkansas River, and in the midst of the southern tribes of Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Sioux, Comanches, Kiowas, and even Blackfeet and Gros Ventres Indians. Actual building began in 1833.

The main items for trade were buffalo hides, horses and mules, and whiskey. We enjoyed seeing this restored merchantile, complete with sleeping cat!

Here is the inside of the fort, a large courtyard in the midst of the two story walls. Though it was a hot day when we visited, we felt a deep coolness inside each room because of the very thick adobe walls.

This is one of the upstairs rooms. 
The fort did a brisk business until the U.S. declared war on Mexico in 1846, and the fort became headquarters for awhile for the army. Charles Bent was appointed governor of the new province which included New Mexico, but was killed in the revolt of the Mexican people. This spelled the end of the era and of the company.

Each of the thick walled rooms inside the Fort had its own fireplace. Very cozy!
Within a few years of Bent's and St. Vrain's deaths, the Cheyennes, Arapahoes, and other tribes that had frequented their adobe trading post would all be confined to reservations, and the buffalo herds driven to virtual extinction on the southern plains.
Here we see the restored Doctor's office, on the second floor. You can see the huge logs used for the ceiling. These same big logs were above the bottom floor, supporting the second story. The fort had various uses for the next few years, including as a stage station, a post office, and a cattle ranching headquarters. By the early 1900s the fort had fallen into ruin. The site was transferred to the State Historical Society of Colorado in 1954, and complete restoration was begun in 1975. Because of the volumes written by various traders and occupants of the fort over the years, and the artifacts that were dug up, the restoration is quite accurate.
Being a cat lover, I had to revisit the merchantile to see if the cat was still sleeping there. He raised his head to thank me for the pets, very content in his old fort. He was not the only animal we saw there. The Fort had a corral in the back with chickens and a few cows and at least one horse. The adobe walls had cactus planted all around the top, thus discouraging thieves from breaking in.

Before we headed back to La Junta we went a little further east to the small town of Las Animas, and there we found this gorgeous Bent County Courthouse in the middle of the dusty, sleepy town. I believe this town is also along the old Santa Fe Trail, which runs through La Junta, too. There is so much history in this area, and we intend to explore it wherever we can! I hope to go into more detail about Bent's Old Fort on future visits.

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