Sunday, December 6, 2015

Christmas at Bent's Old Fort

First, here's a picture taken several weeks ago at our first visit to Bent's Old Fort, operating from about 1833 to 1850 along the Santa Fe Trail, near present day La Junta, Colorado. We heard that there was a candlelight tour at the Fort in December so we made our reservations and waited with anticipation, hoping it wouldn't be a snowy night.

We arrived early on a cold, frosty, clear night and joined groups of folks standing around outside the Fort waiting for their turn to go inside. This roaring fire kept us warm and we were treated to several booms from the old cannon nearby. Men and women dressed in period costumes kept us entertained with chats as though it were really 1846 and we had just arrived to do business with the Fort.

Finally we were ushered inside by our tour guide. Each room in the Fort is furnished as it would have been during the days of travel and commerce on the Santa Fe Trail. The room closest to the big entrance gate was used to do bargaining with Indians and Hispanics. Here the Fort employee and interpreter used words and sign language to seal the trade for rifles, blankets, beads, and necessities.

The Blacksmith's shop was of vital importance to the Fort. This feisty old smithy told us he earned $125.00 per year while his helper earned $47.00. They also received board and room and all the food they needed. The ring of the blacksmith hammer, and the noise from the wagoner's shop were incessant to the ears of the Fort residents. 

Here is the Fort doctor. He showed us his medical supplies, which included instruments for drawing blood, leaches for the same function, his bone saw for amputations, plus whiskey and laudanum for pain. He said that most illnesses could be cured by bleeding, puking or purging! He was quite proud that he had graduated from a two year course in medicine at a Pennsylvania medical school. Each room we entered was warmed by a cozy fire. My camera flash made the rooms seem brighter than they actually were. Most were quite dim, lit only by the fireplaces and candlelight.

The man in the center said he was with a large group of migrating Mormons who had run out of supplies and he needed the Fort to help him and his families out with food, blankets, guns and some lumber for building shelters. The superintendent in charge of goods was glad to help and assigned his men to gather the supplies and load them onto wagons. We toured many other rooms in the Fort — the dining room and kitchen, the carpenters' shop and the trade room, plus a couple of private rooms housing employees, all with folks dressed in the period costumes and full of conversation.

Last, we were directed to hot cider and cookies where we warmed up and were greeted by one of the resident cats, all cozy on his trade blanket up on a shelf. We felt this evening back in history was one of the most interesting and fun times we've had recently. I know that if we lived in La Junta permanently I would love to be a volunteer at Bent's Old Fort!