Time Machine Tuesday: Bent’s Fort

If you’re looking for a fun and educational place to take your kids this summer, they will surely enjoy Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site.  Here visitors can learn about early frontier life, including trade and commerce as well as cultural intersections, by exploring a reconstruction of the fort originally built in 1833 by George and William Bent and Ceran St. Vrain.  At the fort, white settlers and fur traders, Native Americans, and Hispanos from nearby Mexican settlements exchanged goods and culture, and with its location on the Santa Fe Trail, the US Army used the fort as a staging area during the Mexican War in 1846-48.  A combination of disruption from the Army, a terrible cholera epidemic, and the waning of the fur trade led to the closure and abandonment of Bent’s Fort in 1849 — a full ten years before the founding of Denver.  Bent’s Old Fort was reconstructed on its original site in 1976 as part of Colorado’s Centennial-Bicentennial celebration.*

Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Being such a significant site in Colorado’s early history, Bent’s Fort has been the subject of numerous articles and publications.  Some of the resources available from our library include:

  • The entire Fall 1977 issue of Colorado Magazine explores Bent’s Fort, including articles on life in the fort as well as the story of the reconstruction and accompanying archaeological investigations.  See also “The Excavation of Bent’s Fort, Otero County, Colorado,” Colorado Magazine, v.33, n.3, July 1956.
  • “Bent’s Fort:  Outpost of Manifest Destiny,” by David Lavender, was originally published in 1987 in the Colorado Historical Society’s Essays and Monographs in Colorado History and has recently been reprinted in Western Voices:  125 Years of Colorado Writing, also from the Colorado Historical Society.  Both publications are available for checkout from our library.
  • Bent’s Fort on the Arkansas and Bent’s Old Fort are two books from the Colorado Historical Society which can be checked out in print from our library.
  • The use of Bent’s Fort in the Army during the Mexican War is examined in Edgeley W. Todd’s article “Bent’s Fort in 1846,” Colorado Magazine, v.34, n.3, July 1957.
  • Some letters and articles from a St. Louis newspaper regarding Bent’s Fort in the 1840s were republished in the November 1934 (v.11, n.6) issue of Colorado Magazine.
  • The journal of Elias Willard Smith, a fur trader who visited Bent’s Fort in 1839, has also been reprinted in Colorado Magazine (v. 27, n.3, July 1950.)
  • The Colorado Historical Society’s 5-volume History of Colorado (1927) has been digitized by our library and contains information on the history of Bent’s Fort.
  • History Colorado (formerly the Colorado Historical Society) also produced an episode of The Colorado Experience on Bent’s Fort.
  • A mini-biography of William Bent is available at the Colorado Virtual Library.

In addition to being a historical site, Bent’s Old Fort is also an important natural ecosystem.  See Biological Survey of Bent’s Old Fort Historic Site; Survey of Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site for Breeding Birds and Anurans; and Vegetation Map of Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site for information on the area’s plants and animals.

For further resources, search our library’s online catalog.

*Bent’s Old Fort near La Junta is actually the second reconstruction of the adobe fort.  The Fort Restaurant in Morrison, in Jefferson County, is also a replica.  It was originally built in 1963 as a residence.