One of Colorado's most Evocative Historic Sites
From La Junta, an interesting detour off US-50, Hwy-194 runs along the north bank of the Arkansas River to one of Colorado's most evocative historic sites, Bents Old Fort . Summer hours (June 1 through August 31): 8:00 A.M to 5:30 P.M. Winter hours (September 1 through May 31): 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M; $3 adults, $2children. It lies eight miles east of La Junta, or 15 miles west of Las Animas. Historic DAR Markers welcome you to begin your journey back in time at Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site. Before the National Park Service acquired Bent's Old Fort in 1963 this was the entrance to the Fort ruins. Erected by the La Junta Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, while the chapter still owned the land, this gateway has two inscriptions. On the left pillar: "Erected by LA JUNTA CHAPTER DAR DEDICATED JUNE 14, 1930." On the right pillar: "BENT'S OLD FORT 1829-1852." The DAR insignia is below this inscription. The center Marker was originally placed on the ground of Bent's Old Fort. It was erected at the request of the DAR in 1910 by A. E. Reynolds. Reynolds, owner of the land donated the site of the Old Fort to the La Junta DAR Chapter in 1920. The dedication of the Marker took place September 5, 1912. The Marker has been moved twice by the National Park Service, first to a contact station, then in October 1984, to a site under the old gateway entrance which was closed to traffic.
Bent's Fort was a trading post for mountain trappers and Indians dealing in furs and buffalo robes. It became a point of supply, a social center, a place of refuge and safety, a rest and relaxation point for every white man and many Indian. It was a second home to many of the West's most famous mountain men, scouts, and Indian fighters, including the illustrious Kit Carson.
Fur traders William and Charles Bent built the Fort in 1833 and it boomed until 1848. War with Mexico and increasing unrest among the local Arapaho, Apache, and Cheyenne tribes put an end to Bent's Fort business. In it's hey day it was the Southwest's most important outpost of white civilization. The fort was a stopping place for travelers, trappers and explorers, including John C. Fremont, Francis Parkman and just about every other wild west luminary.
The Bent brothers and their business partner, Ceran St. Vrain, built what was to become a commercial hub of civilization whose influence and magnetic pull was felt throughout the high plains and the central rockies. Their name has become legendary, "Bent's Old Fort."
The fort welcomed all people along the Santa Fe Trail, including Indians and soldiers, Mexicans, Germans, French, Irish and blacks. The fort was first named Fort William after its construction supervisor and resident manager along with his Cheyenne wife, Owl Woman. Nearby Cheyenne, Arapaho, Arikara, Comanche, Kiowa, Shoshone and Sioux Native Americans traded with the fort. Free trade, free talk and even inter-marriage were promoted by the fort. Alliances were encouraged among peoples who would later war violently on each other. The U.S. government failed to compensate William Bent for housing and supplying Mexican and Indian War troops. Bent grew so frustrated that one warm August day in 1849, after clearing the fort of his family, friends and possessions, he proceeded to set fire to the wooden roof and lit a fuse to the gun powder room. The Camelot of the high plains was blasted into ruins. He built a new Fort, but it never approached the fame or status of the original. In 1859, William sold his new fort to the U.S. Army, which renamed it Fort Lyon. Bent's Old Fort has been reconstructed today where one can experience fort life and living history acitivites conducted by National Parks Service.
When the Bent brothers, St. Vrain & Company planned the new fort, the area offered little in lumber. They turned to adobe as an alternative. Adobe was made of clay, water and sand. Straw or wool were used as a binding agents and mixed in pits. The 18"x9"x4" bricks were poured into forms and dried in the sun. With regular maintenance adobe bricks proved to be durable in the dry climate. This multi cultural center offered work for many Mexican laborers and served as neutral ground for peace talks amongst the Indian peace councils. This casual environment led to an occasional intermarriage and easy mixing of groups at dances or work. Normally drinking and gambling did not include Indians and Mexican laborers. The owners had their private dining area for their special guests, and everyone else cooked in their quarters or ate from a community cooking pot. Social distinctions became apparent at nightfall when the owners retired to their quarters. The craftsmen slept where they worked, Indians slept outside the fort in camps on the Arkansas River, fur trappers and hunters retired to their quarters, and the Mexican laborers had designated quarters as well.
An evening of storytelling.
Winter Quarters - Daily winter activities including the Mountain Man Rendezvous, a fur traders' roundup.
Independence Day - Fourth of July celebration reflecting the 1830s and demonstration of the Native American role in the fort's activities.
Kid's Quarters - Annual event that teaches kids what life was like in the 1840's.
Founders Day - Celebration of the founding of the National Park Service.
Traditional Holiday Celebration - Holiday celebration of the 1830's including a look at traditional Mexican Christmas celebrations of that era.
Contact Name: Greg Holt (719) 383-5023 | Rick Wallner (719) 383-5010
May September- Trails and Rails Trips
Bent's Old Fort Trails and Rails Program - Narrated excursions aboard Amtraks Southwest Chief depart La Junta, Colorado on Mondays and Fridays for overnight trips to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Follow the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail up and over Raton Pass while learning the stories of people, plants and animals along the way. For more information, call (719) 383-5024.
May - Santa Fe Trail Caravan
Take a 3 mile hike down the Santa Fe Trail behind an ox-driven Conestoga wagon. Park interpreters will demonstrate 1840s trail life. The caravan will leave Sierra Vista Overlook, 13 miles south of La Junta on Highway 350 at 10 am an travel to the Timpas Picnic Area. Shuttle service will be provided. A special Trail program will be performed at the Timpas Picnic Area. Hikers should bring your lunch, bottled water and sunscreen.
June - Educators Encampment
Visit the 1840s with teachers, students and living history volunteers and staff perfecting their 19th century skills. The encampment trains participants in presenting living history to the public. Event is open for public to view ongoing demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday. Pre-registration is required for the full encampment (participation is limited). For information, call (719) 383-5023.
July - Kids Quarters
Seven to eleven year-old children are invited to step back in time and experience the life of a trapper, trader, laborer, craftsman, Indian or soldier. Kids learn and practice 19th century skills and experience living history for themselves. Registration is required; for application materials call (719) 383-5026.
September - Hispanic Heritage CelebrationThe rich and colorful history of Mexico’s frontier comes alive with period adobe work, music and dance, trading, cooking, storytelling, livestock use demonstrations and other special programs and exhibits.
October Santa Fe Trail Fur Trade Encampment
The parks main living history event again takes place in the fall, and this year celebrates the traders, tribes and travelers associated with the fur trade in the Southwest. Their camps, set up near the fort, will be open for touring. All together over 50 living history volunteers bring the post back to life during this major event! For more information, call (719) 383-5023.
December - Holiday Celebration
Witness for yourself the joys, pleasures and pastimes of the 1840s at an isolated trading post. The spirit of the season comes alive with wagon rides, games, toy making and other holiday festivities. The event begins Friday evening with candlelight tours of the fort and continues all through Saturday, culminating with another evening of candlelight tours. For reservations for the evening tours, phone (719) 383-5026.
"History Lives at Bents Fort Encampment"
Army officers discuss the invasion of Mexico at a previous encampment
Celebrates the explorers who passed by the site of Bents Fort before, during and after the posts existence. Camps from Pike to Long to Fremont will grace the site joining the camps of Plains Tribes and Santa Fe traders.
Traders, trappers, and tribes will walk the grounds of Bents Fort again as part of the sites upcoming Santa Fe Trail Encampment. Throughout this three-day event living history activities will take place, and vignettes will be performed, allowing visitors the opportunity to experience first-hand the sights and sounds of this historic time in Americas past.
Features cannon firings, a Plains Tribe camp, and a fandango. Historical interpreters, along with park staff, will enliven the forts kitchen, blacksmith shop, carpenter shop, laborers quarters, trade room and nearby trapper and Indian camps.
The military will perform infantry drills and debate their plans at their encampment beneath the cottonwood trees along the Arkansas River. The Corp of Engineers will explain mapmaking skills, while the Missouri Volunteers try to learn to march. An artillery crew from Fort Larned, Kansas, will perform cannon firings.
There will be a Native American camp featuring authentic crafts and activities. A group of Cheyenne living historians will travel from Oklahoma to be part of the event. On Saturday evening, the Fourth Artillery Quadrille Ensemble will provide 1840s music for a special fandango (dance).
Visitors join encampment participants in drills.
Those coming to encampment are reminded to be prepared for the weather. Adequate water, sunscreen, and insect repellent are all highly recommended for the summer conditions to be encountered at the site. For those coming to the Saturday evening fandango, bringing a flashlight will assist you in your return to the parking lot after the dance.
Bents Old Fort National Historic Site is located eight miles east of La Junta or thirteen miles west of Las Animas on Colorado Highway 194. There is a $3 per person living history fee for those ages 13 and older; $2 for children age 6 through 12. Those 5 and under, National Park Pass holders, and Golden Age or Access cardholders are admitted free. There are no additional charges for attending the Santa Fe Trail Encampment. For more information, visit the parks website at www.nps.gov/beol or call (719) 383-5010.
The National Park Service cares for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage. EXPERIENCE YOUR AMERICA.
Witness for yourself the joys, pleasures and pastimes of the 1840s at an isolated trading post. The Yule tide spirit comes alive with candlelight tours, wagon rides, Yule log hunt, games, frontier cooking, storytelling and toy making. The holiday merriment will interrupt the regular fort fur trading routine. Candlelight tours are held each evening. For reservations for the evening tours, phone (719) 383-5026 after October 12. Click here for a detailed schedule of activities held at past Holiday celebrations.
For overnight accomodations before your journey begins or at the end of your trek stay at Best Western Bent's Fort Inn, East US 50, Las Animas, CO US 81054. For reservations click here.