We had to journey to Colorado Springs this past fall for a wedding but on our return to Dalhart, we decided to tour Old Fort Bent near La Junta, Colorado. Oh wow, but what a treat that was. They did a fabulous job of reconstructing the fort to its original design due in part to a set of plans that were drawn when the original fort was in existence.
The fort, built by Charles and William Bent along with Ceran St. Vrain in 1833 became the hub of civilization for settlers in the area. Built to cater to the growing desire to further trade between buffalo hunters and the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Plains Indians, the fort grew to provide a bevy of services.
From 1833 – 1849, many travelers stopped at the fort to replenish supplies. Situated along the
Santa Fe Trail, the Bent’s brothers and
their partner catered to many needs. With a steady influx of European-American
visitors, they were able to trade for specialty items, thus providing a variety
of delights. Sometimes these travelers would stay at the fort as long as three
weeks while they rested and restocked supplies. Depending on the time of year,
the fort might employ as many as 100 workers from clerks,
guards, traders, teamsters, trappers, a tailor, blacksmith, carpenter and
herders. It was the only privately owned facility of its type.
|A pool table was located in one |
of the second floor rooms
with a bar in thecorner.
In 1847, Charles Bent was scalped and killed during the Taos Uprising thus leaving the trading empire to his brother. William married Owl Woman, the daughter of a Cheyenne chief and medicine man, White Thunder and together they had four children. The union provided William with a more solid position for trading with the Cheyenne and gave him a hostess when he entertained at the fort. White Thunder also benefited by strengthening relations with the white men. In accordance with Cheyenne custom, Charles also married Owl Woman’s two sisters, Island and Yellow Woman.
|Press used to pack down the buffalo hides for better storage.|
Owl Woman did much to bridge the gap between two cultures. Her children were taught six languages, English, Cheyenne, Spanish, Arapaho, Kiowa and Comanche. They wore soft linen shirts and moccasins, ate on china, but slept on soft hides on the ground. She died in 1847 giving birth to her daughter, Julia, but her legacy remains. In 1985, she was inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame.
In 1849, tragedy struck when a cholera epidemic wiped out half the Cheyenne tribe including Owl Woman's mother. After the cholera epidemic and the decline in fur trade, William burned the fort to the ground and moved to the Big Timber area where in 1853 he built a stone fort in the area that was named Bent's New Fort. The army bought the fort six years later and renamed it Fort Wise. It was later renamed Fort Lyon and would become the staging site for Sand Creek Massacre.