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Full text of "Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site: A Self-Guiding Tour"

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Clemson Universitv 




National Park Service 

U.S. Department of the Interior 

Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site 
La Junta, Colorado 




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Bent's Old Fort Nation 
A Self-Guiding Tour 




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How to use this guide 



This self-guiding tour booklet provides essential 
information on the^history of Bent's Old Fort. 
The National Park Service provides tours, living history 
programs, and a documentary film. Special events are 
offered throughout the year. 




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• Restrooms and a drinking 
fountain are located at the 
right-rear of the fort. 

• The Indian trade room, display 
room, and AV room providing 
a documentary film, are 
located here. 

• Western National Parks 

Association bookstore and 
trade room sales area. 

For your safety, please be aware of possible safety 
hazards:,, 

• Please stay on the path, watch your footing, and 
keep off walls and room furnishings. 

• Maintain a safe distance from animals. 

• Pets must be on a leash, with you at all times, and 
may not enter rooms. 

• Please leave all objects in place. 

• Report safety hazards or emergencies to park 
rangers. 



Dent's Old Fort was one of the significant centers of fur 
trade on the Santa Fe Trail, influencing economies around 
the world. Built by brothers Charles and William Bent and 
their business partner Ceran St. Vrain in 1833, the fort was 
the leading industry west of the Mississippi in the early 
1830s. For 16 years, Bent, St. Vrain and Co. managed a 
prosperous trading empire. The Fort was located on the 
Arkansas River, the international boundary between two 
countries, Mexico on the south side of the river, and the 
United States on the north. Strategically located on an 
established road, it helped pave the way for the occupation 
of the west by the U.S. Army, and was an instrument of 
Manifest Destiny and the invasion of Mexico in 1846. 
^^^ 'I 

Dy 1849, the trade which had made Bent's Fort prosper 
was deteriorating. Local bison populations were in decline, 
Cottonwood groves were wiped out, and the lives of the 
Plains Indians had been disrupted by trade and the growing 
stream of settlers, gold-seekers, and soldiers during and 
after the Mexican- 
American War. • "^ 
Clashes with the 
Plains Indians had 
become more 
frequent, cholera 
was sweeping the 
area, and William ' 
Bent's first wife and 
three brothers had 
died. Some theorize 

that he tried to burn down the Fort in 1849. In the early 
18S0s he constructed Bent's New Fort 40 miles downriver at 
Big Timbers, near present day Lamar, Colorado.' 




The Council Room 

was a neutral 

ground for Indian 

peace councils, and 

where terms of 

trade were agreed 

upon. 




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©1970 John Howell 'Books 



Buffalo 




Horse and 
Rider 



Water 





(Council Room 



In 1847, George Ruxton, an English 
traveler visiting Bent's Fort, de- 
scribed how Chiefs "sit in solemn 
conclave and smoke the 'calamet' 
over their real and imaginary 
grievances." He observed these 
problems being settled amid 
"clouds of tobacco and kinnik- 
kinnik." The fort's interpreters 
John Smith and William Guerrier 
would rise before the assembly, 
struggling to translate the words of 
Cheyenne and Arapaho into English. 
Kettles of coffee and tobacco twists 
sat in this room; each were consid- 
ered appropriate presents to give 
Chiefs. On these occasions, the 
gathering was "flavored" by speech 
making and the graceful movements 
of sign language. 




In the 1830s, beaver pelts, called "hairy bank notes" 
could be bartered for trade goods. As beaver numbers 
declined, buffalo hides became the foundation of 
exchange. 



I rade Room 



Also called a "general store," it served trappers, traders, 
Indians, the fort's labor force, travelers, soldiers, and 
various adventurers. Bartering was performed her£ through 
a simple exchange of goods or an extension of credit. The 
shelves were stocked with calico, blankets, muskets, gun 
powder, flint, knives, clay pipes, kettles, coffee, chocolate, 
corn, and other goods imported from around the world. A 

separate trade room met the needs of 
the more difficult tribes through a small 
window at the entrance of the fort. The 
trade rooms were places where all 
groups could interact in harmony. The 
Indians would trade their furs and 
hides for a variety of goods, such as 
cloth, muskets, iron ware, tobacco, 
brass rings, seashells, bracelets, and 
beads. Company traders were often 
sent to Indian camps to elicit business. 



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While dining at the fort, the 

separation of social classes 

was evident The laborers 

cooked in their quarters or 

ate from a community 

cooking pot 



Dining Room 




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Lewis H. Garrard, a visitor to 

the fort in the winter of 1846, 

exclaimed "My own unenviable 

thoughts occupied me through 

the solitary day; and only when 

Paint was turned in the corral 

behind the fort to chew dry hay, and myself with numb 

fingers gradually thawing in the long, low dining room, 

drinking hot coffee, eating bread, 'buffler,' and 'state doins,' 

and listening to Charlotte, the glib-tongued, sable fort cook, 

retailing her stock of news and surmises, did I feel entirely 

free to throw off care." 



After traveling over a month on the trail, it was a treat to sit 
down and eat like "civilized" people. Along with dining, this 
room was used for other functions such as fandangos, when 

all social classes intermixed freely. X^sitor 
Lewis Garrard recalled men "waiting for 
the rudely-scraped tune from a 
screaking violin" amidst "the boisterous 
pitching of the Missouri backwoodsman.' 
X^sitor Matt Field wrote that "all, irre- 
spective of rank" gathered "to trip the 
light fantastic toe." 



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Proceed through the Cook's Quarters 
to the Kitchen. 



Many visitors asl< what 

remained of tine Fort 

after it's destruction. 

Tlie Icitclien's limestone 

liearthi was found intact 

during arctieological 

excavations, and put 

bacic in place. 

Notice how the 

limestone has been 

worn smooth. 




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itchen 

Typical smells in the kitchen may have been cottonwood 
smoke, spices, grease drippings, and the rank odor of 
spoiled meat and rotting foodstuffs. Amidst flying towels, 
steam, and clanging pots one could find the cooks. Several 
were employed at the fort, but William Bent's slave, 
Charlotte Green received greater notice for her famous 
"flapjacks and pumpkin pies." Visitor George Ruxton wrote 
of her "foods that were celebrated from Long's Peak to the 
Cumbres Espanoles." Archeological deposits uncovered 
include wild game such as duck, turkey, pronghorn, venison, 

and buffalo. The ledgers of Bent, St. 
Vrain and Company of 1839 included 
flour, dried peaches, cheese, rice, , 
almonds, raisins, 1,190 pounds of bacon 
sides, and 2 barrels of pork in addition 
to large amounts of coffee, tea, sugar, 
salt, molasses, and produce from New 
Mexico. Wild greens were used as 
spice and medicine. 




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William Bent was 
known to the 
Cheyennes as 
"Little White 
Man. " His fairness 
and respect for 
the culture was 
the reason for 
the company's 
excellent 
reputation 
among the 
Plains Indians. 







^ ©1970 John Howell'Books 

Vw >""a"i Bent's Quarters 

Born in St. Louis in 1809, William Bent 
spent the majority of his life in the west 
as a frontiersman. During his lifetime, 
he was a trapper, trader, scout, freighter, 
and Indian Agent. He became 
acquainted with the fur trade. New 
Mexicans, and the Plains Indians. His 
marriages with two Cheyenne women. 
Owl Woman, and later her sister Yellow 
Woman, resulted in a large and well- 
known family. As resident manager, he 
directed the Indian and trapping trade 
at the fort. Bent occupied these private 
quarters, and often lived with his 
Cheyenne family in their village. His 
quarters would have reflected the varied 
cultures which influenced his world. A 
desk, washstand, and other furnishings 
represent his Missouri upbringing. 
Quillwork and buckskins indicate 
Cheyenne influences, and the 
occasional presence of his wife Owl 
Woman. '^ 



A large painted elk hide called a "Winter Count," contains 
a Cheyenne picture history. The paintings depict events 
like a meteor shower in 1833 called "the night the stars 
fell," the murder of Charles Bent, and outbreaks of 
measles and whooping cough which ravaged the 
Southern Cheyennes. 




pitzpatrick's Quarters 



Indian Agent Thomas Fitzpatrick ran agency affairs during 
his stay at the Fort in 1847-49. He was appointed as the first 
agent for the tribes of the lower Arkansas River. Fitzpatrick 
wrote field reports to Washington from Bent's Fort, and 
presided over Indian councils and treaties. His views on 

Indian affairs included a fervent desire 
to rid alcohol from the Indian trade 
and to establish military posts on the 
Platte and Arkansas Rivers. The 
furnishings represent his lifestyle and 
relationship with the Plains Indians. 
Farming tools and seeds reflect his 
desire to introduce the Indians to 
agriculture. The beaded moccasins are 
a gift from the Arapaho family of Big 
Heart Woman. 




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Qlacksmith's Shop 



The activities in this room included constructing wagon 
parts, the manufacturing and repair of tools, livestock 
shoeing, and wheel repairs. According to visitors, most of 
the fort's mechanics were Americans with a few Frenchmen. 
Their workshops were typically cluttered places. Prevailing 
smells included coal smoke and hot-shod hooves which 
smelled like burning hair. Tools included hammers, tongs, 
anvils, and a vice. Bent & St. Vrain ordered a 123 pound iron 
anvil in 1840 and they purchased a cowhide bellows for 
$20.00. Wagons were repaired and animals shod in the alley 
behind the shop. 
Beyond that is ^^^^W ^ gf j 



the wagon shed 
where freight 
wagons were 
stored in winter. 




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"The ring of the blacksmith hammer, 
and the noise from the wagoner's shop 
were incessant " 

Lt. James Abert 



Proceed through the Craftsman's 
Quarters to the Carpenter's Shop. 




On September 9, 1846, the St. Louis Missouri Republican 
reported that Bent's Fort employees complained of 
wagons falling apart from the dry desert air, "A great 
portion of the time was occupied in repairing them. " 



Q,arpenter's Shop 



The repair of wagons was critical to the success of Bent's 
Fort. During some periods of the fort's history, it resembled 
a wrecking yard, with broken axles, fractured hubs, 
splintered side boards, mounds of white canvas and piles of 
abandoned tongues and spreaders. The fort's craftsmen 

were especially anxious to salvage the 
iron parts, which could be reworked 
into other useful pieces. One might 
find hooves to make glue, and 
rawhide -the duct tape of the 1840s. 
Hardwoods from Missouri were cut 
and shaved into wagon parts. Making 
do with what they had, they kept the 
wagons rolling. 

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It took two full 
days for one Indian 
woman to brain 
tan a hide; the 
average woman 
could produce 20 
robes each year 



Warel^ouses 




The first and second warehouses were 
filled with barrels, bags and bundles of 
trade goods consisting of dry goods, 
tools, guns, gunpowder, and foodstuffs. 
The third warehouse, marked at its 
entrance by a locked door leading to a 
lower storage area, was used as a supply 
depot in 1846 during the war with 
Mexico. The last warehouse was the 
"bank vault" of Bent's Fort, containing 
buffalo robes, beaver pelts, and the furs 
of a variety of other animals. Buffalo 
hides were purchased for 25 cents in 
trade goods, and in turn were sold for $3 
to $6. After being pressed in the fur 
press, each bale contained 8 to 10 buffalo 
robes, and weighed 100 pounds. Every 
year, as many as 15,000 of these bundled 
robes were carried by wagon to 
Independence, Missouri and then by 
riverboat to be traded in St. Louis. 



Important guests 
might be treated 
to the "civilized 
life" when 
visiting the Fort, 
which offered 
iced lemonade 
and mint juleps. 









VVell Room 



At the fort in 1 846, visitor Philip St. 
George Cooke was treated by Ceran St. 
Vrain to "a pitcher covered with the 
dew of promise which brimmed with 
broken ice." Traveling the hot, dusty trail 
day after day, it is the little things that 
you come to appreciate. In July 1846, 
Susan Magoffin wrote of the icehouse 
receiving "more customers than any 
other room" and exclaimed that, "they 
have a well inside, and fine water it is- 
especially with ice." By the late 1840s a 
new ice house may have been built 
outside the walls, possibly two hundred 
yards west of the fort on a rise of 
ground near the river. 




The diverse 
customs and 
lifestyles at the 
Port made it a 
"cultural 
crossroads", as 
well as a place 
of assimilation 
and change. 




Laborer's Quarters 

These rooms housed the sleeping and 
eating quarters for the fort's laborers, 
employees, and travelers from the 
states. About 150 Mexican laborers 
were brought up from Mexico to build 
the fort. Some stayed, working as 
adoberos, packers, herders, and 
horsebreakers. 

The adoberos were familiar with the 
techniques involved in adobe 
construction. These rooms reflect their 
customs and beliefs. Decades before the 
arrival of Americans, groups of Mexican 
traders plying biscuits, dried pumpkin, 
and corn had penetrated the plains 
north of Santa Fe. The presence of 
grinding stones, herbs and spices, pots 
and pans, and strings of chili peppers 
attest to the room's use by "Las 
Senoritas" as a place for cooking. They 
cooked for their fartiilies and prepared 
meals for the owners and their guests. - 




"My journey tells 
a story tonight 
different from 
what it has ever 
done before. " 

opening line 
from the diary of 




D 



Colorado Historical Society 



octor's Quarters 



Doctor Hempstead, a resident physician, was known to have 
a well-stocked library, and according to visitor Lewis H. 
Garrard, it "afforded recreation and pastime during the dull 
intervals of the day." 



3usdn Magoffin 



During Susan Magoffin's stay at the fort, she recuperated in 
the doctor's quarters. One of the first Anglo women to travel 
the Santa Fe Trail, she led a short but adventurous life. At 
eighteen years old in 1846, she married veteran Santa Fe 
trader, Samuel Magoffin. While crossing the Santa Fe Trail, 

Susan wrote about life and customs on 
the frontier. Traveling in style, her 
husband provided her with a private 
carriage, a small tent house, a maid, 
personal driver, and three servants. In 
her diary she proclaimed, "It is the life 
of a wandering princess, mine." Even 
though she traveled in luxury, her life 
was not without misfortune. Taken ill 
while enroute to Santa Fe with her 
husband, Susan Magoffin suffered a 
miscarriage upon reaching the fort. 



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Upstairs 





A soldier's diet 
may have been 
more harmful 
than bullets. 
Rations included 
coffee, hard tack, 
beans, and salt 
pork. The military 
was plagued 
with cholera, 
dysentery, and 
scurvy 




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Upstairs 



Living Quarters 

These three rooms show the living 
conditions of the military, fort 
employees, and fur trappers. During the 
war with Mexico in 1846, the fort hosted 
a varied group of boarders and 
employees. The Army of the West used 
these quarters as a hospital. French- 
Canadian and American frontiersmen 
lived and ate together in their quarters. 
The fort became a strategic point for 
exploration, reconnaissance, and 
espionage. Trappers sampled the 
"civilized life," while company hunters 
remained in the area supplying the fort 
with buffalo meat and venison. They 
repaired moccasins and boots, patched 
their leather britches, and made chains 
and lead bullets. Some of the trappers 
and hunters that were employed by 
Bent, St. Vrain and Company included 
the legendary Kit Carson, "Old Bill" 
Williams, "Peg-Leg" Smith and "Uncle 
Dick" Wootton. 




The clerks were 
often second in 
charge when the 
owners of the 
fort were absent, 
their titles were 
"store keepers 
and 
superin ten den ts. 



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Q^lerk's Quarters 



Upstairs 



Clerks had many responsibilities, 
including overseeing security, and 
handling and accounting for all trade 
goods. They were qualified to read and 
write in the business language of credits 
and money units. 

Frances Preston Blair Jr., clerk at the 
fort in 1846, came west in search of 
better health. Visitors often heard him 
sitting up at night playing the banjo. 
After leaving Bent's Fort, he went on to 
have a successful political career. Blair 
was even a candidate for Vice President 
of the United States in 1868. 

Another clerk, Alexander Barclay, 
managed the fort's stores, and kept the 
books from 1838 to 1842. After leaving 
Bent's Fort, he built Fort Barclay, a 
trading post located six miles from Fort 
Union, in New Mexico. Original trade 
ledgers were used in the reconstruction 
and furnishing of Bent's Fort. 



B 



astions and Corrals 

Built for defense and protection of the fort, round bastions 

tower at the northeast and southwest corners. The 

watchtower, with its flagpole attached, served as a guard post 

above the main gate. Each bastion had a swivel cannon that 

was never used in defense of the fort. They were used for 

signaling and welcoming arriving trade caravans. Lt. James 

Abert noted in his diary that the corral wall was "planted 

with cacti, which bear red and white flowers." The spines of 

the cactus served to keep horse 

rustlers from stealing livestock. 

It's been said that "One Eyed" 

Juan could break horses without 

losing a silver dollar from beneath 

the sole of his boot. Mexican 

vaqueros broke horses and mules 

that were brought for trade. The 

corrals provided protection for 

the wagons and stock. Visitors 

were often impressed by the 

defensive capabilities of the 

fortification. 





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Serving as lookout posts, the bastions 
of the fort are typical of most castles, 
where two walls can be guarded from 
one position. Susan Magoffin wrote 
that the fort looked like an "ancient 
castle." 





"They are gambling off their clothes till some of them are 
next to nudity/' 

Susan Magoffin, writing about the 
ennployees of her husband. 



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illiard Room 



Billiards helped travelers and employees cope with boredom, 
idleness, and loneliness. Journals and diaries mention that 
cards and games of backgammon,, chess, and checkers were 
played to ease the long days and nights. Susan Magoffin 
exclaimed that "I hear the cackling of chickens at such a rate 
sometimes I shall not be surprised to hear of a cock-pit." 
William Bent's son George, recalled that "across one end of 
the room ran a counter or bar, over which drinkables were 

served." The company's 1839 ledger 
shows a diverse assortment of drink; 12 
boxes claret wine, 37 gallons brandy, and 
58 gallons of rum. Lt. James Abert used 
the room as an art studio, positioning a 
Cheyenne model "upon the billiard 
table." The man "sat perfectly 
motionless" until the painting was 
completed and then asked that his name 
"Bear Above" be written underneath. 

Upstairs 






St. Vrain's 
Quarters 

Trapper and Taos trader, Ceran St. Vrain was the son of a 
noble family dispossessed during the French Revolution of 
1789. He was well-known and highly respected in Santa Fe, 
and his relationships in New Mexico were invaluable to the 
Bents. When St. Vrain was away, his quarters became a guest 
room. 

One of the most notable guests was Lieutenant James Abert, 
a topographical engineer surveying the west with a U.S. Army 
expedition. In 1845, Abert described peace talks between the' 
Cheyenne and the Delaware, and sympathized with the 
changes forced on the Indians by white settlers. As a 
naturalist, he sketched and studied the plants and animals of 
the area. While recuperating from an illness in 1846, he 
drew plans of the fort, which provided architects with the 
necessary information to rebuild it in 1976. 



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Upstairs 








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Scalp Dance 
by Lieutenant James Abert 



Dent's Old Fort National Historic Site was established March 
15, 1960 by Congress, and reconstruction was completed in 
1976. The reconstruction is based on original drawings, 
historical accounts, and archeological evidence. The fort is a 
faithful reproduction. 



Duggestions for further reading 

(Available in the park's bookstore) 

Abert, Lt. James, Expedition to the Southwest 

Lincoln, NE.: University of Nebraska Press, 1999 

Bent, Georg e. The Life of George Bent, 

Norman, OK.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968 

Garrard, Lew^is H., Wah-to-yah and the Taos Trail, 
Norman, OK.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1955 

Gregg, Josiah, Commerce of the Prairie, 

Santa Barbara, CA.: Narrative Press, 2001 

Lavender, David, Bent's Fort, 

Lincoln, NE.: University of Nebraska Press, 1954 

Magoffin, Susan, Down the Santa Fe Trail and Into Mexico 
Lincoln, NE.: University of Nebraska Press, 1962 

The State Historical Society of Colorado, Benfs Old Fort, 
The State Historical Society of Colorado, 1997 



F, 



or more information 

Phone: 719-383-5010 TDD: 719-383-5032 

Internet: vvww.nps.gov/beol 

Email: beol_interpretation@nps.gov 



Acknowledgement 

Text written by Bent!s Old Fort Interpretive Staff 
Booklet designed by Susana Echevarria 
Summer 2002 



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