Sunday, July 13, 2014
The rise and fall of Charles Bent
As I started back to Taos from the Amache Camp in Granada I debated the merits of taking the most direct route or a slight detour to Old Bent’s Fort near La Junta, Colorado. Like Amache, Bent’s Fort had been on my shot list for a few years and since I was so near I tacked northwest to visit the fort which was built in 1833 as the major trading post on the mountain route of the Santa Fe Trail and that lasted a scant sixteen years. That’s a lot of fort for such a short lifespan given its importance during our nation’s Westward Ho moment.
William and Charles Bent built the massive fort on the banks of the Arkansas River and it became the trading hub of an empire stretching from Kansas City to The Rockies and from the Platte River to Santa Fe. At Bent’s trappers peacefully traded buffalo robes with the Cheyenne and Arapahoe as the Bents supplied travelers, explorers and the US Army with food, water and repairs on the rugged and remote Santa Fe Trail.
In 1846 Bent’s Fort was the staging area for General Stephen Watts Kearny’s Army of the West which drove Mexico out of New Mexico. Kearny named Charles Bent governor of the newly established New Mexico territory and, in a Taos related piece of history, Bent was shot, scalped alive and killed by Pueblo and Mexican attackers in 1847.
While the 24 room adobe fort is impressive, it’s the architectural details and human artifacting that drew me.
Old Bent’s Fort is actually quite new having been reconstructed by the National Park Service in 1976.