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I am a New York-based writer, travel lover, and author of The Drive North and Destination Paranormal. I have several other books in the works, including fiction.

Visiting Bent’s Old Fort

“At a distance it presents a handsome
appearance, being castle-like with towers
at its angles…the design…answering all purposes
of protection, defense, and as a residence.”
~ George R. Gibson, 1846, soldier
The last stop on our southeastern Colorado daytrip was the National Historic Site of Bent’s Old Fort. Sitting on the north side of the Arkansas River, it is just a short drive east from La Junta, Colorado on Hwy 194.
The fort was built along the Santa Fe Trail in 1833 by traders and trappers Ceran St. Vrain and William and Charles Bent, who was killed in an uprising Taos, New Mexico in 1846 shortly after being named the New Mexico Provisional Governor.
For 16 years the fort was properous, finally dying when the gold rush brought a cholera epidemic and relations between the whites and Indians became strained. St. Vrain unsuccessfully tried to sell it to the military before it was abandoned in favor of Bent’s New Fort, which was built in 1853, 40 miles downriver.
Today the fort that stands along the Arkansas is a reconstruction of what once was; it was built from drawings and written descriptions from visitors and archeological finds in the area. And while it does still have that new-fort-smell, the current fort helps offer a great understanding as to what life was like in the west in the mid-1800s.
All of the rooms are nicely furnished and decorated to look as they may have when the fort was a booming trade hub. The trade room and blacksmith’s room were both quite interesting, but my personal favorite was the billiard room on the upper level. Unfortunately the large, old-fashioned billiards table was covered though, and no actors were in the room playing the part of bartender or patron.

There were actors are on hand though in period-style dress to answer questions and offer an idea of who lived in the fort. The only unfortunate point though is that there are not enough people to give it a good representation; during our day there were only two people there, one of which played shuttle driver to get people to and from the fort and the parking lot if they did not want to walk in the hot sun.

A short walk from the fort, towards the river, was a small encampment. A handful of tents and tipis are set up next to fire pits and sitting logs to give the idea of what a traders camp next to the fort might look like. During holidays and weekends I’m sure it’s quite active with actors and tourists, but during our visit it was unfortunately empty and quite uninteresting.
I greatly enjoyed my visit to the fort and wish I had had more time to spend learning about it and the history surrounding it. I would recommend it to anyone passing through the area or for those looking for an alternative to the mountains, which sometimes can be quite expensive, for a weekend away.
My only regret was that we weren’t able to stop and visit then Koshare Indian Museum in La Junta. I was told by the curator of the Kit Carson Museum that it was well worth a visit. We just unfortunately ran out of time on this trip with all of our entertaining stops, and even pushed close to the closing time at the fort.
But, there’s always a next time.

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