Displaying items by tag: Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site

Within the past seven days, I have had the great opportunity to visit the three parks that make up the High Plains Group. This group, within the Intermountain Region, consists of Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site in La Junta, CO, Capulin Volcano National Monument in Capulin, NM, and Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site in Eads, CO. Other than my home site of Bent’s Old Fort, I went for the second time to Capulin this past week, but the one park that I haven’t visited until this week was Sand Creek. Seeing all three in one week was a great learning experience of seeing three distinctly different parks within the National Parks Service.

As I have mentioned numerous times in past blogs, Bent’s Old Fort is a living history site. At the 1840s reconstructed fort, visitors are given the opportunity to explore the two-story adobe fort and interact with the period clothes interpreters. For those with interest in the southwest frontier, this is an ideal park for you. As for Capulin Volcano, this site deals more with earth science, specifically with the extinct cinder cone volcano. Outside of the visitor’s center, this park is an outdoor park where visitors can climb around the rim and to the center of the volcano. For those interested in volcanoes and the beautiful views of the surrounding valley, this is it.

The park I was most familiar with prior to this internship and eager to visit was Sand Creek. My interest and familiarity with the history of the park came after reading A Misplaced Massacre by Ari Kelman. This is where I first learned of the brutal history behind this now sacred site. For those who don’t know the history, on November 29, 1864, Union soldiers led by Col. John Chivington open fire on unsuspected Cheyenne and Arapaho people. Ultimately over 230 men, woman, and children died, including 12 Council chiefs. After the bodies were looted, scalped, and mutilated, the village was ransacked and burned to the ground. I did not know what to expect or the feeling that would come up during my visit.

It was a two-hour drive from La Junta with the last eight miles being a dirt road. Once I got to the site and walked the short trail to the monument and overlook, that was when I was able to sit down on the benches provided and take in where I was. I was prepared to have feelings of sadness, empathy, or a wide range of anger, but ultimately I was filled with a sense of calmness I haven’t felt in a long time. It was hard to explain but I went with it and sat at that bench for close to half an hour before I decided to walk the bluff trail overlooking the massacre site. The trail was special as well, there was an abundance of grasshoppers jumping all over the place, birds chirping, a white jackrabbit that I stumbled upon, and a nice breeze that made the walk that much better. From not knowing what emotions to expect, I ultimately had one of the most calming afternoons I can remember. I was honored to have made it to this sacred site of remembrance for the fallen and hope to make it back one day.

Published in EFTA intern blog
Sunday, 28 July 2019 20:28

The Lighter Side of the Fort

For large parts of the past two weeks I have been dedicating my time researching my project by reading primary and secondary source books and documents ranging from the early 19th century up until more recent scholarship from 2016. I have also been going back and forth from the administration building to the museums collection building to locate and photograph to the best of my ability artifacts that correspond with my project. The days have gone by fast and I have enjoyed every step of the way.

However, if I were to say one downside about it is that as is often the case, I get so enthralled in doing the research that I have been spending most of my time indoors. While looking at where and what my fellow interns have been doing, I must admit that I get a little envious of the beautiful scenery they are surrounded by in their respective sites. What I did this past week to get outside a bit is photograph some of Bent’s Old Fort “employees” that give the fort its own unique charm.

Inside the fort are two hard working employees who oversee rodent control but are often seen taking long naps in the trading room, Fitzpatrick and Don Juan. Also roaming inside the fort and in the corral are chickens, two peacocks, and small birds who fly in and out of the rooms.

There are a few other characters who roam around the open lands surrounding the fort that during the fur trading years of the 1830s and 1840s would have been the workforce behind the transportation of buffalo hides and other trading goods 600 miles to and from Missouri. Two of them are Clark and Coolidge who recently were brought in from their hard work roaming the lands and looking intimidating to get their regular pedicures. Joining the two oxen in the grass fields surrounding the fort and who often greet me when I arrive and leave the administration building are horses Milagro, Mariah, and Molly the mule.


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In the process of reading primary and secondary sources concerning the jobs that Mexicans were doing at Bent’s Old Fort, I came to learn about a new aspect of slavery that I never knew. While reading about the fort during its peak years as a fur trading post (1833-1849), it is clearly explained that William Bent, one of the partners of the St. Vrain & Company who ran the fort, had three African slaves (possibly five, but difficult to corroborate) that he brought with him from St. Louis. Being a history student, this was not something new that I just learned during this internship.

However, one aspect of slavery that was not mentioned in any part of the visitor experience but can be found in select passages of two books about Bent’s Old Fort was that William Bent also had Mexican slaves at the fort. In Indian Slave Trade in the Southwest by L.R. Bailey, the author states that “Bent’s Fort…purchased Mexicans taken captive five hundred miles below Paso del Norte.” This was a new revelation that surprised me greatly, not only the fact that the fort purchased Mexicans but that they came from the interior of Mexico. Bailey further explains that a majority of the slaves were women and that by the time they arrived to their final destination, they could have passed thru half a dozen intermediaries beforehand. In Bent’s Fort on the Arkansas by Mark L. Gardner, the topic of Mexicans who were ransomed or bought was covered. George Bent, son of William Bent, is quoted saying that “My father had several Mexicans whom he had bought from the Kiowas and Comanches.” Discovering these facts was an eye-opening experience to say the least, it enlightened me to see the reality that slavery was not just a way of life in the south, but also across the emerging southwest during the first half of the 19th century. 

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This is the week that I have been waiting for since I first read about the internship and talked to my expected supervisor about the project that I would be undertaking at the site. In conjunction with my supervisor, who has been great in getting me prepared and answering all my questions these past few weeks, I have begun to embark on my project. As the title states, I will be researching the people whose narrative and impact has often been overshadowed in the explanation of the history of the fort and with some luck, find artifacts in the fort’s collection that date back to the 1830s and 1840s when the fort was at its peak that corresponds with the people I will be researching. My main emphasis will be on the men and women Mexican laborers who worked as adoberos, cooks, housekeepers, packers, herders, vaqueros, and other manual labor jobs. Included in those laborers are Mexicans slaves who were at the fort during its peak. Not to be omitted, I will be including any Mexicans of mixed race with French Canadiens, Blacks, Whites, and Plains Indians.

In addition, I would also like to match the narrative of the other non-Anglo’s who worked and visited the fort such as the African slaves, French Canadians, and the numerous Plains Indian tribes who worked and traded at the fort during its duration as a fur trading post with artifacts in the collection. 

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Now that I’ve spent a good amount of time during the past two weeks familiarizing myself with the history of the fort, I am now better able to describe the site and the history behind it. Bent’s Old Fort played a unique and significant role in American expansion in the west, especially the southwest. The adobe fort was constructed by ~150 Mexicans from nearby New Mexico at the behest of the Bent, St. Vrain & Company to serve a fur trading post along the Santa Fe trail with the various plains Indians. The location was ideal because of the pre-established hunting grounds near the fort and its location along the 1830s boundary of Mexico and the United States. When it was complete in 1833, the fort was the first permanent outpost in the southwest frontier. The significant years of trading were from 1833-1849 when predominantly buffalo furs and other animal furs not as valuable were being traded at the post for goods such as cloth, blankets, beads, tobacco, alcohol, guns, and other valuable items.

During a period of decline in the fur trade due to a variety of factors, the fort stopped being a fur trade center and since 1849 has been abandoned, used as a stagecoach station, and as a corral for cattle and eventually an abandoned ruin that barely retains any of the walls it had from the 1840s. After private groups and eventually the National Parks Service thru a long and drawn out process acquired the lands where the fort’s ruins were, it was declared a National Historic site in 1963. In 1976 the fort was reconstructed to how it would have been in the mid-1840s. Today the fort serves as a living history site where visitors can explore the two-story fort thru a self-guided or a guided tour by one of the various period clothed interpreters from whom you can learn of the various people who worked, lived, and visited the fort during its peak. 

Published in EFTA intern blog
Wednesday, 15 May 2019 14:10

Ismael Uribe

My name is Ismael Uribe, and I was born, raised, and currently reside in Vacaville, California. My parents come from Jalisco, Mexico, where they were born and raised before emigrating to the U.S. for better work opportunities. After serving in the U.S. Army for nearly five years, I attended culinary school where I received an A.O.S. in Culinary Arts. A few years after graduation I found myself in school again and focusing on earning a degree in History. I transferred from San Francisco City College to Sonoma State University where I received my B.A. in History. Since the fall of 2018 I have been enrolled as a graduate student at California State University, Sacramento in the Public History program with a concentration in Archives.

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