Bent’s Old Fort (Otero County, Colorado)

Bent's Old Fort

Bent’s Old Fort is a rebuilt structure and historic landmark in Otero County Colorado. Built by the Bent, St. Vrain Company, Bent’s Old Fort was important for trading with Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Plains Indians and has over the years turned from an important outpost to a tourist attraction. From 1833 when it was built, to 1849 when it was mysteriously destroyed, the fort was a major stopping point along the Santa Fe Trail. The fort was in fact the only permanent settlement in the region not under the jurisdiction and control of Native Americans or Mexicans.

Bent’s Fort was built of adobe bricks, and the small fort was only 180 feet long and 135 feet wide. The construction started in 1828 and it took four years for completion. The walls of the fort were designed for protection, and the entrance was guarded with large wooden gates made of heavy timbers. At one point there were even cannons mounted at the northwest and southeast corners were hexagonal bastions stood. Shortly after the construction was finished, their little adobe fortress became the epicenter of the Bent, St. Vrain Company’s trading empire. The company they built out of Old Bent’s Fort eventually included Fort Saint Vrain to the north, Fort Adobe to the south, and two stores, one in Taos and the other in Santa Fe.

During the Mexican-American War, the fort was temporarily a staging area for the “Army of the West” led by Colonel Syephen Watts Kearny. The fort was also used by explorers, travelers, and the United States Army as a temporary place of repose where they could get fresh water, fix wagons, and resupply within the relative safety of its walls.

In 1849 there was the region was plagued by an outbreak of cholera and many of the Native Americans died.  To avoid the epidemic, William Bent abandoned the fort and moved to to Fort Saint Vrain.  Upon his return three years later, Bent salvaged what he could and burned the fort to the ground. William Bent conducted his trading business at his new “Big Timbers Fort”, north of Bent’s Old Fort till 1860.

The area of the fort was designated a National Historic Site under the National Park Service on June 3, 1960, and in December of the same year was designated a National Historic Landmark. In the 1960s, the fort was reconstructed and opened to the public but it was not till 1976 that the fort underwent a thorough restoration.  During the restoration, great pains were taken to recreate the fort in as much detail as possible by using old drawings, articles, and descriptions of the fort.

Bent’s Old Fort Facts

  • The primary trade at the fort was with Native American trappers and the materials were used mostly for buffalo robes.
  • The fort was destroyed under mysterious circumstances in 1849 during a cholera epidemic.
  • The original walls of the fort were 15 feet tall and four feet thick.
  • The famous American frontiersman Kit Carson worked for the Bent brothers at the fort as a hunter in 1841.
  • Most of the trade took place with the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho.