History & Culture

Cutaway diagram of Bent's Old Fort showing details of room interiors
Architectural rendering of Bent's Old Fort.

HFC Commissioned Art Collection/Nicholas Fasciano

Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site preserves the resources associated with the Bent–St. Vrain trading empire, which radiated from Bent's Old Fort into what is now Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Nebraska, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and Missouri. The fort solidified one of the most important and last established trading cartels in the Rocky Mountain West.

William and Charles Bent, along with Ceran St. Vrain, built the original adobe fort on this site in 1833 to trade with Plains Indians and trappers. The fort quickly became the center of the expanding holdings of Bent, St. Vrain & Company, including Fort St. Vrain to the north and Fort Adobe to the south, along with company stores in Taos and Santa Fe. The primary trade was with the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians for buffalo robes.

For much of its 16-year history, the fort was the only major permanent white settlement on the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and the Mexican settlements. The fort provided explorers, adventurers, and the U.S. Army a place to get needed supplies, wagon repairs, livestock, good food, water and company, rest and protection in this vast "Great American Desert." During the war with Mexico in 1846, the fort became a staging area for Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny's "Army of the West." Disasters and disease caused the fort's abandonment in 1849.

Bent's Old Fort was an important point of commercial, social, military, and cultural contact between Anglo-American, Native American, Hispanic, and other groups on the border of United States Territory. The fort served as a point of exchange for trappers from the southern Rocky Mountains, travelers from Missouri and the east, Hispanic traders from Mexico, and Native Americans, primarily from the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, and Kiowa Tribes.

Today, Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site features a reconstructed version of the 1840s adobe trading post. Archeological excavations and original sketches, paintings, and diaries were used to replicate the features of the fort, which was reconstructed during the country’s bicentennial and Colorado’s centennial in 1976. The reconstructed fort and its historic setting allow visitors to “step back” in time to learn about and reflect on the westward expansion of the United States.

Bison robes arrayed in a courtyard
The Business of Bison

Bent’s Fort was built first and foremost for the growing bison robe trade. This trade would transform the southern plains.

A photograph showing heavy equipment in an adobe fort with a wall missing.
Reconstructing the Fort

Bent’s Old Fort was completely reconstructed by the National Park Service as a Bicentennial project and was dedicated on July 25, 1976.

A man in historic costume walks along the second level of the fort.

Learn more about the trappers, traders, and other people who lived at the fort.

A man in historic costume leans over a pool table with a cue in hand.

Learn more about the places associated with Bent's Old Fort

A modern tintype image showing people dressed in histoic costume within the reconstructed fort.

Explore the world of Bent's Old Fort.

Wagons pulled by livestock teams travel a prairie landscape accompanied by hikers.
The Santa Fe Trail

In its day, the Trail served primarily as a commercial highway to and from the southwest.

Last updated: April 18, 2024

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Mailing Address:

35110 State Highway 194
La Junta, CO 81050


719 383-5010
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