When Col. Henry Dodge’s military expedition arrived at Bent’s Fort in the summer of 1835, they found an impressive adobe compound unlike anything they had seen on their long overland journey from Fort Leavenworth to the Rocky Mountains. Captain Lemuel Ford observed in his journal that the Bents and St. Vrain were

Traders with a considerable establishment of goods these were the first White men we found living in the Indian Country in a march of One thousand Miles they appear to be much of gentlemen Col Dodge with his officers were met by them in a very friendly manner & invited to dine with them they are forted in with a wall made of Clay & appear to be doing a good business with Indians the Chian Rapahowes & Grovents with the Camanchies [The Bents and St. Vrain] trade with them to considerable amount in the course of a year.

Ford’s description, along with the accounts left by other members of this expedition, indicate that not only was Bent’s Fort a fully functioning trading post at this time, but the Indian trade of the Bents and St. Vrain at this location was already firmly established. The Bents and St. Vrain were not alone in this endeavor, however. Assisting the principals in the operation of the post and its extensive trade was a large number of employees: traders, clerks, teamsters and packers, mechanics (blacksmith/wheelwright and carpenter), meat hunters, livestock herders and vaqueros, cooks, and simple laborers.

Thomas J. Farnham, who visited the post in 1839, wrote that the “number of men employed in the business of this establishment is supposed to be about 60.” In a letter dated May 1, 1840, Alexander Barclay, the fort’s superintendent of stores and bookkeeper, declared that, “We have about sixty men employed here in various capacities.” William Bent’s son George, born at Bent’s Fort in 1843, recalled that “nearly 100 men were employed at the post” Jacob S. Robinson, a member of Col. Alexander Doniphan’s Missouri volunteers, recorded in his 1846 journal that the “Messrs. Bents have in their employ from 100 to 150 men, whose business it is to trap and trade with Indians.” Although Robinson made a personal inspection of the fort, his estimate of as many as 150 employees is probably too high. He may have been misled by the great activity at the post with the arrival of the Army of the West and the accompanying caravan of Santa Fe traders that momentous summer of 1846. But whatever the exact number of employees at any given time, a great deal is known about the employees themselves.

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    Last updated: November 30, 2023

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