1840s Are Alive Again: 2015 Fur Trade Symposium at Bent’s Fort

Many people in the plaza of Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site

A banquet and fandango in the plaza of Bent’s Old Fort capped off the 2015 Fur Trade Symposium on Saturday, September 26.


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Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site in partnership with the Santa Fe Trail Association, Otero Junior College, and many other sponsors presented the 2015 Fur Trade Symposium from September 23 to September 26.  This triennial event, held at various venues across the West, attracted over a dozen of the top fur trade historians to present academic sessions, along with over 60 of the best living history demonstrators of the fur trade era.  The last time the symposium was held at Bent’s Old Fort was in 1988.  More than 175 registered participants took part in this year’s event which also included period music presentations in the evening, field trips to area fur trade sites, and a performance by the Koshare Dancers of La Junta.  The symposium culminated with a banquet and fandango in the fort plaza attended by 300.  The park recorded over 1,600 visits over the course of the event. 

Over 70 living history demonstrators, 13 fur trade scholars and 4 nights of great entertainment enlivened the 2015 Fur Trade Symposium at Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site and Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colorado, September 23 – 26, 2015.
Living historians at the fort and in surrounding camps represented life in the year 1842.  Trappers, traders, Native Americans, hunters, laborers and domestics revealed what everyday life was like here on the Plains 170 years ago with authentic camps and demonstrations.
Visitors had the opportunity to see the fort in full operation as traders inventory stock, carried out trades in the fort and travel to the Indian camps to trade.  Hunters and trappers pulled beaver from the river, skined animals, made and repaired tools and clothing, and did a bit of gambling.  Carpenters and blacksmiths worked in the shops creating everything from horse shoes to wagon wheels.  Laborers did adobe work on the fort and cared for the post’s livestock.  Domestics prepared meals, repaired and washed clothing and did all the other little things to keep the fort residents well-fed and content.  
Fur trade scholars from around the country presented papers at Otero Junior College’s Ed Stafford Theatre on Friday, September 25 and Saturday, September 26.  Presentations covered Bent’s Fort and the Southern Fur Trade, with talks on Hispanics and Native American involvement in the trade, the role of the government, competition between companies, the fur trade in the popular imagination and culinary aspects of the time.
Evening entertainment at the fort featured Lex Nichols, 2014 Native American Music Award winner, on Wednesday night; Mark Lee Gardner and Rex Rideout with music of the Fur Trade era on Thursday night; and Dr. Lorenzo Trujillo and the Southwest Musicians leading an authentic fandango on Saturday night.  Friday night featured the Koshare Dancers performing in the kiva at the Koshare Indian Museum in La Junta.

The 2018 Fur Trade Symposium will be held at Fort Mandan, North Dakota.
Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site is located on Colorado Highway 194, 8 miles east of La Junta or 15 miles west of Las Animas.   For more information about visiting the park, go to the park’s website at www.nps.gov/beol or call the park at (719) 383-5010.