Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site

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Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site

Bent's Old Fort (sometimes referred to as Fort William) is an 1833 fort located in Otero County in southeastern Colorado, USA. William and Charles Bent, along with Ceran St. Vrain, built the fort to trade with Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Plains Indians and trappers for buffalo robes. For much of its 16-year history, the fort was the only major permanent settlement on the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and the Mexican settlements. It was destroyed under mysterious circumstances in 1849.

The area of the fort was designated a National Historic Site under the National Park Service on June 3, 1960. It was further designated a National Historic Landmark later that year on December 19, 1960. The fort was reconstructed and is open to the public.


The adobe fort quickly became the center of the Bent, St. Vrain Company's expanding trade empire, which included Fort Saint Vrain to the north and Fort Adobe to the south, along with company stores in New Mexico at Taos and Santa Fe. The primary trade was with the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians for buffalo robes.

From 1833 to 1849, the fort was a stopping point along the Santa Fe Trail. It was the only permanent settlement not under the jurisdiction and control of Native Americans or Mexicans. The U.S. Army, explorers, and other travelers stopped at the fort to replenish supplies, such as water and food, and perform needed maintenance to their wagons. The American frontiersman Kit Carson was employed as a hunter by the Bent brothers in 1841, and regularly visited the Fort. Likewise, the explorer John C. Frémont used the Fort as both a staging area and as a replenishment junction, for his expeditions. During the Mexican-American War in 1846, the fort became a staging area for Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny's "Army of the West".


In 1849 when a great cholera epidemic struck the Oklahoma and other plains Indians, William Bent abandoned Bent's Fort and moved his headquarters north to Fort Saint Vrain on the South Platte. When he returned south in 1852, after salvaging what he could, he burned the fort and relocated his trading business to his log trading post at Big Timbers, near what is now Lamar, Colorado. Later, in the fall of 1853, Bent began building a stone fort on the bluff above Big Timbers, Bent's New Fort, where he conducted his trading business until 1860 when the building was leased to the United States government and renamed Fort Wise. It was there that the Treaty of Fort Wise was signed on February 18, 1861 by the United States and a few Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs. Old Fort Lyon, as Fort Wise was renamed in 1862, was built of timber by army troops in 1860 about half a mile west in the Arkansas River bottom. It was abandoned and replaced by new Fort Lyon near what is now Las Animas, Colorado in 1867.

When the fort was reconstructed in 1976, its authenticity was based on the use of archaeological excavations, paintings and original sketches, diaries and other existing historical data from the period.

In popular culture
  • Bent's Fort is featured briefly in Larry McMurty's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Lonesome Dove, as well as in the 1989 Emmy Award-winning four-part TV miniseries adapted from the book.
  • The fort was the setting of the early episodes of the CBS western miniseries The Chisholms (1979-1980).
  • In George MacDonald Fraser's novel, Flashman and the Redskins, the anti-hero Flashman is present at the destruction of Bents' Fort.
  • Bent’s Fort in the spring of 1834 is a major setting for Terry Johnston’s 1988 novel One-Eyed Dream.

Building Activity

  • Georgi Sokolov
    Georgi Sokolov activity.buildings_person.create_many
    about 5 years ago via