Fortress of Mud at the Edge of Western Expansion

The whole generation of Americans grew up on the Western movies featuring John Wayne and other fearless cowboys fighting unruly Native Amer...

The whole generation of Americans grew up on the Western movies featuring John Wayne and other fearless cowboys fighting unruly Native Americans. But how well do we know the period preceding the Expansion of the American West and forming the United States in their present borders? Bent's Old Fort hidden in the vast plains of Colorado under the endless blue sky is a living book that was once at the frontier of the Anglo-American civilization.

Bent's Old Fort was established by brothers Bent and their business partner St. Veran in 1833 as a fur trade centre, but has quickly transformed into something bigger - a community centre in today's terms where different nations could peacefully co-exist and thrive.
What we see today is a reconstruction of the Bent's Old Fort completed by National Park Service in 1976 based on drawings and stories. The original fort is believed to have been burned by one of its very founders as the result of buffalo herds decline, wars, diseases and so forth.
The fort was located on the trade route called the Santa Fe Trail, a 870 mile / 1,400 km dirt road stretching between Independence, Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Mind you there were no highways or even a railway back then. The fort stood at the Arkansas River right on the international border between Mexico and the United States. The political situation was even more complicated as there were different native tribes each claiming a stake of land and resources.
Despite its fortresslike appearance, the Bent's Old Fort was never conquered, not did it have to defend itself from an external threat throughout its relatively brief 16-year lifespan.
During the day, the fort was busy with people trading, working, eating, drinking and playing. At night, native people camped outside the walls while the hosts and their guests enjoyed the private quarters inside the fort.
The hosts were excellent negotiators and peacemakers. There was even a Council Room at the fort where different tribe representatives including chiefs would gather and smoke a 'calamet', a ceremonial smoking pipe, while discussing the terms of trade or other important matters.
William Bent, one of the founders of the fort, was no stranger to the Plain Native American tribes. He was known as a 'Little White Man' and gained his excellent reputation among the tribes thanks to his integrity and respect to native cultures. He married a Cheyenne woman, and after her death, married her sister, so he was in fact a part of the Cheyenne family and sometimes even stayed at the Cheyenne village. 
Bents constructed their fort using adobe (or mud) bricks which was and still is a very popular building material in Taos, New Mexico and the area. Adobe is excellent at withstanding dry weather conditions. The only caveat is that every year the walls have to be treated with fresh mud to avoid melting.
What I can say is that the Bent's Old Fort was a very nice discovery for us as we didn't plan on visiting it at all. I literally pulled up the map in the morning, found this park and decided to take a small detour on the way to Great Sand Dunes National Park. But we really enjoyed the place thanks to the park's interpreters who showed us around and told some good old stories. I'm not entirely sure, but I think one of them was John Carson, a great-grandson of Kit Carson, the most respectful American frontiersman.

My other posts about the trip to Colorado, New Mexico and Utah:

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