Bents Fort

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Bent's Fort, trading post of the American West, on the Arkansas River in present-day SE Colorado, E of Rocky Ford and La Junta and several miles above the mouth of the Purgatoire. The trading company headed by Charles Bent and Ceran St. Vrain, one of the most successful in the West, also included William Bent and two other Bent brothers. They had their first post in the area in 1826 and in 1833 moved to the completed fort, often called Bent's Old Fort. Because William Bent was the manager and chief trader in all the years of its prosperity, it is also sometimes called Fort William. Within its adobe walls came all the famous mountain men of the later period, as the fort on the mountain branch of the Santa Fe Trail came to dominate the trade of all the Native Americans S of the Black Hills as well as that of the Mexicans and the arriving Americans. Kit Carson was a hunter there from 1831 to 1842. S. W. Kearny and Sterling Price each briefly used the fort for their troops in the Mexican War. According to the generally accepted story, the Native American trade fell off and William Bent attempted to sell the fort to the U.S. government; he reached no satisfactory conclusion and in anger abandoned the fort and set the powder in it on fire, partially destroying it. In any case the fort was abandoned by 1852. William Bent erected a new establishment farther down the Arkansas in 1853. That post (Bent's New Fort) he leased to the government in 1860. Fort Lyon was afterward built around it.

See D. S. Lavender, Bent's Fort (1954, repr. 1968).

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Bent's Fort

Bent's Fort, largest of the trading posts located outside of Mexican territory to capitalize on the potential offered by the Santa Fe trade. Originally known as Fort William, it was built in 1833 near the confluence of the Arkansas and Purgatoire rivers in what is now Colorado. Owners Charles Bent and Ceran St. Vrain profited not only from the fur trade and the sale of merchandise to surrounding Athabascan-speaking peoples, Mexicans, and Anglos, but also from the traffic in arms and ammunition to Navajos, Apaches, and other native groups who used these weapons to raid northern Mexican settlements. The booty taken in livestock was often sold to Bent's Fort or similar trading emporiums. In this way, U.S. traders influenced shifts in the traditional balance of power and trading relationships among indigenous peoples and Mexicans, which further weakened Mexico's tenuous hold on its far northern territory. With the decline of the fur trade, Bent's Fort lost its strategic importance and was abandoned in 1849.


David Lavender, Bent's Fort (1954).

David J. Weber, The Mexican Frontier, 1821–1846: The American Southwest Under Mexico (1982).

Additional Bibliography

Comer, Douglas C. Ritual Ground: Bent's Old Fort, World Formation, and the Annexation of the Southwest. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

Hyslop, Stephen G. Bound for Santa Fe: The Road to New Mexico and the American Conquest, 1806–1848. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.

                                      Susan M. Deeds

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Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site: see National Parks and Monuments (table).