Bent’s Fort Trading Post

Bent’s Fort trading post, circa 1840

June 2016; 38.0404° N, 103.4295° W


Background: Built on the mountain branch of the Santa Fe Trail, Bent’s Fort was established by William and Charles Bent as a fur trading post frequented by Americans, Mexicans, and the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes. The original fort was eventually abandoned and more or less disintegrated, but a replica was built in 1976 by the National Park Service. The main trading room was the hub of the fort, with all other rooms (sleeping quarters, kitchen, dining rooms, even a bar and billiards room) existing solely to support this business.


Tastes- no distinct tastes


Smells- from outside is woodsmoke, livestock, and dust; from inside is fur, leather, and sawdust;


Feelings- slight breeze through door, but otherwise warm and still; the furs under my elbows on the countertop are thick and coarse;


Sounds- scrape of gravel and hard-packed dirt underfoot as I pace the trading post floor; outside sounds coming in through the door, birdsong, people talking, doors opening and closing, the snap of the flag in the wind; meow of a scruffy skinny gray cat with long mud-coated fur;


Sights- dimly lit by a few tin-and-glass lanterns with candles inside hanging from the rafters; light coming in through open doors and a closed lattice-frame glass window set in two foot thick mud brick walls overlaid with mud and whitewash; empty candle holder set in window sill; beneath the sill are two chairs and a chess set on a barrel just inside the door, backed by hip high barrels in the corner (on top of the barrels rests a large paper-wrapped, twine-tied box); rows of steel traps and extra chairs hand from the rafter over the chess set; floor is hard packed dirt with reddish pale gravel; exterior door is opposite the trading counter, with secondary doors open on either adjacent wall (one leading to the Council Room and the other to the dining room); one third of the way into room stands a long wooden countertop about arm length thick width that stretches the length of the room with a section that folds up against the wall at the far end to allow entrance to back; stacked on top of the counter is a pile of pelts (beaver, bear, etc), a ledger book with note on top on yellowed paper, a burning candle next to the ledger; hanging from the rafters behind the counter are strings of colored beads, bundles of leather shoes, tin cups, tin canteens, large cast iron spoons and ladles, coils of rope, harnesses, and powder horns; back wall behind the counter is lined with squared wooden shelving; shelves are stocked with tin candle mold, folded clothes, rolled blankets, tins of tea and crackers, books, lanterns, furs and leathers, cast iron cookware, and hats; rifles are stacked in the corner against the wood shelving at the back of the room;