Not very far out from civilization on the eastern Colorado plains is Bent’s Fort, a replica of the original Bent’s Old Fort on the Santa Fe trail. I’ve been going to this fort since I was a kid.
Originally Bent’s was built by the Bent brothers and Ceran St. Vrain in 1833 as a place where the Cheyenne and Arapahoe and trappers could trade for goods along the Santa Fe Trail.
In 1960 historians rebuilt the fort and it is now a living piece of history that beholds much authenticity to the original feel and smell of the Bent’s fort.
By the time we’d reached Bent’s Fort, we’d already had a very long day of travel and adventure. We went to the Sand Creek Massacre site beforehand and were about to race to the fort because we thought it was going to close, but the rangers at Sand Creek informed us that they were open longer than Google said they were.
I wanted to pair these two stops together in a day because the fort was the kind of place where the Colorado Third and Silas Soule and Co. would have stopped the night before the massacre. It was the exact kind of place that Soule learned of Chivington’s actual plan to attack the Indian camp the next morning. The exact kind of place where Soule was told he would be hanged if he didn’t attack the camp. So it was important for the kids to put the whole picture together.
But, by the time we arrived, it was at the hottest part of the day. Almost 100 degrees. The horse flies were everywhere around the fort and especially at the back where the animal stockade was.
When we exited the car, I deposited some trash as the boys wandered over to the shade in the parking lot. So they could get ready for the quarter mile or so walk to the fort. At first, when they learned how far of a walk it was, they resisted. But that changed.
For as I was cleaning out the car and outfitting our bag for the journey, the boys started hollering. With the Jeep doors still open, I went over to see about the fuss. In Silas’ hands was a toad. Behind them, the biggest bull snake I’d ever seen.
For a minute, the excitement outweighed their reluctance to walk to the fort. But once packed I reminded them of the walk and they bedrugingly walked on.
As a child, it’s not as stunning of a site: the fort. But I was excited.
There were tiny toads everywhere. A marsh filled with creatures and birds along the path. Then, when we finally got inside, drenched with sweat as I had to carry Bear on my shoulders, we checked in at the first room inside the fort. It was, fortunately, cooler. I toweled off. Suddenly the kids became excited: there were so many rooms to explore.
There was the council room, trade room with hides and items you could trade for. Dining room. Kitchen. Blacksmith and carpenter quarters. There were the rooms you could stay in. A billiard and bar room.
In the bell tower, as the kids rang the bell incessantly, my daughter pointed out something dead on the floor. I took a picture. After I did so, I thought: that’s a bat. Oh, that’s a dead bat. The kids became obsessed with letting the people at the fort know. So we did and they told us that the bat was probably alive. Just asleep. Sometimes they remain in the same place for days.
We adventured through the fort, looking in all the rooms. The kids chased the peacocks, fawned over the cats, petted the goats and horses in the stockade.
Drenched in sweat, Dad called it an afternoon. We still had a drive to our hotel, and really – our pool for the evening.
The drive back to Pueblo had us navigate through a truly bizarre slice of Colorado life. A stretch that, while I’d been through it before, struck me different. It was profound how people lived. Some, so impoverished and in nearly ghost towns. It was remarkable to me how close to city life they were, but how far away they actually remained.
This is when it dawned on me that I needed to further educate the kids in music history. For the first time that day they explicitly listened to Bob Marley – and to my surprise Silas told me that he loved it. After one play, he said, “Dad can you play the song about the three little birds again?”