Living History at Bents Old Fort | TheFencePost.com

Living History at Bents Old Fort

Lincoln RogersThe impressive Bents Old Fort was originally built in 1833 and was faithfully reconstructed in 1975-1976 by the National Park Service.

Tucked away near the small Colorado town of La Junta stands one of the most impressive business enterprises of the early American West. Bent’s Old Fort, as it is called today, was constructed in 1833 on the north bank of the Arkansas River along the famous Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail was a virtual ocean of trade between Mexico and the United States, and the fort was the only civilized structure along the two month journey between Santa Fe, Mexico and St. Louis, Mo., where travelers could refresh themselves and their livestock, repair wagons, and replenish supplies.

Present day visitors can tour the faithfully reconstructed fort and learn its history from National Park Ranger Interpretive Guides, but several weekends this year (June 3-5 and September 17-18) bring its past alive as dozens of teachers, students and re-enactors in period correct clothing bring the fort alive like it is 1846.

“This is a part of our history that people know little about,” said Greg Holt, lead interpreter at Bents Old Fort and the man in charge of special events as well as the living history program. Holt was dressed as a craftsman from the mid-1800s, since he played the role of a blacksmith/carpenter in the June demonstration. “There was a lot of freedom of the west here in this time. A lot of people that had anything to do in the west came through here.”

With about 50 participants teaching and learning their historical roles during June’s living history encampment, it was simple to imagine the fort’s colorful past. All a visitor had to do was look and listen.

“The biggest job is keeping Mr. Bents wagons going,” said Bob Larison, a blacksmith operating the bellows and shaping red-hot metal on an iron anvil while smoke from his fire swirled in a breeze moving in his working space. “If we don’t keep his wagons rolling, then we have a problem because he’s in this whole Indian trade thing to make money. And if we don’t keep his wagons going like he wants, then he loses money. So our main job is keeping his wagons going, whether it’s iron repair or wood repair, we got a carpenter shop next door there and we’ll trade off. Sometimes I’ll be over there and then sometimes they’ll be in here having to work to forge something.”

Finding other occupations of the era was as easy as looking around.

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“Trappers (and hunters) are hired by the fort to supply meat for employees,” explained Lloyd Britton, a bearded trapper decked out in leather moccasins, leather breeches, a wide-brimmed hat and rifle. “Trappers and hunters are one and the same, basically. Most of us came west to trap beaver (until) the beaver trade played out and this fort started dealing in buffalo robes.”

“I’m pretty impressed with Bent’s Fort,” said Mike Willis, a Topographical Engineer working with the military to create maps of the western frontier. “I never would have figured something like this out here. We’re mapping the area, we’re laying out some of the trail (and) we’re finding spots where there is water and you can stay.”

“It’s time consuming and it’s all day,” said Kay Erickson of women’s work at the fort, while she cleaned linens using buckets of water and a wooden washboard. “There is no breaks; there is no nothing. But you do have control of the food, so you can do a little bartering,” she revealed about a benefit of working in the kitchen. “Because I just came off the trail, I was able to barter a piece of pie for steel and flint, so I may start my own fires.”

All the bustle of cooking, washing, craftsmanship and trapping was enough to make a visitor wish they’d been born two centuries earlier. After observing the smiling faces of every role player during the June encampment, it was safe to say participants felt much the same way.

“If you don’t have a good time (doing this), you better find something else to do,” laughed John Carson, who was playing the role of a trapper/hunter. Carson is a great grandson of Kit Carson and works as an Interpretive Guide at Bents Old Fort, but he loves the living history encampments when the past comes alive. “These are the best weekends of this job and it’s because of all these guys that come out here,” he continued, motioning his hands to include the numerous role players gathered in their primitive camp by the river. “I learn so much from doing this stuff. It’s kind of hard when you are in the fort (the rest of the year). You can talk about trapping and you can show visitors how to set a trap and that kind of thing, but getting out in the water and saying, nope, do it this way. That kind of thing is what it is all about.”

“Some historians are all book learning but this stuff brings it to life and stimulates your desire to learn more, really” agreed Britton. “I wasn’t that into history in school, but when you can live it, it’s hugely different. I’ve never come across a reconstructed fort that had so much care and detail put into it. It is pretty much like stepping back in time.”

“My volunteer staff are my instructors and they have been doing it, some of them, for twenty or thirty years and they are very well adapted,” praised Holt about the people making the fort come to life every June and September. “Without them it would be impossible to do. They provide the expertise (and) they are very good at what they do. That’s what makes it fun is people learn a whole new part of our history.”

The next living history demonstration at Bent’s Old Fort will be the weekend of September 17-18, where the Santa Fe Trail Encampment will bring the historic fort alive once again.

Tucked away near the small Colorado town of La Junta stands one of the most impressive business enterprises of the early American West. Bent’s Old Fort, as it is called today, was constructed in 1833 on the north bank of the Arkansas River along the famous Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail was a virtual ocean of trade between Mexico and the United States, and the fort was the only civilized structure along the two month journey between Santa Fe, Mexico and St. Louis, Mo., where travelers could refresh themselves and their livestock, repair wagons, and replenish supplies.

Present day visitors can tour the faithfully reconstructed fort and learn its history from National Park Ranger Interpretive Guides, but several weekends this year (June 3-5 and September 17-18) bring its past alive as dozens of teachers, students and re-enactors in period correct clothing bring the fort alive like it is 1846.

“This is a part of our history that people know little about,” said Greg Holt, lead interpreter at Bents Old Fort and the man in charge of special events as well as the living history program. Holt was dressed as a craftsman from the mid-1800s, since he played the role of a blacksmith/carpenter in the June demonstration. “There was a lot of freedom of the west here in this time. A lot of people that had anything to do in the west came through here.”

With about 50 participants teaching and learning their historical roles during June’s living history encampment, it was simple to imagine the fort’s colorful past. All a visitor had to do was look and listen.

“The biggest job is keeping Mr. Bents wagons going,” said Bob Larison, a blacksmith operating the bellows and shaping red-hot metal on an iron anvil while smoke from his fire swirled in a breeze moving in his working space. “If we don’t keep his wagons rolling, then we have a problem because he’s in this whole Indian trade thing to make money. And if we don’t keep his wagons going like he wants, then he loses money. So our main job is keeping his wagons going, whether it’s iron repair or wood repair, we got a carpenter shop next door there and we’ll trade off. Sometimes I’ll be over there and then sometimes they’ll be in here having to work to forge something.”

Finding other occupations of the era was as easy as looking around.

“Trappers (and hunters) are hired by the fort to supply meat for employees,” explained Lloyd Britton, a bearded trapper decked out in leather moccasins, leather breeches, a wide-brimmed hat and rifle. “Trappers and hunters are one and the same, basically. Most of us came west to trap beaver (until) the beaver trade played out and this fort started dealing in buffalo robes.”

“I’m pretty impressed with Bent’s Fort,” said Mike Willis, a Topographical Engineer working with the military to create maps of the western frontier. “I never would have figured something like this out here. We’re mapping the area, we’re laying out some of the trail (and) we’re finding spots where there is water and you can stay.”

“It’s time consuming and it’s all day,” said Kay Erickson of women’s work at the fort, while she cleaned linens using buckets of water and a wooden washboard. “There is no breaks; there is no nothing. But you do have control of the food, so you can do a little bartering,” she revealed about a benefit of working in the kitchen. “Because I just came off the trail, I was able to barter a piece of pie for steel and flint, so I may start my own fires.”

All the bustle of cooking, washing, craftsmanship and trapping was enough to make a visitor wish they’d been born two centuries earlier. After observing the smiling faces of every role player during the June encampment, it was safe to say participants felt much the same way.

“If you don’t have a good time (doing this), you better find something else to do,” laughed John Carson, who was playing the role of a trapper/hunter. Carson is a great grandson of Kit Carson and works as an Interpretive Guide at Bents Old Fort, but he loves the living history encampments when the past comes alive. “These are the best weekends of this job and it’s because of all these guys that come out here,” he continued, motioning his hands to include the numerous role players gathered in their primitive camp by the river. “I learn so much from doing this stuff. It’s kind of hard when you are in the fort (the rest of the year). You can talk about trapping and you can show visitors how to set a trap and that kind of thing, but getting out in the water and saying, nope, do it this way. That kind of thing is what it is all about.”

“Some historians are all book learning but this stuff brings it to life and stimulates your desire to learn more, really” agreed Britton. “I wasn’t that into history in school, but when you can live it, it’s hugely different. I’ve never come across a reconstructed fort that had so much care and detail put into it. It is pretty much like stepping back in time.”

“My volunteer staff are my instructors and they have been doing it, some of them, for twenty or thirty years and they are very well adapted,” praised Holt about the people making the fort come to life every June and September. “Without them it would be impossible to do. They provide the expertise (and) they are very good at what they do. That’s what makes it fun is people learn a whole new part of our history.”

The next living history demonstration at Bent’s Old Fort will be the weekend of September 17-18, where the Santa Fe Trail Encampment will bring the historic fort alive once again.

Tucked away near the small Colorado town of La Junta stands one of the most impressive business enterprises of the early American West. Bent’s Old Fort, as it is called today, was constructed in 1833 on the north bank of the Arkansas River along the famous Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail was a virtual ocean of trade between Mexico and the United States, and the fort was the only civilized structure along the two month journey between Santa Fe, Mexico and St. Louis, Mo., where travelers could refresh themselves and their livestock, repair wagons, and replenish supplies.

Present day visitors can tour the faithfully reconstructed fort and learn its history from National Park Ranger Interpretive Guides, but several weekends this year (June 3-5 and September 17-18) bring its past alive as dozens of teachers, students and re-enactors in period correct clothing bring the fort alive like it is 1846.

“This is a part of our history that people know little about,” said Greg Holt, lead interpreter at Bents Old Fort and the man in charge of special events as well as the living history program. Holt was dressed as a craftsman from the mid-1800s, since he played the role of a blacksmith/carpenter in the June demonstration. “There was a lot of freedom of the west here in this time. A lot of people that had anything to do in the west came through here.”

With about 50 participants teaching and learning their historical roles during June’s living history encampment, it was simple to imagine the fort’s colorful past. All a visitor had to do was look and listen.

“The biggest job is keeping Mr. Bents wagons going,” said Bob Larison, a blacksmith operating the bellows and shaping red-hot metal on an iron anvil while smoke from his fire swirled in a breeze moving in his working space. “If we don’t keep his wagons rolling, then we have a problem because he’s in this whole Indian trade thing to make money. And if we don’t keep his wagons going like he wants, then he loses money. So our main job is keeping his wagons going, whether it’s iron repair or wood repair, we got a carpenter shop next door there and we’ll trade off. Sometimes I’ll be over there and then sometimes they’ll be in here having to work to forge something.”

Finding other occupations of the era was as easy as looking around.

“Trappers (and hunters) are hired by the fort to supply meat for employees,” explained Lloyd Britton, a bearded trapper decked out in leather moccasins, leather breeches, a wide-brimmed hat and rifle. “Trappers and hunters are one and the same, basically. Most of us came west to trap beaver (until) the beaver trade played out and this fort started dealing in buffalo robes.”

“I’m pretty impressed with Bent’s Fort,” said Mike Willis, a Topographical Engineer working with the military to create maps of the western frontier. “I never would have figured something like this out here. We’re mapping the area, we’re laying out some of the trail (and) we’re finding spots where there is water and you can stay.”

“It’s time consuming and it’s all day,” said Kay Erickson of women’s work at the fort, while she cleaned linens using buckets of water and a wooden washboard. “There is no breaks; there is no nothing. But you do have control of the food, so you can do a little bartering,” she revealed about a benefit of working in the kitchen. “Because I just came off the trail, I was able to barter a piece of pie for steel and flint, so I may start my own fires.”

All the bustle of cooking, washing, craftsmanship and trapping was enough to make a visitor wish they’d been born two centuries earlier. After observing the smiling faces of every role player during the June encampment, it was safe to say participants felt much the same way.

“If you don’t have a good time (doing this), you better find something else to do,” laughed John Carson, who was playing the role of a trapper/hunter. Carson is a great grandson of Kit Carson and works as an Interpretive Guide at Bents Old Fort, but he loves the living history encampments when the past comes alive. “These are the best weekends of this job and it’s because of all these guys that come out here,” he continued, motioning his hands to include the numerous role players gathered in their primitive camp by the river. “I learn so much from doing this stuff. It’s kind of hard when you are in the fort (the rest of the year). You can talk about trapping and you can show visitors how to set a trap and that kind of thing, but getting out in the water and saying, nope, do it this way. That kind of thing is what it is all about.”

“Some historians are all book learning but this stuff brings it to life and stimulates your desire to learn more, really” agreed Britton. “I wasn’t that into history in school, but when you can live it, it’s hugely different. I’ve never come across a reconstructed fort that had so much care and detail put into it. It is pretty much like stepping back in time.”

“My volunteer staff are my instructors and they have been doing it, some of them, for twenty or thirty years and they are very well adapted,” praised Holt about the people making the fort come to life every June and September. “Without them it would be impossible to do. They provide the expertise (and) they are very good at what they do. That’s what makes it fun is people learn a whole new part of our history.”

The next living history demonstration at Bent’s Old Fort will be the weekend of September 17-18, where the Santa Fe Trail Encampment will bring the historic fort alive once again.

Tucked away near the small Colorado town of La Junta stands one of the most impressive business enterprises of the early American West. Bent’s Old Fort, as it is called today, was constructed in 1833 on the north bank of the Arkansas River along the famous Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail was a virtual ocean of trade between Mexico and the United States, and the fort was the only civilized structure along the two month journey between Santa Fe, Mexico and St. Louis, Mo., where travelers could refresh themselves and their livestock, repair wagons, and replenish supplies.

Present day visitors can tour the faithfully reconstructed fort and learn its history from National Park Ranger Interpretive Guides, but several weekends this year (June 3-5 and September 17-18) bring its past alive as dozens of teachers, students and re-enactors in period correct clothing bring the fort alive like it is 1846.

“This is a part of our history that people know little about,” said Greg Holt, lead interpreter at Bents Old Fort and the man in charge of special events as well as the living history program. Holt was dressed as a craftsman from the mid-1800s, since he played the role of a blacksmith/carpenter in the June demonstration. “There was a lot of freedom of the west here in this time. A lot of people that had anything to do in the west came through here.”

With about 50 participants teaching and learning their historical roles during June’s living history encampment, it was simple to imagine the fort’s colorful past. All a visitor had to do was look and listen.

“The biggest job is keeping Mr. Bents wagons going,” said Bob Larison, a blacksmith operating the bellows and shaping red-hot metal on an iron anvil while smoke from his fire swirled in a breeze moving in his working space. “If we don’t keep his wagons rolling, then we have a problem because he’s in this whole Indian trade thing to make money. And if we don’t keep his wagons going like he wants, then he loses money. So our main job is keeping his wagons going, whether it’s iron repair or wood repair, we got a carpenter shop next door there and we’ll trade off. Sometimes I’ll be over there and then sometimes they’ll be in here having to work to forge something.”

Finding other occupations of the era was as easy as looking around.

“Trappers (and hunters) are hired by the fort to supply meat for employees,” explained Lloyd Britton, a bearded trapper decked out in leather moccasins, leather breeches, a wide-brimmed hat and rifle. “Trappers and hunters are one and the same, basically. Most of us came west to trap beaver (until) the beaver trade played out and this fort started dealing in buffalo robes.”

“I’m pretty impressed with Bent’s Fort,” said Mike Willis, a Topographical Engineer working with the military to create maps of the western frontier. “I never would have figured something like this out here. We’re mapping the area, we’re laying out some of the trail (and) we’re finding spots where there is water and you can stay.”

“It’s time consuming and it’s all day,” said Kay Erickson of women’s work at the fort, while she cleaned linens using buckets of water and a wooden washboard. “There is no breaks; there is no nothing. But you do have control of the food, so you can do a little bartering,” she revealed about a benefit of working in the kitchen. “Because I just came off the trail, I was able to barter a piece of pie for steel and flint, so I may start my own fires.”

All the bustle of cooking, washing, craftsmanship and trapping was enough to make a visitor wish they’d been born two centuries earlier. After observing the smiling faces of every role player during the June encampment, it was safe to say participants felt much the same way.

“If you don’t have a good time (doing this), you better find something else to do,” laughed John Carson, who was playing the role of a trapper/hunter. Carson is a great grandson of Kit Carson and works as an Interpretive Guide at Bents Old Fort, but he loves the living history encampments when the past comes alive. “These are the best weekends of this job and it’s because of all these guys that come out here,” he continued, motioning his hands to include the numerous role players gathered in their primitive camp by the river. “I learn so much from doing this stuff. It’s kind of hard when you are in the fort (the rest of the year). You can talk about trapping and you can show visitors how to set a trap and that kind of thing, but getting out in the water and saying, nope, do it this way. That kind of thing is what it is all about.”

“Some historians are all book learning but this stuff brings it to life and stimulates your desire to learn more, really” agreed Britton. “I wasn’t that into history in school, but when you can live it, it’s hugely different. I’ve never come across a reconstructed fort that had so much care and detail put into it. It is pretty much like stepping back in time.”

“My volunteer staff are my instructors and they have been doing it, some of them, for twenty or thirty years and they are very well adapted,” praised Holt about the people making the fort come to life every June and September. “Without them it would be impossible to do. They provide the expertise (and) they are very good at what they do. That’s what makes it fun is people learn a whole new part of our history.”

The next living history demonstration at Bent’s Old Fort will be the weekend of September 17-18, where the Santa Fe Trail Encampment will bring the historic fort alive once again.

Tucked away near the small Colorado town of La Junta stands one of the most impressive business enterprises of the early American West. Bent’s Old Fort, as it is called today, was constructed in 1833 on the north bank of the Arkansas River along the famous Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail was a virtual ocean of trade between Mexico and the United States, and the fort was the only civilized structure along the two month journey between Santa Fe, Mexico and St. Louis, Mo., where travelers could refresh themselves and their livestock, repair wagons, and replenish supplies.

Present day visitors can tour the faithfully reconstructed fort and learn its history from National Park Ranger Interpretive Guides, but several weekends this year (June 3-5 and September 17-18) bring its past alive as dozens of teachers, students and re-enactors in period correct clothing bring the fort alive like it is 1846.

“This is a part of our history that people know little about,” said Greg Holt, lead interpreter at Bents Old Fort and the man in charge of special events as well as the living history program. Holt was dressed as a craftsman from the mid-1800s, since he played the role of a blacksmith/carpenter in the June demonstration. “There was a lot of freedom of the west here in this time. A lot of people that had anything to do in the west came through here.”

With about 50 participants teaching and learning their historical roles during June’s living history encampment, it was simple to imagine the fort’s colorful past. All a visitor had to do was look and listen.

“The biggest job is keeping Mr. Bents wagons going,” said Bob Larison, a blacksmith operating the bellows and shaping red-hot metal on an iron anvil while smoke from his fire swirled in a breeze moving in his working space. “If we don’t keep his wagons rolling, then we have a problem because he’s in this whole Indian trade thing to make money. And if we don’t keep his wagons going like he wants, then he loses money. So our main job is keeping his wagons going, whether it’s iron repair or wood repair, we got a carpenter shop next door there and we’ll trade off. Sometimes I’ll be over there and then sometimes they’ll be in here having to work to forge something.”

Finding other occupations of the era was as easy as looking around.

“Trappers (and hunters) are hired by the fort to supply meat for employees,” explained Lloyd Britton, a bearded trapper decked out in leather moccasins, leather breeches, a wide-brimmed hat and rifle. “Trappers and hunters are one and the same, basically. Most of us came west to trap beaver (until) the beaver trade played out and this fort started dealing in buffalo robes.”

“I’m pretty impressed with Bent’s Fort,” said Mike Willis, a Topographical Engineer working with the military to create maps of the western frontier. “I never would have figured something like this out here. We’re mapping the area, we’re laying out some of the trail (and) we’re finding spots where there is water and you can stay.”

“It’s time consuming and it’s all day,” said Kay Erickson of women’s work at the fort, while she cleaned linens using buckets of water and a wooden washboard. “There is no breaks; there is no nothing. But you do have control of the food, so you can do a little bartering,” she revealed about a benefit of working in the kitchen. “Because I just came off the trail, I was able to barter a piece of pie for steel and flint, so I may start my own fires.”

All the bustle of cooking, washing, craftsmanship and trapping was enough to make a visitor wish they’d been born two centuries earlier. After observing the smiling faces of every role player during the June encampment, it was safe to say participants felt much the same way.

“If you don’t have a good time (doing this), you better find something else to do,” laughed John Carson, who was playing the role of a trapper/hunter. Carson is a great grandson of Kit Carson and works as an Interpretive Guide at Bents Old Fort, but he loves the living history encampments when the past comes alive. “These are the best weekends of this job and it’s because of all these guys that come out here,” he continued, motioning his hands to include the numerous role players gathered in their primitive camp by the river. “I learn so much from doing this stuff. It’s kind of hard when you are in the fort (the rest of the year). You can talk about trapping and you can show visitors how to set a trap and that kind of thing, but getting out in the water and saying, nope, do it this way. That kind of thing is what it is all about.”

“Some historians are all book learning but this stuff brings it to life and stimulates your desire to learn more, really” agreed Britton. “I wasn’t that into history in school, but when you can live it, it’s hugely different. I’ve never come across a reconstructed fort that had so much care and detail put into it. It is pretty much like stepping back in time.”

“My volunteer staff are my instructors and they have been doing it, some of them, for twenty or thirty years and they are very well adapted,” praised Holt about the people making the fort come to life every June and September. “Without them it would be impossible to do. They provide the expertise (and) they are very good at what they do. That’s what makes it fun is people learn a whole new part of our history.”

The next living history demonstration at Bent’s Old Fort will be the weekend of September 17-18, where the Santa Fe Trail Encampment will bring the historic fort alive once again.

Tucked away near the small Colorado town of La Junta stands one of the most impressive business enterprises of the early American West. Bent’s Old Fort, as it is called today, was constructed in 1833 on the north bank of the Arkansas River along the famous Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail was a virtual ocean of trade between Mexico and the United States, and the fort was the only civilized structure along the two month journey between Santa Fe, Mexico and St. Louis, Mo., where travelers could refresh themselves and their livestock, repair wagons, and replenish supplies.

Present day visitors can tour the faithfully reconstructed fort and learn its history from National Park Ranger Interpretive Guides, but several weekends this year (June 3-5 and September 17-18) bring its past alive as dozens of teachers, students and re-enactors in period correct clothing bring the fort alive like it is 1846.

“This is a part of our history that people know little about,” said Greg Holt, lead interpreter at Bents Old Fort and the man in charge of special events as well as the living history program. Holt was dressed as a craftsman from the mid-1800s, since he played the role of a blacksmith/carpenter in the June demonstration. “There was a lot of freedom of the west here in this time. A lot of people that had anything to do in the west came through here.”

With about 50 participants teaching and learning their historical roles during June’s living history encampment, it was simple to imagine the fort’s colorful past. All a visitor had to do was look and listen.

“The biggest job is keeping Mr. Bents wagons going,” said Bob Larison, a blacksmith operating the bellows and shaping red-hot metal on an iron anvil while smoke from his fire swirled in a breeze moving in his working space. “If we don’t keep his wagons rolling, then we have a problem because he’s in this whole Indian trade thing to make money. And if we don’t keep his wagons going like he wants, then he loses money. So our main job is keeping his wagons going, whether it’s iron repair or wood repair, we got a carpenter shop next door there and we’ll trade off. Sometimes I’ll be over there and then sometimes they’ll be in here having to work to forge something.”

Finding other occupations of the era was as easy as looking around.

“Trappers (and hunters) are hired by the fort to supply meat for employees,” explained Lloyd Britton, a bearded trapper decked out in leather moccasins, leather breeches, a wide-brimmed hat and rifle. “Trappers and hunters are one and the same, basically. Most of us came west to trap beaver (until) the beaver trade played out and this fort started dealing in buffalo robes.”

“I’m pretty impressed with Bent’s Fort,” said Mike Willis, a Topographical Engineer working with the military to create maps of the western frontier. “I never would have figured something like this out here. We’re mapping the area, we’re laying out some of the trail (and) we’re finding spots where there is water and you can stay.”

“It’s time consuming and it’s all day,” said Kay Erickson of women’s work at the fort, while she cleaned linens using buckets of water and a wooden washboard. “There is no breaks; there is no nothing. But you do have control of the food, so you can do a little bartering,” she revealed about a benefit of working in the kitchen. “Because I just came off the trail, I was able to barter a piece of pie for steel and flint, so I may start my own fires.”

All the bustle of cooking, washing, craftsmanship and trapping was enough to make a visitor wish they’d been born two centuries earlier. After observing the smiling faces of every role player during the June encampment, it was safe to say participants felt much the same way.

“If you don’t have a good time (doing this), you better find something else to do,” laughed John Carson, who was playing the role of a trapper/hunter. Carson is a great grandson of Kit Carson and works as an Interpretive Guide at Bents Old Fort, but he loves the living history encampments when the past comes alive. “These are the best weekends of this job and it’s because of all these guys that come out here,” he continued, motioning his hands to include the numerous role players gathered in their primitive camp by the river. “I learn so much from doing this stuff. It’s kind of hard when you are in the fort (the rest of the year). You can talk about trapping and you can show visitors how to set a trap and that kind of thing, but getting out in the water and saying, nope, do it this way. That kind of thing is what it is all about.”

“Some historians are all book learning but this stuff brings it to life and stimulates your desire to learn more, really” agreed Britton. “I wasn’t that into history in school, but when you can live it, it’s hugely different. I’ve never come across a reconstructed fort that had so much care and detail put into it. It is pretty much like stepping back in time.”

“My volunteer staff are my instructors and they have been doing it, some of them, for twenty or thirty years and they are very well adapted,” praised Holt about the people making the fort come to life every June and September. “Without them it would be impossible to do. They provide the expertise (and) they are very good at what they do. That’s what makes it fun is people learn a whole new part of our history.”

The next living history demonstration at Bent’s Old Fort will be the weekend of September 17-18, where the Santa Fe Trail Encampment will bring the historic fort alive once again.

Tucked away near the small Colorado town of La Junta stands one of the most impressive business enterprises of the early American West. Bent’s Old Fort, as it is called today, was constructed in 1833 on the north bank of the Arkansas River along the famous Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail was a virtual ocean of trade between Mexico and the United States, and the fort was the only civilized structure along the two month journey between Santa Fe, Mexico and St. Louis, Mo., where travelers could refresh themselves and their livestock, repair wagons, and replenish supplies.

Present day visitors can tour the faithfully reconstructed fort and learn its history from National Park Ranger Interpretive Guides, but several weekends this year (June 3-5 and September 17-18) bring its past alive as dozens of teachers, students and re-enactors in period correct clothing bring the fort alive like it is 1846.

“This is a part of our history that people know little about,” said Greg Holt, lead interpreter at Bents Old Fort and the man in charge of special events as well as the living history program. Holt was dressed as a craftsman from the mid-1800s, since he played the role of a blacksmith/carpenter in the June demonstration. “There was a lot of freedom of the west here in this time. A lot of people that had anything to do in the west came through here.”

With about 50 participants teaching and learning their historical roles during June’s living history encampment, it was simple to imagine the fort’s colorful past. All a visitor had to do was look and listen.

“The biggest job is keeping Mr. Bents wagons going,” said Bob Larison, a blacksmith operating the bellows and shaping red-hot metal on an iron anvil while smoke from his fire swirled in a breeze moving in his working space. “If we don’t keep his wagons rolling, then we have a problem because he’s in this whole Indian trade thing to make money. And if we don’t keep his wagons going like he wants, then he loses money. So our main job is keeping his wagons going, whether it’s iron repair or wood repair, we got a carpenter shop next door there and we’ll trade off. Sometimes I’ll be over there and then sometimes they’ll be in here having to work to forge something.”

Finding other occupations of the era was as easy as looking around.

“Trappers (and hunters) are hired by the fort to supply meat for employees,” explained Lloyd Britton, a bearded trapper decked out in leather moccasins, leather breeches, a wide-brimmed hat and rifle. “Trappers and hunters are one and the same, basically. Most of us came west to trap beaver (until) the beaver trade played out and this fort started dealing in buffalo robes.”

“I’m pretty impressed with Bent’s Fort,” said Mike Willis, a Topographical Engineer working with the military to create maps of the western frontier. “I never would have figured something like this out here. We’re mapping the area, we’re laying out some of the trail (and) we’re finding spots where there is water and you can stay.”

“It’s time consuming and it’s all day,” said Kay Erickson of women’s work at the fort, while she cleaned linens using buckets of water and a wooden washboard. “There is no breaks; there is no nothing. But you do have control of the food, so you can do a little bartering,” she revealed about a benefit of working in the kitchen. “Because I just came off the trail, I was able to barter a piece of pie for steel and flint, so I may start my own fires.”

All the bustle of cooking, washing, craftsmanship and trapping was enough to make a visitor wish they’d been born two centuries earlier. After observing the smiling faces of every role player during the June encampment, it was safe to say participants felt much the same way.

“If you don’t have a good time (doing this), you better find something else to do,” laughed John Carson, who was playing the role of a trapper/hunter. Carson is a great grandson of Kit Carson and works as an Interpretive Guide at Bents Old Fort, but he loves the living history encampments when the past comes alive. “These are the best weekends of this job and it’s because of all these guys that come out here,” he continued, motioning his hands to include the numerous role players gathered in their primitive camp by the river. “I learn so much from doing this stuff. It’s kind of hard when you are in the fort (the rest of the year). You can talk about trapping and you can show visitors how to set a trap and that kind of thing, but getting out in the water and saying, nope, do it this way. That kind of thing is what it is all about.”

“Some historians are all book learning but this stuff brings it to life and stimulates your desire to learn more, really” agreed Britton. “I wasn’t that into history in school, but when you can live it, it’s hugely different. I’ve never come across a reconstructed fort that had so much care and detail put into it. It is pretty much like stepping back in time.”

“My volunteer staff are my instructors and they have been doing it, some of them, for twenty or thirty years and they are very well adapted,” praised Holt about the people making the fort come to life every June and September. “Without them it would be impossible to do. They provide the expertise (and) they are very good at what they do. That’s what makes it fun is people learn a whole new part of our history.”

The next living history demonstration at Bent’s Old Fort will be the weekend of September 17-18, where the Santa Fe Trail Encampment will bring the historic fort alive once again.

Tucked away near the small Colorado town of La Junta stands one of the most impressive business enterprises of the early American West. Bent’s Old Fort, as it is called today, was constructed in 1833 on the north bank of the Arkansas River along the famous Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail was a virtual ocean of trade between Mexico and the United States, and the fort was the only civilized structure along the two month journey between Santa Fe, Mexico and St. Louis, Mo., where travelers could refresh themselves and their livestock, repair wagons, and replenish supplies.

Present day visitors can tour the faithfully reconstructed fort and learn its history from National Park Ranger Interpretive Guides, but several weekends this year (June 3-5 and September 17-18) bring its past alive as dozens of teachers, students and re-enactors in period correct clothing bring the fort alive like it is 1846.

“This is a part of our history that people know little about,” said Greg Holt, lead interpreter at Bents Old Fort and the man in charge of special events as well as the living history program. Holt was dressed as a craftsman from the mid-1800s, since he played the role of a blacksmith/carpenter in the June demonstration. “There was a lot of freedom of the west here in this time. A lot of people that had anything to do in the west came through here.”

With about 50 participants teaching and learning their historical roles during June’s living history encampment, it was simple to imagine the fort’s colorful past. All a visitor had to do was look and listen.

“The biggest job is keeping Mr. Bents wagons going,” said Bob Larison, a blacksmith operating the bellows and shaping red-hot metal on an iron anvil while smoke from his fire swirled in a breeze moving in his working space. “If we don’t keep his wagons rolling, then we have a problem because he’s in this whole Indian trade thing to make money. And if we don’t keep his wagons going like he wants, then he loses money. So our main job is keeping his wagons going, whether it’s iron repair or wood repair, we got a carpenter shop next door there and we’ll trade off. Sometimes I’ll be over there and then sometimes they’ll be in here having to work to forge something.”

Finding other occupations of the era was as easy as looking around.

“Trappers (and hunters) are hired by the fort to supply meat for employees,” explained Lloyd Britton, a bearded trapper decked out in leather moccasins, leather breeches, a wide-brimmed hat and rifle. “Trappers and hunters are one and the same, basically. Most of us came west to trap beaver (until) the beaver trade played out and this fort started dealing in buffalo robes.”

“I’m pretty impressed with Bent’s Fort,” said Mike Willis, a Topographical Engineer working with the military to create maps of the western frontier. “I never would have figured something like this out here. We’re mapping the area, we’re laying out some of the trail (and) we’re finding spots where there is water and you can stay.”

“It’s time consuming and it’s all day,” said Kay Erickson of women’s work at the fort, while she cleaned linens using buckets of water and a wooden washboard. “There is no breaks; there is no nothing. But you do have control of the food, so you can do a little bartering,” she revealed about a benefit of working in the kitchen. “Because I just came off the trail, I was able to barter a piece of pie for steel and flint, so I may start my own fires.”

All the bustle of cooking, washing, craftsmanship and trapping was enough to make a visitor wish they’d been born two centuries earlier. After observing the smiling faces of every role player during the June encampment, it was safe to say participants felt much the same way.

“If you don’t have a good time (doing this), you better find something else to do,” laughed John Carson, who was playing the role of a trapper/hunter. Carson is a great grandson of Kit Carson and works as an Interpretive Guide at Bents Old Fort, but he loves the living history encampments when the past comes alive. “These are the best weekends of this job and it’s because of all these guys that come out here,” he continued, motioning his hands to include the numerous role players gathered in their primitive camp by the river. “I learn so much from doing this stuff. It’s kind of hard when you are in the fort (the rest of the year). You can talk about trapping and you can show visitors how to set a trap and that kind of thing, but getting out in the water and saying, nope, do it this way. That kind of thing is what it is all about.”

“Some historians are all book learning but this stuff brings it to life and stimulates your desire to learn more, really” agreed Britton. “I wasn’t that into history in school, but when you can live it, it’s hugely different. I’ve never come across a reconstructed fort that had so much care and detail put into it. It is pretty much like stepping back in time.”

“My volunteer staff are my instructors and they have been doing it, some of them, for twenty or thirty years and they are very well adapted,” praised Holt about the people making the fort come to life every June and September. “Without them it would be impossible to do. They provide the expertise (and) they are very good at what they do. That’s what makes it fun is people learn a whole new part of our history.”

The next living history demonstration at Bent’s Old Fort will be the weekend of September 17-18, where the Santa Fe Trail Encampment will bring the historic fort alive once again.