If you wanted to buy a new toy, where would you go?
Once upon a fleeting time, two brothers named Charles and William Bent wanted to trade possessions and send supplies to other towns. Today we go to big stores to buy things like books, food, blankets and stuffed animals. It wasn’t like that with mountain men and women!
Money and cards buy things but mountain folk traded gold and silver to get what they needed. They even traded their belongings like food, pelts and blankets.
Instead of cars or trucks, the Bent brothers used covered wagons pulled by horses to carry things for trade. They didn’t have nicely paved roads! They followed a dusty path called The Santa Fe Trail.
Long days passed under the hot western sun and they made their first trade with The Native Americans who brought buffalo robes. They traded pots, pans, clothes, and tools. They even got to see clothes made out of feathers, beads and hides.
During their travels, they became friends with a mountain man named Ceran St. Vrain. Together, they created the Bent, St. Vrain Company.
After trading with local Native Americans, this gave the Bent brothers and Vrain an idea! Why don’t they build a place where people from all over could come and trade their things? In 1833, they built Bent’s Fort right on the southeast plains of Colorado in La Junta.
Mr. Vrain was in charge of moving supplies from other towns like Taos and Santa Fe to Bent’s Fort. He sent pelts, hides, and buffalo robes. He helped Bent’s Fort trade things from all over the world.
Supplies from far off places like Europe and China came by ship. Those supplies were put onto wagons to make their way by trails from Missouri to what is now Colorado and New Mexico.
People who spoke Russian, Spanish, German, Apache, and many more languages came with their belongings to trade. If you couldn’t speak their language, you would use hand gestures instead!
Everyone who traded at Bent’s Fort was friendly with each other no matter their heritage. It was a safe place to stay and gather supplies like a pit stop for travelers.
Bent’s Fort had a well with fresh water, a council room to confirm trades, a blacksmith to make horseshoes and wheels and a carpenter’s shop to repair wagons.
The general store was the most popular! It had items like coffee, chocolate, tea, corn and items from around the world.
What would you bring to Bent’s Fort to trade? Maybe woven blankets, glass beads, cloth, iron pots or tools? Imagine trying to cook dinner in a basket of clay instead of on a pan! The Native Americans traded for iron pots to make it easier to cook.
Bent’s Fort was the largest structure in the West. It was the most successful trading post during it’s time. Instead of going somewhere to buy a new toy, maybe you can trade with a friend or family member just like they used to in 1833.