Living History

Situated a stone’s throw from La Junta, out on the eastern plains, Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site isn’t what you’d call a famous destination, but its value as a swatch of Western history can’t be denied. That’s why then-president Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the attraction, located on the site the original nineteenth-century trading post that was the main settlement on the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and the Mexican settlements of the southwest, into the National Park System fifty years ago this week.

To celebrate that designation, the public is invited to the Bent's Old Fort 50th Anniversary Celebration, a two-day historical fandango with reenactors, a film night, lectures, Indian dancing and cannon salutes galore.

“Bent’s Old Fort was set aside as park in 1960 in order to commemorate such posts and the part they played in the development of the West,” says fort head interpreter Rick Wallner. “There was not a whole lot here then, just a mound of adobe dirt, but after the park was established, there was an extensive archaeological excavation to recover the foundation layout.” From those plans, the present-day fort was reconstructed in 1975.

“Now we have it looking as much as we can as it looked in 1840s,” Wallner adds.

Have a gander this weekend: Public events begin today at 3 p.m. at the Koshare Indian Museum in La Junta with talks on the area’s Indian and Hispanic pre-history and a Bent’s Fort at the Movies night, featuring films shot at the site. Tomorrow, the action shifts to Bent’s Fort, where a contingent of trappers will ride in from La Junta in the morning to kick off a full day of activities. Then it’s back to town for an evening banquet with live music (tickets are $19.60; reserve by calling 719-383-5010), with a fandango at the fort afterward. “It will probably be the busiest day at the fort since the dedication of the reconstruction in 1976,” Wallner quips.

With the exception of the optional banquet, all events are free; go to www.nps.gov/beol for information. Bent’s Fort is at 35110 Highway 194 East, east of La Junta.
June 4-5, 2010