Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site – August 25th, 2020

On our way from John Martin Reservoir to Cheyenne Mountain State Park, we stopped to check out Boggsville Historic Site and Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site. History comes alive when you can walk among the historic artifacts and envision what life was like long ago.

Boggsville Historic Site is just two miles south of Las Animas on Colorado 101. Boggsville was one of the first non-military settlements in southeastern Colorado. It was originally on the banks of the Purgatoire River, founded in the 1860’s, along the Santa Fe Trail. The Purgatoire River has since changed its course and now flows about half a mile to the east. The historic site has restored two of the houses, Thomas Boggs House and John Prowers House. The houses are open from 11 am to 3 pm Tuesday through Saturday. We were there about half an hour before they opened, but we were able to peer in through the windows.

There are also some farm implements on display on the grounds. There are informational signs around the property so we felt we gained a good understanding of the town and history. However, we’re sure it would have been better to be there when there is a knowledgeable person who can explain things and answer questions. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged.

From there, we headed over to Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site. It is just half an hour to the west from Boggsville along Colorado 194. Bent’s Old Fort is a reconstructed adobe fort which was originally built in 1833. The histories of Bent’s Old Fort and Boggsville are intertwined, as they both were along the Santa Fe Trail during roughly the same time period. Bent’s Old Fort is along the Arkansas River which, at that time, was the border between the U.S. and Mexico. The fort was a trading post, not a military fort.

The ranger at the gate when we arrived was dressed in period clothing and was chopping wood kindling. He was a great character and chatted with us for a few minutes before explaining how the self-guided tour was set up. Most of the rooms of the fort were furnished with period articles to provide the visitor with a good sense of what life at the fort was like back in its heyday. There were peacocks and chickens running freely around the courtyard. There is a blacksmith shop, a woodworking shop, a kitchen, a well, living quarters, storage, a trading room, and a billiard room. We have been to Bent’s Fort a couple of times before when the kids were young. Since it seemed odd to us that there would be a billiard room in the fort, it is the one thing we remembered the most.

Out back are the walled in barnyards for the horses and cattle. Cactus is growing along the tops of the barnyard walls. This was authentic to the time period and done to discourage people from climbing over the walls to steal the horses. We noticed how cool the rooms felt due to the thick adobe walls despite the hot outside temperatures in the 100’s. We finished our tour by watching the nice documentary film about the fort showing in one of the corner rooms.

Museums are not high on our list of places to visit, with items on display indoors in isolation. However, being able to step inside a whole setting from the past is much more to our liking. The staff at Bent’s Old Fort, dressed in period clothing and playing roles as if we were back in history, made the experience all that more enjoyable. What historic sites do you like to visit?

Check out our related video: Bent’s Old Fort NHS

(RB)