The History of The Fort
It all began in 1961 when my mother, “Bay” (Elizabeth Arnold) wanted to build an adobe style home in the country outside of Denver, so my brother, Keith, and I could grow up in the country with clean air, horseback riding and fishing. My father (Sam’l P. Arnold) and mother were amateur historians. Bay was reading a book about Bent’s Fort, a famous Colorado fur trade fort built in 1833, and saw a drawing in the book of this adobe castle on the plains. She turned to Sam’l and said, “Let’s build an adobe castle like this!” At this time, they discovered this beautiful red rock property that was for sale and bought it in 1961.
They hired William Lumpkins, the top architect in adobe construction from Santa Fe, and he hired a contractor from Taos, New Mexico. With the help of 22 men, we puddled over 80,000 mud and straw bricks, weighing 40 pounds each, to construct the main building. When the costs of construction exceeded the budget, the bank suggested that we put a business in the historic “Fort” we had built as our home. Sam’l turned to Bay and said, “You can cook!” and then she said to Sam’l, “Well, you can cook!” They had Lumpkins redesign the lower level to be the restaurant and the upper level as our living quarters. All the furniture, gates, doors and chairs were hand carved by Taos artists in the same style as they were in 1833. The Fort restaurant opened for business in February 1963.
That same year, we adopted a Canadian black bear cub named “Sissy” who lived at The Fort for 19 years. She was my pet bear, and died of old age. There are many stories and photos of Sissy bear at the Fort. Today, our offices are on the upper level where we lived when I was a little girl.
What to serve in our Fort? Bay and Sam’l started researching the diaries of what the pioneers ate along the Santa Fe Trail, what the mountain men ate, and the cuisines of the native Indian tribes. As Bent’s Fort was originally located on the border of Old Mexico and U.S. territory (present day La Junta in Southeastern Colorado), the culinary influences of the Mexican and Spanish traders were also part of this amazing “fusion” cuisine served at Bent’s Fort. My father’s research for his cookbook, Eating Up the Santa Fe Trail, was the inspiration for our menu. The Fort’s staples have always been buffalo, elk and quail. Today we serve over 80,000 entrees of buffalo annually.
The Native Americans ate all parts of the buffalo including the bone marrow (Julia Child’s favorite), tongue, and Rocky Mountain oysters. Try them! You’ll like them! The Hailstorm was the first Colorado cocktail served in 1833 at Bent’s Fort. It is our signature drink today.
By exploring our rich Western cultural and culinary past, we reintroduce food trends of the 1800’s, which create current trends of their own. Executive Chef Geoffrey continues to be inspired by historic recipes and introduce new items to our menu such as the buffalo empanadas…delicious like the first kiss!
The word “restaurant” means to restore. Let us restore your soul as well as your stomach! A Hearty Welcome to my home. WAUGH! (Mountain Man lingo for “Right On!”)
– Holly Arnold Kinney, Proprietress