Carpenters, blacksmiths and trappers, oh my! This past March, “Frontier Skills Day” at Bent’s Old Fort invited visitors to step back in time more than 180 years, and live a day as frontiersmen through an immersive role-play experience. Hosted by the National Park Service, the March 19 event put visitors to the test with survival activities such as adobe brick-making, frontier cooking, fur trading and learning Indian sign language.
“Frontier Skills Day” reenacted the bustling life of the historic fort, and gave visitors access to the roles that made settlement along the Santa Fe Trail possible. Hunters and fur trappers were essential to the outpost, bringing food and pelts to keep the rich fur trade thriving. Indian interpreters maintained communication with surrounding Indian tribes, while frontier cooks, blacksmiths, soldiers and domestics allowed the fort to operate as a city unto itself.
Originally built in 1833 as a trade outpost in Otero County, Colo., Bent’s Old Fort was an important midpoint between Missouri and Mexican settlements. Known as the “Castle of the Plains,” it became a hub of commerce and trade. After being destroyed in the late 1800s, Bent’s Old Fort was rebuilt by the National Park Service, and designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1976—14 years after The Fort’s founder, Sam Arnold, built the first authentic replica, The Fort Restaurant. In fact, Sam Arnold consulted the NPS on the construction of the replica that stands today in Otero County. William Lumpkins, The Fort’s famous architect from Santa Fe, developed the first blue prints of Bent’s Old Fort from the excavations on the original site.
The Fort Restaurant was built in 1962 to preserve and share the important history of the fort, fur trapping and the west. It was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 2006. With trading rooms, traditional living quarters, and a menu inspired by authentic old west fare, The Fort brings the history of Bent’s Old Fort to life—and was the model for the 1976 restoration of Bent’s Old Fort.
Today, Bent’s Old Fort historians and interpreters work closely with the Tesoro Cultural Center and The Fort to educate the public about Bent’s Old Fort history, and the many cultures that lived, and did business at the fort! In fact, every 4th grader in Colorado learns about Bent’s Old Fort as an important part of their Colorado History curriculum. Through the Tesoro Cultural center, The Fort welcomes school groups and tours, and even has traditional Mountain Men who educate and entertain with true tales and historical facts from the frontier.
For more information about events at Bent’s Old Fort, visit http://1.usa.gov/1RkwHUk. In the meantime, join us at The Fort Restaurant for a taste and trip back in time!