"Within a days’ travel or so of Bent’s Fort…we arrived at the promisedland known to traders as
‘Big Timber’ for rest and refreshment. A thick forest of venerable trees sheltered us from the heat,
and beneath them wandered a stream cool with the mountain snow."
— Matt Field at Big Timber on the Arkansas River, 1839
History of the Bent's Fort Chapter
Colorado’s only Santa Fe Trail Chapter, the Bent’s Fort Chapter includes the Santa Fe Trail from the Kansas/Colorado border to the Colorado/New Mexico border. The chapter focuses on the history of the Santa Fe Trail and the branches in Baca, Bent, Las Animas, Otero and Prowers counties of southeastern Colorado. The Mountain Route, the Purgatoire Stage Route, the Granada-Fort Union Military Freight Route, the Aubrey Cutoff and a portion of the Cimarron Branch traverse the region. Chapter activities include trail treks, lectures, and museum tours that enable trail enthusiasts to share information and learn more about the international, national, state and local significance of the trail. Chapter projects include bi-monthly meetings, research, trail marker placements, trail preservation, restoration and a quarterly newsletter.
The Santa Fe Trail in Colorado
After Mexican independence in 1821, American and Mexican traders developed the Santa Fe Trail. It quickly became a commercial and cultural link between the United States and Mexico. It also served as a road of conquest during the Mexican War, and later the Civil War. After the completion of the Santa Fe Railroad to Santa Fe in 1880, the trail was abandoned as a national route.
Bent’s Old Fort
In 1833 William and Charles Bent and Ceran St. Vrain, operating as Bent, St. Vrain and Company, built Bent’s Fort on the north bank of the Arkansas River. Business consisted of trading buffalo robes, furs, and horses with the Native Americans and importing Euroamerican trade goods to New Mexico. The Fort was an important outpost of American commerce along the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail. The Fort was reconstructed in the 1970s and is operated as Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site by the National Park Service.
Bent’s New Fort/Fort Wise (Old Fort Lyon)
William Bent established his new fort at Big Timbers on a bluff overlooking the Arkansas River in the early 1850s. Bent leased the Fort to the U.S. Military in 1860. Bent’s New Fort was used as the Upper Arkansas Indian Agency and Commissary for Fort Wise. The site is privately owned and permission is required prior to visiting.
Fort Wise was built in 1860 west of Bent’s New Fort. It was named for Henry Wise, governor of Virginia. In 1861, the name was changed to Fort Lyon in honor of General Nathaniel Lyon, killed at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in Missouri on August 10, 1861. Fort Wise/Lyon served as an important military link on the Santa Fe Trail between Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and Fort Union in New Mexico. Due to its location in the Arkansas River flood plain and subsequent flooding, the fort was moved to its present location east of Las Animas in 1867. The property is privately owned and permission is required prior to visiting.
Boggsville Historic Site
Boggsville was founded in 1862 on the west bank of the Purgatoire River. It was located 3 miles from new Fort Lyon. It was built on 2,040 acres originally a part of the four million acre 1843 Vigil-St. Vrain, or Las Animas, Mexican Land Grant comprising most of southeastern Colorado. It served as a center of commerce, agriculture between 1867 and 1873, and was the first county seat of Bent County. It was the home of Thomas and Rumalda (Luna) Boggs, John W. and Amache (Ochinee) Powers and Kit and Josepha (Jaramillo) Carson. Boggsville Historic Site is a property of the Pioneer Historical Society of Bent County, a non-profit corporation.
Las Animas City
Las Animas City was the first town in southeastern Colorado and was located on the Arkansas River across from Fort Lyon. It served as the home station for the Barlow and Sanderson Stage Company and later became the county seat for Bent County. It was abandoned after 1873 when the Kansas Pacific Railroad built present-day Las Animas. The site is under the administration of the Corps of Engineers, John Martin Reservoir and permission is necessary to access the site.
Location and Directions
The Granada-Fort Union Military Freight Route
The Granada-Fort Union Military Route left the main trail at Old Granada and traversed southwest through today’s Prowers, Baca and Las Animas counties to New Mexico.
Stagecoach Routes on the Santa Fe Trail
The early stagecoach routes followed the Santa Fe Trail and in 1860 the Denver and Santa Fe Line used the earlier abandoned Bent’s Old Fort for a stage stop. Other stations were located at Iron Spring, Hold-in-the-Rock, and Hole-in-the-Prairie. In 1867, Barlow and Sanderson took over the route and began to establish new stations in the Purgatoire River Valley. These include the Vogel Canyon, Bent Canyon, Lockwood Canyon, and the Hogback stations. The route had stations at Las Animas City, Boggsville, Vogel Canyon and el Moro in Southern Colorado. Stagecoach ruts and more of Colorado’s rugged beauty can be seen at Vogel, Purgatoire and Carrizo Canyons along Colorado 109 from La Junta or Highway 287 from Springfield, Colorado.
Driving the Mountain Branch
The Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail through Colorado closely parallels U.S. Highway 50 and Colorado 350 and I-25. Communities along the route include
A few of the many sites of interest along the Santa Fe Trail within the Bent's Fort Chapter Area.
View planned chapter events and read all about our chapter in our latest chapter newsletter.
Recent Chapter Activities
The Bent's Fort Chapter has been busy touring historic sites, marking the trail with limestone posts, and having a good time getting together with other folks who enjoy the history and culture of Southeastern Colorado. Here are some photos of some of our recent activities.
If you're interested in the Santa Fe Trail, the Bent's Fort Chapter would love to have you as a member. Just click the link below to download a membership form.
Art Source: The painting featured at the top of this page was done by artist and SFTA member Doug Holdread.
Visit Doug's Website, www.holdread.com. The photo of the wagon at the top of this page was taken by Ron Dulle, www.rondulleimages.com.