I had hoped to provide a few tales and ghost towns this week, but instead I am providing towns identified as ghost towns and the history that goes with them. This bit of history is part of the history that helped carve out the Southwest. If you like history, even a small amount of it, then I think you’ll enjoy this weekend’s adventure.
My bride and I headed south to Pueblo, CO where we picked up Hwy 50 and took it east. Now, in our past adventures, the road always led us west into the hills or mountains where the climate was pleasant or a little cool. Not so much this time. Eastward took us lower in altitude than we had been in some time, but eastward we went. We traveled through Manzanola, Rocky Ford, Swink, and La Junta before reaching our first destination, Fort Bent.
And so the history goes…
In 1833, William and Charles Bent, along with Ceran St. Vrain, built the original Fort Bent to trade with plains Indians and trappers. The adobe fort quickly became the center of the Bent, St.Vrain Company’s expanding trade empire that included Fort St.Vrain to the north and Fort Adobe to the south, along with company stores in Mexico at Taos and Santa Fe. The primary trade was with the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians for buffalo robes.
The fort solidified one of the most important and last established trading cartels in the Rocky Mountain west. Fort Bent was an important point of commercial, social, military, and cultural contact between Anglo-American, American Indian, Hispanic, and various minority cultures on the border of United States Territory. The fort served as a point of exchange for trappers from the southern Rocky Mountains, travelers from Missouri and the east, Hispanic traders from Mexico, and Indians, primarily from the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, and Kiowa Tribes.
For much of its 16-year history, the fort was the only major permanent white settlement on the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and the Mexican settlements. The fort provided explorers, adventurers, and the U.S. Army a place to get needed supplies, wagon repairs, livestock, good food, water and company, rest and protection in this vast “Great American Desert.” During the war with Mexico in 1846, the fort became a staging area for Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny’s “Army of the West.”
In 1849 when a great cholera epidemic struck the Oklahoma and other plains Indians, William Bent abandoned the fort and moved his headquarters north to Fort Saint Vrain on the South Platte. When he returned south in 1852, after salvaging what he could, he burned the fort and relocated his trading business to his log trading post at Big Timbers, near what is now Lamar, Colorado. In the fall of 1853, Bent began building a stone fort on the bluff above Big Timbers, Bent’s New Fort, where he conducted his trading business until 1860 when the building was leased to the United States government and renamed Fort Wise. It was there that the Treaty of Fort Wise was signed on February 18, 1861 by the United States and a few Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs.
A little bit of gee whiz for you, the first white woman didn’t arrive at Fort Bent until 1846, 13 years after its establishment. Unlike the Oregon Trail, the Santa Fe Trail was basically a freight road, men driving freight wagons. That started to change after the Mexican War when New Mexico became U.S. territory. Charles Bent was the first governor of New Mexico.
After learning what we could about Fort Bent, we continued eastward to Las Animas to find Boggsville. Boggsville seemed the logical place to go next since the Bent’s had gone in this direction, as did the traders and trappers. When we arrived, after seeing Fort Bent, we were a bit underwhelmed. But, since we were tracing the fort’s history, Boggsville had to be sought out.
Boggsville is located where the Arkansas and Purgatory rivers join two miles south of present-day Las Animas. Founder Thomas O. Boggs (a great-grandson of Daniel Boone and son of then-Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs) took the Santa Fe Trail as far as Fort Bent and worked for the Bent brothers for 19 years. He and his Mexican wife, Rumalda, stepdaughter of Charles Bent, moved to their own place in 1862 just south of a ranch that William Bent had established in 1858.
Boggsville was founded in 1862 by Thomas O. Boggs (a great-grandson of Daniel Boone and son of then-Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs) and his wife Rumalda Luna Bent, the stepdaughter of Charles Bent. Boggsville was located where the Arkansas and Purgatory rivers join two miles south of present-day Las Animas. William Bent lived on his ranch located north of Boggsville that he established in 1858. In 1867 Boggs was joined by John Prowers and his brother-in-law, John Hough. Both Boggs and Prowers worked for the Bent brothers and Ceran St. Vrain in their trading enterprises at Bent’s Old Fort and in Taos, New Mexico. In 1867, the famous frontiersman, Kit Carson moved to Boggsville, which was his last home before he died in 1868 at Fort Lyon.
The diverse cultural groups that comprised Boggsville included Americans, New Mexicans, Native Americans. As a major site on the Boggsville Branch of the Santa Fe Trail during the 1860’s, Boggsville served as the nucleus of permanent settlement of the Arkansas Valley and southeastern Colorado. Between 1863 and 1873, Boggsville became the regional center for agriculture, government (it was the first county seat of Bent County created in 1870 in the Colorado Territory and encompassed approximately 9,000 square miles. Boggsville had a trading house and a stage stop and also had the first school in Bent County.
I wish there was more Boggsville than there is now, but it only had 20 structures in its prime. Boggsville was known for one other thing, the modern restroom. It’s true, in 1864 Boggs coined the name “restroom” and here is the proof:
Ok, maybe Boggs didn’t come up with restroom, but I had to throw that picture in since it was on the property.
With the temperatures in the mid-90s and hunger begging our attention, we decided to head for higher ground. We traveled the road from whence we came to Pueblo, and then on to our humble abode in Colorado Springs. Ah, altitude and cooler temps. Now let’s get something to eat.
Until next time, cheers…