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BENT'S FORTS.
 
 
 
 The famous Bent brothers, William, George, Robert, and Charles, were
 French-Canadian hunters and trappers, and had been employed almost
 from boyhood, in the early days of the border, by the American Fur
 Company in the mountains of the Northwest.
 
 In 1826, almost immediately after the transference of the fur trade
 to the valley of the Arkansas, when the commerce of the prairies
 was fairly initiated, the three Bents and Ceran St. Vrain, also a
 French-Canadian and trapper, settled on the Upper Arkansas, where
 they erected a stockade.  It was, of course, a rude affair, formed of
 long stakes or pickets driven into the ground, after the Mexican
 style known as jacal.  The sides were then ceiled and roofed, and
 it served its purpose of a trading-post.  This primitive fort was
 situated on the left or north bank of the river, about halfway between
 Pueblo and Canyon City, those beautiful mountain towns of to-day.
 
 Two years afterward, in 1828, the proprietors of the primitive
 stockade in the remote wilderness found it necessary to move closer
 to the great hunting-grounds lower down the valley.  There, about
 twelve miles northeast of the now thriving town of Las Animas,
 the Bents commenced the construction of a relatively large and more
 imposing-looking structure than the first.  The principal material
 used in the new building, or rather in its walls, was adobe, or
 sun-dried brick, so common even to-day in New Mexican architecture.
 Four years elapsed before the new fort was completed, during which
 period its owners, like other trappers, lived in tents or teepees
 fashioned of buffalo-skins, after the manner of the Indians.
 
 When at last the new station was completed, it was named Fort William,
 in honour of Colonel William Bent, who was the leader of the family
 and the most active trader among the four partners in the concern.
 The colonel frequently made long trips to the remote villages of the
 Arapahoes, Cheyennes, Kiowas, and Comanches, which were situated far
 to the south and east, on the Canadian River and its large tributaries.
 His miscellaneous assortment of merchandise he transported upon
 pack-mules to the Indian rendezvous, bringing back to the fort the
 valuable furs he had exchanged for the goods so eagerly coveted by
 the savages.  It was while on one of his trading expeditions to the
 Cheyenne nation that the colonel married a young squaw of that tribe,
 the daughter of the principal chief.
 
 William Bent for his day and time was an exceptionally good man.
 His integrity, his truthfulness on all occasions, and his remarkable
 courage endeared him to the red and white man alike, and Fort William
 prospered wonderfully under his careful and just management.  Both
 his brothers and St. Vrain had taken up their residence in Taos, and
 upon the colonel devolved the entire charge of the busy establishment.
 It soon became the most popular rendezvous of the mountaineers and
 trappers, and in its immediate vicinity several tribes of Indians
 took up their temporary encampment.
 
 In 1852 Fort William was destroyed under the following strange
 circumstances: It appears that the United States desired to purchase
 it.  Colonel Bent had decided upon a price--sixteen thousand dollars--
 but the representatives of the War Department offered only twelve
 thousand, which, of course, Bent refused.  Negotiations were still
 pending, when the colonel, growing tired of the red-tape and
 circumlocution of the authorities, and while in a mad mood, removed
 all his valuables from the structure, excepting some barrels of
 gunpowder, and then deliberately set fire to the old landmark.
 When the flames reached the powder, there was an explosion which
 threw down portions of the walls, but did not wholly destroy them.
 The remains of the once noted buildings stand to-day, melancholy
 relics of a past epoch.
 
 In the same year the indefatigable and indomitable colonel determined
 upon erecting a much more important structure.  He selected a site
 on the same side of the Arkansas, in the locality known as Big Timbers.
 Regarding this new venture, Colonel or Judge Moore of Las Animas,
 a son-in-law of William Bent, tells in a letter to the author of
 the history of Colorado the following facts:--
 
           Leaving ten men in camp to get out stone for the new post,
           Colonel Bent took a part of his outfit and went to a Kiowa
           village, about two hundred miles southwest, and remained
           there all winter, trading with the Kiowas and Comanches.
           In the spring of 1853 he returned to Big Timbers, when
           the construction of the new post was begun, and the work
           continued until completed in the summer of 1854; and it
           was used as a trading-post until the owner leased it to
           the government in the autumn of 1859.  Colonel Sedgwick had
           been sent out to fight the Kiowas that year, and in the fall
           a large quantity of commissary stores had been sent him.
           Colonel Bent then moved up the river to a point just above
           the mouth of the Purgatoire, and built several rooms of
           cottonwood pickets, and there spent the winter.  In the
           spring of 1860, Colonel Sedgwick began the construction of
           officers' buildings, company quarters, corrals, and stables,
           all of stone, and named the place Fort Wise, in honour of
           Governor Wise of Virginia.  In 1861 the name was changed to
           Fort Lyon, in honour of General Lyon, who was killed at the
           battle of Wilson Creek, Missouri.  In the spring of 1866,
           the Arkansas River overflowed its banks, swept up into the
           fort, and, undermining the walls, rendered it untenable for
           military purposes.  The camp was moved to a point twenty
           miles below, and the new Fort Lyon established.  The old
           post was repaired, and used as a stage station by Barlow,
           Sanderson, and Company, who ran a mail, express, and
           passenger line between Kansas City and Santa Fe.
 
 The contiguous region to Fort William was in the early days a famous
 hunting-ground.  It abounded in nearly every variety of animal
 indigenous to the mountains and plains, among which were the panther
 --the so-called California lion of to-day--the lynx, erroneously termed
 wild cat, white wolf, prairie wolf, silver-gray fox, prairie fox,
 antelope, buffalo, gray, grizzly and cinnamon bears, together with
 the common brown and black species, the red deer and the black-tail,
 the latter the finest venison in the world.  Of birds there were
 wild turkeys, quail, and grouse, besides an endless variety of the
 smaller-sized families, not regarded as belonging to the domain of
 game in a hunter's sense.  It was a veritable paradise, too, for the
 trappers.  Its numerous streams and creeks were famous for beaver,
 otter, and mink.
 
 Scarcely an acre of the surrounding area within the radius of
 hundreds of miles but has been the scene of many deadly encounters
 with the wily red man, stories of which are still current among the
 few old mountaineers yet living.
 
 The fort was six hundred and fifty miles west of Fort Leavenworth,
 in latitude thirty-eight degrees and two minutes north, and longitude
 one hundred and three degrees and three minutes west, from Greenwich.
 The exterior walls of the fort, whose figure was that of a parallelogram,
 were fifteen feet high and four feet thick.  It was a hundred and
 thirty-five feet wide and divided into various compartments.  On the
 northwest and southeast corners were hexagonal bastions, in which
 were mounted a number of cannon.  The walls of the building served
 as the walls of the rooms, all of which faced inwards on a plaza,
 after the general style of Mexican architecture.  The roofs of the
 rooms were made of poles, on which was a heavy layer of dirt, as in
 the houses of native Mexicans to-day.  The fort possessed a billiard
 table, that visitors might amuse themselves, and in the office was
 a small telescope with a fair range of seven miles.
 
 The occupants of the far-away establishment, in its palmy days
 (for years it was the only building between Council Grove and the
 mountains), were traders, Indians, hunters, and French trappers,
 who were the employees of the great fur companies.  Many of the latter
 had Indian wives.  Later, after a stage line had been put in operation
 across the plains to Santa Fe, the fort was relegated to a mere
 station for the overland route, and with the march of civilization
 in its course westward, the trappers, hunters, and traders vanished
 from the once famous rendezvous.
 
 The walls were loopholed for musketry, and the entrance to the plaza,
 or corral, was guarded by large wooden gates.  During the war with
 Mexico, the fort was headquarters for the commissary department,
 and many supplies were stored there, though the troops camped below
 on the beautiful river-bottom.  In the centre of the corral, in the
 early days when the place was a rendezvous of the trappers, a large
 buffalo-robe press was erected.  When the writer first saw the famous
 fort, now over a third of a century ago, one of the cannon, that
 burst in firing a salute to General Kearney, could be seen half
 buried in the dirt of the plaza.
 
 By barometrical measurements taken by the engineer officers of the
 army at different times, the height of Bent's Fort above the ocean
 level is approximately eight thousand nine hundred and fifty-eight
 feet, and the fall of the Arkansas River from the fort to the great
 bend of that stream, about three hundred and eleven miles east,
 is seven feet and four-tenths per mile.
 
 It was in a relatively fair state of preservation thirty-three years
 ago, but now not a vestige of it remains, excepting perhaps a mound
 of dirt, the disintegration of the mud bricks of which the historical
 structure was built.
 
 The Indians whose villages were located a few miles below the fort,
 or at least the chief men of the various tribes, passed much of their
 time within the shelter of the famous structure.  They were bountifully
 fed, and everything they needed furnished them.  This was purely from
 policy, however; for if their wishes were not gratified, their
 hunters would not bring in their furs to trade.  The principal chiefs
 never failed to be present when a meal was announced as ready, and
 however scarce provisions might be, the Indians must be fed.
 
 The first farm in the fertile and now valuable lands of the valley of
 the Rio de las Animas[60] was opened by the Bents.  The area selected
 for cultivation was in the beautiful bottom between the fort and the
 ford, a strip about a mile in length, and from one hundred and fifty
 to six hundred feet in width.  Nothing could be grown without irrigation,
 and to that end an acequia, as the Mexicans call the ditch through
 which the water flows, was constructed, and a crop put in.  Before
 the enterprising projectors of the scheme could reap a harvest,
 the hostile savages dashed in and destroyed everything.
 
 Uncle John Smith was one of the principal traders back in the '30's,
 and he was very successful, perhaps because he was undoubtedly the
 most perfect master of the Cheyenne language at that time in the
 whole mountain region.
 
 Among those who frequently came to the fort were Kit Carson,
 L. B. Maxwell, Uncle Dick Wooton, Baptiste Brown, Jim Bridger,
 Old Bill Williams, James Beckwourth, Shawnee Spiebuck, Shawnee Jake
 --the latter two, noted Indian trappers--besides a host of others.
 
 The majority of the old trappers, to a stranger, until he knew their
 peculiar characteristics, were seemingly of an unsociable disposition.
 It was an erroneous idea, however; for they were the most genial
 companions imaginable, generous to a fault, and to fall into one of
 their camps was indeed a lucky thing for the lost traveller.
 Everything the host had was at his guest's disposal, and though
 coffee and sugar were the dearest of his luxuries, often purchased
 with a whole season's trapping, the black fluid was offered with
 genuine free-heartedness, and the last plug of tobacco placed at the
 disposition of his chance visitor, as though it could be picked up
 on the ground anywhere.
 
 Goods brought by the traders to the rendezvous for sale to the
 trappers and hunters, although of the most inferior quality, were
 sold at enormously high prices.
 
 Coffee, by the pint-cup, which was the usual measure for everything,
 cost from a dollar and twenty cents to three dollars; tobacco a dollar
 and a half a plug; alcohol from two dollars to five dollars a pint;
 gunpowder one dollar and sixty cents a pint-cup, and all other
 articles at proportionably exorbitant rates.
 
 The annual gatherings of the trappers at the rendezvous were often
 the scene of bloody duels; for over their cups and cards no men were
 more quarrelsome than the old-time mountaineers.  Rifles at twenty
 paces settled all difficulties, and, as may be imagined, the fall
 of one or the other of the combatants was certain, or, as sometimes
 happened, both fell at the word "Fire!"
 
 The trapper's visits to the Mexican settlements, or to the lodges
 of a tribe of Indians, for the purpose of trading, often resulted
 in his returning to his quiet camp with a woman to grace his solitary
 home, the loving and lonely couple as devoted to each other in the
 midst of blood-thirsty enemies, howling wolves, and panthers, as if
 they were in some quiet country village.
 
 The easy manners of the harum-scarum, reckless trappers at the
 rendezvous, and the simple, unsuspecting hearts of those nymphs of
 the mountains, the squaws, caused their husbands to be very jealous
 of the attentions bestowed upon them by strangers.  Often serious
 difficulties arose, in the course of which the poor wife received
 a severe whipping with the knot of a lariat, or no very light
 lodge-poling at the hands of her imperious sovereign.  Sometimes
 the affair ended in a more tragical way than a mere beating, not
 infrequently the gallant paying the penalty of his interference with
 his life.
 
 Garrard, a traveller on the great plains and in the Rocky Mountains
 half a century ago, from whose excellent diary I have frequently
 quoted, passed many days and nights at Bent's Fort fifty years ago,
 and his quaint description of life there in that remote period of
 the extreme frontier is very amusing.  Its truth has often been
 confirmed by Uncle John Smith, who was my guide and interpreter in
 the Indian expedition of 1868-69, only two decades after Garrard's
 experience.
 
 Rosalie, a half-breed French and Indian squaw, wife of the carpenter,
 and Charlotte, the culinary divinity, were, as a Missouri teamster
 remarked, "the only female women here."  They were nightly led to
 the floor to trip the light fantastic toe, and swung rudely or gently
 in the mazes of the contra-dance, but such a medley of steps is
 seldom seen out of the mountains--the halting, irregular march of the
 war-dance, the slipping gallopade, the boisterous pitching of the
 Missouri backwoodsman, and the more nice gyrations of the Frenchman;
 for all, irrespective of rank, age, or colour, went pell-mell into
 the excitement, in a manner that would have rendered a leveller of
 aristocracies and select companies frantic with delight.  And the
 airs assumed by the fair ones, more particularly Charlotte, who took
 pattern from life in the States, were amusing.  She acted her part
 to perfection; she was the centre of attraction, the belle of the
 evening.  She treated the suitors for the pleasure of the next set
 with becoming ease and suavity of manner; she knew her worth, and
 managed accordingly.  When the favoured gallant stood by her side
 waiting for the rudely scraped tune from a screeching fiddle,
 satisfaction, joy, and triumph over his rivals were pictured on his
 radiant face.
 
 James Hobbs, of whom I have already spoken, once gave me a graphic
 description of the annual feast of the Comanches, Cheyennes, and
 Arapahoes, which always took place at Big Timbers, near Fort William.
 
 Hobbs was married to the daughter of Old Wolf, the chief of the
 Comanches, a really beautiful Indian girl, with whom he lived
 faithfully many years.  In the early summer of 1835, he went with his
 father-in-law and the rest of the tribe to the great feast of that
 season.  He stated that on that occasion there were forty thousand
 Indians assembled, and consequently large hunting parties were sent
 out daily to procure food for such a vast host.  The entertainment
 was kept up for fifteen days, enlivened by horse races, foot races,
 and playing ball.  In these races the tribes would bet their horses
 on the result, the Comanches generally winning, for they are the best
 riders in the world.  By the time the feast was ended, the Arapahoes
 and Cheyennes usually found themselves afoot, but Old Wolf, who was a
 generous fellow, always gave them back enough animals to get home with.
 
 The game of ball was played with crooked sticks, and is very much
 like the American boys' "shinny."  The participants are dressed in
 a simple breech-cloth and moccasins.  It is played with great
 enthusiasm and affords much amusement.
 
 At these annual feasts a council of the great chiefs of the three
 tribes is always held, and at the one during the season referred to,
 Hobbs said the Cheyenne chiefs wanted Old Wolf to visit Bent's Fort,
 where he had never been.  Upon the arrival of the delegation there,
 it was heartily welcomed by all the famous men who happened to be at
 the place, among whom were Kit Carson, Old John Smith, and several
 noted trappers.  Whiskey occupied a prominent place in the rejoicing,
 and "I found it hard work," said Hobbs, "to stand the many toasts
 drank to my good health."  The whole party, including Old Wolf and
 his companion the Cheyenne chief, got very much elated, and every
 person in the fort smelt whiskey, if they did not get their feet
 tangled with it.
 
 About midnight a messenger came inside, reporting that a thousand
 Comanche warriors were gathering around the fort.  They demanded
 their leaders, fearing treachery, and desired to know why their chief
 had not returned.  Hobbs went out and explained that he was safe;
 but they insisted on seeing him, so he and Hobbs showed themselves
 to the assembled Indians, and Old Wolf made a speech, telling them
 that he and the Cheyenne chief were among good friends to the Indians,
 and presents would be given to them the next morning.  The warriors
 were pacified with these assurances, though they did not leave the
 vicinity of the fort.
 
 It was at this time that Hobbs was ransomed by Colonel Bent, who gave
 Old Wolf, for him, six yards of red flannel, a pound of tobacco, and
 an ounce of beads.
 
 The chief was taken in charge by a lieutenant, who showed him all
 over the fort, letting him see the rifle port-holes, and explaining
 how the place could stand a siege against a thousand Indians.  Finally,
 he was taken out on the parapet, where there was a six-pounder at
 each angle.  The old savage inquired how they could shoot such a thing,
 and at Hobbs' request, a blank cartridge was put in the piece and
 fired.  Old Wolf sprang back in amazement, and the Indians on the
 outside, under the walls, knowing nothing of what was going on,
 ran away as fast as their legs could carry them, convinced that
 their chief must be dead now and their own safety dependent upon
 flight.  Old Wolf and Hobbs sprang upon the wall and signalled and
 shouted to them, and they returned, asking in great astonishment
 what kind of a monstrous gun it was.
 
 About noon trading commenced.  The Indians wished to come into the
 fort, but Bent would not let any enter but the chiefs.  At the back
 door the colonel displayed his goods, and the Indians brought forward
 their ponies, buffalo-robes, deer and other skins, which they traded
 for tobacco, beads, calico, flannel, knives, spoons, whistles,
 jews'-harps, etc.
 
 Whiskey was sold to them the first day, but as it caused several
 fights among them before night, Bent stopped its sale, at Hobbs'
 suggestion and with Old Wolf's consent.  Indians, when they get drunk,
 do not waste time by fighting with fists, like white men, but use
 knives and tomahawks; so that a general scrimmage is a serious affair.
 Two or three deaths resulted the first day, and there would have been
 many more if the sale of whiskey had not been stopped.
 
 The trading continued for eight days, and Colonel Bent reaped a rich
 harvest of what he could turn into gold at St. Louis.  Old Wolf slept
 in the fort each night except one during that time, and every time
 his warriors aroused him about twelve o'clock and compelled him to
 show himself on the walls to satisfy them of his safety.
 
 About a hundred trappers were in the employ of Bent and his partners.
 Sometimes one-half of the company were off on a hunt, leaving but
 a small force at the fort for its protection, but with the small
 battery there its defence was considered sufficient.
 
 One day a trapping party, consisting of Kit Carson, "Peg-leg" Smith,
 and James Hobbs, together with some Shawnee Indians, all under the
 lead of Carson, started out from Bent's Fort for the Picketwire to
 trap beaver.
 
 Grizzlies were very abundant in that region then, and one of the
 party, named McIntire, having killed an elk the evening before, said
 to Hobbs that they might stand a good chance to find a grizzly by
 the elk he had shot but had not brought in.  Hobbs said that he was
 willing to go with him, but as McIntire was a very green man in the
 mountains, Hobbs had some doubts of depending on him in case of an
 attack by a grizzly bear.
 
 The two men left for the ravine in which McIntire had killed the elk
 very early in the morning, taking with them tomahawks, hunting-knives,
 rifles, and a good dog.  On arriving at the ravine, Hobbs told
 McIntire to cross over to the other side and climb the hill, but on
 no account to go down into the ravine, as a grizzly is more dangerous
 when he has a man on the downhill side.  Hobbs then went to where he
 thought the elk might be if he had died by the bank of the stream;
 but as soon as he came near the water, he saw that a large grizzly
 had got there before him, having scented the animal, and was already
 making his breakfast.
 
 The bear was in thick, scrubby oak brush, and Hobbs, making his dog
 lie down, crawled behind a rock to get a favourable shot at the beast.
 He drew a bead on him and fired, but the bear only snarled at the
 wound made by the ball and started tearing through the brush, biting
 furiously at it as he went.  Hobbs reloaded his rifle carefully,
 and as quickly as he could, in order to get a second shot; but,
 to his amazement, he saw the bear rushing down the ravine chasing
 McIntire, who was only about ten feet in advance of the enraged beast,
 running for his life, and making as much noise as a mad bull.  He was
 terribly scared, and Hobbs hastened to his rescue, first sending his
 dog ahead.
 
 Just as the dog reached the bear, McIntire darted behind a tree and
 flung his hat in the bear's face, at the same time sticking his
 rifle toward him.  The old grizzly seized the muzzle of the gun in
 his teeth, and, as it was loaded and cocked, it either went off
 accidentally or otherwise and blew the bear's head open, just as the
 dog had fastened on his hindquarters.  Hobbs ran to the assistance
 of his comrade with all haste, but he was out of danger and had sat
 down a few rods away, with his face as white as a sheet, a badly
 frightened man.
 
 After that fearful scare, McIntire would cook or do anything, but
 said he never intended to make a business of bear-hunting; he had
 only wished for one adventure, and this one had satisfied him.