Bent’s Fort Welcomes New “Staff”


Thelma and Louise at Bent's Old Fort

Thelma and Louise at Bent’s Old Fort

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site recently welcomed two new “staff members” when the site acquired two donkeys from the Great Escape Mustang Sanctuary in Deer Trail, Colorado.  The two jennys (female donkeys), named Thelma and Louise, were originally rounded up from public lands in Nevada.

Louise, the mother is eleven years of age; Thelma the daughter is seven.  The two burros were captured in September 2010 on a Bureau of Land Management roundup.  They have been living at the Colorado sanctuary since 2013.  The sanctuary is participating in a Humane Society of the United States training program called the Platero Project. Thelma and Louise are a part of this program, the goal being to take older burros (5 years and up) from BLM holding facilities, train them and find them great homes.

A spokesperson for the sanctuary said, “They will be representing donkeys in history. They will be learning to pull a wagon as a team and be able to interact with visitors and educational groups. We are very excited for their new adventure.”

Donkeys or burros from Mexico were a major presence along the Santa Fe Trail.  Traders traveling east to the United States would bring mules, burros, silver, gold, furs and woven blankets back after they had traded away their goods in Santa Fe.

Packing burros for long trips across dry, rugged terrain, where the load must be balanced and fit snugly and comfortably on the animals’ backs is a true skill.  Spanish packing is more burro friendly, as the pack base that is placed on the animal, called an aparejo, is made from leather stuffed with grasses or wool, which adapts to the animal’s shape.  By Spanish law an animal was supposed to carry no more than 300 pounds, 150 on a side. While that was the maximum, many animals carried more. “These were born athletes, living well into their 30s,” says Ron Rundstrom, a skilled packer and fort volunteer.

“We are happy to welcome Thelma and Louise to Bent’s Old Fort,” said Park Superintendent Alexa Roberts.  “They will be great additions in helping us tell the story of life at the fort and on the trail in the 1840s.  We invite folks to come out and meet them.”

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