Major Fur Trade Symposium Comes to Bent’s Old Fort Sept. 23 – 26

bents-fort-webRe-live the 1840s next week when the 2015 Fur Trade Symposium brings more than 60 living history demonstrators, 13 fur trade scholars and four nights of great frontier entertainment to Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site and Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colorado.

The Sept. 23 – 26 symposium, held every three years, was hosted by Bent’s Old Fort only once before – 27 years ago. That 1988 event was just the second such gathering. The triennial symposiums have grown to combine authentic representations of fur-trade life with serious scholarship about a vital era in the exploration and settlement of the Rocky Mountain West. Besides interest among the general public, this year’s event has already attracted over 175 registered symposium participants.

Living historians in the fort and encamped around it will represent life in the year 1842, when Bent’s Fort was the most important center of commerce and culture along the Santa Fe Trail. Trappers, traders, Native Americans, hunters, laborers and domestics will reveal what everyday life was like here on the Plains 170 years ago with authentic camps and demonstrations.

Beginning Thursday, Sept. 24 visitors will see the fort in full operation as traders inventory stock, carry out trades inside the fort and travel to nearby Indian camps to trade. Hunters and trappers will pull beaver from the river, skin animals, make and repair tools and clothing, and probably do a bit of gambling. Carpenters and blacksmiths will be at work in the shops creating everything from horse shoes to wagon wheels. Laborers will do adobe repair work on the fort walls and care for the post’s livestock. Domestics will prepare meals, repair and wash clothing and do all the other little things to keep the fort residents well-fed and content.

On Friday and Saturday, Sept. 25 – 26, fur trade scholars from around the country will present papers at Otero Junior College’s Ed Stafford Theatre. Presentations will cover Bent’s Fort and the southern fur trade, with talks on Hispanic and Native American involvement, the role of the government, competition between companies, the fur trade in the popular imagination and culinary aspects of the time.

Evening entertainment at the fort will feature flute player Lex Nichols, 2014 Native American Music Award winner (Wednesday), Mark Lee Gardner and Rex Rideout with banjo and fiddle music of the Fur Trade era (Thursday), and Dr. Lorenzo Trujillo and the Southwest Musicians leading an authentic fandango with Spanish dances (Saturday). Friday night will feature the Koshare Dancers performing in the kiva at the Koshare Indian Museum in La Junta.

The symposium opens with registration and a reception at the fort on Wednesday.  Field trips for pre-registered participants are on Thursday. Living history demonstrations at the fort are on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Formal speakers will present at Otero Junior College on Fridayand Saturday. The full schedule is on the symposium website,  Registration has closed for the Saturday night banquet and fandango, but walk-up registration will be available for the Friday and Saturday activities and for the Wednesday and Thursday night receptions at the fort.

Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site is located on Colorado Highway 194, eight miles east of La Junta or 15 miles west of Las Animas.   For more information about the park, visit the park’s website at or call the park at (719) 383-5010.

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