You can get a taste of the Old West at Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site this weekend when the days of the U.S. Cavalry, 19th century edition, are relived.
Bugle and drum calls, cannon fire, and marching orders will fill the air as the U.S. Army arrives at Bent’s Old Fort on Saturday. More than 50 living history volunteers and fort staff will recreate the military use of the fort during the United States’ War with Mexico.
The fort served as a staging area in the summer of 1846 as Colonel Stephen Watts Kearney led the “Army of the West” down the Santa Fe Trail to invade northern Mexico. Dragoons, infantry, Missouri Volunteers and topographical engineers formed the 1,800-man force. They arrived at the fort at the end of July, pausing just a few days, before crossing the Arkansas River into Mexican Territory.
There will be an opportunity to view and photograph the army as the soldiers march into the site at around 9 a.m. on Saturday. Visitors should gather at the park’s picnic area just to the east of the park entrance. The troops will march by the picnic area and then down the trail to the fort.
Through the day on Saturday and into Sunday morning, the soldiers will be in camp between the fort and the Arkansas River. There will be drills and parades as the army follows a daily schedule typical of the 1840s. A cannon crew from Fort Larned National Historic Site will demonstrate cannon drill and firings hourly.
A play, Decisions Made, Action Taken, which interprets events that took place during Kearney’s visit to the fort, will be presented at the army headquarters camp at noon and 4 p.m. on Saturday.
At the fort, employees will be busy seeing to the needs of the military. Laborers, teamsters, cooks, carpenters, blacksmith and doctor will all be at work. Susan Magoffin will be present. A visitor at the fort at the time, she wrote, “The Fort is crowded to overflowing. Col. Kearney has arrived and it seems the world is coming with him.”
The fort will be open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. during the event. Normal fees will apply: $3 for adults (13 and over), $2 for children (ages 6-12), free for children 5 and under and all National Park pass holders. Visitors are advised to be mindful of the heat this time of year and bring sun protection and water.
Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site is located eight miles east of La Junta or 13 miles west of Las Animas on Colorado Highway 194. For more information, go to the park website at www.nps.gov/beol or call (719) 383-5010.