Forts & Tragedies of the Santa Fe Trail

Just north of the Arkansas River, the adobe Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site was a former fur trading post and the official border between the US and Old Mexico until 1846. It has been beautifully restored and is staffed by knowledgeable guides in period clothing.

A further 16 miles east, then 2 miles south on Hwy 101 the Boggsville Historic Site, a former homestead and trading center, became the first county seat for Bent County when the railroad arrived in 1873.

The Bents did build another fort in 1853 (known as Bent's New Fort or Fort Wise), which was a profitable trading post until 1857, when a Colorado gold strike and the resulting land grab, coupled with the mass slaughter of bison by Americans and Europeans, spurred unrest among the Native Americans of the plains. As a result, the US cavalry built Fort Fauntleroy on the site to protect settlers.

Later renamed Fort Lyon, it was from here that on November 29, 1864, John Chivington led the Colorado Volunteers in a dawn attack on Chief Black Kettle and his band, who had been told they would be safe if they moved to this desolate reservation. Over 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho men, women and children were slaughtered and their corpses grotesquely mutilated, bringing a new wave of conflict to the Santa Fe Trail. The event is commemorated at the Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.

Today Fort Lyon is used as a treatment facility for homeless folks battling addictions, but you can still view the building from the outside. Since it's construction, this isolated fortress has also had incarnations as a sanitarium, psychiatric hospital and a prison.

Fort Lyon is located 19 miles east of Bent's Old Fort along Hwy 50.