Bent's Old Fort

I arrived at Bent's Old Fort, a National Historic landmark on the Santa Fe Trail. Traders set out in Missouri, stopping at Dodge City and the few other trail towns. Bent's Fort was a major stopover, because it had supplies, both to trade, and to help the traders make it the rest of the way to Santa Fe.

The old storehouse is said to be accurate to what was sold there in the 1820s and '30s. Some of the items may surprise you. Crackers were shipped from Philadelphia; macaroni came in large wooden cases, also from that city. Pepper sauce, lemon syrup (used in medicines and to prevent scurvy), crates of candy, both peppermint and horehound, I assume. Shanghi tea was shipped from China. Cloth, scissors, coffee, guns, gun powder and lots more, came down the Trail.

There weren't gardens at the Fort as best as I can tell. The Indians used native plants and grew gourds, corn, beans and squash, and may have traded it at the Fort. But by and large, the traders who traveled up and down the Trail, relied completely upon the goods they carried.

Bread was shipped from Philadelphia, although I can't imagine what state it would have been in. Accounts in the Diary of Susan McGoffin, one of the few women to have traveled the Trail (and one of the best accounts of life on the Trail), the bread was usually buggy or full of worms and very stale. Considering it took 3 months to travel from Missouri to Santa Fe, and the bread was made in Philadelphia, you can imagine what it was like. You had to pour water or juices of some kind just to soften it enough to chew.

Just outside the Fort are marshes and in those grew (and still grow) cattails, rushes and swamp milkweed. The cattails are edible in several stages. My friend, Billy Joe Tatum, makes biscuits out of cattail pollen when it's in bloom in the spring. Even earlier, just as the young cattail leaves are poking up through the water, you can pull up the tender shoots beneath the water and wash them; cooked, they are very tasty. I steam or boil those and add a bit of some butter. They taste an awful lot like roasting ears.

The Santa Fe Trail was about buffalo and commerce. The Fort would not have existed without trade for buffalo hides, which were shipped back East. They were tanned for leather, the fur used for hats and clothing, and would bring a good price in the East. The photo here is a buffalo hide press. The hides were folded 4 times and put in the press, stacking more and more hides on top. The press was screwed down tight and ropes wrapped around the hides to make a square bundle. Those were loaded with a small wooden crane, into the wagons to send back to Missouri and beyond.

So I'm still here on the Santa Fe Trail, taking lots of photos and updating my little Herbal Medicines of the Santa Fe Trail book, which is sold at the Fort, as well as on my website. Happy Trails!


txherbgrower said...

Awesome information and photos Jim. It makes me really want to dig more into our local herbal history in the TX Hill Country with the German, Czech and Native Americans I am sure there are interesting stories to be dug up!

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