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William Bent

William Bent

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William Wells Bent was a frontier trapper, trader
Merchant
A merchant is a businessperson who trades in commodities that were produced by others, in order to earn a profit.Merchants can be one of two types:# A wholesale merchant operates in the chain between producer and retail merchant...

, and rancher in the American West who mediated among the Cheyenne Nation, other Native American tribes and the expanding United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. With his brothers, Bent established a trade business along the Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe Trail
The Santa Fe Trail was a 19th-century transportation route through central North America that connected Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico. Pioneered in 1822 by William Becknell, it served as a vital commercial and military highway until the introduction of the railroad to Santa Fe in 1880...

. In the early 1830s Bent built an adobe fort, called Bent's Fort, along the Arkansas River
Arkansas River
The Arkansas River is a major tributary of the Mississippi River. The Arkansas generally flows to the east and southeast as it traverses the U.S. states of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The river's initial basin starts in the Western United States in Colorado, specifically the Arkansas...

. Furs, horses and other goods were traded for food and other household goods by travelers along the Santa Fe trail, fur-trappers, and local Mexican and Native American people. He participated in negotiations for peace among the Plains tribes, as well as between the Native American and the United States government.

In 1835 Bent married Owl Woman
Owl Woman
Owl Woman , was a Cheyenne princess. She married an Anglo American trader named William Bent, with whom she had four children. She was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame for her role in managing relations between Native American tribes and the Anglo American men...

, the daughter of White Thunder, a Cheyenne people chief and medicine man. Together they had four children. Bent was accepted into the Cheyenne tribe and became a sub-chief. In the 1840s, according to the Cheyenne custom for successful men, Bent took Owl Woman's sisters, Yellow Woman and Island, into the Bent family. He had his fifth child with Yellow Woman. After Owl Woman died and her sisters left, Bent married the young Adaline Harvey, the educated mixed-race daughter of a prominent fur trader. He died shortly after their marriage, and she bore his sixth child, a daughter, after his death.

Early years


Bent was born May 23, 1809 St. Louis
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is an independent city on the eastern border of Missouri, United States. With a population of 319,294, it was the 58th-largest U.S. city at the 2010 U.S. Census. The Greater St...

, then Franklin Independence, Missouri
Missouri
Missouri is a US state located in the Midwestern United States, bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. With a 2010 population of 5,988,927, Missouri is the 18th most populous state in the nation and the fifth most populous in the Midwest. It...

, a son of Silas Bent
Silas Bent (judge)
Silas Bent was a judge on the bench of the Missouri Supreme Court from 1817 to 1821. His son Charles was a fur trader and appointed as the first territorial governor of New Mexico...

, who later was to become a judge on the bench of the Missouri Supreme Court, and his wife. William was one of eleven children born to Silas and his wife. The first three were born in Charleston, Virginia (now West Virginia)
Charleston, West Virginia
Charleston is the capital and largest city of the U.S. state of West Virginia. It is located at the confluence of the Elk and Kanawha Rivers in Kanawha County. As of the 2010 census, it has a population of 51,400, and its metropolitan area 304,214. It is the county seat of Kanawha County.Early...

 and the remaining children were born in St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is an independent city on the eastern border of Missouri, United States. With a population of 319,294, it was the 58th-largest U.S. city at the 2010 U.S. Census. The Greater St...

 after the family migrated there. Three of William's brothers, George, Charles
Charles Bent
Charles Bent was appointed as the first Governor of the newly acquired New Mexico Territory by Governor Stephen Watts Kearny in September 1846....

, and Robert, partnered with him in trading with Native Americans. Charles was the oldest son, born in 1799, and the remaining brothers in or after 1806.

Charles Bent was based in Santa Fe
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is the capital of the U.S. state of New Mexico. It is the fourth-largest city in the state and is the seat of . Santa Fe had a population of 67,947 in the 2010 census...

, and lived in Taos
Taos, New Mexico
Taos is a town in Taos County in the north-central region of New Mexico, incorporated in 1934. As of the 2000 census, its population was 4,700. Other nearby communities include Ranchos de Taos, Cañon, Taos Canyon, Ranchitos, and El Prado. The town is close to Taos Pueblo, the Native American...

. He served briefly as the first territorial governor of New Mexico
New Mexico
New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

 before being killed in January 1847 during the Taos Revolt
Taos Revolt
The Taos Revolt was a popular insurrection in January 1847 by Mexicans and Pueblo allies against the United States' occupation of present-day northern New Mexico during the Mexican–American War. In two short campaigns, United States troops and militia crushed the rebellion of the Mexicans and...

.

Trapping, stockades and trading


Charles
Charles Bent
Charles Bent was appointed as the first Governor of the newly acquired New Mexico Territory by Governor Stephen Watts Kearny in September 1846....

, George, Robert, and William Bent partnered with Ceran St. Vrain
Ceran St. Vrain
Ceran St. Vrain , also known as Ceran de Hault de Lassus de St. Vrain, was a major fur trader near Taos, New Mexico, where he and his partner William Bent established the trading post of Bent's Fort. St...

 in the fur trade
Fur trade
The fur trade is a worldwide industry dealing in the acquisition and sale of animal fur. Since the establishment of world market for in the early modern period furs of boreal, polar and cold temperate mammalian animals have been the most valued...

. They left Missouri to explore what is now southern Colorado to trap for furs and establish a trade business. In about 1826, the men went to the upper Arkansas River
Arkansas River
The Arkansas River is a major tributary of the Mississippi River. The Arkansas generally flows to the east and southeast as it traverses the U.S. states of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. The river's initial basin starts in the Western United States in Colorado, specifically the Arkansas...

, escorting men who were trappers, for their business. Within a couple of years, they built two stockades, one near the present town of Pueblo
Pueblo, Colorado
Pueblo is a Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat and the most populous city of Pueblo County, Colorado, United States. The population was 106,595 in 2010 census, making it the 246th most populous city in the United States....

 and the other stockade either at the mouth of the Purgatoire River
Purgatoire River
The Purgatoire River is a river in southeastern Colorado, United States. The river is also known locally as the Purgatory River or the Picketwire River...

 or on the northern side of the Arkansas River. Grinnell suggested that William Bent was likely trapping furs before the first stockade was built. St. Vrain and his older brother, Charles, made the round trips to St. Louis, Missouri, a trading center, to sell furs and return with supplies.

The trading venture was funded by a legacy of their father, Judge Silas Bent
Silas Bent (judge)
Silas Bent was a judge on the bench of the Missouri Supreme Court from 1817 to 1821. His son Charles was a fur trader and appointed as the first territorial governor of New Mexico...

. The brothers reinvested the substantial profits of their enterprise to build their business.

Bent's Old Fort



By around 1832, although possibly as late as 1834, the partners built a permanent trading post called Bent's Fort
Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site
Bent's Old Fort is an 1833 fort located in Otero County in southeastern Colorado, USA. William and Charles Bent, along with Ceran St. Vrain, built the fort to trade with Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Plains Indians and trappers for buffalo robes...

. The elaborate adobe
Adobe
Adobe is a natural building material made from sand, clay, water, and some kind of fibrous or organic material , which the builders shape into bricks using frames and dry in the sun. Adobe buildings are similar to cob and mudbrick buildings. Adobe structures are extremely durable, and account for...

 construction was capable of accommodating 200 people, and had been built on the northern "Mountain Route" of the Santa Fe Trail, by then open for business. The partners picked this location after discussions with the Cheyenne
Cheyenne
Cheyenne are a Native American people of the Great Plains, who are of the Algonquian language family. The Cheyenne Nation is composed of two united tribes, the Só'taeo'o and the Tsétsêhéstâhese .The Cheyenne are thought to have branched off other tribes of Algonquian stock inhabiting lands...

; it was near La Junta
La Junta, Colorado
The City of La Junta is a Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat and the most populous city of Otero County, Colorado, United States. The city population was 7,568 at the U.S. Census 2000. La Junta is located on the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado east of Pueblo.-History:During...

 and land occupied by the Cheyenne and Arapaho
Arapaho
The Arapaho are a tribe of Native Americans historically living on the eastern plains of Colorado and Wyoming. They were close allies of the Cheyenne tribe and loosely aligned with the Sioux. Arapaho is an Algonquian language closely related to Gros Ventre, whose people are seen as an early...

 tribes. It became an important center of trade, principally in furs but also in numerous other goods, including horses and mules. It was the only privately owned, fortified installation in the west.

William and Charles operated the fort in partnership with Ceran St Vrain
Ceran St. Vrain
Ceran St. Vrain , also known as Ceran de Hault de Lassus de St. Vrain, was a major fur trader near Taos, New Mexico, where he and his partner William Bent established the trading post of Bent's Fort. St...

, a fur trader who had already established significant trading contacts in New Mexico. Sometimes referred to as Fort William, the post was in "the perfect place at the perfect time" for someone looking to make money from trading. For example, the Bents could buy a gallon of brandy in St Louis for 2 and sell it at the fort for 25.

The historian Anne Hyde has dated the moment when White Thunder realized a common interest with Bent. In November 1833, they talked together as a meteor
METEOR
METEOR is a metric for the evaluation of machine translation output. The metric is based on the harmonic mean of unigram precision and recall, with recall weighted higher than precision...

 shower lit up the sky over the plains. Many Cheyenne who were gathered with them believed that the celestial event was a signal of the end of the world; it was subsequently referred to as "the Night the Stars Fell". White Thunder saw it as a new beginning. He sought a truce with the Pawnee and the return of the four sacred arrows which they had captured in a battle with the Cheyenne earlier that year. To achieve this, White Thunder made a solo, unarmed visit to the Pawnee village to seek peace and returned with two of the arrows and an agreement.ref name="Hydep163-164"/>

White Thunder also arranged a formal marital alliance between Bent and his daughter Owl Woman. He believed that their children would represent another element of the new beginning, of peace for the Cheyenne and the region. By this time Bent had learned the language of the Cheyenne, and he was known as Little White Man by the native tribes. When they first met with the Cheyenne, the Indians gave him and his brothers names in the Cheyenne language. The Bent brothers' respect for the Cheyenne protocols during the convivial occasion created a relationship base for their future development of the fort and trading.

Life at Bent's Old Fort


The fort, and the area immediately outside it, comprised a multi-cultural, multi-lingual center with permanent inhabitants from many nations and visitors. Native tribes in the area for trading, such as the Sioux
Sioux
The Sioux are Native American and First Nations people in North America. The term can refer to any ethnic group within the Great Sioux Nation or any of the nation's many language dialects...

, Apache
Apache
Apache is the collective term for several culturally related groups of Native Americans in the United States originally from the Southwest United States. These indigenous peoples of North America speak a Southern Athabaskan language, which is related linguistically to the languages of Athabaskan...

 and Kiowa
Kiowa
The Kiowa are a nation of American Indians and indigenous people of the Great Plains. They migrated from the northern plains to the southern plains in the late 17th century. In 1867, the Kiowa moved to a reservation in southwestern Oklahoma...

, as well as Comanche
Comanche
The Comanche are a Native American ethnic group whose historic range consisted of present-day eastern New Mexico, southern Colorado, northeastern Arizona, southern Kansas, all of Oklahoma, and most of northwest Texas. Historically, the Comanches were hunter-gatherers, with a typical Plains Indian...

 and Cheyenne also established temporary camps outside the fort. It was the hub of a trading area that encompassed a 500-mile radius. It was visited each year by hundreds of wagons
Wagon train
A wagon train is a group of wagons traveling together. In the American West, individuals traveling across the plains in covered wagons banded together for mutual assistance, as is reflected in numerous films and television programs about the region, such as Audie Murphy's Tumbleweed and Ward Bond...

 of European Americans traveling the Santa Fe trail
Santa Fe Trail
The Santa Fe Trail was a 19th-century transportation route through central North America that connected Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico. Pioneered in 1822 by William Becknell, it served as a vital commercial and military highway until the introduction of the railroad to Santa Fe in 1880...

. Hyde writes in Empires, Nations and Families that "Bent's Fort was the one spot on the Santa Fe trail where exchanges with Indians were welcomed and encouraged, and the effects of those conversations on both sides were far-reaching ... archaeological evidence tells us that people sat in the courtyard together and smoked—a lot". Bent managed trade to and from the fort: he provided a safe zone in the area and a supply goods for its store, as well as shipping buffalo robes back to St. Louis for sale. As many as 20,000 Native Americans camped near the fort for trading in the fall.

European-American travelers sometimes stayed for as long as three weeks at the fort before getting back on their journeys. From fall through spring, the fort was busy with people coming to trade, and travelers resting and restocking supplies. The Bents had up to 100 employees, depending on the season, who had a variety of skills: clerks, guards, traders, teamsters, trappers, a tailor, blacksmith, carpenter and herders. Caravans took goods to trade with regional Native American tribes.

The fort was usually relatively empty during the summer months. During that period, Bent often made the six-month round trip on the 500 miles long trail to and from Westport, Missouri (present-day Kansas City) to trade the goods gathered over the previous winter. He would purchase goods to replenish the stocks of the fort for the forthcoming hunting season. Westport Landing was an ideal terminus point for the Bent's trade. Located on the Missouri River, it was a port for steamboats that hauled goods eastward to St. Louis. Sometimes five or six steamboats would be unloading goods for the Santa Fe trade at one time; dried buffalo meat, buffalo robes and furs would be loaded onto the boats for the return east. Westport was a boom town until a cholera
Cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

 epidemic
Epidemic
In epidemiology, an epidemic , occurs when new cases of a certain disease, in a given human population, and during a given period, substantially exceed what is expected based on recent experience...

 in the mid-1840s reduced the town's residents by 50%. In 1853 Westport was renamed Kansas City. While Bent and the pack trains were away, the fort managed with a skeleton crew of herders, clerks, traders and laborers for Native Americans and travelers.

William and Charles had brought three slaves from St. Louis to work in their households: the brothers Andrew and Dick Green, and Dick's wife Charlotte, who served as a cook. Charlotte Green described herself as the only lady in the Indian Country. to George Ruxton
George Ruxton
George Frederick Ruxton was a British explorer and travel writer who observed the expansion of America in the 1840s during the period when the US government was pursuing its policy of manifest destiny...

 at the time of his visit in 1848 as "de only lady in de whole damn Injun country". Her cooking won her a high reputation among the fur traders and travelers. One person called her a "culinary divinity". Bent's Fort held dances regularly; Colonel Henry Inman described Charlotte as "the center of attention, the belle of the evening. She knew her worth and danced accordingly."

In 1846 Bent received the title of "Colonel" after supplying United States (US) troops and guiding them into New Mexico during the Mexican-American War.After their brother Charles was killed in battle, George and William Bent freed Dick Green for his heroic efforts in a fight in 1847 at Taos. Originally stationed with Charles in Santa Fe, Green made his way north with American soldiers to Bent's Taos home. He bravely led a skirmish against a group of Taos Pueblo and other warriors. Green was severely wounded but survived a trip back to Bent's fort. The Bents allowed Charlotte to leave the fort with her husband, giving her an informal freedom.

Bent's new fort


As demand in fur declined, business dropped at the fort. Bent wanted to build a new fort closer to Big Timbers, near the winter grounds for many tribes. Unable to agree on a selling price for the old fort, after removing his inventory of goods, Bent set fire to and blew up the old fort. In 1853 he established a stone fort in the Big Timbers area. Six years later, the US government purchased the new "Bent's Fort" (renamed Fort Wise) and remodeled it for military use.

Other forts


Bent, Vrain & Company had other forts, including
  • Fort St. Vrain (also called Fort George), built about 1837 near present-day Greeley, Colorado
    Greeley, Colorado
    The City of Greeley is a Home Rule Municipality that is the county seat and the most populous city of Weld County, Colorado, United States. Greeley is located in the region known as Northern Colorado. Greeley is situated north-northeast of the Colorado State Capitol in Denver. According to the...

     at the confluence of the South Platte River
    South Platte River
    The South Platte River is one of the two principal tributaries of the Platte River and itself a major river of the American Midwest and the American Southwest/Mountain West, located in the U.S. states of Colorado and Nebraska...

     and St. Vrain Creek. It was for trading with the Sioux, Arapaho and Northern Cheyenne. From this point, mail and packages were transported south to Taos.
  • Adobe Walls, built in 1848 for trade with the Comanche, Kiowa and Prairie Apache. This was the site in 1864 of Kit Carson
    Kit Carson
    Christopher Houston "Kit" Carson was an American frontiersman and Indian fighter. Carson left home in rural present-day Missouri at age 16 and became a Mountain man and trapper in the West. Carson explored the west to California, and north through the Rocky Mountains. He lived among and married...

    ’s greatest battle of his career.

Westport, Missouri farm


On April 6, 1858 Bent purchased a farm with a small brick house at 1032 West 55th Street in Westport, now Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City, Missouri is the largest city in the U.S. state of Missouri and is the anchor city of the Kansas City Metropolitan Area, the second largest metropolitan area in Missouri. It encompasses in parts of Jackson, Clay, Cass, and Platte counties...

. While generally living at his home in Missouri in 1859, Bent was an agent to the Cheyenne and Arapaho at Big Timbers. At that time, Bent continued his trading business for new settlers lured by the Colorado gold rush
Gold rush
A gold rush is a period of feverish migration of workers to an area that has had a dramatic discovery of gold. Major gold rushes took place in the 19th century in Australia, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, and the United States, while smaller gold rushes took place elsewhere.In the 19th and early...

. He also freighted goods for the United States government, which yielded a good profit.

During the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

, Bent's farm was the site of the Battle of Westport in 1864.
In 1871 after Bent's death two years earlier, Adaline sold the Westport farm to Seth Ward
Seth Ward (businessman)
Seth Edmund Ward was a trader on the California, Oregon and Santa Fe trails who parlayed his success into a real estate empire that included today's Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri....

, a prosperous businessman.

Marriage and family



In 1835 Bent married Owl Woman, the oldest daughter of White Thunder and Tail Woman, in a Cheyenne ceremony. Her father was an influential Cheyenne leader and medicine man. He was the tribe's "Keeper of the Arrows," four arrows thought to have a sacred or medicinal role. The prestige of his position as a medicine man was reflected on to his daughters.

The couple had four children together. As a successful man, Bent followed Cheyenne custom and took Owl Woman's two younger sisters, Yellow Woman. He had a fifth child with Yellow Woman.

Owl Woman
As a part of the marriage ritual, Owl Woman was carried into a lodge which was constructed for them in the Cheyenne village near the fort, while Bent dispensed numerous gifts to her people. Bent later became a "Cheyenne sub-chief", having attained tribal membership with his marriage to Owl Woman.

The marriage was important for both Bent and Owl Woman's father White Thunder. For Bent, the marriage reinforced his relationship with the Cheyenne. White Thunder also believed the marriage would add to his friendly relationship with Bent and provide protection for them. On a personal level, it enhanced his prestige within the tribe.

Owl Woman and Bent had the following children, named in English and Cheyenne:
  • Mary , named for Bent's favorite sister, was born January 22, 1838. Her Cheyenne name was Ho-ka.
  • Robert, named for Bent's youngest brother, was born about 1840 - 1841. His Cheyenne name was Octavi-wee-his.
  • George
    George Bent
    George Bent was the mixed-race son of the fur trader William Bent, the founder of the trading post named Bent's Fort; and Owl Woman, a Cheyenne. Born near present-day La Junta, Colorado, Bent served as a Confederate soldier during the American Civil War and a Cheyenne warrior...

    , was born July 7, 1843, named after Bent's brother. George was also named Ho-my-ike.
  • Julia or Um-ah was born in 1847; her English name was that of Bent's oldest sister.


Yellow Woman and Island
By the 1840s, two of Owl Woman's younger sisters, Island and Yellow Woman, joined the household, in accordance with tribal custom for successful men. He had another child with Owl Woman's sister, Yellow Woman:
  • Charles (Charley) was born in 1845. His Cheyenne name was Pe-ki-ree, meaning White Hat.


Owl Woman died in the 1840s. In the following six years, life for the family changed dramatically. In 1849 a cholera
Cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

 epidemic
Epidemic
In epidemiology, an epidemic , occurs when new cases of a certain disease, in a given human population, and during a given period, substantially exceed what is expected based on recent experience...

 swept through the Cheyenne tribe, killing up to half of the people, including the children's maternal grandmother, Tail Woman. Yellow Woman left Bent and traveled with Charley Bent when he joined the Dog Soldiers
Dog Soldiers
Dog Soldiers is a 2002 British horror film written and directed by Neil Marshall, and starring Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee and Liam Cunningham. It was a British production, set in the highlands of Scotland, and filmed almost entirely in Luxembourg....

, after the Sand Creek Massacre
Sand Creek Massacre
As conflict between Indians and white settlers and soldiers in Colorado continued, many of the Cheyenne and Arapaho, including bands under Cheyenne chiefs Black Kettle and White Antelope, were resigned to negotiate peace. The chiefs had sought to maintain peace in spite of pressures from whites...

 of 1864, in which many Cheyenne were killed by US forces led by the governor.

Island became the primary caregiver for Owl Woman's children. She did not want to stay in the Bent's new stone fort, nor did she want the children there. In February 1854, Bent had her lodge moved to just outside the new fort. One week later, his son George left to attend an Episcopal school in Westport, Missouri (now Kansas City). He was separated from his family for much of the year.

Island later left Bent for Joe Baraldo.

Adaline Harvey
After Yellow Woman and Island had left him, Bent married the Adaline Harvey, the 20 year-old mixed-race daughter of his friend Alexander Harvey in Westport, Missouri. in 1867 They married on April 4, 1869 in Jackson County, Missouri
Jackson County, Missouri
Jackson County is a county located in the U.S. state of Missouri. With a population of 674,158 in the 2010 census, Jackson County is the second most populous of Missouri's counties, after St. Louis County. Kansas City, the state's most populous city and focus city of the Kansas City Metropolitan...

. Harvey was a fur trader of the Upper Missouri region; his company was named Harvey, Primeau & Company,. Adaline's mother was a Blackfeet
Blackfeet
The Piegan Blackfeet are a tribe of Native Americans of the Algonquian language family based in Montana, having lived in this area since around 6,500 BC. Many members of the tribe live as part of the Blackfeet Nation in northwestern Montana, with population centered in Browning...

.

When the son George Bent met his father's new bride, he recognized Adaline as a fellow student; she was five years younger than he. They had both been assigned Robert Campbell as a guardian while at the boarding school.

Adaline and William Bent's marriage was short; he died soon after. She was pregnant at his death and was reported to have had a daughter. Adaline Harvey Bent inherited her husband's property in Westport, Missouri in 1869 and sold it in 1871.

Life at the fort, called the "mud castle of the plains", reflected the heritage of both Owl Woman and Bent. The children's clothes included linen shirts and soft-leather moccasins. They ate on fine china and, according to Cheyenne custom, slept on the ground in soft hides. The furnishings and household goods included items from the United States, Mexico and overseas nations. The children enjoyed pumpkin pie and pancakes made by Charlotte Green, an enslaved woman whose husband was also held by the Bents. Chipita, the French-Mexican wife to a Bent worker, made taffy for the children; She performed housekeeping and laundry services at the fort.

Owl Woman's mother Tall Woman taught the children to be respectful and courteous to their elders. They gave discipline by stern glances and waving fingers. In their multi-cultural environment, the children learned to speak many languages; George learned to speak Cheyenne, English, Spanish, Comanche, Kiowa and Arapaho. The boys learned to ride horses bareback, controlling the horses' actions through softly worded commands; to hunt and to be warriors. The girls learned to assist in the household, asessing the dryness of wood for gathering, learning the varieties of berries and other plants and their uses. Girls were also taught to be gracious, generous hosts. George Bent recalled of his childhood at the fort:

Living arrangements



William and his wife, Owl Woman, had several homes. Where they lived depended on the season, his travels and the tribe's seasonal movements.
  • Bent's Fort - When the family was at the fort, Owl Woman preferred to stay in her lodge in the Cheyenne village. Her room at the fort was dark, loud and smelly, as it was near the blacksmith shop and the courtyard where the horses and pack animals were pastured.
  • Cheyenne village - Owl Woman preferred to stay at the lodge near the fort. Built for the couple for their wedding and located in the Cheyenne village, it was quiet and well-lit. It had the sacred, religious and household items of her culture. While Owl Woman was alive, in April Bent left the fort for the six-month supply train journey to Missouri. During the summer months, he went back and forth between the fort and the nearby Cheyenne village to see his wife and children. By autumn, the family lived within the fort.
  • Big Timbers - Seasonally the Cheyenne moved 30 miles down the Arkansas River to Big Timbers, where they stayed during the hunting season and the winter. During the Cheyenne's winter visit to Big Timbers, Bent accompanied his family there with goods for trading. He lived with his family according to Cheyenne custom at Big Timbers.

Background


In the 1820s, the central plains
Great Plains
The Great Plains are a broad expanse of flat land, much of it covered in prairie, steppe and grassland, which lies west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada. This area covers parts of the U.S...

 area was subject to political and economic turmoil resulting from the Mexican War of Independence
Mexican War of Independence
The Mexican War of Independence was an armed conflict between the people of Mexico and the Spanish colonial authorities which started on 16 September 1810. The movement, which became known as the Mexican War of Independence, was led by Mexican-born Spaniards, Mestizos and Amerindians who sought...

. The Arkansas River delineated the border, with Mexico to the south and the United States northward. The people looked for new opportunities for trade alliances, in part to replace those that had involved the now-deposed Spanish governors. United States settlers and military forces began to arrive in the area as people were exploring the west.

The Native American tribes
Plains Indians
The Plains Indians are the Indigenous peoples who live on the plains and rolling hills of the Great Plains of North America. Their colorful equestrian culture and resistance to White domination have made the Plains Indians an archetype in literature and art for American Indians everywhere.Plains...

 of the central and southern plains were also defining or redefining their territories. Tribes moved to new lands within the plains for various reasons: they may have been displaced in their previous land, had internal disputes that caused them to relocate, sought better hunting or gathering grounds, or sought land that supported their way of life. The Comanche
Comanche
The Comanche are a Native American ethnic group whose historic range consisted of present-day eastern New Mexico, southern Colorado, northeastern Arizona, southern Kansas, all of Oklahoma, and most of northwest Texas. Historically, the Comanches were hunter-gatherers, with a typical Plains Indian...

, Kiowa, Cheyenne and Arapahoe were among the competing tribes. The Cheyenne likely moved into the plains in the 17th and 18th century from Minnesota
Minnesota
Minnesota is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. The twelfth largest state of the U.S., it is the twenty-first most populous, with 5.3 million residents. Minnesota was carved out of the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory and admitted to the Union as the thirty-second state...

. By the mid-1800s, they lived with the Arapaho north of the Arkansas River in land near Bent's Fort
Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site
Bent's Old Fort is an 1833 fort located in Otero County in southeastern Colorado, USA. William and Charles Bent, along with Ceran St. Vrain, built the fort to trade with Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Plains Indians and trappers for buffalo robes...

 in Colorado
Colorado
Colorado is a U.S. state that encompasses much of the Rocky Mountains as well as the northeastern portion of the Colorado Plateau and the western edge of the Great Plains...

.

The Comanche came to the grasslands of southern plains for a better life but competed for resources and territory with other tribes. In an agreement reached with the Cheyenne, "The Great Peace of 1840", they agreed to stay south of the Arkansas River and the Cheyenne and Arapaho below it.

Negotiations



The difference between how the long-settled and the recently settled tribes viewed the traders exacerbated inter-tribal rivalries. In 1833 White Thunder led the Cheyenne into a fight with the Pawnee; his people lost many warriors, and the Pawnee captured the four sacred arrows. White Thunder and his tribe lost much respect as a result.

During the mid-1830s, the Cheyenne and the Arapaho had become eager to work with the incoming trade caravans
Wagon train
A wagon train is a group of wagons traveling together. In the American West, individuals traveling across the plains in covered wagons banded together for mutual assistance, as is reflected in numerous films and television programs about the region, such as Audie Murphy's Tumbleweed and Ward Bond...

, and notably those associated with Bent. They saw the trade caravans as an opportunity for enrichment rather than as a threat. The Cheyenne favored Bent because he had intervened to protect them against Comanche raiders.

Bent worked to negotiate a resolution to the inter-tribal disputes, and to end their raids on settlers and traders. While the truce was uneasy, it enhanced his position. The historian Anne Hyde described the situation as similar to that in northern California, as a "negotiated community ... Only constant renegotiation and the conscious creation of community through family ties, diplomacy, warfare, and dinner made it operate in a surprisingly stable way."

The Comanche, in particular, had for many years protected their territory to the south of the Arkansas River against almost all who attempted to move into it. They had built up their power with a deep knowledge of their territory, shrewd trading arrangements, and their willingness to raid those who threatened or breached the arrangements. Their grip on the territory to the south of the river was one of the reasons why Bent's Fort had been constructed to the north. Although the Comanche continued to assert their power after Mexican independence, the influx of displaced tribes, the westward push of European-American settlers, and the development of the Santa Fe Trail generated new conflicts. Raids and battles resulted in many fatalities. The Comanche raided the fort and its surroundings north of the river in 1839, provoking a retaliatory raid by the Cheyenne.

Great Peace of 1840, inter-tribal negotiations
The trading environment improved after 1840, when Bent's Fort became the site of a truce between the Comanche, Apache and Kiowa tribes on the one hand and the Cheyenne and Arapaho on the other. Hyde describes this as a "network of enormous significance."
The tribes negotiated a peace over several weeks during the summer of 1840.

Bent hosted the various camps and their celebrations. Hyde has said that George Ruxton
George Ruxton
George Frederick Ruxton was a British explorer and travel writer who observed the expansion of America in the 1840s during the period when the US government was pursuing its policy of manifest destiny...

 described in 1848 how the council room at the fort was used: "Chiefs of the Shain [sic], Kioway and Araphó sit in solemn conclave with the head traders, and smoke the "calumet
Calumet (pipe)
A Calumet is a ceremonial smoking pipe used by some Native American Nations. Traditionally it has been smoked to seal a covenant or treaty, or to offer prayers in a religious ceremony.- Etymology :...

" over their real and imaginary grievances."

Treaty of 1861
Black Kettle, chief of the Southern Cheyenne, wanted peace with the United States. He and other chiefs signed a treaty in 1861 which resulted in his tribes being assigned to a reservation along Sand Creek, although the area was nearly devoid of game. White settlers continued to trespass upon Cheyenne land. Unable to feed their families, some Cheyenne begged for food from settlers; others returned to old hunting grounds. Still others raided settlers and wagon trains for food.

Sand Creek Massacre


The Pike's Peak gold rush
Gold rush
A gold rush is a period of feverish migration of workers to an area that has had a dramatic discovery of gold. Major gold rushes took place in the 19th century in Australia, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, and the United States, while smaller gold rushes took place elsewhere.In the 19th and early...

 of 1858 led to increasing conflicts. American miners and settlers gradually encroached on Cheyenne lands until fighting broke out in 1864. Black Kettle asked Bent to persuade the Americans to negotiate peace and, briefly, it appeared possible. But, Governor John Evans
John Evans (governor)
John Evans was a U.S. politician, physician, railroad promoter, Governor of the Territory of Colorado, and namesake of Evanston, Illinois; Evans, Colorado; and Mount Evans, Colorado...

 and Colonel John Chivington
John Chivington
John Milton Chivington was a colonel in the United States Army who served in the American Indian Wars during the Colorado War and the New Mexico Campaigns of the American Civil War...

 (who was planning a run for U.S. Congress) had based their political futures on ending the Native American threat. They had amassed troops from Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 When Bent, who had lived among the Cheyenne for 40 years and had half-Cheyenne children, asked for peaceful resolution, Chivington told him it was not possible.

Despite an apparent peace agreement, on November 28, 1864, Chivington and a volunteer army captured Bent's son Robert. They forced him to guide the soldiers to the Cheyenne campsite on the reservation. The US forces killed and mutilated between 200 and 400 Cheyenne in the Sand Creek Massacre
Sand Creek Massacre
As conflict between Indians and white settlers and soldiers in Colorado continued, many of the Cheyenne and Arapaho, including bands under Cheyenne chiefs Black Kettle and White Antelope, were resigned to negotiate peace. The chiefs had sought to maintain peace in spite of pressures from whites...

. Charles, Julie and George Bent were all inside Black Kettle's village when Chivington and his forces arrived.

George Bent recalled that day:
Robert Bent said:
All of Bent's grown children survived the massacre. Robert Bent testified in court against Chivington, who had forced him to guide the soldiers to the Cheyenne village. His brothers Charles and George Bent joined the Cheyenne's fierce Dog Soldiers
Dog Soldiers
Dog Soldiers is a 2002 British horror film written and directed by Neil Marshall, and starring Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee and Liam Cunningham. It was a British production, set in the highlands of Scotland, and filmed almost entirely in Luxembourg....

. Yellow Woman left William Bent to go with Charley. The Dog Soldiers fought to drive the European Americans from the Cheyenne homeland. Charles Bent was later killed by scouts for the U.S. Army.

Regular Army officers were horrified by the massacre. Both the Congress and Army investigated, and General Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th President of the United States as well as military commander during the Civil War and post-war Reconstruction periods. Under Grant's command, the Union Army defeated the Confederate military and ended the Confederate States of America...

 called Chivington's actions murder, but no one was punished. The Committee on the Conduct of the War reported:
George Bent later married Magpie, a Cheyenne woman. Since he was bilingual, he became a major informant for anthropologists and other scholars who came to study the Cheyenne and learn about their history and culture.

Treaty of 1865


On October 14, 1865, the Arapaho and Cheyenne of the Upper Arkansas valley made a treaty with the US government. US representatives included Bent and Kit Carson
Kit Carson
Christopher Houston "Kit" Carson was an American frontiersman and Indian fighter. Carson left home in rural present-day Missouri at age 16 and became a Mountain man and trapper in the West. Carson explored the west to California, and north through the Rocky Mountains. He lived among and married...

, who was Special Commissioner. The US apologized to the Arapaho and Cheyenne for the Sand Creek Massacre. Some of the tribe members did not approve of the treaty, which would limit them to a reservation, rather than their traditional span of territory.

As part of the treaty, four of Bent's children, as Cheyenne, were each awarded 640 acres land on a reservation south of the Arkansas River, between Red Creek and Buffalo Creek:
  • Mary Bent Moore and her three children: Adia Moore, William Bent Moore and George Moore
  • George Bent
  • Charles Bent
  • Julia Bent


Robert Bent was awarded 640 acres in Sulphur Springs, north of the Arkansas River.

William Bent assisted in the negotiation of the following treaty with the Kiowa and Comanche on October 18, 1865.

Las Animas, Colorado ranch


In 1867, following his marriage to Adaline Harvey, Bent moved with her to his ranch in Las Animas, Colorado
Las Animas, Colorado
200px|right|thumb|St. Mary's [[Catholic]] Church in Las AnimasThe city of Las Animas is a Statutory City that is the county seat of, and the only incorporated municipality in, Bent County, Colorado, United States. The population was 2,410 at the 2010 census. Las Animas, located in southeast...

 on the Purgatoire River
Purgatoire River
The Purgatoire River is a river in southeastern Colorado, United States. The river is also known locally as the Purgatory River or the Picketwire River...

, south of the Arkansas River. From there he managed his freighting business.

Death


While on a supply trip from Colorado to Missouri in 1869, Bent stopped off to see his daughter Julia and son-in-law, R. M. Moore, a judge. They had built a house on his ranch land in Westport. Contracting pneumonia
Pneumonia
Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung—especially affecting the microscopic air sacs —associated with fever, chest symptoms, and a lack of air space on a chest X-ray. Pneumonia is typically caused by an infection but there are a number of other causes...

, Bent died on May 19, 1869. He is interred at the Las Animas Cemetery south of Las Animas
Las Animas, Colorado
200px|right|thumb|St. Mary's [[Catholic]] Church in Las AnimasThe city of Las Animas is a Statutory City that is the county seat of, and the only incorporated municipality in, Bent County, Colorado, United States. The population was 2,410 at the 2010 census. Las Animas, located in southeast...

, Colorado. Adaline Harvey Bent gave birth to their daughter after his death. She lived most of her life in Colorado, where she died February 26, 1905 at the Pueblo Women's Hospital.

Legacy and honors


  • The William Bent house in Westport/Kansas City was preserved as an outbuilding when Seth Ward built a large brick mansion on the property. The houses and property are located in the present-day Country Club District of Kansas City. Much of the former farm's grazing land was taken by the city for Loose Park
    Loose Park
    Loose Park is the third largest park in Kansas City. It is located at 51st Street and Wornall Road. The park is home to a lake, a shelter house, Civil War markers, tennis courts, a water park, picnic areas and a Rose Garden...

    . In the twentieth century, both the houses were listed on the National Register of Historic Places
    National Register of Historic Places
    The National Register of Historic Places is the United States government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation...

    . The site is marked as the "Bent and Ward Houses".

Sources


Further reading

  • Garst, Shannon (1957) William Bent and his Adobe Empire Messner, New York, OCLC 1632858
  • Arnold, Samual P. "William W. Bent", featured in Hafen, Leroy R.
    LeRoy R. Hafen
    LeRoy Reuben Hafen was a historian of the American West and a Latter-day Saint. For many years he was a professor of history at Brigham Young University .-Biography:...

    (ed.) (1972) Trappers of the Far West: Sixteen Biographical Sketches Arthur H. Clark Company, Norman, OK, reprint by University of Nebraska Press, October 1983, ISBN 0-8032-7218-9; later editions (1982) Mountain Men and Fur Traders of the Far West: Eighteen Biographical Sketches and (1995) French Fur Traders and Voyageurs in the American West: Twenty-five Biographical Sketches.
  • Blassingame, Wyatt (1967) Bent's Fort, Crossroads of the Great West, Champaign, Ill.: Garrard Pub. Co., OCLC 887106, for juvenile audience
  • Bent, George and Hyde, George E. (1963) A Life of George Bent: Written from His Letters University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, ISBN 0-8061-1577-7