Rick WallnerThe best book on Bent’s Fort is David Lavender’s Bent’s Fort, although Mark Lee Gardner wrote a great Historic Resource Study for the park about 10 years ago; it sure would be nice to see that published.

My favorite fort anecdote is when a Cheyenne medicine man used sandburs coated with buffalo grease to remove what was likely a diphtheritic membrane from William Bent’s throat—probably saving Bent’s life and changing the course of history.

One of my favorite history quotations is a line from the Broadway musical Wicked, when the Wizard says: “…where I’m from we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it ‘history.’”

The strangest guy in the fur trade was Archibald Pelton up at Fort Astoria (then called Fort George). “Pelton” was used by the Chinook as a word for “crazy.”

The best place to get period clothing for a pre-1850 civilian trading post like ours is Jas. Townsend and Son. But having a local seamstress, which we do, is invaluable.

A guest lecture I’m looking forward to attending at this year’s symposium is Dr. James Hanson’s. His encyclopedias of trade goods are becoming a go-to resource.

For the video game Minecraft, students measured Bent’s Old Fort as part of the park’s partnership with the Immersive Education Initiative to get our tech-savvy younger generation involved in building a virtual Bent’s Fort, which we will be able to share with the world.

Susan Shelby Magoffin, the self-described “wandering princess,” left us a diary that gives tremendous insight into life along the Santa Fe Trail and in Nuevo Mexico in 1846-47. If you haven’t read it, you should.

The hiking trail we built here takes people along the Arkansas River when it is not under the river—like it has been for over a month now!  Since the beginning of May, this area has gone from extreme drought to major flooding!

My favorite National Park is hard to pick out.  Of the smaller parks, a couple favorites are Devils Tower in Wyoming and Fort Frederica in Georgia; of the larger parks, probably Acadia (where I got engaged).

Fur trade slang I always kind of liked: “meat bag” for stomach, but “snow eater” for a warm Chinook wind is pretty good too.

A nearby Old West site you should also visit: Boggsville, a Santa Fe Trail trading village and last home of Kit Carson.

The craziest thing that ever happened to me was evacuating all the visitors out of Mount Rushmore on September 11, 2001, and then standing all alone in the visitor plaza, watching a small plane head toward the mountain (it turned away before hitting the heads).

Wish I had a dollar for every time a kid asked if the fire burning in the fort’s plaza is real. (It is.)

What history has taught me, as William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”


This year, True West’s readers named Bent’s Old Fort, outside of La Junta, Colorado, the “Best Preserved Historical Fort of the West.” Rick Wallner has managed the fort’s interpretation and visitor services since 2002, offering guests a reconstructed Santa Fe Trail trading post staffed by period-dressed interpreters. His career with the National Park Service spans more than 30 years. He grew up in Cañon City and lives in La Junta with his family. An avid traveler, he has visited 360 of the 407 National Park sites in the country.

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