Opened by Bent, St. Vrain & Company in 1833, Bent’s Old Fort became the most prominent spot on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail. Until 1849, this huge adobe trading post, looking to some like a castle dropped onto the plains, served tribes, traders and travelers. William Bent managed the fort, hence it was often known as Fort William over its lifetime.
The fort was always a private, commercial operation. However, during the U.S. war with Mexico, the military used the fort as a supply depot (never compensating the company for this appropriated use). The war also negatively impacted the fort’s business. After the war, deaths in his family and a cholera epidemic among the Southern Cheyenne — the fort’s main customer base — led William to abandon the post.