Smoke Signals

Mar/Apr 2012




Bent's Old Fort Traditional Holiday Celebration



The weather was clear and fairly warm for early December as we drove to Bent's Old Fort National Historical Site for their Traditional Holiday Celebration. The weather forecast was 'iffy' but the only clouds we saw were over Raton Pass. Spent the rest of Friday settling in and catching up with the folks we hadn't seen since the last event in September and meeting the new folks. Two NAF members were in attendance as volunteers: Mike Moore and myself.

There were 8 groups signed up for the candle-light tours on Friday evening. As the groups came in the carpenter's shop we stopped the jobs we were doing and asked the “travelers” how the trail conditions were and if their wagons needed repairs. We answered questions about what we were doing. Then we asked about any war news they may have heard. (The year is 1846 and the Army of the West passed through during the summer on their way to Santa Fe.) Then I “remembered” that a gent had dropped off a letter for someone who was behind him on the trail. I got the letter and read to whom it was addressed. Previously, I had chosen someone from the reservation list and had the letter addressed to them. If the person present, I gave them the letter and asked them to read it. “Any news, even your news, is good news”. The letters have been written over the years. One includes a job offer with a pay increase for a lady to come back to the tavern where she worked previously. Another was a letter from a gent's mother informing him that he has forgotten his bottle of Castor oil and extolling it's virtues. Another is from a mother warning her daughter about the rough American frontiersmen and recommending that the daughter contact Ceran St Vrain for an introduction to a Frenchman. After the letter is read, the group heads to the other end of the fort to visit with the Mexican Laborers to see how they celebrate Christmas.

The fort provides cots based on Marcy's 1859 Prairie Traveler Handbook. They are narrow but comfortable. The night passed warm and toasty in the carpenter's shop as there were three of us to share the fire-tending duties.

We awoke to about 2 inches of snow and a windy snow storm. The visitor numbers were down in the morning but as the storm stopped in late morning, the afternoon had more visitors. In the shop we had 3 sessions for the kids to make toys. This year we tried whistles, a little wagon and a teepee. We did the whistle first as we didn't have many kids in the morning. The whistles did take a little or a lot of finessing on our part to get them working. A couple worked really well. (We were “thanked” by the parents later.) Other day-time activities included a pinata break, a taffy pull, games in the plaza, period music provided by Tom Karnuta and Rex Rideout. The yule log this year was more work than normal. In the past the kids went out and found the log. The oxen were hitched to the log and the kids tried to ride the log back to the fort. Rex and Ely, the old oxen, have been retired and have been replaced by Clark and Coolidge; only 2 years old. The teamster doesn't trust them around yelling kids yet, so the kids got to pull the yule log back to the fort. There must have been 50 kids so it wasn't too hard.

The weather Saturday night was cold and clear. There were 12 tour groups scheduled but we only had about 10 or 11. Some of the ones we did have were not as full as scheduled. Since a lot of the folks weren't there or in the wrong group, I ended up reading most of the letters and resealing them, modifying the address and sending them with one of the kids in the group to be forwarded to Pueblo.

The park staff provided Sunday Breakfast consisting of pancakes and assorted goodies. Greg, the volunteer coordinator, presented the certificates of appreciation to the volunteers recognizing their hours of work for the past year.



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