Fort Adobe: The Beginning
In the decades after the Louisiana Purchase, even as the earliest explorers crossed the North American continent, America’s economic frontier expanded westward. Trappers went to the Rocky Mountains for beaver, Plains Indians were willing to trade buffalo hides and the first wagons rolled between the Missouri River and Santa Fe, beginning commerce with Mexico. Brothers Charles and William Bent and their partner Ceran St. Vrain wanted to establish a base to participate in the growing trade business in the vast, rapidly-developing area of the Great Plains. In 1833, they built Ft. William on the north bank of the Arkansas River near present-day La Junta, Colorado. Ft. William was close enough to the Rockies to draw trappers, near the hunting grounds of the Cheyenne, Kiowa, Arapaho, Comanche and several other tribes and it was on the Santa Fe Trail near a ford on the Arkansas River. Business was good for Bent, St. Vrain & Company. The Mexican trade grew rapidly as travelers plied the route from Independence and Westport to their company stores in Santa Fe and Taos. There, goods such as cloth, hardware, glass and tobacco were exchanged for silver, furs, horses and mules. The company’s reputation made their traders welcome in most Indian villages and drew growing numbers of Indians to the fort to trade. Before long, they dominated the Indian trade on the southern plains. The Arkansas river was then the boundary between the United States and Mexico. Bent’s Fort helped define that border and played a significant role in the settlement of the western United States. Ft. William is now known as Bent’s Old Fort and is a National Historic Site operated by the National Park Service.
Bent, St. Vrain & Company grew and prospered. As successful businessmen do, they expanded operations. Though trade with trappers and travelers on the Santa Fe Trail was important to their enterprise, trade with the Plains Indians became the mainstay of their business. In 1843, Bent, St. Vrain & Company built a log structure trading post on the Canadian River northeast of Borger in what is now Hutchinson County. In 1845, they replaced the log structure with an adobe “fort” 80 feet long and 80 feet wide built by Mexican adobe workers. Few other facts or descriptions exist about the appearance of the new post except that it had only one entrance and a small window through which trade was conducted with the Indians. The 6,400 square foot structure had earthen walls that were 9 feet high and its floor plan was likely based on the design of Ft. William in Colorado almost 300 miles to the northwest. The site was across from the mouth of White Deer Creek. Due to its fortified, defensive architectural design, it became known as Fort Adobe. A second post was built east of this location near present-day Canadian, Texas in 1845, but neither post was to last long. William Bent closed Ft. Adobe in 1848 due to Indian increased Indian activity. In 1849, he blew up the remains of the structure with gun powder after a number of his livestock were slaughtered by local Indians. He left the panhandle of Texas and never returned. Today, nothing remains of Ft. Adobe but the legend.
Ceran St. Vrain
Hutchinson County Historical Museum • 618 N. Main Street • Borger, TX 79007 • 806 273 0130
Tuesday - Friday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. • Saturday 1:00 to 4:30 p.m.