Since returning from our trip to Colorado, I have been re-reading The Old Santa Fe Trail by Colonel Henry Inman, a classic memoir of “the Old Trail” which was, as Buffalo Bill described it, “the arena of almost constant sanguinary struggles between the wily nomads of the desert and the hardy white pioneers.”
It always helps when reading history (especially a primary source such as this) to be able to picture the location.
(Stagecoach ruts in the Comanche National Grasslands)
Since most of the Symposium we ostensibly attended consisted of lectures on topics not of particular interest to me (“The origins and history of the Spanish saddle used on the Santa Fe Trail from 1820-1830”) and which surely included much editorializing, we chose to skip them. Likewise we chose not to join the bus tours of points of interest, but re-visited on our own places we had been before (Bent’s Old Fort, Boggsville)…
…and also some places we had never been before (Bent’s New Fort site, Las Animas, Lamar)…
We attended the two award ceremonies (2020 and 2021) and chatted amicably with the legion of “living historians” (John C. Fremont et al) also in attendance–not to be confused with re-enactors (i.e. men who like to wear costumes). I met a nice couple who had retired to West Pueblo, Colorado after having owned the Best Western in Las Animas for 40 years. They told me that all the movie stars stayed there when the mini-series Centennial was filmed at Bent’s Old Fort in 1978, but that things had quieted down a lot after that. After dinner we cut and ran and drank the wine we had purchased at the local liquor store which we had found after two friendly locals pointed the way.
Mostly, it was just “being there” that mattered to me. I hope we can return someday, maybe with a grandchild or two in tow. No Disney princesses live there, but something much better does. I feel it is my duty to try to impart to them a love of history and appreciation of their ancestors’ part in it.
“We have a few old mouth-to-mouth tales; we exhume from old trunks and boxes and drawers letters without salutation or signature, in which men and women who once lived and breathed are now merely initials or nicknames out of some now incomprehensible affection which sound to us like Sanskrit or Chocktaw; we see dimly people, the people in whose living blood and seed we ourselves lay dormant and waiting, in this shadowy attenuation of time possessing now heroic proportions, performing their acts of simple passion and simple violence, impervious to time and inexplicable.”William Faulkner, Absalom! Absalom!