By David K. Clapsaddle
George and Robert Bent, younger brothers of Charles and William, set forth from Taos in the summer of 1832 and traveled north over Raton Pass.
This itinerary was the precursor to what became known as the Bent’s Fort Road.
In 1833, William and Charles Bent and Ceran St. Vrain, operating as Bent, St. Vrain and Company, built Bent’s Fort on the north bank of the Arkansas River.
The first of Kearny’s command, Companies A and D of Alexander Doniphan’s Regiment, marched out of Fort Leavenworth on June 22.
Other troops followed at regular intervals until the total complement of 1,500 men were en route.
Also assigned to Kearny’s command was a small party of topographical engineers, comprised of 2d Lieutenants
James W. Abert andWilliam G. Peck plus some civilian employees. The squad departed the post on June 27.
Additionally, the Mormon Battalion recruited in Iowa, 500 strong, arrived at Fort Leavenworth on Aug. 10 and departed in two separate groups on Aug. 13.
Following in the rear of the military trains, Samuel Magoffrn’s trade caravan proceeded on to Pawnee Fork where he joined three other traders — Manuel K. Harmony, Cornelius Davey, and Edward Glasgow.
Leaving Pawnee Fork, the traders accompanied by two companies of soldiers took the Dry Route southwest while Kearny’s troops pursued the Wet Route. The traders struck the Arkansas River at the Caches on July 15.
West of the Caches at the Arkansas crossing, the Mormon Battalion separated in mid-September. One group crossed the river to follow the Cimarron Route to Santa Fe.
The other group continued up the north bank of the Arkansas to Bent’s Fort, the route previously taken by Kearny’s men and the trade caravans.
Beyond Bent’s Fort, the Battalion continued on to Pueblo where they went into winter camp.
At Bent’s Fort, Kearny prepared for the invasion of Mexican Territory which lay just south of the Arkansas River.
On Aug. 1, two companies of the Missouri Volunteers entered New Mexico, and on the following day, Cooke’s detachment, a small party of spies, and the balance of Kearny’s troops crossed the Arkansas River.
The march was not without difficulty, especially with regard to Raton Pass.
Susan Magoffin’s diary entry of August 15 reads, “Worse and worse the road! They are ever taking
the mules from the carriages this afternoon and a half a dozen men by bodily exertions are pulling them down the hills.
“And then it takes a dozen men to steady a wagon with all its wheels locked — and for one who is some distance off to hear the crack of it makes over the stones, is truly alarming. Till I rode ahead and understood the business, I supposed that every wagon had fallen over a precipice.
“We came to camp about half an hour after dusk, having accomplished the great travel of six or eight hundred yards during the day.”
Beyond Raton Pass, Kearny led his command to Las Vegas and then to Santa Fe, arriving at the ancient capital on Aug. 18. So ended his march on the Bent’s Fort Road.
Louise Barry has carefully compiled a list of those parties which traveled the Bent’s Fort Road subsequent to Kearny’s invasion through the end of the Mexican War in 1848.
Those parties for the remainder of 1846 were as follows: a Ceran St. Vrain train departing Wesport on Sept. 15; the Francis Parkman party returning to Wesport on Sept. 26; a small party of Mormons returning east which arrived at Independence on Sept. 30; and Capt. A.W. Enos’s party leaving Fort Leavenworth for Bent’s Fort on Oct. 11.
Barry’s list continues for 1847: the Kit Carson/Edward BealelTheodore Talbot courier expedition from California which reached Missouri by mid-May; Lt. Col. William Gilpin’s march from Fort Mann to Bent’s Fort in October; and Brig. Gen. Sterling Price’s trip from Fort Leavenworth to Shnta Fe by way of Bent’s Fort in November.
Barry’s list for 1848 is even more impressive: Lewis Tharp’s pack train which arrived at the town of Kansas on March 20; the trade caravans of Elliot Lee, Charles Towne, and others who were attacked by Apaches near the Raton Mountains in June; the John C. Fremont party which veered southwest from the Smoky Hill route to the Rent’s Fort Road at Beale’s courier expedition from Washington D.C. to California which departed Fort Leavenworth in mid-November.
Santa Fe Trail Association Ambassador Clapsaddle is president of the Wet/Dry Routes Chapter and a frequent contributor to Wagon Tracks.