Empire on the Plains
In the 1820s, an independent and determined 15 year old boy named William Bent left his home in St. Louis, Missouri and followed his older brother, Charles, along the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail to what is now southeastern Colorado. Their goal was the same as most men who traveled the trail: to make their fortune in an untamed frontier.
The future was in furs and pelts, and there was quite a market as beaver hats were all the rage in men's fashion back East. For months at a time, the Bent brothers trapped up and down the Arkansas, collecting large loads of pelts that they then transported back to St. Louis where they collected their pay from the Missouri Fur Company.
It can be said that both William and Charles were "smarter than the average bear," as the saying goes, and they quickly developed friendships with the French, Spanish and American trappers they met on the trail. This was especially true for William who had a natural gift with language and connected easily with those he met. Still, the brothers must have stood out from the crowd in a way, for they each had an appearance and manner more suited to being businessmen or lawyers than fur trappers. But fur trappers they were, and it didn't take them long to realize that the true fortune would not be made until they worked for themselves.
And so they did.
Within just a few years, the Bents were among the most successful, wealthiest men in the region and, as market demand shifted from furs to buffalo hides, the Bents transitioned from trappers to traders.
By this time, the Santa Fe Trail had become a bona fide commercial highway for people traveling and trading products from Missouri to Mexico and back. A trading post was needed for travelers, hunters, trappers and traders to buy, sell and stock up on needed supplies. And in 1828, under the supervision of William Bent, construction began. It took about four years to build, but, eventually, an extraordinary building rose up out of the plains.