The eastern side of Colorado is flat and featureless, but there are some interesting towns to visit. Bent’s Fort was established nearby in 1833 because of its location on the Santa Fe Trail. In the 1870s the Kansas Pacific Railroad built a branch line from Kit Carson terminating on the banks of the Arkansas River. In 1876, the Santa Fe Railroad reached the same spot from the east and set up a construction camp called Otero. Once this was the international boundary between Mexico and the US and it was the place where the Old Santa Fe Trail crossed a pioneer trail to Pueblo. The ‘tent city’ construction camp moved further down the line in 1877. In 1878 the Kansas Pacific Railroad abandoned its branch line but the Santa Fe Railroad decided that it was a good location for a depot and roundhouse. The railroad changed the name of the town to La Junta and it became the headquarters for its Colorado Division. La Junta means ‘junction’ in Spanish, a name chosen to reflect the towns position at the meeting point of railroad and trails. On May 15, 1881, the residents incorporated and formed ‘The City of La Junta’. Settlers began to arrive initially to farm the fertile flood plain of the Arkansas River but later extending to the higher dry lands. Food prices dropped after World War I prompting the abandonment of some of the dryer land which eventually turned to dust creating Dust Bowl conditions. During World War II an airfield was built to train British pilots. Nowadays La Junta is primarily an agricultural supply town.
Kitchen, Bent's Old Fort NHS
The interior of the fort has been furnished to to show what it would have been like in the early days. The reconstructed fort shows how the early pioneers had to be totally self sufficient. A kitchen is essential to feed the occupants, but there are also blacksmiths and carpenters shops to allow all of the implements and utensils used in the fort to be manufactured on site. The carpenters shop was essential for keeping the wagons used by the pioneers in good working order. Click Tab 2 to see a wagon and wheels under repair outside Carpenter's shop
Cowrie Shell Indian Dress, Koshare Indian Museum
There were no dancing displays on the day that we visited but we really liked the museum. There was some impressive traditional clothing on show including this beautifully made cowrie shell dress.. Click Tab 2 to see a cabinet full of Indian Headdresses.
Bent's Old Fort NHS
Brothers William, Charles and George Bent arrived in the area in the late 1820s and set up some trading posts. In 1833 William and Charles Bent, along with Ceran St. Vrain, built a fort close to the Arkansas River which was then the border between the US and Mexico. The fort was used as a trading post primarily with the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians for buffalo skins. The fort was the only major permanent European settlement on the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and the Mexican settlements. During the Mexican American War the fort was used as a staging post for Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny's ‘Army of the West’. In 1849 the Cheyenne and other Plains Indians were struck by a great cholera epidemic and William Bent abandoned Bent's Fort. He eventually built a new fort at Big Timbers in the Arkansas Valley and it is believed that he used materials from the Old Fort when building his New Fort. In the 1860s, a portion of the fort was renovated by the Missouri Stage Company and it served as a stage stop until the 1880s. After that the fort was fully abandoned and much of its adobe melted away. Archeological excavations and original sketches, paintings and diaries were used to build a reconstruction of the fort in 1976 and it is open to the public as Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site. Click Tab 2 to see a view across the top of the fort.
Koshare Indian Museum
The Koshare Indian Museum was built in 1949 to reflect the history and culture of the Pueblo and Plains Indians. The museum has on display a wide range of Indian artefacts ranging including jewellery, pottery, kachinas and clothing. The museum also features Indian dances and the history of this goes back to 1933 and a group of Boy Scouts. They formed the Koshare Club to perform Indian dances and as the Koshare Dancers they became very successful. The money that they raised from their performances was used to build the first part of the museum, a large kiva in which dances could be performed. The museum remains closely linked to the Scout movement and Indian dances are still performed but they are controversial as some local Indians regard them as a ‘impersonation’ of their history and culture.
AT&SF Locomotive No 1024
La Junta’s days as a railroad town are commemorated by this Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railroad (the full name of the Santa Fe) steam locomotive on display overlooking the US-50. It was built in 1901 by Burnham, Williams & Co., which later became the Baldwin Locomotive Works. It was one of 26 locomotives ordered to handle steep grades on the line between La Junta and Albuquerque. The locomotives were retired from 1941 through to 1954 and No 1024 was donated to the City of La Junta in 1956. For many years it was on display in La Junta’s Potter Park but in 2017 it was moved to its current more prominent location.
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