Category Archives: Historic Events

Bent’s Fort, Book Gives A Close-Up View of a Distant Relative

Charles Bent (1799-1847); William Wells Bent(1809-1869); George Bent (1814-1846); Robert Bent (1816-1841).

Wouldn’t it be nice if every ancestor we researched had been investigated by a meticulous scholar, and written about in an exciting and readable book?  Definitely too much to ask for in most cases–but in the case of the Bent brothers and Bent’s Fort, we can read a close-up of their lives in a book.

When I was writing about the Bent family--relatives and descendants of my 7x great-grandmother, Martha Bent How— I made a brief reference to “Charles Bent and his brother.” Charles Bent and his siblings were descendants of Martha’s brother Peter and the sons of a high achiever who went west to St. Louis and became a judge.  As I wrote earlier:

The judge’s son, Charles Bent, served briefly as the first American Governor of the Territory of New Mexico.The National Park Service maintains a fur trading fort Charles Bent and his brother established on the Santa Fe Trail: Old Bent’s Fort.

Bent's Fort

Bent’s Fort

During the Mexican War, the fort served as a base for the troops of American General Kearney. General Kearney  appointed Charles Bent as Governor of New Mexico after the Mexican War. He served from September 1846 until soldiers of the Pueblo uprising killed him in January 1847. (For those keeping track, Charles is the 4x great-grandchild of John Bent through Peter Bent. That makes Charles my 5th Cousin, 4x removed.)

A Closer Look at Distant Relatives

That reference was enough to make me curious to get a look closer at the lives of Charles Bent and that “brother”, which it turns out included three brothers and a sister and the children of all the above.

After reading all about the place, in David Lavender’s book, Bent’s Fort. I also would like to get a close-up view of Bent’s Old Fort.  [Picture from The Boomer Culture.com]The reproduction  that is pictured above now stands as a National Historic site. It’s Colorado location, just north of New Mexico, would fall within the range of a reasonable road trip from my home in Arizona.

Others besides Historian David Lavender have written about the Bent brothers, but none as thoroughly and in such depth.  His book, a close-up not just of the Bent brothers–mainly Charles, William, George, and Robert focuses on the second son, William a bit more than Charles, but only because Charles life was cut short.  We also hear the fascinating stories of Williams half-Cheyenne sons, also named Charles, George and Robert, who to varying degrees “went native” in the bloody post Civil War period when Western Indians fought in their last gasp attempts to retain their land and way of life.

Bent’s Fort and Western History

Charles Bent’s first ventures west of St. Louis coincided with the enormous fur trade when beaver skins drew hunters and trappers–the rough mountain men and canny merchants–into uncharted territory.  Without realizing it, they were preparing the way for an influx of settlers and farmers who would follow the roads they developed and weave through the mountain passes they discovered and radically change the very idea of the United States.

This map shows the history in capsule form.

Soon after Charles started working in the fur trade, he decided to become an independent trader. His younger brother joined him on the westward treks from St. Louis to the territory still ruled by Spain, and called New Mexico.  That territory include most of today’s New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and a little Texas and Kansas, too.  But the traders, including the Bent brothers, were not only dealing with mostly roadless wilderness, and Indians who were hostile one day and wanting to trade the next, but they were also dealing with a foreign government if they proceeded into New Mexico.

William oversaw the building of Bent’s Fort and they settled there with surrounding Indians–mostly Cheyenne–to selling goods. The Bent’s kept expanding their business–Taos, Santa Fe, other trading post/forts, and constantly changing political situations.

Through this book, I learned about a slice of American history in the early 19th century that somehow had escaped me.  As Beavers became early extinct and Beaver hats were no longer fashionable, the emphasis switched to buffalo skins.  Methods of transportation shifted from boat to foot and mule, to wagons pulled by mules, to wagons pulled by oxen, and eventually the railroads moved in about the time that the buffaloes disappeared. And Bent’s Fort, under the management of the Bent brothers, adapted to the changes.

The Conclusion for the Bents

The outcome for my relative, Charles Bent, was not so good.  After long years of trying to work fairly with the Indians and the governments of the United States and Mexico, he was made the first Territorial Governor of the newly American New Mexico.   It was a brutal time, medieval in the execution of “justice” and revenge on all sides.A few weeks later, Taos Pueblo men angered that some of their own were imprisoned, attacked Charles’ home in Taos. Although his wife and children escaped, Charles was brutally murdered.

William also had worked so well with Indians that no less than Kit Carson declared him the man who knows the Indians better than anyone.  Nevertheless, the U.S. government dragged its feet on a peaceful settlement with the Indians that William proposed.  The Army had already taken advantage of his good will by camping at the fort without paying rent, and when they proposed buying the fort, he burned it down, moved upstream and built a new, smaller trading home.

William tried to civilize his children, but the book shows that  sending them to St. Louis for their education wound up having little effect on two half-breed young men. His daughter who married a trader, also wound up living with Indians, and the results for the children were devastating.  Except for his son George, who lived to dictate his memories of the stories that came from Bent’s Fort.  Those memories fuel much of the book by Lavender, although he disproves many of the details of George’s family legends.

The Book

Many of the names of traders and soldiers who passed through the Bent territory were familiar to me. You’ve heard of Kit Carson and perhaps of Jedidiah Smith or Jim Bridger and  General Kearney. All these passed through Bent’s Fort from time to time. But that just scratches the surface of the men (mostly men) whose stories we hear.  Perhaps some of your ancestors were there, too?

If you want to learn about the beginning the Mexican war that finally made the United States an ocean-to ocean country; if you are curious about the lives and wars of the Native Americans in the west; if you had ancestors who joined the great western migration–you will learn much from Bent’s Fort.


For a guide to all the stories I have written about the Bents, go here.

How I Am Related

  • Vera Marie Kaser Badertscher is the daughter of
  • Harriette Anderson Kaser, the daughter of
  • Vera Stout (Anderson),the daughter of
  • Hattie Morgan (Stout), the daughter of
  • Mary Bassett (Morgan),the daughter of
  • Elizabeth Stone (Bassett) the daughter of
  • Elizabeth Howe (Stone), the daughter of
  • Israel Howe, the son of
  • David How, the son of
  • Martha Bent How, the daughter of
  • John Bent, Sr., who is the 4x great-grandfather of Charles, William, Robert and George Bent, sons of Silas Bent (1768-1827)

A Slice of My Life: Paradise and Doomsday on Mt. Weather

In 1945 I traveled with my family from Ohio to Mt. Weather, Virginia, a place so peaceful and beautiful that it hardly seemed real. I had become the heroine in my own personal adventure, living in a cabin like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s little houses; living on a mountain like Heidi with her grandfather.

As an adult I discovered that the paradise of Mt. Weather now hides a secret even more serious than those mysteries unraveled by my other favorite literary characters, the Bobbsey twins.

The Summer of 1945 at Mt. Weather

Shenandoah

View of the Shenandoah Valley near where we spent the summer.

That summer the air was clear and the views from our modernized cabin stretched for miles.  I had just turned six years old and my little brother, Billy was only six months. World War II was winding down and the official peace treaty with Japan would be signed in September.

That summer, my father, Paul Kaser, worked for the U. S. Weather Bureau, the operators of Mt. Weather since the early 1800s.

Despite what the later news articles say, the Bureau of Mines did not control  Mt. Weather starting in the late 1930s. They might have coexisted with the Weather Bureau, but everyone my father had contact with that summer belonged to the Weather Bureau. They were busily sending up balloons into the atmosphere, not digging an underground city.

One of the men he had worked for in New Philadelphia six years before held a position at Mt. Weather, and invited him to come work for the summer.  A cabin was available on the property of a Dr. Tappan, who had a young daughter just about my age.  My father blissfully describes our home for the summer to his friend, Delmar (Red) Alderman, an old friend from Killbuck, Ohio.

Paul Kaser

Alderman Hardware back room. Paul on the right, and owner of the store, Delmar “Red” Alderman on the left.

Father starts the letter off with a bit of understatement–sneaking up on the spectacular view.

The view is not spectacular just pretty countryside miles and miles of it streached [stretched] out like a panorama. We can see Winchester about 25 miles. Our front yard looks out on the Shenandoah valley on the other side of the mountain is Bull Run valley and beyond are Bull Run Mountains. The air is so fresh you never get tired. The big thing is the peacefulness. No noise except of our own making. The cabin is a thing of beauty. The man who owns it has spent $3000 on it and has managed to keep it looking rustic. It is nicely furnished and has all modern convenience. Hot & cold water, electric refrigeration and modern kitchen except that cooking is done on a wood range or on an electric hot plate.

Although I was just six, the cabin and its surroundings made a lasting impression on me. Unfortuately, my parents did not take a lot of photos of that idyllic summer, but I have snapshots in my mind of the walks through the woods, visiting in the big house with Cummie Tappan and my fascination with the fact that the Tappans had a colored cook. (That’s how we would have described her then.)  I never had known anyone but Mommys to do the cooking!!

When we needed to buy something we went to the nearest “big” town, Berryville VA.

Berryville Main Street looking west

Sometimes Mother and I, pushing my baby brother in his buggy, would walk all the way to the Mt. Weather complex where we  visited Aileen Corwin, the wife of the man my father worked for. The Corwins also had a son my age to join me in exploring the woods.  I remember that Mrs. Corwin once  killed a rattlesnake with a broom when  it had invaded her porch. Fortunately, no snakes visited us, but each evening, mother checked me over carefully for ticks.

The Corwins lived in a simple wooden house near the edge of the complex. Beyond their house were a few two and three story wooden buildings that housed offices and “Government Building,”  a kind of dormitory for workers. We could walk anywhere in the simple complex and visit my Father at work. As I recall, roads were narrow and unpaved.

In his letter to  Delmar Alderman, my father describes how to get to the cabin.

Come to Winchester VA. You can come east on Route 40 or 50 or you can take the Penn. TurnPike and drop down to Winchester then take VA. State Route 7 and come to Berryville VA. (You can inquire there) follow 7 to the top of the ridge (10 miles or so) there you will find a cross road with a lot of signs reading Mt. Weather, Appalachian Trail and a lot of peoples names. Turn south on a gravel road and follow uphilll about a mile and a half till you come to a mail Box marked Dr. Tapppen. That’s the place. Come in and take off your things.

He also tempts his friend to visit by telling him that he can visit the Skyline Drive and Washington D. C., each only about two hours away from the cabin.  (We had gone to Washington D.C. to visit with my father’s nieces, Phyllis and Evelyn Kaser, who worked during the war in government jobs.)

I can remember walking along the sparsely traveled road with my mother, enjoying the wildflowers, learning the names of trees, and picking wild strawberries. Amazingly, although the Mt. Weather complex has changed drastically,  the area around Mt. Weather seems no different than it was 60 years ago. The Google Map street view of Route 601(the cross road off Rt. 7 that my father referred to in his letter) along the ridge of the mountain look so familiar to me, that I feel like Google must have an image of my mother and me walking along, looking for wild strawberries growing in front of the low stone walls.

But when my journey on Google Maps closes in on the Mt. Weather facility, I can’t “drive” right in. A sign declares FEMA Mt. Weather Emergency Operations Center, and a gate and guardhouse end the Google Maps journey.

Mt. Weather

The Mt. Weather Complex today.

What a surprise it was to see a Time Magazine article about Mt. Weather 45 years later. Digging into the mountain, government agencies had created a hideaway for important officials in case of atomic bomb attack. In 2011, Time magazine’s blog ran a condensation of that article from December 9, 1991, that you can read here. Although the road leading to the top of the mountain may look the same, the pastoral innocence of the Mt. Weather complex itself existed no more. The FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) designation is a cover for the real mission of the place.

The title of the article, DOOMSDAY HIDEAWAY, describes a very different place than the one where my father worked and my family visited during the summer of 1945.

News items and Wikipedia have a gap in their timetables of the way that Mt. Weather morphed from a Weather Station into a secret underground hideout for high government officials in case of nuclear attack. The history the reporters dug up skips over the immediate post-war period when we saw Mt. Weather.

A more recent report, from NBC, (June 2015) indicates that the facility is no longer used as a hideout for government officials, but instead an “alternate” center of operations for Homeland Security. At any rate, the real work of the government there remains top secret.

The news sources say that in the late 1930s the Bureau of Mines started some excavations, and by 1959 the Bureau had completed an underground shelter in Pre Cambrian basalt.  Ironically, my father’s description of the place emphasizes “peacefulness” and a decade after he wrote that letter, the emphasis was on preparedness for war and disaster.

I am so glad that we had that short respite on the mountain at a moment in history when we were enjoying the prospect of long-awaited peace in the world and the peacefulness of the beautiful Virginia mountains.

A Slice of My Life: Veterans Day Memories, World War II

For most people reading this, World War II is an historic event that seems as remote as the Civil War.  I hate to shock you—but I was alive during World War II. Not only that, I have memories.

Here are a random few:

Handsome men in uniform–including uncles and cousins.

World War II Vets

Uncles Herbert and Bill Anderson and Cousin Frank Fair 1943

This picture shows my Uncle Herbert and Uncle Bill Anderson, both navy men, and my cousin Frank who was the most glamorous of all–a fighter pilot in the Army Air Force. He was incredibly handsome and married an incredibly beautiful young woman.  I thought they were movie stars come to earth in Ohio. The many war movies we were seeing at the Duncan Theater in Killbuck never had stars any more glamorous.

Frank and Ruth Fair 1942

Frank and Ruth Fair 1942

 

Frank Fair, WWII, 1943

Frank Fair, WWII, 1943

Blue Star Mothers and Gold Star Mothers

A Blue Star banner with three stars hung in my Grandma Vera Anderson’s window, and Blue Star and Gold Star banners could be seen in many windows throughout town.  Every mother or grandmother got a blue star.  I always thought Grandma should have a gold one, because they were prettier, but I didn’t understand that to get a gold star you had to have lost a son.  There was an organization of Blue Star mothers than grandma attended, too.  The women found comfort together.

Blue star banner

A blue star banner from the Library of Congress photo collection

Protecting New Philadelphia from Bombs

I was not more than three when I begged to go along with my Daddy on his rounds at a Civil Defense Warden. It was a volunteer position, put he had an armband to wear over his overcoat sleeve to identify him, and carried a heavy flashlight, hooded and kept pointed at the ground, as he walked around the neighborhood checking to be sure no light shown out of any window.

Of course, people were also not supposed to be on the streets at night–other than the Civil Defense Wardens. So of course I wanted to be out on the street!  One night I remember clearly, despite my young age, my Daddy relented and I walked alongside him, holding his hand, very proud to be the daughter of such an important person.

Remembering this scene now brings to mind so many of the things about World War II that were unique and that I have not seen repeated in my lifetime.

For one thing, it seems a little surreal that people actually thought that German bombers might be heading for the small city of New Philadelphia in Ohio, and therefore we had to keep the lights out when there was an air raid siren. (Most if not all were practice alarms, I am sure.)

Second, it is a reminder of how united the country was–how everyone felt they had a part to play in defeating the enemy and helping our troops.  People didn’t just cooperate by turning out the lights when told to, they collected tin cans and newspapers, women knitted socks, men and women planted victory gardens so that farm produce could go to feed the fighting men, we sold war bonds at school. The whole country was fighting that war. And it felt very close.

I am happy to report that no German bombs fell on New Philadelphia on my Daddy’s watch.

Raising Rabbits

Besides raising vegetables in the back yard, my parents experimented with raising rabbits. Daddy built a wood framed, wire cage that sat in the back of the garage. He stocked it with a pair of rabbits and they did their rabbit thing. Soon we had a cage full of baby rabbits.  Of course, I thought it was a windfall of pets, but I’m sure that mother and dad had in mind supplementing the meat they could buy with their ration stamps.

I am not sure that my mother had the fortitude to kill the fluffy little critters and cook them. At any rate, the baby rabbit managed to escape the cage, and one day my parents got a call from neighbors asking if their rabbits were missing.  I believe that was the end of rabbit farming at our home in New Philadelphia.

There are other memories–but I have to keep something for next year, don’t I?