The company was initially formed as a partnership between Charles Bent and Ceran St. Vrain, both of St. Louis, Missouri in 1830. The next year, Charles’ brother, William Bent joined the company as a partner. They were first involved in the Santa Fe trade transporting goods and furs between St. Louis, Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico on the Santa Fe Trail. Its annual revenue from the fur trade was about $40,000, making them the second largest American fur trade outfit next to the American Fur Company. They soon established stores in Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The company soon expanded its operations and established several trading posts to trade with the Plains Indians, including Bent’s Fort on the Arkansas River in 1833, and Fort St. Vrain on the South Platte River in 1837, both in Colorado. They also bought and closed down Fort Jackson, also in Colorado in 1838. In about 1843, they established Fort Adobe on the Canadian River in Texas.
Charles Bent took up residence in Taos, New Mexico and directed the Santa Fe trade. William Bent split his time between Bents Fort and his Cheyenne wife’s people. Ceran St. Vrain ran the company stores in Taos and Santa Fe, where he partnered Cornelio Vigil, a prominent Taos trader and mayor of Taos, in procuring the Vigil-St. Vrain Land Grant.
Fort Adobe in Texas was short-lived and was abandoned by the company in 1846 when the Comanche Indians became hostile. In later years, the ruins of the adobe post were known as Adobe Walls and became the site of two Indian fights, known as the Battles of Adobe Walls. As the fur trade declined, Fort Saint Vrain closed in 1844.
The United States occupation of New Mexico during the Mexican–American War led to the end of Bent, St. Vrain & Company. In September 1846, Charles Bent was appointed as the first civilian Governor of the newly acquired New Mexico Territory by military Governor Stephen Watts Kearny. On January 19, 1847, Charles Bent was scalped and killed by Pueblo warriors, during the Taos Revolt.
The general unrest after the revolt and the diminishing demands for fur caused the dissolution of the company in 1849. The same year, Bents Fort was closed.
William Bent died on his Purgatory River ranch in Colorado in May of 1869. Ceran St. Vrain died in Mora, New Mexico on October 28, 1870.
©Kathy Weiser-Alexander, July 2018.