George Bent (1843-1917) Letters (KC0201)
George Bent was the son of the noted Indian trader, William Bent and his Cheyenne wife, Owl Woman. The elder Bent, along with his brother Charles, traded with the Indians on the Plains from the early 1820s, and built the first Bent's Fort on the north side of the Arkansas River (in what is today Bent County, Colorado). This fort became the major trading center for the tribes on both sides of the Arkansas, as well as an important stop on the trade routes to Taos and Santa Fe.
There, at the old fort, George and his younger brother Charles were born and raised until they were sent to Westport and St. Louis for schooling. When the Civil War came, George and the younger Charles joined the Confederate Army and served under General Sterling Price. However, they tired of the white man's war after the Battle of Pea Ridge. By 1863, George Bent had returned to his mother's people, the Southern Cheyenne, just as the Indian wars in the Plains began. Cut off from white culture, Bent was in a unique position to observe the hostilities from the Indian perspective and to report his experiences.
Years later Bent assumed the historically significant role as facilitator, informant, and interpreter for a culture and life that was fast disappearing. Working for such noted scholars as George Bird Grinnell, Bent gathered together groups of Indians for interviews and translated answers to Grinnell's questions. During this service Bent became acquainted with George Hyde, one of Grinnell's research assistants. Hyde and Bent began a lengthy correspondence about 1905 and continued the exchange almost until Bent's death. Together they conceived a manuscript to document Indian life on the Plains before 1875. Hyde wrote the book from Bent's material, but it was not published until nearly 50 years later when the director of the University of Oklahoma Press, rediscovered the manuscript, and, with the support of the aged Hyde, edited and published the Life of George Bent, Written from His Letters (1968).
The bulk of this material is a series of abstracts of letters written by Bent to Hyde reporting his memories and those of others he interviewed concerning the activities and conditions of the plains Indians from roughly 1860 until 1875, when the warfare on the Southern Plains had effectively ended. The abstracts reflect two numbering sequences apparently established by Bent and Hyde to index the nearly 240 letters. Though only a few of Bent's original letters are included in this collection, most may be found in the Denver Public Library and at Yale University. 1906-1928.
© WHMC-KC, University of Missouri
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Western Historical Manuscript Collection-Kansas City
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