32 years at Bent's Old Fort

Greg Holt seems to be a man with a destiny. He was born in Missouri in the town at the Lake of the Ozarks. Independence, Missouri, was the jumping-off-place for a trip down the Santa Fe Trail in the 1840’s. He started out as a patrol ranger at Curecanti National Monument in Colorado after graduating from Missouri University in wildlife management and agriculture, but also worked at carpentry and blacksmithing at Youmans Ranch while he was there for a couple of eight month seasons. He got used to old-time tools there by building pole corrals, pole gates, and restoring log cabins. Then he dropped out of the park service for seven or eight years while he worked for Boise-Cascade in Eagle, Colorado.

This was a particularly fortunate move for Holt. His landlord Glen Ewing’s wife was a teacher and introduced him to an elementary school teacher, Sarah, who became his wife. The Holts have two children, Hilary, a veterinarian in Arizona, and Trevor, who is an architect in Colorado Springs.

When the job here, as an interpreter at the Fort, came up, Holt applied, because he had apparently been accumulating the skills he would need in carpentry and blacksmithing his entire life. Also, he is a history buff and was familiar with the 1840’s period. It was a marvelous fit, and Holt has enjoyed his 32 years at Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site.

Holt retires July 3l. Chief Interpreter Rick Wallner writes for the National Parks Magazine: “Greg served as the park’s master interpreter, blacksmith, wagon maker, carpenter, volunteer coordinator, oxen driver, fee collection manager, special event organizer, and expert preparer of bacon and eggs for over three decades. One of Greg’s favorite activities was researching and recreating period correct pieces for the fort’s living history displays. Bent’s Old Fort and the National Park Service will miss him greatly.” If you have been out to Bent’s Old Fort, you may remember him as the fellow who, with his crew, fires the black powder swiveling canon on the Fourth of July and at Christmas. This takes special training for two weeks every four years to be sure nobody gets a part blown off by the extremely volatile black powder.

His skill at historical displays was also employed in a marvelous teaching trunk he has made for teachers to use when studying the Santa Fe Trail. The trunk is packed with period clothing of frontiersmen, soldiers, Mexican people and artifacts of objects which would have been found at the Fort in the 1840’s. He sets up the historical journey from his home state of Missouri across the plains and mountains to the former Mexican capital, Santa Fe, which was hungry for American goods. The feeling was mutual, for the people of the United States also were eager to purchase the hand-woven woolen items, pottery and other products of Mexico.

Bent’s Old Fort is only one stop and one lesson in this journey. There is a Santa Fe Trail Game, in which dice are tossed to determine the day you land on, and the actual historic events of that day determine whether you move ahead or go back. Also, you have to make the choice: will you risk Indian attack, starvation and thirst to take the shorter but more dangerous Cimarron cutoff, or will you take the strenuous trek into the Sangre de Cristos Mountain Range. Winner gets to Santa Fe first, of course, and reaps the benefit of getting more money for his trade goods. Also included in the trunk are CDs of music and movies, a power point presentation, and other reference books and art work. One of the most interesting pieces is a large laminated picture map of the preparation areas in Missouri, drawn and painted by Betty Blanco. Each important place is numbered and there is a corresponding number with the description of its function (such as the wagon builder or the corn or wheat grist mill).

This extensive collection of teaching tools in a trunk is available free of charge to the classroom teachers, but they must pay the freight to have it shipped to them and back or come out to the Fort to pick it up. It has casters, but it weights 47 pounds, so you might need a little help with it. It also comes with a combination padlock so that it can be locked when not in use.

Greg’s plans when he retires include travel within the United States with Sarah, who retired eight years ago and has been waiting for him. The other things he wants to do sound a lot like what he is doing at the fort. He has his family’s old ’39 Ford and wants to restore it. “It was already old when I was a kid,” he said. He also has a cylinder-topped gas pump from the 1920’s and some other antique things he wants to put back in working order. Have fun, Greg - sounds like there are a lot of good things to keep you busy.