Daniel "Jake" Koch, acting chief interpreter for Bent’s Old Fort, has been on duty since the fall. At one historical enactment event he demonstrated various types of firearms available at Bent’s Old Fort, so you may have already seen him in action.
Koch, a serious student of history, formerly aspired to being a history teacher at a college or university but became fascinated with interpreting history to the general public while he was a graduate student.
“Working with John [Carson] at Bent’s Old Fort is my dream job,” Koch told the Bent County Democrat. “I have been referred to as ‘the new Greg Holt.’ I’m an interpretive ranger here, so I work with John [Carson], kind of the day-to-day operations of the Fort, giving programs, planning interpretive operations, planning events, working with livestock.”
Koch grew up in Ohio in a family whose vacations were spent visiting historic sites and national parks.
“I went to college for history and graduate school, but while I interned at Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park, I really got a taste for public history. I had been looking to go more academic before that, but I really liked the interaction with people.”
Koch met his wife, Carly, when they were both in graduate school at East Tennessee State University. They have a son, Abraham, who will be 4 in October. The family is living in Las Animas, where Carly is a special education assistant and technical consultant at the school.
Koch started with the National Park Service at the Vicksburg National Historic Site when he was in graduate school.
“It’s a happy place," Koch said about the fort. "The stories are about the traders during the time the fort was active.”
Abraham speaks of the gort as “Papa’s Castle.” He likes coming out and looking at the horses.
Koch’s last job before coming to Colorado was at Andersonville Historic Site, a National Historic Center for Prisoners of War.
“Andersonville is an important site, and the stories of the men who were prisoners of war were touching, but it was a tough place," said Koch. "The stories were hard to take in.”
KOch finds the trappers’ stories more uplifting.
“Until the very end of the fort, it’s a really happy story, with all these groups coming together. So it’s a switch. And the weather, too. I grew up with snow, and - living in Mississippi - you can count on one hand the number of times we saw snow.
"Of course, it’s losing some of its novelty now," Koch said jokingly. "I love the wide open, the plains, and my wife grew up near the mountains in east Tennessee. She loves seeing the mountains and being near enough to drive to them.”
Koch pointed out that the duration of the fort’s existence isn’t really so short compared with other fur trading company posts. The Bent, St. Vrain & Company was the third longest-lived trading post after the Hudson’s Bay Company and the American Fur Company.
Koch is looking forward to the next event at the Fort: Frontier Skills Day, on March 16, will provide adults an opportunity to experience fur trade frontier life of the 1830s and 1840s.
Participants must be 18 years of age or older and must pre-register. The application form is available on the Bent’s Old Fort website, or drive out or mail the headquarters at 35110 CO 194, La Junta.
Only a small number of applicants are accepted for each skill: laborer, trader/clerk, carpenter, blacksmith, trapper/hunter and domestic.