Legends Of America
Since 2003
LEGENDS OF AMERICA
Legends Facebook Page    Legends on Pinterest    Legends on Twitter
 

Colorado - COLORADO LEGENDSCOLORADO LEGENDS

Fort Lyon on the Arkansas River

 Bookmark and Share
 
  

Fort Lyon, Colorado in the 1800s.Fort Lyon (1860-1867) - Fort Wise, established just west of Bent's New Fort, was built in 1860 and named for Henry Wise, governor of Virginia. That same year, the U.S. Army leased from William Bent, his fortification, which consisted of 12 rooms surrounding a central courtyard. Bent's New Fort buildings were used as a commissary for the fort as well as housing the Upper Arkansas Indian Agency. The post served as an important military link on the Santa Fe Trail between Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and Fort Union, New Mexico.

 

In 1861, when the Civil War began, the government, not wanting to recognize Confederate leaders, changed the name of the post to Fort Lyon in honor of General Nathaniel Lyon, killed at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri on August 10, 1861.

 

In 1862, the fort's garrison marched into New Mexico and helped defeat a Confederate force from Texas in the Battle of Glorieta Pass. During the rest of the Civil War the post was the principal guardian of the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail. Cooperating with detachments from Fort Larned, Kansas and Fort Union, New Mexico, its troops escorted traffic along the upper reaches of the Arkansas River to Raton Pass.

 

The fort was also involved with the uprising of Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho in Colorado that reached a climax in 1864. Three years before, a few chiefs, pacified by Colonel Edwin V. Sumner's 1857 campaign, had concluded the Treaty of Fort Wise. Guaranteeing peace along the Santa Fe Trail and in the region, they relinquished all the territory assigned to their tribes by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 and promised to settle on a reservations. But, most of the other chiefs, refusing to be bound by the treaty, kept on hunting buffalo between the Platte and the Arkansas Rivers.

 

Miners and settlers continued to flow into Colorado, during a time when Colorado's regular troops were serving in the Civil War. In the spring of 1864 the predictable collision occurred. Throughout the summer, warriors raided roads and settlements and practically halted traffic on the Santa Fe Trail.

 

Sand Creek MassacreColoradans obtained their revenge at Sand Creek, some 40 miles down the Arkansas River from Fort Lyon, where a group of peaceful Cheyenne Indians, on their way to their new reservation in Oklahoma, were encamped. In November, 1864, the Cheyenne, who thought they were under the post's protection were slaughtered.

 

The Sand Creek Massacre resulted in a congressional investigation and a national wave of public indignation at the killing of elderly men, women, and children. It also infuriated the Plains Indians to such an extent, that they launched a full-scale war.

 

During the summer of 1867, because of frequent flooding of the Arkansas River, unhealthful conditions, and the decreasing supply of timber, the Army relocated the fort 20 miles upstream and re-designated it as Fort Lyon No. 2. For a time; however, a Kansas City-Santa Fe stage line used the dirt-roofed stone buildings at the first Fort Lyon as a stage station. Later, the old post was burned by angry Indians.

 

The new Fort Lyon was also located on the Arkansas River, on a bluff about two miles below the mouth of the Purgatoire River east of present-day Las Animas, Colorado.

 

However, by the time of the fort's activation, the need for protection of the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail had lessened as the focus in the Indian campaigns shifted to Kansas and Oklahoma. However, troops from the fort did play a small part in General Philip Sheridan's 1868-69 Indian campaign.

 

On May 23, 1868, famous Indian scout, trapper, guide and former U.S. Army General, Kit Carson, died at Fort Lyon. In 1867, he had resigned his commission in the army and moved his family to Boggsville, Colorado, about three miles south of Fort Lyon, as he had been appointed Superintendent of Indian affairs for the Colorado Territory.

 

 

 

Fort Lyon, Colorado Parade Ground

Fort Lyon Parade Ground, 1922.

 

Though his health was beginning to fail and his wife was pregnant, he conducted a Ute delegation to Washington, D.C. in early in 1868. His wife, Josefa, died in childbirth in April and with his health deteriorating even more, he visited Assistant U.S. Surgeon H.K. Tilden's quarters at Fort Lyon, and while there suffered an abdominal aortic aneurysm and died at the age of 58.

 

The "new” Fort Lyon was abandoned by the U.S. Army in 1897, but was taken over in 1906 by the U.S. Navy, who opened a tuberculosis hospital, which was used until 1922.

 

In 1930, the grounds were turned over to the Veterans Administration for use as a hospital. During this time, some of the various adobe and stone structures were remodeled but continued to be used by the Veterans Administration, including the commissary building, several officers quarters, storehouses, and the commanding officer's residence.

 

In 2001, the hospital was closed and the site was turned over to the State of Colorado. It housed a minimum security prison for a while, but that too closed and the site was turned into the Fort Lyon Supportive Residential Community, which provides recovery oriented transitional housing, counseling, education and employment services to the homeless. The Fort Lyon National Cemetery, which began burials in 1907, remains open. Nearby is a chapel that was built from the stones of the building where Kit Carson died.

 

The site of the first Fort Lyon is located on a secondary road about 1-1/2 miles south of U.S. 50, some 8 miles west of Lamar. Privately owned, there are no remains of the first fort, but the site is designated by a marker.

 

The second Fort Lyon site is located on County Road 183, about five miles northeast of Las Animas.

 

 

© Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of America, updated May 2015.

 

Fort Lyon Colorado Chapel

The Kit Carson Memorial Chapel was built with the stones of the building where he died. Photo by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, September, 2009. Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.

 

Fort Lyon, Colorado National Cemetery

Fort Lyon National Cemetery, September, 2009, Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.

 

Also See:

Santa Fe Trail

Battle of Glorieta Pass

Kit Carson

Colorado Forts

 From Legends' General Store

 

Frontier Forts in the United StatesForts of the Frontier West - DVD - Forts of the Frontier West is an hour-and-forty-minute video journey across the American West of the nineteenth Century. The opening of the West is the most colorful and romanticized period in American history, and the forts of the western frontier were silent witnesses to this dramatic story. Narrated by Michael Martin Murphey, Forts of the Frontier West takes you from the Northern Plains to the Southwest, from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, along the Santa Fe Trail and the Oregon Trail, where these forts stood as forerunners of settlement, refuge, centers of trade and outposts of diplomatic and martial relations with Native Americans and foreign powers. And the crumbling walls of these prairie strongholds are no longer silent. They tell their compelling stories through the historical research of Dr. Harry Frank, and images captured by Harry and Martha Frank on a thirteen-year photographic odyssey from North Dakota to Texas, from Arkansas to California.

 

  $19.95   Buy Product

 

  About Us      Contact Us       Article/Photo Use      Guestbook      Legends Of Kansas      Links      Photo Blog      Site Map     Writing Credits     

Copyright © 2003-Present, Legends of America