Fort Lyon on the Arkansas River
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
Leavenworth, Kansas and Fort Union,
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
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
Cooperating with detachments from
Kansas and Fort Union,
New Mexico, its
troops escorted traffic along the upper reaches of the
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
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
Miners and settlers continued
to flow into
Colorado, during a time when
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
Coloradans obtained their
revenge at Sand Creek, some 40 miles down the
Arkansas River from Fort Lyon, where a group of peaceful
on their way to their new reservation in
In November, 1864, the
Cheyenne, who thought they were under
the post's protection were slaughtered.
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
to such an extent,
that they launched a
During the summer of 1867, because of frequent flooding of the
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.
the old post was burned by angry
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
However, by the time of the fort's activation, the
need for protection of the Mountain Branch of the
Trail had lessened as the focus in the
Oklahoma. However, troops from the
fort did play a small part in
General Philip Sheridan's
Sand Creek Massacre
On May 23, 1868, famous
scout, trapper, guide and former U.S. Army General,
died at Fort Lyon. In 1867, he had resigned his commission in the army and moved his family to Boggsville,
about three miles south of Fort Lyon, as he had been
appointed Superintendent of
affairs for the Colorado
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.
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
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
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.
Lyon Parade Ground, 1922.
The second Fort Lyon site is located on
County Road 183, about five miles northeast of Las Animas.
of America, updated May 2015.
Fort Lyon National Cemetery, September,
2009, Kathy Weiser.
Image available for photo
prints & editorial downloads
Carson Memorial Chapel was built with the stones of the building where
he died. September, 2009.
Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads
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