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New Mexico Flag - High Country LegendsNEW MEXICO LEGENDS

Fort Stanton - Rounding Up the Apache

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Fort Stanton, named for Captain Henry W. Stanton, who was killed in a skirmish with Apache Indians, was established on May 4, 1855. The fortís primary objective was to protect the settlements along the Rio Bonito River from Mescalero Apache raids. It was also tasked with serving as the Indian Agency for those Apache that the soldiers rounded up. Originally, the fort consisted of two blockhouses surrounded by an adobe wall.


However, in 1861, the Union Army abandoned the fort to Confederate soldiers, the retreating troops setting fire to the buildings. However, rain extinguished the fire and the Confederates took it over. In the meantime, the Mescalero Apaches fled the fort and began to raid central New Mexico.


Fort Stanton, New Mexico

Fort Stanton, New Mexico, courtesy University of New Mexico.

A year later, in 1862, Kit Carson and Union troops returned to the fort, using it as a campaign base against the Apache Indians. For the next two years, Carsonís New Mexico Volunteers, captured the vast majority of the Mescalero Apache as well as most of the Navajo Indians who were marauding in Arizona and New Mexico.

To accomplish their plan, the soldiers destroyed the Indian's fields, orchards, houses, and livestock. Before the Indians were even defeated, Congress authorized the establishment of Fort Sumner, New Mexico at Bosque Redondo on October 31, 1862.  

In 1862-63 Carson placed 400 Mescaleros on the newly established Bosque Redondo Reservation, guarded by Fort Sumner, and in 1864, escorted another 8,000 Navajos to the reservation, in what has become known as the Long Walk of the Navajo.

However, at the Bosque Redondo Reservation, the Mescalero Apache resented the Navajos and in 1865 fled back to their homelands in the mountains of Sierra Blanca. By this time, Fort Stanton was occupied by the Buffalo Soldiers, who were sent to round up the Apache once again.

By 1871, the Mescalero Apache were once again "under controlĒ and reestablished on the Fort Stanton Reservation.

When the infamous Lincoln County War broke out in 1878, the soldiers at Fort Stanton went into Lincoln, New Mexico to stop the raging gunfights and battles between the two factions. Later, Billy the Kid would spend time in the Fort Stanton guardhouse, awaiting a hanging that would never happen.

Efforts continued against the Indians as many of the Apache continued to flee, joining up with Victorio's and Geronimo's bands.

By 1890, the Indian Wars were ending and personnel at the Fort were reduced to just 15 soldiers by 1893. In August of 1896, the post was officially decommissioned.

But, for Fort Stanton, life would go on.  Three years after it closed, the U.S. Public Health Service acquired it for use as a Merchant Marine hospital, exclusively for the treatment of tuberculosis. The name was later changed to Public Health Service Hospital.






Fort Stanton, New Mexico Parade Grounds

Fort Stanton Parade Grounds and buildings today,

Kathy Weiser, February, 2008.


During World War II, the Fort became German internee camp.

In 1953, Fort Stanton and some 27,000 acres were transferred to the State of New Mexico. By 1966, the declining tuberculosis patient load caused the facility to close as a hospital. It then became a branch of Los Lunas Hospital and Training School for the mentally handicapped, operating under the New Mexico Department of Health. That program ended in 1995,

In 1996, the fort was turned over to the State Corrections Facility, which utilized it to house minimum security prisoners until 1999.


The fort was then leased to Amity, Intl. who currently operates a drug rehabilitation center for state prisoners recovering from substance abuse.


Over the years, the original buildings were replaced, remodeled, and added to, as they were utilized as residences, wards and offices. Today, the old fort grounds display a number of buildings; however, most are in serious disrepair. Much of the area is off-limits to the public and there are no buildings that can be toured. There is; however, a museum and visitor's center, but the hours are irregular.

Fort Stanton is located about five miles southeast of Capitan, New Mexico.



 © Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated November, 2012.


Fort Stanton, New Mexico Museum

Fort Stanton Museum and Visitor's Center,

Kathy Weiser, February, 2008.


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