Fort Sumner - Pride of the Pecos
On October 31, 1862, Congress authorized the
establishment of the military Fort Sumner
at Bosque Redondo, to protect a new
Reservation situated on 40 square miles of land. The post was named for General
Edwin Vose Sumner who died as the new fort was being built.
Though some officers discouraged
the selection of Bosque Redondo as a site because of its poor water and
minimal provisions of firewood, it was established anyway. It was to
be the first
Indian reservation west of
Indian Territory (Oklahoma,) with plans to turn the
Navajo Indians into farmers with irrigation from the
Pecos River. They were also to be "civilized” by going to school and
To accomplish their
plan, the U.S. Army made war on the Mescalero
Indian tribes, destroying their fields, orchards, houses, and
Navajo, who had survived the army attacks, were then starved into
submission. During a final standoff at Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, the
Navajo surrendered to
Kit Carson and his troops in January, 1864. Carson ordered the destruction of their property and organized the
Long Walk to the Bosque Redondo reservation, already occupied by
Before long, a small
settlement grew up around the military post that was populated not
only by soldiers but also by ranchers, stockmen and businesses
supporting the fort.
However, from the
beginning the reservation was unsuccessful due to poor planning on the part of the
government, as the
Apache had a long history of warfare. Once the
Navajo were placed with the
Apache on the same reservation, one can only imagine the conflicts
that arose between the two tribes.
The ill-planned site, named for a
grove of cottonwoods by the river, turned into a virtual prison camp
Indians. The brackish Pecos water caused severe intestinal
problems in the tribes and disease ran rampant. Army worm destroyed the
corn crop, and the wood supply at the Bosque Redondo was soon
depleted. Most of the Mescalero
Apaches eluded their military guards and abandoned the reservation
on November 3, 1865; but, for the
Navajos, another three years passed before the United States
Government recognized that their plan for Americanizing the
Indians had failed. On June 1, 1868 the
were allowed to return to their former homes and shortly thereafter, Fort Sumner closed forever.
In 1870 the old Fort Sumner buildings were sold to
Maxwell, the former owner of the
land grant in U.S. History. After paying some $5,000 for
portions of the surrounding land and its buildings,
relocated his family from northeast
and refurbished the buildings into proper housing.
Lucien Maxwell soon turned
over his affairs to his son
Peter and passed away a few years later. When
Billy the Kid arrived on the
Peter Maxwell and
Billy became friends. On July 14, 1881,
Pat Garrett found
Billy the Kid in a bedroom of
the Maxwell home, ending the life of the teenage
Billy the Kid was buried in the military
Fort Sumner along with two of his
Charlie Bowdre and
Tom O'Folliard. Lucien B.
Maxwell and some of his family were also
buried in the old military cemetery.
Fort Sumner military post today, Kathy Weiser, February,
By 1884, Mrs.
Maxwell and her son Peter had disposed of their old fort holdings.
When the railroad began to be built in the
area in 1905, the 150 residents of Fort Sumner
began to move their businesses and buildings some seven miles to the
northwest to where the settlement of Sunnyside already existed.
the beginning, there were two towns, Sunnyside and Fort Sumner. However, the Sunnyside Review reported on April 17, 1909 that the
two side-by-side towns had resolved their differences and merged to become
one town called Fort Sumner. The Sunnyside post office, which had been in operation since 1905, was
changed to the Fort Sumner
In 1910, Fort Sumner
was incorporated as a village and when De Baca County was established in
1917, Fort Sumner was designated as the county seat, where it remains
By 1940, Fort Sumner
had reached a population of almost 2,000 residents with its chief
industries being cattle and sheep ranching and farming of alfalfa, sweet
potatoes, apples, grapes and melons.
population has since dropped to about 1,300 souls, Fort Sumner
has a lot to offer in its history and surrounding recreational areas. While in this friendly western village, you can take a pleasant stroll
along the historic Pecos River, visit the
Billy the Kid Museum or see the historical WPA
Murals located in the De Baca County Courthouse.
Seven miles southeast of
town you will find the old Fort Sumner
Museum and Cemetery, which hold’s
Billy the Kid's grave. Also there, is the
State Monument, including a visitor center that memorializes the
Long Walk and the story of the Bosque Redondo
Reservation. The Museum and Memorial are located four miles east on U.S.
Highway 60/84 and south three miles on
Billy the Kid Road.
In the surrounding area
water sports are also plentiful upon the Pecos River, at Sumner Lake State
Park 16 miles northeast of Fort Sumner,
and Bosque Redondo Lake, located five miles southeast of town.
is located on U. S. Highway 60 halfway between
160 miles each way.
of America, updated August, 2015.
Billy the Kid's
Grave at Fort Sumner,
New Mexico, Kathy Weiser, February, 2008
Apache - Fiercest Warriors in the Southwest
The Navajo Nation
The Navajo Long Walk to the Bosque Redondo
New Mexico Photo Print Gallery
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