Fort Wingate - Reining in the Navajo
Fort Wingate (1862-1925)
Located in McKinley County, sitting among the red rocks along
Interstate 40, this is the second site of Fort Wingate. The first fort
(1862-68) was located at El Gallo, 65 miles to the southeast. It was
Colonel Kit Carson,
along with Fort Canby,
(1863-64), for his 1863-64 campaign against the
James Carleton, commander of the Department of
designation predating statehood), believed that confining the Indians
to reservations was the best solution to the conflict between
encroaching white settlers and the Native Americans. Joined by
Ute allies, Carleton
led forces against the Navajo,
destroying sheep and homes and finally removing thousands of them, to
the Bosque Redondo Reservation in a 400-mile trek called The
confined to the Bosque Redondo Reservation, troops from Fort Wingate
patrolled for stragglers and raiders. In a commanding position on the
Albuquerque-Fort Defiance Road, it also protected miners en route to the
goldfields, and in 1864 took part in the
along the Gila and San Carlos Rivers.
Fort Wingate, New Mexico by Timothy
Bosque Redondo Reservation, situated near
operated for four years. Poor growing conditions and lack of water on the
reservation resulted in malnutrition and disease among the
Navajo. In 1868,
the Navajo and U.S. government representatives signed a treaty in the
Navajo to return
to their homes. The treaty also provided replacement livestock in return
for the Navajo’s pledge to confine themselves to a finite area and cease
to their homeland, the Army relocated Fort Wingate to its second site. It
was located nearer the new Navajo Reservation, administered by the Fort Defiance
Indian Agency. The site had previously been occupied by Fort Fauntleroy,
or Lyon (1860-61), whose mission had also been
but, which had been evacuated before the
Confederate invasion of
Besides policing the reservation, the garrison of the new fort
participated in the Apache campaigns
to the south and became an incarceration facility for captured Apache. Another
one of its roles was to protect construction activities of the Atchison,
Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, which played a key role in fostering
Many soldiers stationed at Fort Wingate
found their conditions grim. Lieutenant John Pershing wrote to a
correspondent “this post is a … and no question – tumbled down, old
quarters, though Stots is repairing it as fast as he can. The winters
are severe…it is always bleak and the surrounding country is barren
absolutely.” An 1896 fire destroyed many of the fort’s buildings,
which the military replaced with buildings of local red sandstone
shortly after 1900.
The Army withdrew in 1910 and the fort was
decommissioned in 1912. The fort briefly served again in 1914 and
1915 when an internment camp in a fenced enclosure just north of the
post housed refugees from the Mexican Revolution. In 1918, the United
States Ordnance Department reactivated the fort as the Wingate
Ordnance Depot. In 1925 the depot was moved closer to the railroad, and a
Navajo school took over the buildings.
Route 66 became an important artery for military logistics during World
War II, making military sites along its way busy places and supporting
economic growth in nearby communities. War heightened the demand for
munitions storage facilities. Fort Wingate, with its earthen, igloo-like
storage buildings visible from Route 66, became a major storage center.
Most famous of Fort Wingate’s World War II contributions, however, were
talkers who trained here. The code talkers baffled Japanese forces in the
Pacific using a code based on the
Until the late 1950's Fort Wingate was one of the best preserved of
the frontier military posts in the Southwest. In the years from
1958-60, the Bureau of Indian Affairs razed the officers quarters
along the south side of the parade grounds and one of the barracks to
allow for the construction of more modern school facilities. More
recently, in January 1976, the kitchen-dining hall was razed.
From 1918 until its closure in 1993, the 22,000-acre installation
stored and demolished ammunition. In negotiations with the tribes, the
Army Base Realignment and Closure Program transferred half of the
22,000 acres to be used jointly by the tribes, retaining the other
half for missile testing and launching.
Remaining at Fort Wingate today are several historic features. From its
military period, the fort retains parade grounds, an 1883 adobe clubhouse,
one barracks, and a row of 1900 officers’ quarters. The cemetery remains,
though most military burials were removed to the Santa Fe National
Cemetery in 1915.
Fort Wingate contains sites rich in cultural heritage and historical
significance. Over 200 Navajo ruins were discovered on the property,
as well as several modern earth-covered dwellings called "hogans". The
property served for centuries as a hunting and gathering area for the
Zunis. Over 600 archeological sites were recorded by surveyors,
including an additional 200 ruins traceable to the Anasazi, ancestors
of the Zuni.
Efforts to clean up the property have focused on the removal of
exploded and unexploded ordnance. Given the cultural and historical
significance of Fort Wingate, the first step of the restoration
process involved identifying the numerous cultural and historic
resources affected by the cleanup and disposal of the property.
Environmental cleanup and land transfer to the surrounding community
continues to the present day and the remaining fort buildings stand
behind posted wire fencing.
Navajo weaving, 1915, photo by William J.
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
The National Park Service listed the Fort Wingate Historic District in the
National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
Fort Wingate is approximately 12 miles southeast of Gallup, New Mexico.
Compiled & edited by
of America, updated March, 2017.
Primary Source: National Park Service
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