Fort Stanton, New Mexico – Rounding Up the Apache

Fort Stanton, New Mexico

Fort Stanton, New Mexico

Fort Stanton, named for Captain Henry W. Stanton, who was killed in a skirmish with Apache Indians, was established on May 4, 1855. The fort’s primary objective was to protect the settlements along the Rio Bonito 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 Apache fled the fort and began to raid central 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, Carson’s 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 .

Fort Sumner, New Mexico

Fort Sumner, New Mexico

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 Navajo 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 Navajo 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 control” and reestablished on the Fort Stanton Reservation.

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 Navajo 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 Navajo 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 control” and reestablished on the Fort Stanton Reservation.

Fort Stanton, New Mexico

Fort Stanton, New Mexico

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.

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 operated 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. The old fort grounds display a number of buildings, and Legends’ reader Tim Churchman let us know as of August, 2015, about a half dozen of them are now open to walk through as a self tour. The tour included a Bunk Room with beds and everyday items a Calvary Soldier would have, as well as a Saddle Display. Tim tells us that it looked like they were continuing to improve and add to the facilities.

Fort Stanton, New Mexico Museum

Fort Stanton, New Mexico Museum

We checked into what’s happening via the Fort Stanton website, and they indicate that the 53 buildings are an ongoing project of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, and that the newest historic site in the state now features occasional live recreations and entertainment. Sounds like we need to repay a visit to this great attraction!

Fort Stanton is located about five miles southeast of Capitan, New Mexico. For more information see Fort Stanton’s official website.

 

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated March, 2017.

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