Fort Bayard played an integral role in protecting settlers and miners in the Los Pinos and Silver City mining districts. Copper, silver, and
gold mining spurred economic development of this region of southwestern New Mexico. Soldiers from the fort battled many of the most famous apache war
leaders including Victorio, Nana, and Geronimo. The first all-black regular army units made up of enlisted personnel, referred to as Buffalo soldiers, were
organized in 1866 in the close of the Civil War. Fort Bayard was home to hundreds of black soldiers, who fought Apaches with distinction and who participated
in the chase for Geronimo. His captured by Brig. Gen. Nelson A. Miles in 1886 effectively ended the Apache wars.
An unusual sequence of events
has helped preserve the integrity of the site. The post buildings were transferred to the Surgeon General of the Army, then the Veteran's Administration,
and finally to the State of New Mexico as a hospital. Continuos use has ensured its good state of preservation. Its layout and many of the buildings date
to the late 19th century and offer the visitor a rare opportunity to see a military fort as it would have appeared in the 1800's.
The year 1866 saw the beginnings of the great cattle drives northward from Texas to the railroads that were being built to the west coast. This endeavor
provided Civil War veterans with economic opportunity, since they sold at a profit the cattle they obtained, at practically no cost, from herds originally brought by
the Spanish to Texas. Fort Bayard was born in the same year that these drives began, with the nation focusing on New Mexico's grazing lands and mineral
resources. The Santa Rita copper mine has been developed more than 60 years previously, and mining continues there today. This Anglo encroachment upon
Indian lands would be met with stiff Apache resistance, and Fort Bayard was established to combat the Apache threat to settlement.
Pinos Altos was a
mineral rich area where Mexican miners worked the arroyos and canyons from placer gold in the 1850's. As the fame of this gold camp spread, Anglo miners
and settlers moved into the area beginning about 1863. In January 1863, the Californian Volunteers captured the Apache leader Mangas Coloradas near Pinos Altos
and took him as a prisoner to Fort McLane, where he was killed.
One mile south of Fort Bayard, there developed a settlement of Mexican miners first
called Santa Clara, and later Central City. Central City served as the seat of Grant County for about a year, but in 1869, the courthouse was sold and the
county seat moved to Pinos Altos.
The Santa Rita copper mines, opened as early as 1804 by the Spanish, were worked by Anglos during the occupation of
Fort Bayard. These mines, along with mines located at Pinos Altos and Silver City, were involved in the development and history of Fort Bayard. Lumber
for the fort came from Pinos Altos and charcoal came from near Santa Rita.
Expedition after expedition departed from Fort Bayard to capture or kill
Apache. It was no easy task to combat these tough, dedicated fighters who were so well adapted to their native land. The usual story prevailed time and
time again in the reports of young captains and lieutenants: they found only traces of the Indians, the rain and snow were extreme, the soldiers ran out of
supplies, or their horses gave out during the chase. Often reports of these stories concluded with the number of deer and turkeys killed.
Order Creating Fort Bayard Reads as Follows:
The commanding General of the District of New Mexico will establish the following posts within his
II. A post in the vicinity of Pinos Altos, to consist of one company of infantry and two Calvary, or three companies of Infantry, with one
hundred horses for mounted service.
Subject to the approval of the Secretary of War, this post will be designated "Fort Bayard" in commemoration of
the name and service of General G.D. Bayard, Deceased (Mysers n.d., pp.808-809).
George D. Bayard served with the Pennsylvania Cavalry during
the Civil War and later became a brigadier general of volunteers. He died from wounds received in the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia, on December 14, 1862.
Company B of the 125th United States Colored Infantry, under First Lt. James M. Kerr, established Fort Bayard on August 21, 1866. The location
was a "beautiful situation on the eastern slope of the Pinos Altos Mountains," where wood, water, and forage was abundant (HQ Military Division of the
Missouri 1876). Along with those same lines, Maj. Gen. John Pope commanding officer of the Military Division of the Missouri recorded:
established only one new post on the Apache frontier, and that is located near the head of the Mimbres River, about one hundred and fifty miles west of the Rio
Grande. This post, with Fort Cummings at Cook Spring, Fort Selden on the Rio Grande, Fort Staton on the Bonito River between the Rio Grande and the Pecos, form
a line of posts covering the southern frontier of New Mexico from the Apache Indians (Myers n.d.,p.808)
The 125th US Colored Troops was first organized
at Louisville, Kentucky, between February and June of 1865. With the men enlisting for three years, they were sent west in 1866. Individual companies
were stationed at Forts Cummings, Bayard, and Pinos Altos. By the end of August there were approximately 50 enlisted men at Fort Bayard, but by October of that
year, the number had increased to more than 200 men.
An 1870 description of military posts in the Military Division of the Missouri described Fort
Bayard as follows:
Established August 21, 1866. Lat 32 degrees, 48', longitude 108 degrees 5'. In a small valley near the Santa
Rita ridge of mountains, on a small mountain stream. Nearest settlements, Silver City and Pinos Altos; distance northwest. Post office at the post.
Nearest telegraph station in Tucson, Arizona, 200 miles distant. West Las Animas, terminus of the Arkansas Valley Railroad, about 700 miles distant. Fort
Cummings 45 miles distant. Fort Union, N.M. 443 miles distant. Rio Gila, 25 miles to the west. Rio de los Mimbres (sic) 12 miles to the east.
The same report goes on to add the following descriptions:
Buildings. Quarters for four companies; officer's quarters, thirteen sets;
hospital; guard house, adjutant's office; storehouses, three: corral for one hundred animals, and one with accommodations for two troops of calvary; magazine
built of stone; baker built of stone; laundress' quarters, workshops, etc. The buildings generally are constructed of adobe and logs, and have been built
by labor of the troops, except for the officers' quarters, which were built by contract.
Supplies. Quartermaster's and subsistence stores
furnished from depots at Fort Union, NM and Fort Levenworth, Kansas, by rail and wagon routes. Water obtained from a stream near the post by means of wagons;
wood supplied by contract. Six months' subsistence kept on hand.
Indians. None in the immediate vicinity. Ojo Caliente Indian
reservation about 90 miles distant.
Reservation. Declared by the President April 19, 1869. Area, fifteen square miles and five hundred and
Description of Country, etc. The country to the north, northwest and east, is surrounded by high mountains, while to the south and
southeast stretches a vast plain, almost level. In the immediate vicinity and east and north, the country is timbered and watered by small streams; the timber
consists of pine, cedar and oak. Where the land can be irrigated it is very productive; crops of corn, wheat and vegetables are raise din the bottom
lands. Post gardens furnish a good supply of vegetables. There are no streams between the Rio Grande and the Gila which are not ford able at all
times. Good grazing in the vicinity. The climate is mild and pleasant; seasons perceptible shorter than on the Rio Grande, and the climate cooler and
dryer. Average temperature about 54 degrees. Health of locality excellent. (HQ Military Division of the Missouri 1876).
At one period in
the late 1860s or very early 1870s, the plan of the fort resembled a parallelogram with dimensions of 650 feet by 400 feet. Officers and enlisted men alike
were quartered in sod huts that were in bad condition. Dirt covered the barracks roof, and inside the barracks the only heat was provided by fireplaces.
The men slept two on each crude, wooden bunk. In keeping with the army request for frugality and economy, the men grew much of their food at the post vegetable
garden and raised chickens, pigs, and cows. The troop strength in the years 1868 and 1869 was 131 Anglo and 304 Black soldiers.
One of the
soldiers stationed at Fort Bayard in those years, Lt. Frederick E. Phelps, recorded the conditions which the men endured at the time. Phelps lived in a 10-foot
by 12-foot room with a kitchen. He described it as:
One wall was built of stones picked up on the adjacent hillside, one was of "Adobe" (sun
dried brick), one of pine logs, set on end, and the fourth of slabs from a sawmill. The floor was of rough boards, a foot wide; the ceiling of canvas, the roof
of mud, the front door of two boards on wooden hinges with a wooden latch, one window with four panes of glass, the sash Immovable --this was the parlor (Phelps,
Capt. FE, unpubl., pp. 1-2)
Other terms used by Phelps to describe the fort include "desolate, jumping off place, everything
undesirable." He described the living quarters as huts of logs and round stones, with flat roofs that leaked in the summer and brought down rivulets of
liquid mud, and in winter were the hiding place of the tarantula and the centipede.
An 1872 report showed some improvement in living conditions for the
300 men stationed there. Quarters for the officers and men continued to be of hewn logs but with mud roofs. Houses for the quartermaster and commissary
departments were built of adobe. The hospital was built of adobe and the guardhouse of stone. A corral 148 feet by 230 feet housed the post
animals. The walls surrounding the fort were 6 feet high and built of adobe on a stone foundation.
By 1875, the post was being expanded with the
construction of 13 sets of officers' quarters and four sets of barracks. These dwellings were built of adobe with shingled roofs. The hospital had
beds for 12 patients, and was one and a half stories high with wings one story high. Plans at this time included 20 quarters for laundresses and
noncommissioned officers. Mention was also made of a Pinos Altos station where troops from Fort Bayard were assigned in detached service.
spring of 1876, troops from Fort Bayard began clearing a road from their post to Fort Wingate, near Gallup, New Mexico. The road crossed the North Star Mesa
and Black Canyon, ascended the east fork of the Gila River to its source at the junction of Beaver and Taylor creeks, and then headed northwest to Fort
Wingate. Camp Vincent was established in May 1876 during the road building project. It was manned by troops from the 9th Cavalry to protect the area
against the Apache. Camp Vicente was abandoned the following October.
Near Camp Vicente was Coruroy Canyon, so named because of the logs placed
in marshy areas to allow wagons to cross. Two Black troopers were killed there by Indians. Their comrades had no lumber for coffins, so they cut a large
pine tree, split it into two 8 foot sections, and hollowed the sections. Each body was placed in a hollowed section and buried. Stones marked the graves
and the site became known as Undertakers Hill.
In January of 1877, Cpl. Clinton Greaves of the 9th Cavalry, a recipient of the Medal of Honor, was
stationed at Fort Bayard when word reached the post that a band of 40 to 50 Chiricahua, Warm Springs, and Mescalero Apache had left the reservation and were heading
into New Mexico. A party consisting of one officer, six men of the 9th Cavalry, including Greaves, and three Navajo scouts left the post in search of the
renegades. The soldiers followed the trail in the Florida Mountains, where they met the Apache and tried to persuade them to surrender. Instead, they
were surrounded and attached from all sides. Cpl. Greaves "fought like a cornered lion and managed to shoot and bash a gap through the swarming Apaches,
permitting his companions to break free" (Leckle 1967, p. 178). The soldiers escaped, leaving five Apache dead and more wounded. Greaves was awarded
the Medal of Honor for his deed, and others of his party were commended for their bravery. Clinton Greaves and other Black cavalry troopers were recently
honored at the dedication of "The Buffalo Soldier" Memorial at Fort Bayard on July 26, 1992.
In the late 1870s, all five of the cavalry units
stationed at Fort Bayard were used in the fight against Victorio and his followers. The troops used both Apache and Navajo scouts in their efforts. After
the death of Victorio in October 1880, his successor, Nana took up the fight and led an especially devastating raid in July and August of 1881. During one of
these fights, in Gavalan Canyon which joins the Mimbres River, Lt. George W. Smith and four enlisted men from Fort Bayard were killed. The date was August 19,
The McComas incident occurred on March 27, 1883, when Judge McComas, his wife, and son Charlie were driving by wagon from Silver City to
Lordsburg. They were attacked by a band of Apache at the head of Thompson Canyon on in the Burro Mountains. The judge and his wife were killed, and
Charlie was taken prisoner, to be raised by the Apache. He was later killed in Mexico.
In addition to the Indian Campaigns, troops from Fort
Bayard were assigned the task of pursuing train robbers. In November 1884, three officers and 30 men were detailed to this duty, but the records do not mention
Attention was now shifting to southern Arizona and the Sierra Madres of northern Mexico, for it was here that Apache leader Geronimo was
raiding. There were also numerous small groups of Apache who raided in the area independently of Geronimo. These bands could strike quickly and then fade
away into the rugged hills and canyons.
On December 19, 1885, First Lt. Samuel Fountain, with 19 enlisted men and 10 Navajo scouts, ascended a hill
between Big Dry and Little Dry Creeks. They received heavy fire from the hidden Apache, the the surgeon and three privates were killed. Blacksmith
Collins, of Troop C, 8th Cavalry, later died from wounds receive at this time. The Apache were driven off, the soldiers taken to the WS Ranch near Alma, New
Mexico, where their dead were buried on the north shoulder of a small hill between the present highway and the ranch house.
Along with the
concentration of army forces against the Apache, Brig. Gen. George Crook in the 1885 began using Apache scouts to search for their own people. Fort Bayard
troops participated at this time under the leadership of Lt. Col Albert P. Morrow and 145 men of the 6th Calvary. They established camps and scouted near the
Mexican border. Second Lt. John J. Pershing was on one of those scouting expeditions, and later he spent time at Fort Bayard establishing and operating
Geronimo and his band surrendered in Skelton Canyon on September 3, 1886. They were brought to Fort Bowie, Arizona, and then
transported by train to forts in Alabama and Florida and then to Fort Sill. There they remained as prisoners of war for the next 27 years. With the
surrender of Geronimo, the Apache wars generally ceased, except for small skirmishes.
Several high-ranking officials were present at or near Fort
Bayard in the spring of 1891. On March 28, Secretary of War Redfield Proctor and others visited. Then, on April 21, President Benjamin Harrison passed
through Deming on the Santa Fe Railroad. A Fort Bayard delegation consisting of two first lieutenants, two captains, once second lieutenant, the post chaplain,
18 enlisted men, along with noncommissioned staff and the band of the 24th infantry, went to Deming to greet the President. They were gone for seven days, and
covered 96 miles during their journey.
In November 1893, Fort Bayard troops aided in the protection of the United States border against the Mexican
revolutionaries. The troops occupied a camp at Columbus, New Mexico. Twenty-three years later, army troops would again be at Columbus in response to the
raid by Pancho Villa on March 9, 1916.
The last months of 1899 saw the garrison being withdrawn, closing the military era of Fort Bayard. Maj.
Daniel M Appel, US Army surgeon, arrive on October 3, 1899, to establish a US General Hospital. Post buildings were officially transferred to the jurisdiction
of the Surgeon General of the Army on January 12, 1900. One officer and 26 enlisted men of the 2th Infantry were at the post in October of 1900, but the date
of their transfer does not appear in the records.
Fort Bayard experienced a brief return to military use during the World War II, when the post was
used to house German prisoners of war. Alex Duran, of Central, New Mexico, was a security guard at the fort, and he recalled that 60 prisoners arrived in 10 army
trucks. That was July, 1943. The prisoners were put to work building road by using picks, shovels, and sledge hammers to break rock. They were
guarded by soldiers with shotguns, and apparently there were no escapes.
Duran recalls that there was a lot of resentment in the community at the time
about having prisoners of war at the fort, but it came in the form of an order and public opinion did not matter. When the prisoners first arrived, the rules
and regulations specified that there would be no fraternization with them, or else the guilty employee would be discharged. Children were supposed to stay
indoors or at least 100 yards away when a prisoner work party was in the vicinity. Visitors entering the post were required to leave their cameras at the guard
house (Duran, pers comm. 1974).
Although the German prisoners were first assigned jobs in constructing road or fences, later they worked in the
hospital and in offices. They did drafting, auto mechanics, gardening, and carpentry work. Natalie Goodwin, who worked at the time as a secretary in Fort
Bayard's engineering department, was most impressed with the German efficiency and was quoted as saying, "The Germans are really remarkable people"
(Goodwin, pers comm. 1974).
As the German residency continued in 1945, relationships between them and the fort's occupants became
easier. As a child, David Chavez lived with his family on the grounds of Fort Bayard. He remembers the prisoners building a playground. The guards
were more lenient toward the end of the war and allowed the children to play near the prisoners. David would trade them tomatoes and carrots from his
family's garden for bits of german Insignia. One of the prisoners made a wooden toy for David, which he particularly remembered.
On July 16,
1945, the Chavez family was awakened early in the morning by windows rattling and blasts shaking the house. The blasts came in three waves. One of the
guards said he saw a bright flash behind the Kneeling Nun at Santa Rita. The next day, they heard the ammunition dump had blown up in Alamogordo. This,
however, was only the cover story used to mask the explosion of the first atomic bomb at the Trinity Site in the Jornada del Muerto. David Chaves learned of
this only when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki the following month (Chavez, pers comm. 1974).
The German prisoners left Fort
Bayard on September 3, 1945. By that time, cordial relationships had developed between the prisoners and the residents. Ben Triviz of Silver City relates
that some of the area residents maintained a correspondence with the prisoners, and some of the former prisoners have since visited New Mexico. A few even
returned here to live (Triviz, pers comm 1974).
Fort Bayard has served for many years as a general hospital for the US Army, then as a soldiers'
home and Veterans' Administration medical facility. Since 1965, the post has been a public nursing home under the jurisdiction of the New Mexico state
hospital system. Many of the original post buildings have been replaced with 20th century constructions.
The post cemetery, which was established
in 1866 on the west side of the post, was designated on July 5, 1976, as a National Cemetery. Today the cemetery continues to be used, housing the
remains of hundreds of armed forces personnel, along with their dependents, employees, destitute civilians of the frontier days, and a few unknowns.
1974 Interview October-November 1974. Western New Mexico University Museum,
1974 Interview October 13, 1974. Western New Mexico University Museum, Silver City, NM
1974 Interview November 1, 1974. Western New Mexico University Museum, Silver City, NM
Headquarters of the Military Division of the Missouri
1876 Outline Description of the Posts in the Military Division of
Missouri. Old-Army Press, reprint 1972, Fort Collins, CO.
Leckie, William H
1967 The Buffalo Soldiers: A
Narrative of the Negro Cavalry in the West. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK.
N.D. Forts and Camps
of New Mexico. Bureau of Land Management, Las Cruces, District, Las Cruces,NM.
Phelps, Cpt. F.E.
Unpublished Memoirs, Western New Mexico University Library, Silver City, NM
1974 Interview November 18, 1974.
Western New Mexico University Museum, Silver City, NM