Legendary New Mexico: New Mexico military forts played crucial role in state history

New Mexico has long been home to military bases like Kirtland and Holloman, but before modern day bases were established, there were forts.

Soldiers entering the desolate territory of New Mexico needed a homebase, a place to live and to keep their supplies. “Largely, it was about how do you protect the population,” says Patrick Moore, Director of the New Mexico Historic Sites. “How do you establish dominance over other peoples, whether they be the Native American peoples or against as it was for some of the forts, Confederate versus Union. So you had a number of different purposes for forts which were a little bit different than what you’d consider forts that you would find out in the east.”

At least fifteen forts covered the Territory of New Mexico beginning in the 1800’s. Their primary goals were for fighting in conflicts such as the Civil War and battles between settlers and Native Americans. The forts also became stations where travelers could meet escorts to be guided into New Mexico.

“So the idea of a fort is how do you keep a fort around as long as it was necessary,” added Moore. “A few exceptions, you look at Fort Stanton right there first, you’re looking at the 1855. Certainly how do you control the Mescalero Apache population? Then it became a more Civil War fort, then it moves on and you look at it being an important fort for being in the second World War.”

Preserving the history of New Mexico’s military forts was so important that places like Ft. Burgwin, ten miles south of Taos, New Mexico, replicas of the original buildings were built on the same footprints of where the original structures stood dating back to the 1850’s.

The physical fate of some forts could not withstand time and the elements. Most have eroded away and their footprints have been completely erased from the landscape.

“So each one of these places plays an important role,” said Moore. “If we don’t preserve them, we really lose sight of who we are as a people, it’s a complex relationship that we’re constantly grappling with.”

Agencies like the New Mexico Historic Sites are maintaining spots like Fort Sumner, Fort Selden and Fort Stanton. Then there are also schools like Southern Methodist University using Fort Burgwin as a satellite campus.

If it weren’t for their efforts, more fort history could fade away with time.

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