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     By early 1851 Indian raids in New Mexico and along the Santa Fe Trail demanded that something more be done by the troops stationed in the region. [1] A change of administration in the military department, commanded by Colonel John Munroe, [2] was deemed necessary, according to Secretary of War C. M. Conrad, because "the Indians had become so bold as to commit their depredations within a few miles of the military posts." In addition, he lamented, "I regret to say that in no instance was their audacity chastised." This information was clearly based on Inspector George A. McCall's assessment of the previous year. The war department turned to an officer with lengthy experience on the frontier and previous service in New Mexico, Edwin Vose Sumner. [3]

     On March 12, 1851, Lieutenant Colonel Sumner was relieved of command of the First Dragoons at St. Louis. [4] On March 29, 1851, orders were sent to Colonel Munroe to inform him that he would be replaced as commander of the Ninth Military Department. [5] On the same day Adjutant General Roger Jones notified Sumner that he was to "proceed to New Mexico without unnecessary delay" and assume command of the department. He outlined some of the goals expected of Sumner. [6]

     Jones made it clear that "there is reason to believe that the stations at present occupied by the troops in the 9th Department, are not the best for the protection of the frontiers against the inroads of the Indians." He directed Sumner to reorganize the distribution of troops and to "use sound discretion in making such changes, as upon becoming acquainted with the country, you may deem necessary and proper." In an attempt to fill the companies of artillery, infantry, and dragoons in New Mexico, providing additional manpower to face the marauding Indians, Sumner was to be accompanied on his march from Fort Leavenworth by 642 recruits. In addition Sumner was "specially directed to carry into immediate and it is hoped successful operation" a recent order requiring military posts in the West to establish farms in an attempt to reduce expenditures. [7] On April 1, 1851, Secretary of War C. M. Conrad confirmed what Jones had written and ordered Sumner to travel to New Mexico "as early as practicable." [8]

     Before he left St. Louis, Sumner requested that all the officers who belonged in the Ninth Military Department, many of whom were absent on leave, be ordered to return to lead their troops. He did not understand how he could accomplish everything expected of him in New Mexico without the officers being there. When he was offered a portion of the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen to bolster the number of troops in New Mexico, Sumner (perhaps showing his prejudices as an old dragoon) remarked that he did "not want any part of the rifle regiment." In fact, he declared to Adjutant General Jones, "if I needed more mounted troops, I should not wish to have them, for although they can be made good riflemen, it will take a long time to make them good horsemen, and I would rather take that regiment on foot, for any service whatever, than to have it mounted." [9] Sumner did not arrive in Santa Fe until July 1851, when the change in command of the department actually occurred.

     Meanwhile Colonel Munroe had started the search for a site east of Santa Fe for the location of the department's quartermaster depot, where supplies could be received from Fort Leavenworth and distributed to posts throughout the department. That recommendation had been made the year before by Inspector George A. McCall. [10] Whether it was McCall's recommendation, Munroe's realization that both economy and efficiency would be served by the location of a quartermaster depot along the Santa Fe Trail in eastern New Mexico, or both, in March 1851 Munroe sent Captain Langdon C. Easton, quartermaster department, and Lieutenant John G. Parke, topographical engineers, to "examine the country in the vicinity of Las Vegas and on the Moro Creek with a view of selecting a site for the establishment of a depot for supplies coming from the U.S." [11] In addition, they were directed by Colonel Munroe to "make a reconnaissance of the country from the Rayado to Point of Rocks and report as to the probability of making a Wagon Road between those places." [12]

     That reconnaissance was completed by April 14. Captain Easton and Lieutenant Parke considered Rayado a poor location for troops because the site provided a limited view of the surrounding area and Indians could approach close to it without being seen. Also, in their opinion, Rayado Creek did not provide sufficient water for a large garrison. They recommended that a permanent post be established about ten miles north of Rayado along the Cimarron River where everything needed for a garrison was available. Troops stationed there would be able to protect both major routes of the Santa Fe Trail and settlements in the region. [13] Their suggestion was not followed, but it should be noted that Lucien Maxwell moved his headquarters from Rayado to the Cimarron River, establishing what became the present town of Cimarron, New Mexico, and troops were later stationed there (usually as an outpost of Fort Union). The owners of Barclay's Fort, located near the Mora River, had offered to sell their post to the government, but the facility, according to Inspector McCall, writing in 1850, was insufficient for the army's needs and the owners were asking more money than he thought it was worth. [14]

     The location of Barclay's trading post, near the point where the Cimarron and Mountain routes of the Santa Fe Trail joined, recommended it for a military post and depot, according to McCall, but he thought Las Vegas was a better location. Las Vegas already had adequate storehouses but more would have to be built at Barclay's Fort. The adobe trading post was not large enough to accommodate more than one company of dragoons and their horses. There was no timber close to the fort. Therefore McCall recommended against the site. [15]

     This information about possible sites should have been available to Colonel Sumner when he assumed command of the department in July 1851, and his immediate actions upon taking command appeared to follow many of McCall's recommendations. Sumner was not unfamiliar with New Mexico, for he had commanded a portion of Kearny's Army of the West in 1846 and marched with the troops to New Mexico over the nascent Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail. On that expedition, he had camped on August 12, 1846, with the Army of the West at a place known as Los Pozos, natural pools of water located several miles northwest of the confluence of the Sapello and Mora rivers along Wolf Creek (also known as Coyote Creek and, occasionally, as Dog Creek). One of the finest descriptions of these important pools or ponds, which were fed by springs, was provided by Governor William Carr Lane in the summer of 1852, when he described Los Pozos as "a chain of pools of clear water in basins which have been scooped out of the volcanic rock—probably by the torrents of ages upon ages—from the surrounding mountains." [16]

     Sumner may have passed Los Pozos again when he marched back to Fort Leavenworth from Santa Fe. The area of Los Pozos took on new significance when Sumner selected it as the location for the headquarters and supply depot of the Ninth Military Department and established Fort Union there. It was important because of the supply of water in an arid land, but it was also a strategic location near the junction of the Cimarron and Bent's Fort (later Mountain) routes of the Santa Fe Trail, near the trail across the mountains from the Mora River valley to the Rio Grande valley, and near settlements threatened by the Jicarilla Apaches, including Rayado, Mora, and Las Vegas.

     Because serious Indian problems persisted in much of New Mexico and the cost of maintaining troops in the Ninth Military Department was considered excessive, Secretary Conrad advised Sumner "that material changes ought to be made in that department, both with a view of a more efficient protection of the country, and to a diminution of expense." To achieve goals of increased protection and improved economy, Sumner was authorized to "immediately, on assuming command, revise the whole system of defence" in New Mexico and, regarding the location of posts in the department, "to examine particularly whether the posts now occupied by the troops are the most suitable, and if not, will make such changes as you may deem advisable." [17]

     Sumner was given three guidelines to govern his selection of sites for posts. First, troops should be distributed to protect the settlements of New Mexico. Second, they should be located to provide defense of Mexican territory across the border from Indians in the United States, as required by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Third, he was to consider "economy and facility in supporting the troops, particularly in regard to forage, fuel and adaptation of the surrounding country to cultivation." [18] Economy was to be gained, in part, by having soldiers grow some of their own food supply.

     Secretary Conrad declared, as Colonel McCall had emphasized in his report of inspection of the troops in New Mexico, that the "economy and efficiency" of the army in New Mexico might be improved by relocating the troops from the towns where most were stationed to positions "nearer the Indians" they were expected to control. Peace could not be achieved, Conrad believed, until the Navajos, Utes, and Apaches had felt "the power of our arms" and received "severe chastisement." Treaties would have to be negotiated from positions of power, and Sumner was authorized to hold hostages from the tribes until terms had been worked out by the superintendent of Indian affairs in the territory and agreed upon by the leaders of the respective tribes. [19]

     Economy measures expected from the new department commander included a close look at the quartermaster and subsistence departments to see where savings could be made, the discharge of as many civilian employees as possible, reduction of the costs of daily rations, and the cultivation of post gardens and farms. In a major effort to reduce the cost of feeding troops in the Far West, the army had already determined to turn frontier soldiers into farmers. [20] To facilitate the execution of that order in New Mexico, Sumner was promised "such seed, agricultural implements, &c., as you may require." [21]

     Lieutenant Colonel Sumner made preparations at Fort Leavenworth for his march to New Mexico over the Santa Fe Trail, a trip which he and his escort of more than 600 recruits (going to fill the "skeleton" companies of artillery, dragoons, and infantry in the territory) began on May 26, 1851. Officers, some of whom would become Sumner's staff in New Mexico, included Surgeon Alfred W. Kennedy, Assistant Surgeon William Hammon Tingley, Majors George A. H. Blake and Francis A. Cunningham, Captains Don C. Buell, Ebenezer S. Sibley, Israel B. Richardson, Philip R. Thompson, and James H. Carleton, and Lieutenants John Pope, John C. Moore, and Robert Ransom. Major Daniel H. Rucker, quartermaster department, and Captain Isaac Bowen, commissary department, followed a few days behind the column with wagon trains of provisions and livestock. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Swords, quartermaster department, accompanied Sumner's command to New Mexico where he was to inspect all the military posts. [22] Several of these officers later served at Fort Union.

     Sumner's command was plagued with the dreaded cholera before it departed from Fort Leavenworth until it reached the Arkansas River, during which time about 35 men, including Surgeon Alfred W. Kennedy, died. [23] Charlotte Sibley, wife of Captain Sibley, later wrote about the "tedious" journey on the Santa Fe Trail: "Thanks to a merciful providence our health was spared though for the first three weeks the cholera raged among the troops and one of the officers, Dr. Kennedy, died after a few hours sickness. As soon as we reached the Arkansas it disappeared for then the water was pure and wholesome." [24] Dr. Kennedy died June 3, and the only other army physician on the trip, Dr. Tingley, was attacked by the same illness. Sumner declared on his arrival at Council Grove that the fear of cholera led to "many desertions" in his command, especially after the surgeons contracted the disease. [25]

     The cholera was slowly left behind as the troops marched westward. Lieutenant Pope never stated that his illness was cholera, but H. H. Green later recalled that Pope "was the last to be taken down with the fell disease . . . and Dr. Barney Barry plastered him with mustard from his neck to his heels until he resembled a bronze statue" while Pope "complained that the remedy was worse than the disease." Green confirmed that the remainder of the trip was free from cholera. [26] Lieutenant Pope declared the command suffered from "so disproportionate & insufficient a medical force," that "the numerous desertions which occurred are, in my opinion, entirely attributable to this fact." He reported that desertions increased in proportion to the cases of cholera, stating that the recruits left in groups of three or four at a time. The large number of deaths, according to Pope, "cast a gloom over the command, which for a long time rendered the march one of the most melancholy it has ever been my lot to witness." [27]

Edwin Vose Sumner John Pope
Edwin Vose Sumner, photo taken during Civil War when he was a general, more than a decade after he established Fort Union in 1851. Sumner died in 1863. U. S. Signal Corps Photo (Brady Collection), courtesy of National Archives. John Pope, photo taken during or after Civil War when he was a general. After the Civil War Pope commanded the Department of the Missouri which included New Mexico and Fort Union, courtesy of Kansas State Historical Society

     Pope noted in his journal that Richard H. Weightman and his family and New Mexico's Chief Justice Grafton Baker had joined Sumner's column at Council Grove. [28] Dr. Tingley, suffering from the effects of cholera, was left at Fort Atkinson (established by Lieutenant Colonel Sumner west of present Dodge City, Kansas, near the Arkansas River on August 8, 1850). Tingley was expected to proceed to New Mexico with Major Rucker and the quartermaster supply train when he had recovered sufficiently to continue, but the physician apparently had enough of the West and headed eastward as soon as he was able to travel. He resigned from the army December 2, 1851. A private physician, Edmund I. Barry from Ireland, had somehow joined Sumner's party (perhaps at Council Grove). When the column left Council Grove he was employed as surgeon for the remainder of the trip to Santa Fe via Bent's Old Fort and Raton Pass. [29]

     Sumner's column arrived at Fort Atkinson on June 20, 1851. Indian Agent Thomas Fitzpatrick was there to meet with leaders of several plains tribes, and many Indians were gathered nearby. Pope stated that there were "large encampments of Camanches, Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Kiowas &c amounting I was told, in all to about 5000 fighting men." Sumner established his camp about two miles above the post, near the Cheyenne village. Some Cheyennes were permitted to enter Sumner's encampment, and a Cheyenne man who took the hand of an officer's wife to look at her ring was accused of making indecent advances toward a white woman. The enraged husband proceeded to flog the Cheyenne with a carriage whip, nearly precipitating a larger fight when the Cheyennes demanded that their agent seek reparations while Sumner dismissed the incident and proceeded on his journey. The commander at Fort Atkinson, Captain William Hoffman, Sixth Infantry, fearing a possible attack on the small garrison, sent an express to Sumner. Sumner led his force back to the Cheyenne camp, and the Cheyennes feared they were to be attacked. Sumner and Fitzpatrick met with the Cheyenne leaders, which resulted in the presentation of a blanket to the man who had been whipped. The peace was kept and Sumner headed on to New Mexico. [30] The Cheyennes were not completely pacified, however, as Kit Carson was to learn a few days later.

     Meantime Sumner elected to avoid the Cimarron Route of the Santa Fe Trail because of a severe drought and fear that sufficient water would not be available for his command. [31] They followed the north bank of the Arkansas River to Bent's Old Fort. This former trading post, built in 1833 by Bent, St. Vrain & Co., had been destroyed by William Bent in 1849. Lieutenant Pope stated that on July 2 they "crossed the Arkansas at Bent's Fort which has been consumed by fire. It having been determined to abandon it, the owners burned it to the ground in order to prevent other traders from occupying it." [32] They traveled westward along the south bank of the Arkansas for eight miles before leaving the river for the Raton Mountains.

     On the evening of July 6, when the column was camped near the north base of Raton Pass, a New Mexican traveling on foot arrived. He carried a message from Kit Carson, who was leading a train of 12 wagons several days behind the troops on the Arkansas River. The message was to the owner of the wagons and their cargo, Lucien Maxwell at Rayado, "informing Maxwell that the Cheyennes had surrounded him on the Arkansas & were endeavoring to plunder him of his Cattle. Maxwell was requested to come out immediately to his assistance." [33]

     Carson later explained that the Cheyennes were in a bad mood when he encountered their village a few miles west of Fort Atkinson. The Cheyennes, Carson was able to determine, planned to retaliate against his wagon train because of the whipping incident when Sumner's command was at Fort Atkinson. Some Cheyennes followed his train for another 20 miles and threatened to attack. That was when Carson sent the messenger to Maxwell. [34] Apparently Sumner made no effort to send troops to investigate or give aid to Carson at the time the messenger passed his camp near Raton Pass.

     Travel on the Bent's Fort or Mountain Route was still difficult for wagons and fairly uncommon because of the rugged terrain of Raton Pass where, according to one member of Sumner's party, "it took us two days to let by ropes our train of 100 wagons down the rugged hill of Raton." [35] The troops ahead of the wagon train, according to Pope, experienced little difficulty in negotiating the pass although he described the road as "bad." [36] Charlotte Sibley enjoyed that part of the journey:

     "We took the Bent Fort route tho one hundred miles farther for the benefit of the animals as good water and grass was to be found all the way, and I am not sorry for the view of the Rocky Mountains well repaid me the tediousness of the whole trip. It was sublimely beautiful, and as we entered the gap that crosses the Raton Mountain, the place that we crossed, the mountains in the distant lay piled in masses one above another, their summits covered with snow and in the sunlight of early summer morning glistening like so many jewels; beautiful flowers, wild plum and cherry trees, the clematis vine with its white flowers looking so like home. . . . As I insisted upon riding horseback nearly the whole day, my eyes drank in all the grandeur of the view. It's something not soon to be forgotten but a picture upon which memory will love to dwell." [37]

     On July 8 Sumner's command was camped at the crossing of the Canadian River. Pope reported that Lieutenant Robert Johnston with 40 dragoons from the Post at Rayado, "going back to the relief of Carson, encamped with us." The next day, when Johnston left for the Arkansas, Sumner sent Captain Carleton and 30 men from the column to go "back to the assistance of Carson." [38] Carleton reported on July 11 that his detachment was 32 miles from old Bent's Fort, having marched 90 miles in 38 hours, and had received word that Carson's train was coming on. He expected to meet Carson that evening. Fortunately Carson had managed to outwit the Cheyennes and continue on his way. Carleton wrote, "please consider everything quiet in this direction unless you hear from me to the contrary." The troops were welcome protection, however, when they reached the train and accompanied the Carson party to Rayado without incident. They arrived there several days after Sumner had been there and gone. [39]

     As Sumner approached Rayado on July 10, the commanding officer at that post, Captain Richard S. Ewell, First Dragoons, rode out to meet him. Sumner's entourage camped near the post and settlement. Because many of the horses were broken down from the trip from Fort Leavenworth, most of the troops and recruits were left at Rayado to recuperate. [40] From there they would later be distributed to the companies in the department as Sumner determined. Lieutenant Colonel Swords remained at Rayado where he began his inspection tour of all posts in the department. He thought the rent paid to Lucien Maxwell, $3,400 per year, was "somewhat expensive." [41]

     Sumner hoped to find a new location for the troops stationed at Rayado and sent Captain Ewell to investigate the area where the Bent's Fort Route crossed the Canadian River (where Sumner had camped July 7 and 8). Following a quick reconnaissance, Ewell reported to Sumner from Rayado on July 17, 1851, that he had found the supply of water, grass, and timber inadequate to support a military post. [42] Rayado was closed as a post three weeks later and the troops were moved to Fort Union, but a detachment of troops was left at Rayado for a time at the request of Lucien Maxwell.

     On July 12 Sumner's command camped at Los Pozos, and this familiar site where he had camped in 1846 impressed itself on his mind as the best possible location for a new military post and department headquarters. It was one site that appeared to have adequate supplies of water, grass, and timber for a large facility. The only disadvantage according to Sumner was that "there is not land enough for tillage." That would be solved by locating the farm on Ocate Creek some 25 miles to the north. Of Los Pozos, Sumner concluded "it is the only place that will answer, at all, on this side of Santa Fe." [43]

     Lieutenant Pope described Los Pozos in the valley of Wolf Creek as "large holes of spring water 15 or 20 feet deep. A chain of these holes & small lakes extend several miles down the valley." He reported that "grass is very abundant & of excellent quality & wood plenty in the neighborhood." Like Sumner, Pope was impressed with this location. "There are," he recorded, "many springs of clear, cold, water in the vicinity and this valley is in short by far the most desirable portion of country I have seen since leaving Missouri." [44]

Fort Union Area, 1866. This map, not to scale, was submitted in 1866 when the site of the first Fort Union was the district arsenal. It shows Los Pozos, the "chain of ponds or water holes" along the course of Wolf Creek, which flows from top to bottom through center of map. It also marks the sites of the first fort, earthwork, third post, depot, stone quarry, graveyard, two springs, and roads to Taos, the "States", Santa Fe, and Barclay's Fort (six miles away). The marker at the top, just left of center, points to the north. The spring closest to the site of the first post is described as "Spring from which water is hauled to both Posts." Source: Letters Received, 1930-WD-1866, Ordnance Dept., RG 156, National Archives.
(click on image for an enlargement)

     Sumner had already decided to remove the headquarters and supply depot of the Ninth Military Department from Santa Fe and to place troops in a position where they could better protect settlements exposed to Indian raids and "the line of communication with Missouri." [45] With the specific orders Sumner had, directing a reorganization of the department, "it became necessary," as Pope observed, "to select positions with a view not only to Military purposes but to the agricultural resources for their support." The area at Los Pozos was "the first point we had seen which fulfilled any of the required conditions." Sumner therefore selected the site for the new headquarters and depot on July 12, "and it was accordingly marked out for a post." [46] The order establishing the post and the name by which it would be known came later. When Colonel Joseph K. F. Mansfield, inspector general's department, conducted the first inspection of Fort Union in 1853, he declared that the location "seems to have been selected on account of a good spring of water." [47]

     Although Sumner had "marked out" the site that became Fort Union, he continued to evaluate other locations on the way to Santa Fe. He concluded that Las Vegas lacked sufficient water and grass to support the military post located there and "determined," on July 13, "to abandon it." The supply train and some of the troops with Sumner were left encamped at Las Vegas, while Sumner, Buell, and Pope, with an escort of 25 dragoons under Lieutenant John Adams, scouted to the confluence of the Gallinas and Pecos rivers, looking for possible sites for military posts. They found no location that had the desired combination of water, grass, wood, and arable land. Because of the drought, they found "very little water" in either of the streams. [48]

     On the return, at Anton Chico, Lieutenant Adams and the escort were sent back to Las Vegas to forward the supply train. Sumner and the other officers followed the Pecos River to San Miguel and waited there for the train. Sumner arrived in Santa Fe on July 19, 1851, and immediately replaced Munroe as departmental commander. [49] One of his first considerations was to secure a lease to the land selected for the new military post on Wolf Creek. Most land in the region was included in one or another land grant dating from the Mexican period, 1821-1846, and exactly on which grant the post was situated was not settled until many years later. In July 1851 Sumner arranged a lease agreement with a party of claimants to the John Scolly Grant (also known as the La Junta Grant), on whose property it was then believed the site of Fort Union was located: Robert Brent, Donaciano Vigil for Gregorio Trujillo, James M. Giddings, George H. Estes, William [Alexander?] Barclay, Herman Grolman, Henry O'Neil, and James [Samuel] B. Watrous. Within their grant made by Governor Manuel Armijo in 1843 and "renewed" in 1846, which they believed comprised 25 square leagues (approximately 108,000 acres) centered near the junction of the Sapello and Mora rivers, they leased to Colonel Sumner and his successors in command of the department, for the sum of five dollars paid in advance, an area one mile square (640 acres) for 20 years to be used for a military post. When the military post was vacated, the leasors were to receive all improvements and fixtures made on the property. [50] It appeared to be a good deal for all parties, but the question of whose grant was actually involved remained to be settled. It was not until 1893, two years after Fort Union was abandoned, that the boundaries of the Scolly Grant were finally determined. [51]

     Sumner named his departmental staff on July 19: Captain Don C. Buell, adjutant; Captain Ebenezer S. Sibley, quartermaster; Captain Isaac Bowen, subsistence department; Surgeon Charles McDougall, medical department; Major Francis A. Cunningham, paymaster; and Lieutenant John Pope, topographical engineer. Military Storekeeper William R. Shoemaker, who had arrived in New Mexico and assumed control of the departmental ordnance depot in 1848, was retained in that capacity. At the same time, Sumner ordered the headquarters and principal quartermaster, commissary, and ordnance depots of the department "transferred to the Moro River, and all military stores now at this place [Santa Fe], will at once be removed to the point selected." The medical depot was left at Santa Fe for the time being. [52] Historian Robert Utley declared that the "establishment of the quartermaster depot . . . at Fort Union made the post a freight destination rivaling if not surpassing Santa Fe in importance." [53]

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