FORT UNION
Historic Resource Study
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CHAPTER SEVEN:
THE THIRD FORT UNION: CONSTRUCTION AND MILITARY OPERATIONS, PART TWO (1869-1891) (continued)

     The buildings at Fort Union were not kept in the best of condition because General Pope hoped to close the post as soon as it could be done and refused to allot funds to purchase materials for more than the most essential repairs. In addition to minimal upkeep, the forces of nature (including rain, hail, and wind), continued to batter the structures. A violent windstorm that "surpassed anything known to the oldest inhabitant" struck from the northwest at midmorning on January 29, 1883, and continued until the next morning. The flag staff was blown over and struck one of the infantry barracks, knocking a hole in the roof. The chimney of the bakery was "blown down," sheds at the quartermaster corral were "partially un-roofed," and part of the adobe wall around the corral was destroyed. Some of the roof of the post trader's home was "blown off." Several outhouses were "unroofed." The pressure of the wind on some of the quarters was so strong that the walls were propped up to keep them from toppling. There was lesser damage to other structures. Despite the destruction to property, no one was injured. During the storm, Post Surgeon Joseph H. Collins died from a spinal disease and inflammation of the brain, an illness which had tormented him a "long time" and had no connection with the tempest. [195]

     A superstitious observer might have concluded that the storm was an omen of what was to become of Fort Union. Certainly the days of the post as an active installation were numbered. Fort Union had survived numerous attempts to move or abandon it since the 1850s, and it continued its charmed existence into the next decade. Later in the year after the windstorm General Mackenzie declared that only four posts were of major importance in the District of New Mexico (Fort Lewis in Colorado and Forts Bayard, Wingate, and Stanton in New Mexico Territory). He recommended that Fort Union "be kept for a time for the shelter of troops." [196] A year later the new district commander, Colonel Bradley, recommended that "it would be an economy of men and money to break up Forts Union and Selden." [197] He made the same recommendation the following year. [198]

     Since the quarters at Fort Union were deteriorating, it was only a matter of time until the post would no longer provide adequate "shelter of troops." Mackenzie was not around to see. He was transferred from the district on October 27, 1883. The new district commander was Colonel David Sloan Stanley, Twenty-Second Infantry, who was promoted to brigadier general a few months later. [199] A few days after Stanley took command, he received a request from the headquarters of the Department of the Missouri: "Telegraph what Military purpose Fort Union serves, also, its capacity for sheltering troops." [200] Stanley replied, "there are five companies at Fort Union, room for no more." He stated, "the post has no military influence over any Indian reservation, but is a healthy and good place for troops." [201] That was not a strong recommendation to maintain the establishment. Colonel Black later reported that the garrison at Fort Union was "held in readiness for the field at all times." [202] They may have been ready but were seldom required.

     A few days after Stanley's feeble response additional queries came about the buildings at the arsenal, prompted by a request from the secretary of the interior department to the secretary of war that the old arsenal be turned over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for use as an Indian school. [203] From department headquarters came three questions: "Is the Ordnance Depot at Fort Union used for any Military purposes? What stores are there and who is in charge?" [204] Stanley replied, "the Ordnance Depot at Fort Union is not used for any military purpose. There are no stores there." Captain Shoemaker, retired, still occupied his home there as authorized when the arsenal was closed. Shoemaker had voluntarily assumed responsibility for the "general supervision of the buildings of the former arsenal. [205]

     A transfer of the arsenal to the Bureau of Indian Affairs was apparently authorized by the secretary of war but, for some reason not determined, the transfer did not occur. Indian prisoners were sometimes kept at the site of the arsenal. In 1890 there were 68 Apache prisoners (men, women, and children) from the San Carlos Reservation at Fort Union. They had arrived on March 21, 1890, and were initially quartered in an unidentified building, possibly at the old arsenal. By August 1890 the Apaches had established a camp "about half a mile from the Post, towards the old arsenal." Those prisoners were not kept under guard, at that time, and were permitted to have guns and ammunition for hunting. The district commander, who thought Fort Union should be abandoned, suggested the Indian prisoners could be returned to their reservation at San Carlos or held at some other post. [206]

     The reasons for the confinement of the Apaches was not explained, except for a telegram sent to the commanding officer at Fort Union to inform him that "about 100 disaffected Apaches Indians, men, women and children, will be removed by troops from San Carlos in next 24 hours and transferred for temporary confinement." Some of the prisoners, sixteen men, arrived in shackles, which were soon removed. The prisoners were issued quartermaster stores and commissary rations from the post. Some of the Indian children were taken from their parents and sent to school, although the parents "bitterly opposed" the separation. [207]

     On September 26, 1890, the Indian prisoners were assigned quarters in the "Old Arsenal, on the recommendation of the Post Surgeon for sanitary reasons & for the purpose of giving them shelter." A corporal and four to six privates were assigned to guard the Apaches, with the privates being relieved every ten days. On January 21, 1891, thirty-six of the Apache prisoners departed from Fort Union, escorted by Second Lieutenant Matt Ransom Peterson and ten enlisted men of the Tenth Infantry, to return to San Carlos. The balance of the prisoners, who numbered twenty-four at the time Fort Union was abandoned, remained at the old arsenal for another month. On February 21, 1891, they accompanied the last two companies of Tenth Infantry from Fort Union to Watrous, from where the troops and Indians were transported by rail to Fort Wingate. [208] The Indians were the last occupants of the site of the first Fort Union. The arsenal had not been turned over to the department of the interior. The abandonment of Fort Union was simply a confirmation of Colonel Stanley's acknowledgement seven years before that the post served no vital military purpose.

     In April 1884 Colonel Stanley was promoted to brigadier general and transferred to Texas. Colonel Bradley, who had earlier served as interim commander of the district, arrived at Santa Fe on May 1 and assumed command as Stanley's replacement. [209] In June 1884 the Twenty-Third Infantry and the Tenth Infantry exchanged military departments, [210] and companies of the Tenth regiment comprised the major part of the garrison at Fort Union from that time until the post was abandoned in 1891. During June five companies of the Twenty-Third Infantry marched to the railroad station at Watrous and headed for their assignment in the Division of the Atlantic. They were replaced by five companies of Tenth Infantry, who arrived by rail, and Lieutenant Colonel Henry R. Mizner became post commander. [211] Such massive replacements of population were unique to military installations and marked another way in which they were so different from civilian settlements. An entire regiment from another region was thrust into the unique culture and environment of New Mexico. The shock to the soldiers and the civil population of the region was not exactly conducive to tolerance and understanding.

     The civil authorities continued to call on the military when needed. In March 1885 at Springer a "mob of cowboys" had two deputy sheriffs "corralled in the jail." From what could be learned in the sketchy details provided, it appeared that two or more prisoners at the jail were wanted by a mob. It was not clear if the gang wanted to rescue the prisoners from the system of civil justice or to punish them without waiting for the legal process to work. Whatever the motive, a band of desperados headed by Dick Rogers attacked the jail, guarded by two deputies (Lee and Kimberly, first names unknown). During the fight Rogers and two of his band were killed and an innocent bystander was wounded. The mob then increased to include 70 to 75 "cowboys." They terrorized the town and threatened to break into the jail. On March 16 acting Territorial Governor Samuel A. Losch, on the recommendation of M. W. Mills (assistant district attorney at Las Vegas), asked Colonel Bradley to send troops from Fort Union to rescue the deputies and their prisoners. Bradley requested authority from the department commander, Brigadier General Christopher Colon Augur. [212]

     Losch was informed that he would have to apply to the president for military aid, which was quickly done. Meanwhile Bradley sent Captain Joel T. Kirkman and Lieutenant Stephen Young Seyburn, Tenth Infantry, with 20 men from Fort Union so they would be on the scene if the president approved. The troops left the post at 6:00 p.m. on March 16 and traveled to Springer by rail from Watrous. Bradley explained that "any delay might have been fatal," and gave orders to the troops to protect the lives of civil officials. On March 17, before an answer was received from Washington, a telegram was sent to Bradley from Springer that the immediate threat there had dissipated. It may be assumed that arrival of troops had caused the mob to disperse. Troops were still required, Losch argued, to escort the civil officials while they transported the prisoners to Las Vegas, where they could receive a fair examination and trial. Losch had gone from Santa Fe to Las Vegas and offered to send a special train to carry the prisoners and the escort. Colonel Bradley approved the escort, instructing Captain Kirkman, "under no circumstances will you permit your command to become engaged in conflict with the mob." The prisoners were delivered to the sheriff of San Miguel County at Las Vegas on March 18. The troops returned to Fort Union at 11:30 p.m. the same day. The next day Bradley telegraphed to department headquarters, "quiet restored." The presence of troops had again assisted the enforement of law and order in a society prone to violence. Because they were able to travel by rail, they were absent from the post only a short time (53.5 hours, during which they traveled 157 miles). [213]

Company B, Tenth Infantry
Company B, Tenth Infantry, at Fort Union, about 1887, J. R. Riddle photo, courtesy Kansas State Historical Society.

     There were other opportunities for soldiers to perform duties away from the post. During April and May 1885 Lieutenant Edward Hinkley Plummer, Tenth Infantry, and eight enlisted men measured various mail routes from Las Vegas to points southeast and east, going as far as Fort Elliott in the Texas panhandle. They left Fort Union on April 13 and returned on May 22. After measuring alternate routes with an odometer, Plummer reported the distance by the best road from Las Vegas to Fort Elliott to be 317.81 miles. [214]

Company C, Tenth Infantry
Company C, Tenth Infantry, at Fort Union, about 1887, J. R. Riddle photo, courtesy Kansas State Historical Society.

     In July 1885 three solders of the Tenth Infantry at Fort Union were selected, because of the quality of their marksmanship, to participate in department rifle competition at Fort Leavenworth the following month. They traveled by rail from Watrous. [215] The results of their efforts in the contest were not located, but the fact that they were selected from competition at the post and traveled so far to compete against marksmen from throughout the Department of the Missouri indicated that rifle practice and excellence in shooting were emphasized to a degree unknown in earlier years. This promotion and rewarding of proficiency at military skills was part of the military reform that created a more professional army. Those talents were occasionally required in the field.

     During the summer of 1885 Companies F and I (commanded by Captain John Franklin Stretch and Lieutenant Thomas Jacob Clay respectively), Tenth Infantry, were sent from Fort Union by rail to southern New Mexico to serve under direction of Brigadier General George Crook in the campaign against Geronimo's Apaches. A total of five officers and 65 men marched from the post to Watrous on the morning of July 4, where they boarded the train. They were assigned to guard Crook's supply camp at Lang's Ranch in the San Luis Mountains. Lieutenant Plummer served the battalion as quartermaster and commissary officer, and Assistant Surgeon Norton Strong accompanied them to his field assignment as medical officer for a battalion of Eighth Cavalry near Hillsboro, New Mexico Territory. During their absence Colonel Henry Douglass, Tenth Cavalry, arrived at Fort Union and assumed command of the post. Douglass was appointed colonel of the regiment on July 1 to replace Colonel Henry Boynton Clitz, who retired on that date. [216]

Company F, Tenth Infantry
Company F, Tenth Infantry, at Fort Union, about 1887, J. R. Riddle photo, courtesy Kansas State Historical Society.

     Lieutenant Clay and Surgeon Strong returned to Fort Union for medical treatment during the summer. Colonel Douglass departed on a two-month leave of absence on October 5. While he was gone to Pennsylvania the command was held by Tenth Infantry Major Charles L. Davis, October 5 to November 15, and Lieutenant Colonel Mizner, November 15 to December 2. The two companies of infantrymen remained in southwestern New Mexico during the winter of 1885-1886. In April 1886 Company C, Tenth Infantry, was sent to field service on Datil Creek in New Mexico Territory. This left only one company of Tenth Infantry present for duty at Fort Union. Colonel Douglass left the post on May 7 to go to Fort Bayard and other points where members of his regiment were located. He returned and resumed command of Fort Union on June 8. Brigadier General Nelson A. Miles, commander of the Department of Arizona to which the District of New Mexico had been transferred from the Department of the Missouri on November 30, 1885, inspected Fort Union on June 26. He arrived at 10:30 a.m. and departed at 5:00 p.m. the same day. [217]

     When the companies of the Tenth Infantry that had been sent from Fort Union to participate in the Apache roundup completed that assignment some were sent to other posts and some returned to Fort Union. Company F went to Fort Bliss at the end of July 1886. Company I returned to Fort Union on August 10, and Company C returned in October. During the same month Companies C and H, Tenth Infantry, Company I of the Ninth Infantry, and Company E of the Sixth Cavalry were transferred to Fort Union. The troops of the Sixth Cavalry were quartered at the old arsenal. [218] The quarters were filled with troops whose services were not required beyond the post. In addition to garrison duty, some soldiers were periodically sent to drive unauthorized livestock off the military reservation and to chase wood choppers out of the post's timber reserve in the Turkey Mountains. Detachments were occasionally sent on training exercises, performing what was called "practical service in the field." Sometimes problems arose in the performance of those limited assignments.

Company H, Tenth Infantry
Company H, Tenth Infantry, dressed in fatigue uniforms, at Fort Union, about 1887, courtesy Jerome Greene.

Company H, Tenth Infantry
Company H, Tenth Infantry, in dress uniforms and ready for inspection, at Fort Union, about 1888, courtesy Jerome Greene.

Company I, Tenth Infantry
Company I, Tenth Infantry, at Fort Union, about 1887, J. R. Riddle photo, courtesy Kansas State Historical Society.

     In 1887 retired General Benjamin F. Butler, who had purchased the land surrounding Fort Union, complained to the secretary of war that the commanding officer at Fort Union was interfering with the grazing of Butler's cattle on the military reservation. At the time Post Commander Douglass had "instituted a daily cavalry patrol with instructions to drive off the reservation all animals not belonging to the Post." Douglass explained that, if Butler's cattle were permitted to graze on the post, "the reservation would be useless to the post as a grazing ground, and the word 'reservation' be an absurd misnomer." Douglass pointed out that army orders issued in 1883 prohibited civilians from grazing livestock on any portion of a reservation and concluded "that the request of Mr. Butler cannot be granted without injury to the interests of the Government." [219]

     The reservation remained off limits until the post was abandoned. That did not mean, however, that there were no problems with Butler's livestock. During a severe blizzard early in 1891, hundreds of cattle crowded into the post where many of them died. [220] Following the removal of troops from the post in the spring of that year, Butler's ranch occupied the entire site. The quartermaster department kept a custodian at the buildings until April 1, 1894, but cattle were permitted to graze around them. Following the removal of the caretaker, all that remained of Fort Union was turned over to Butler's estate. [221] The post was occupied mainly by livestock and wildlife for the next 60 years.

Troop E, Sixth Cavalry
Troop E, Sixth Cavalry, mounted and in formation near the bluffs west of Fort Union, about 1887, J. R. Riddle photo, courtesy Kansas State Historical Society.

     In addition to livestock troubles in 1887, the training exercises planned that year by Colonel Douglass, "a ten days practical march," had to be curtailed because there were not enough mules at the post to provide the necessary transportation. Although he had planned to send one company of the Tenth Infantry into the mountains west of Mora and another company of the same regiment into the mountains west of Ocate, the post quartermaster "lacked 14 mules" needed. For "want of transportation," Douglass reported, he could not provide all the field experiences he had "determined to do." The troops apparently went as far as they could, and one of the companies "encountered very bad weather and snow in the mountains." [222] Douglass was undoubtedly relieved to know that the Indian troubles in the region were over and that his troops would not be required to take the field under such conditions.

     At the conclusion of the Indian wars in the District of New Mexico, Colonel Bradley retired from active duty in December 1886. His place as district commander was filled by Colonel Benjamin Henry Grierson, Tenth Cavalry. Grierson's son, Lieutenant Charles Henry Grierson, Tenth Cavalry, served as his adjutant at district headquarters in Santa Fe. Grierson rose to commander of the Department of Arizona in November 1888 and was replaced as district commander by Colonel Eugene Asa Carr, Sixth Cavalry. Carr served until the district was dissolved in August 1890. [223]

Troop E, Sixth Cavalry
Troop E, Sixth Cavalry, dismounted and in formation near the bluffs west of Fort Union, about 1887, J. R. Riddle photo, courtesy Kansas State Historical Society.

     The structures at Fort Union continued to deteriorate. Colonel Douglass explained the situation in 1886, noting that the exterior plaster had disappeared and left the adobe walls exposed to the elements. The brick coping atop the walls, intended to protect them, was actually contributing to the decay. Moisture ran off the bricks and eroded the softer adobe underneath, "weakening the walls very much, and the superincumbent weight of the coping renders the wall very insecure." Douglass concluded that "corners of buildings crack and fall out, whole sides of buildings fall out, occasionally." [224]

     Lieutenant Colonel George Hall Burton, inspector general's department, found conditions had declined even more at the time he inspected Fort Union in April 1889. The least impaired building at that time was the hospital, which had a pitched roof receiving new shingles at the time of inspection. The officers' quarters were all listed as "in poor repair, [and] all leak." The barracks were described as "barely habitable" and "tumbling down." They were "more or less propped up with poles." In addition, "the roofs all leak." The prison was "old and tumbling down." The quartermaster storehouses (old depot) were "more or less out of repair," but "one main building is in fair repair." The commissary storehouse was also "in fair repair." Burton's overall assessment of the post structures was that they were "in general ruin." He noted that, "should it be desired to undertake a general repair, it would be difficult to determine where to begin or where to end." [225]

Troop E, Sixth Cavalry
Troop E, Sixth Cavalry, in formation with swords drawn, near the bluffs west of Fort Union, about 1887, J. R. Riddle photo, courtesy Kansas State Historical Society.

     A few months later Lieutenant Colonel Albert P. Morrow found conditions much as Burton had described. Morrow also observed that the old arsenal buildings were "unoccupied and will soon go to pieces." One important improvement had been achieved at the post when some of the roofs were coated with coal tar and sand, reducing the number of leaks. [226] Later in 1889 Lieutenant Frederick Wooley, Tenth Infantry, submitted a report on the conditions of the post buildings to the quartermaster general's office. He tersely evaluated the officers' quarters as "fair" and the three occupied barracks as "bad." One former barracks served as the post library which also doubled as the post chapel. Another former barracks housed ordnance property, and the third abandoned barracks contained the post bakery and some ordnance property. The guardhouse and the prison were both "bad." The storehouses, blacksmith shop, carpenter shop, ice house, and two grain houses were listed as "fair." [227]

     Wooley explained the uses to which some of the other buildings at the post had been assigned. One of the old depot officers' quarters was used as the post school, and two others were vacant. The depot quartermaster's office building contained the offices of the post commander, adjutant, and quartermaster. The former subsistence office was vacant, as were several other buildings. The old machine shop served as the telegraph office. Although Burton had mentioned that one unidentified vacant building had been outfitted as a gymnasium for the soldiers, Wooley did not mention it. Even though Morrow indicated that the repairs to the roofs had improved conditions, Wooley declared that the roofs on most buildings "leak very badly." [228]

Troop G, Sixth Cavalry
Detachment of Troop G, Sixth Cavalry, field camp near Fort Union, about 1888, Larsen Collection, Fort Union National Monument.

     Less than a year later District Commander Carr inspected the post and declared "it is not too much to say that the Post is totally unfit for habitation." He reported that the windows and doors were so loose in the barracks and some of the other buildings that, during a blizzard in February 1890, the floors were covered to the depth of one foot with snow and sand. Because "Fort Union is now of no strategic importance," Carr saw no reason to make repairs nor to continue to inhabit the post. [229] A few months later the post was abandoned.

     During the last decade at Fort Union the garrison was occupied mainly by routine duties at the post. [230] Although not many troops from Fort Union were directly involved, those who served at the post undoubtedly were pleased to learn of the outcome of conflicts with Indians in other parts of the district over the years, including the defeat of Victorio by Mexican soldiers in Chihuahua in 1880, the capture of the leaders of the "renegade" Mescalero Apaches in 1883 and 1884, and the final surrender of Geronimo in 1886. The destruction of native cultures, because the Indians fought to keep their homelands from being taken by Anglo-Americans and followed traditions and values alien to the Euro-Christian invaders of their territories, was viewed as progress by the soldiers and the vast majority of the citizens of the nation they represented. Only later, when more objective and reflective wisdom was possible, did it become clear that a great tragedy had been inflicted on admirable human beings in the Southwest during the expansion of the nation. Most individual soldiers had little contact with Indians, especially on the battlefield.

     One of the last military operations by troops from Fort Union involved duty on the side of rather than against Indians. When the Jicarilla Apaches were permitted to return to northern New Mexico in 1887, illegal settlers on their lands were ejected. Some of those settlers were determined to reoccupy their claims. In October 1887 a detachment of cavalry, one officer and 15 enlisted men, was ordered, at the request of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to proceed to the Jicarillas' reservation to prevent the return of those settlers. Lieutenant John Nelson Glass, Sixth Cavalry, was placed in command of the unit. The troops were directed to make "frequent patrols" to keep out fraudulent settlers, intruders, and livestock that did not belong to the few bona fide settlers. The soldiers were supplied from Fort Union. Lieutenant Glass and his detachment returned to Fort Union on December 29, 1887. [231]

Sixth Cavalry trooper and his horse
An unidentified Sixth Cavalry trooper and his horse at the mechanic shops area of Fort Union, about 1888, Larsen Collection, Fort Union National Monument.

     Another detachment, comprised of Lieutenant James Reed Cranston, Tenth Infantry, and eight enlisted men of his company and twelve enlisted men of the Sixth Cavalry, was sent to perform the same duty in the spring of 1888. Some of the settlers who had been ejected the previous year had returned to their claims and planted crops. It was also found that both legal and fraudulent settlers had "committed depredations against the Indians." In addition to providing troops to expel the illegal settlers and stop the encroachments by legal settlers, Colonel Grierson urged that the Bureau of Indian Affairs purchase all the legitimate claims from the settlers and clear the reservation of all outsiders as quickly as possible. [232]

Fort Union
View of Fort Union from the bluffs west of Wolf Creek valley, about 1885, with the Turkey Mountains in the background. Photo Collection, Fort Union National Monument, courtesy Museum of New Mexico.

     On August 23 Lieutenant Cranston died "from congestive chill" while serving on the Jicarilla Reservation. He was the last casualty from Fort Union while serving in the field. Lieutenant Seyburn was sent from Fort Union on August 28 to take command the soldiers at the reservation. The detachment returned to Fort Union in October, completing the last military operation conducted by troops from Fort Union. [233] It was an ironic twist of fate that the soldiers from Fort Union, who had years before protected settlers from the Jicarilla Apaches, ended up safeguarding the Jicarillas.

     It should be clear by now that most of the soldiers' time on the southwestern frontier was spent doing almost everything but fighting Indians. Occasionally they were in the field, searching for Indians and others who were a threat or potential threat to life and property. On rare instances some of them fired a weapon at an enemy. The soldiers at Fort Union had performed countless other tasks. They built and repaired buildings and roads, transported supplies and provisions, unpacked and repacked commodities for distribution, herded livestock, hauled water, chopped wood, cultivated gardens, harvested hay, cooked food, collected and disposed of trash and garbage, fought fires, helped build and maintain the telegraph lines, served untold hours on the ubiquitous guard duty, practiced military tactics and maneuvers, cared for and learned to handle their weapons, and performed numerous other routine assignments. When they were not on duty they sought relief in leisure activities, some of which were destructive. The lives of soldiers and the people around them were neither as romantic nor as bellicose as fiction, movies, and television programs have portrayed. The story of life at the third post supports that conclusion.

Officers' quarters
Officers' quarters at Fort Union post (left) and depot (right), 1876, U.S. Signal Corps Photo No. 88019, courtesy National Archives.

battalion parade
Battalion parade in front of barracks at Department, Denver Public Library. Fort Union, no date, courtesy Western History.

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