Saturday, May 24, 2014

Fort Stanton Historical Marker: Lincoln County

I'm going to start off by saying that Fort Stanton is one of my favorite historical sites in all of New Mexico. This place is accessible, remote (but not too remote), creepy at night, and has a rich, interesting, little known history.

Fort Stanton got its start in 1855, when it was founded as a fort and a base of operations against the raiding Mescalero Apaches of the area. The namesake for the fort was Captain Henry W. Stanton, who was killed near present day Mayhill (about 50 miles south east of Fort Stanton) fighting the Mescalero Apaches. 

In 1861, the fort was taken by the Confederate Army until the Confederacy moved their base of operations further west to Mesilla, when it was abandoned.
During the occupation, the Mescalero Apaches were finally pacified. An odd little bit of side history is that the fort was used as a reservation for those same Mescalero Apaches when they were being relocated to Bosque Redondo, and was part of the infamous "Long Walk of the Navajo" (you can read more on that at Native American Legends).

Fort Stanton continued to find use, through smaller campaigns like the Chiracahua Campaigns, various disturbances with the Mescalero, and is known for various reasons. New Mexico Governor Lew Wallace stayed at Fort Stanton while successfully negotiating for peace to end the Lincoln County War. Later on, General John J. Pershing was stationed at Fort Stanton, years before becoming America's first five star general following World War I.

By 1890, the need for Fort Stanton had been exhausted, and it was shut down. The story obviously does not end here...

From 1899 until 1953, Fort Stanton was run by the US Public Health Service, and served as a tuberculosis hospital for the Merchant Marine. Fresh air and sunshine were the only known cures for TB, and the climate of this part of New Mexico was perfect. Visitors to Fort Stanton today will pass the Merchant Marine cemetery 1/4 of a mile east of Fort Stanton on Highway 220. Over 1,500 are buried in this cemetery.

Fort Stanton had a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) work camp during the Great Depression, and, more famously, as an internment camp for German marines, prisoners of war, and even Japanese-American families threatened by American mobs during World War II. The German's being held in Fort Stanton, during their time there, seriously upgraded the grounds, installing a pool, gardens, and a recreation hall. Although the pool no longer exists there, remnants of it do, and you can see many of the facilities built by them still standing.

After World War II, the Fort was used primarily as a hospital for the developmentally handicapped until the early 1990s. Finally, in 2007, the site was made a monument, and a museum is now run on site (it's actually a very nice museum, full with a gift shop and educational video that I recommend sitting through if you go).

In being a little more candid, I can also say that Fort Stanton can be a very creepy place to visit, especially at night (I'm not openly recommending this because people live there and they probably don't like people snooping around at night, but I've done it).

I highly recommend this visit if you happen to be in Ruidoso, as it's near the airport, which is located about 20 miles north of Ruidoso. It's a beautiful drive with a stunning view of the Capitan Mountains (origin of Smokey the Bear as well). The road is well maintained, and you're never too far off the beaten path. The Fort itself is well maintained, and museum hours can vary by season (check them out HERE).

I consulted the following sites for information on this post, and give credit to much of the information to them:

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