Frontier Forts, part 2

In Part I of “Frontier Forts”, published in the July 31 issue of the Huerfano World Journal, 10 of southeastern Colorado’s early military and civilian fortifications were covered. All of these sites are within a short drive from Walsenburg and La Veta. Following is the rest of the inventory. When Fort Massachusetts was established in 1852, it was in New Mexico Territory. It overlooked an old Ute trail over the Sangre de Cristos into the San Luis Valley about 30 miles north of the closest settlement, San Luis, considered to be the oldest town in Colorado. It was a rectangular stockade of pine logs set vertically into the ground. Life was monotonous here and food and forage scarce, so soldiers were prone to deserting. However, some of them, and their officers, headed east a few miles to pan and dig for gold at the old camp of Placer, aka Russell. This is on private property. Because of the poor location of Fort Mass, in 1858 a new site six miles away was chosen for a new one, called Fort Garland. The men from Fort Mass built it and moved into it in June. This fort was of

adobe, built in a quadrangle around a parade ground. About 100 men were stationed here. In 1862, many of them were sent south to New Mexico to face the Confederates of the west in the Battle of Glorieta Pass near Santa Fe. Kit Carson was the most famous commandant, serving from 1866 until his retirement from the Army in 1867. A single man, State Senator W.H. Myers, is credited with saving remnants of the fort, which he turned into his home. After his death in 1925, local citizens formed an association to preserve the remains, which became the property of the State of Colorado and in 1945, of the Colorado Historical Society. In 1947, restoration and rebuilding began and it opened in September 1950 as a museum. Admission charged. One fort on the plains survived a very long time, under three separate names. First called Fort Fauntleroy for the officer in charge of building it, by the time it was completed in 1860, it was Fort Wise. It was built on the Arkansas River beside Bent’s New Fort, which it purchased for use as part of the military installation. The namesake was the governor of Virginia, and in 1861, when Wise became a member of the Confederacy, the name was changed to Fort Lyon. The latter fort had the dubious distinction of being headquarters for Col. John M. Chivington for his infamous Sand Creek raid. Another Confederate beside Wise is linked to Fort Wise – J.E.B. Stuart, who served here for the U.S. Army until taking a leave of absence to return to the South. The original fort Wise/Lyon was destroyed by a flood in 1867 and rebuilt 20 miles west, or upstream near the junction of the Arkansas and Purgatory rivers. The national cemetery remains but the longtime veterans’ facility (where Kit Carson died in 1868) closed in 2001. In 2013, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced the old fort would now serve as a rehabilitation center for the homeless, especially veterans. An interesting fact about Fort Wise is that it was the first post office established in Huerfano County when it was transferred from Kansas Territory to Colorado on Aug. 1, 1861. Fort Fillmore, also known as Camp Fillmore, was near Boone on the Arkansas at the mouth of the Huerfano River. This fort was more of an encampment than a fortification, but troops served here from 1861 to 1867. There are no remains visible. Francisco Fort, originally called Francisco’s Ranche and also Francisco Plaza, was a fortified adobe trading post built in 1862. Another wing was built to house owners and employees, and a third for storage of goods and crops. It was continually occupied until 1957 when part of it was obtained for a museum. It still stands as the nucleus of the eight-building museum. Admision charged. Fort Stevens is the fort that never was. The post was ordered to be built in 1866 and troops from Fort Union in New Mexico were sent to do the job. The troops camped at a chosen site about five miles south of La Veta, but were called away to fight Ute Chief Kaniache out on the plains. The fort is described in one source as being “20 miles north of Trinidad”, but others place it on the Apishapa, the Huerfano, Santa Clara Creek and “just across the pass from Fort Garland”. The troops visited Francisco’s Ranch on Aug. 31 before heading south to scout for a good site on which to build. On Sept. 23 Gen. W.T. Sherman arrived and cancelled construction. No trace can be found of this one. The last military post to be established in southeastern Colorado was Fort Reynolds in 1867. This fort was located south of the Arkansas River in Huerfano County. It included some 20 adobe buildings within an enclosure, home for several companies of infantry and cavalry. It was first occupied July 3, 1867 with its major duty to protect the growing number of settlers in the now-Pueblo area. It was abandoned July 15, 1872 when the threat of Ute Indian depredations had passed. The land was transferred to the Department of the Interior and opened to homesteaders. The only sign of the fort is a historical marker near Avondale. The fact that all these defensive plazas and forts were located within just a short drive in and around Huerfano County shows that this was, indeed, the wild, wild west.