Fort Sumner

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For the town of the same name and location, see Fort Sumner, New Mexico. For the South Carolina fort where the U.S. Civil War began, see Fort Sumter. For the Civil War fort in Maryland, see Fort Sumner (Maryland).
Fort Sumner Ruins
FORT SUMNER RUINS.jpg
Fort Sumner
Location Fort Sumner, New Mexico, USA
Architect Alexander LaRue
NRHP Reference # 74001194
Added to NRHP August 13, 1974

Fort Sumner was a military fort in De Baca County in southeastern New Mexico charged with the internment of Navajo and Mescalero Apache populations from 1863-1868 at nearby Bosque Redondo.

History[edit]

On October 31, 1862, Congress authorized the creation of Fort Sumner. General James Henry Carleton initially justified the fort as offering protection to settlers in the Pecos River valley from the Mescalero Apaches, Kiowa, and Comanche. He also created the Bosque Redondo reservation, a 40-square-mile (100 km2) area where over 9,000 Navajo and Mescalero Apaches were forced to live because of accusations raiding white settlements near their respective homelands. The fort was named for General Edmond Vose Sumner.[1]

The stated purpose of the reservation was for it to be self-sufficient, while teaching Mescalero Apaches and Navajos how to be modern farmers. General Edward Canby, whom Carleton replaced, first suggested that the Navajo people be moved to a series of reservations and be taught new skills. Some in Washington, D.C. thought that the Navajos did not need to be moved and a reservation should be created on their land. Some New Mexico citizens encouraged death or at least complete removal of the Navajo off their lands. The 1865 and 1866 corn production was sufficient, but in 1867 it was a total failure. Army officers and Indian Agents realized that the Bosque Redondo was a failure, offering poor water and too little firewood for the numbers of people who were there. The Mescaleros soon ran away; the Navajos stayed longer, but in May 1868 were permitted to return to Navajo lands.

Gen. Carleton ordered Col. Christopher "Kit" Carson to do whatever necessary to bring first the Mescaleros and then the Navajos to the Bosque Redondo. All of the Mescalero Apache were there by the end of 1862, but the Navajo did not get there in large numbers until early 1864. The Navajos refer to the journey from Navajo land to the Bosque Redondo as the Long Walk. Over 300 Navajos died making the journey.[2] While a bitter memory to many Navajo, one who was there reports as follows: “By slow stages we traveled eastward by present Gallup and Shushbito, Bear spring, which is now called Fort Wingate. You ask how they treated us? If there was room the soldiers put the women and children on the wagons. Some even let them ride behind them on their horses. I have never been able to understand a people who killed you one day and on the next played with your children...?"[3]

U.S. troops at Fort Sumner.

There were about 8,500 Navajo and 500 Mescalero Apaches interned at Bosque Redondo in April 1865. The Army had only anticipated 5,000 would be there, so food was an issue from the start. The Navajo and Mescalero Apache had long been enemies and now that they were in forced proximity to each other, fighting often broke out. The environmental situation got worse. The interned people had no clean water, it was full of alkali and there was no firewood to cook with. The water from the nearby Pecos River caused severe intestinal problems and disease quickly spread throughout the camp. Food was also in short supply because of crop failures, Army and Indian Agent bungling, and criminal activities. In 1865, the Mescalero Apaches, or those strong enough to travel, managed to escape. The Navajo were not allowed to leave until May, 1868 when it was agreed by the U.S. Army that Fort Sumner and the Bosque Redondo reservation was a failure.

A treaty was negotiated with the Navajos and they were allowed to return to their homeland, to a "new reservation." There they were joined by the thousands of Navajo who had been hiding out in the Arizona hinterlands. This experience resulted in a more determined Navajo, and never again were they surprise raiders of the Rio Grande valley.[4] In subsequent years they have expanded the "new reservation" into well over 16 million acres (65,000 km²).

Fort Sumner was abandoned in 1869 and purchased by rancher and cattle baron Lucien Maxwell. Maxwell rebuilt one of the officers' quarters into a 20-room house. On July 14, 1881, Sheriff Pat Garrett shot and killed Billy the Kid in this house, now referred to as the Maxwell House.

Fort Sumner Historic Site[edit]

In 1968—one hundred years after the signing of the treaty that allowed the Navajo people to return to their original homes in the Four Corners Region—Fort Sumner was declared a New Mexico State Monument.

The property is now managed by the New Mexico Historic Sites(formerly State Monuments) division of the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs. On June 4, 2005, a new museum designed by Navajo architect David N. Sloan was opened on the site as the Bosque Redondo Memorial.

The Bosque Redondo Memorial and Fort Sumner Historic Site are located 6.5 miles (10.5 km) southeast of Fort Sumner, New Mexico: 3 miles (4.8 km) east on U.S. Route 60/U.S. Route 84, then 3.5 miles (5.6 km) south on Billy The Kid Road

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.newmexico.org/explore/regions/southeast/fort_sumner.php
  2. ^ Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. Thirtieth Anniversary Edition. Henry Holt and Company, 2000. pp. 28-29.
  3. ^ Very Slim Man, Navajo elder, quoted by Richard Van Valkenburgh, Desert Magazine, April, 1946, p. 23.
  4. ^ Indian Depredations in New Mexico, John S. Watts, Wash. D.C., 1858, 66 pages.

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 34°28′18″N 104°14′44″W / 34.47167°N 104.24556°W / 34.47167; -104.24556