Fort Bayard played an integral role in protecting settlers and miners in the Los Pinos and Silver City mining districts. Copper, silver, and gold mining spurred economic development of this region of southwestern New Mexico.
Soldiers from the fort battled many of the most famous Apache war leaders, including Victorio, Nana, and Geronimo. The first all-black regular army units made up of enlisted personnel, referred to as Buffalo soldiers, were organized in 1866 in the close of the Civil War. Fort Bayard was home to hundreds of black soldiers, who fought Apaches with distinction and who participated in the chase for Geronimo. His capture by Brig. Gen. Nelson A. Miles in 1886 effectively ended the Apache wars.
An unusual sequence of events has helped preserve the integrity of Fort Bayard. The post buildings were transferred to the Surgeon General of the Army, then the Veteran’s Administration, and finally to the State of New Mexico as a hospital. Continuous use has ensured its good state of preservation. Its layout and many of the buildings date to the late 19th century and offer the visitor a rare opportunity to see a military fort as it would have appeared in the 1800′s.
Today, the fort maintains many historic buildings and monuments, including the life-sized monument to the Buffalo Soldiers stationed here. Fort Bayard also hosts an annual historic re-enactment of fort life in the 1800′s.
Fort Bayard History: In 1865, General Carleton, Commander of the District of New Mexico, requested that a new fort be established in the southwestern region of New Mexico to protect the early miners, settlers and travelers from Apache Indians. Fort Bayard, located in the homeland of the Apaches, was established in August 1866, by Company B of the 125th U.S. Colored Infantry under the command of Lieutenant James Kerr. He established an encampment near the mining communities of Pinos Altos and Santa Rita.
Major General John Pope, Commanding Officer of the Military Division of the Missouri, recorded:
“I have established only one new post on the Apache frontier, and that is located near the head of the Mimbres River, about one hundred and fifty miles west of the Rio Grande River. This post, with Fort Cummings at Cooke’s Spring, Fort Selden on the Rio Grande, and Fort Stanton on the Bonito River between the Rio Grande and the Pecos, form a line of posts covering the southern frontier of New Mexico from the Apache Indians.”
The Indian threat ended when Geronimo surrendered at Skeleton Canyon, New Mexico, in September 1886. Fort Bayard was home to Native American Indian scouts, several Buffalo Soldiers including Chaplain Allen Allensworth, several Medal of Honor recipients, and William Cathay (a.k.a. Cathy Williams) who was the only known female Buffalo Soldier. Some of the military leaders who served at the post were Generals George Crook and “Black Jack” Pershing.
In 1899, as the military post was being prepared for abandonment, an unusual sequence of events helped to preserve the integrity of Fort Bayard. In that year, Surgeon George M. Stemberg proposed transferring the post to the Army Medical Department because of the healing qualities of the high altitude and the dry sunny climate. Later that year Fort Bayard became the first sanatorium dedicated to the treatment of U.S. Army Officers and enlisted men suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis. Among its medical leaders were Major D.D.M. Appel and Major Dr. George E. Bushnell. Both completed outstanding research discoveries and procedures in the treatment of tuberculosis. Registered Nurse Dita Kinney, later director of the Army Nurses Corps, supervised the inclusion of female nurses in the Army Nurses Corps.
On May 1, 1922, Fort Bayard came under the jurisdiction of the Veterans Administration. The military post sanatorium became a central hospital for the care and treatment of veterans. In 1944, Fort Bayard had lost a lot of their male maintenance people to the draft so they “borrowed” German prisoners of war from the Lordsburg POW camp, who then helped to maintain the post. They were paid the same wage as an Army Private. In 1965, the State of New Mexico assumed control of the post as a long-term health care facility and presently employs approximately 400. The post’s adjoining military cemetery, dating back to 1866, became a National Cemetery on July 5, 1976. Fort Bayard became a New Mexico Historic District in 2001 and was named a National Historic Landmark on March 19, 2004.
Under the management of Pinon Health Care, Fort Bayard continues to play a vital role in the health care of the people of Grant County and the surrounding area.