Fort Bayard Historical Site- Bayard – Grant County – New Mexico

When I drove into Fort Bayard, I didn’t know what to expect. There are so many sites where old west forts used to be that nothing actually remains of them other than a couple of interpetive signs. Fort Bayard is different. A large portion of this historical site stands for all to see. Located east of Silver City just off New Mexico 180, the fort is in the town of Bayard.

Founded in 1866, Fort Bayard was commissioned to protect settlers from Apache raids. The fort was garrisoned with a company of “Buffalo” soldiers, a troop comprised of African Americans, the 25th United States Colored Infantry Regiment. The name of the fort is in honor of Brigadeer General George Dashiell Bayard who was killed at the battle of Fredricksburg. In 1877, Corporal Clinton Greaves, commander of the fort and the buffalo soldiers, received the medal of honor for his campaign against the Apaches. A monument was erected to the Buffalo Soldiers.

In the 1880’s General George Crook, a soldier that had distinguished himself against Native American uprisings and it was his mission to put an end to the “Apache Problem.” General Philip Sheridan, who was coordinating the campaign to capture Geronimo, placed New Mexico Territory in the Pacific division which tied it to Arizona creating a jurisdiction among the western territories. In 1889, a former army scout known as the “Apache Kid” escaped from a prison stage headed for yuma and hid out in New Mexico. Lt. Colonel Zenas Bliss, Fort Bayard’s longest serving commander, was given the order to bring in the Apache Kid. The “Kid” would never be captured.

It was during this time that a young “Blackjack” Pershing was assigned here. Once Geronimo surrendered, it seemed Fort Bayard’s purpose was done. But, Fort Bayard had built a highly reputable hospital. It was decided to establish the Army’s first tuberculosis sanitarium and research center. Back then a sanitarium wasn’t for the insane, it was a place of rest and recovery. The reputation of the hospital and its staff prompted the decision.

Housing here was comfortable. Above is the nurses quarters which was roomy with common rooms and private quarters. The fort remained busy and fully garrisoned.

The officers also had comfortable surroundings. Above is one of the duplexes that were officers quarters. They were efficient and private, though they didn’t have any central heating. They didn’t have basements so they had to rely on the fireplace.

The quarters for the enlisted men were much smaller, though again not uncomfortable. Fort Bayard was made as comfortable as possible. The world of the fort can still be pictured. The soldiers can still almost be seen drilling on the parade grounds.

The picture above is an old theater. It held live performances as well as movies when they came into being. When I first looked at it I thought it was a church, but I spoke with one of the folks working there and they set me straight.

This is one of the Doctor’s quarters. Another duplex, these two story buildings we quite spacious and had plenty of room to raise a family. There was also a school at the fort. It was established to teach the “3 Rs” to the children of former slaves. In 1888 there were 118 students. This was the brainchild of Chaplin Captain Allen Allensworth who also established a library at the same time.

During World War II Fort Bayard was converted to a German prison camp. About 100 POWs were sent there and employed as maintenance staff because they were short due to the U.S. war effort. The POWs were paid army wages at the level of a private. The fort was abandoned after World War II.

Pulling in and learning a bit about Fort Bayard is well worth the time spent here. Driving or walking around can give a good picture of what life was like at this outpost. Fort Bayard was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2004.

Writing and photography by Mikel B. Classen. Copyright by Mikel B. Classen 2020.

For more information about Mikel B. Classen or his writing and photography visit his website at

Mimbre Artist and His Art – Pictographs and Cliff Home – Trail to the Past – Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument – Gila National Forest – New Mexico

Author’s Note: Many of these pictographs are subtle and faded. The more you study the pictures, more will appear in the stone. Spend a little time looking for the buried images in the rock.

While visiting the Cliff Dwellings at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, there is another site that is also worth visiting. The “Trail to the Past” is located at the Lower Scorpion Campground and it is right along the road where most visitors drive by and never see. The site explores a Mimbres artist and his home.

There is a parking lot at the Lower Scorpion and towards the east end of the lot a hiking trail labeled “Trail to the Past,” leads to a rock wall that has prehistoric pictographs painted on it.

Only a few feet down the trail and it splits. To the left is a trail to a cliff house, more on that later. To the right is the rock wall where the pictographs are painted. There are quite a few here and many of them have faded though they are still visible. These have been painted over the last thousand years. There were several generations of rock artists living here.

Figures and designs adorn the rocks, most whose meanings have been lost to time. These messages from the past have yet to be understood. Their beauty and symetry are ever apparent.

When I stood here looking at these, I saw more and more images as I looked more intently. These are worth more than a glance and the more I looked, the more I saw. There was something painted on nearly every flat surface, some faded while others could have been created yesterday.

Many of the pictures baffle me as to what they were intended by the artist, while others stand out and are easily identified. The one above is one of those that is difficult to figure out. It appears as if it were several images upon each other.

This is one of those pictograph clusters that the more you look at it, the more you see. There are several different paintings in this picture. See how many you can find.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, the “Trail to the Past” splits in two directions. To the right is the pictographs, to the left is a cliff dwelling and was undoubtably the home of the artist.

This shows a bit of the interior of the dwelling but it also shows a large red patch in the rocks above. This was likely where the painters of the pictographs got their color pigment for the pictographs. The red shade is the same as that of the rock art.

The trail to both the pictographs and the cliff house is quite short. The trail to the pictographs is handicapped accessable and is only about 50 yards from the parking lot. The trail to the cliff house is not handicapped accessable but is only about 100 yards. This place in the lower Scorpion Campground is overlooked by most visitors and it takes very little effort to spend a little time here. I was the only visitor at the time. This is well worth the minimal effort it takes to explore this ancient artist’s home and his art from prehistoric America.

Writing and photography by Mikel B. Classen.

Copyright by Mikel B. Classen 2020

For more information about Mikel B. Classen and his writing and photography visit his website at

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument- Gila National Forest – New Mexico

This was sort a bucket list kind of thing for me. I’ve always wanted to see these and I finally got there. Of course it was raining the entire time, though I suppose it could be worse. It could have been snowing. I will admit that it didn’t diminish the impact of this ancient city in the mountains.

The drive there is a sometimes windy and treacherous roadway. It goes up across the Continental Divide and reaches nearly 9000 feet at one point. The scenery is breathtaking and one has to be careful to concentrate on the drive and not gawk at the scenery. Admittedly it is easier said than done. It takes approximately two hours to drive 45 miles. There are two roads that will take you there, New Mexico 15 out of Silver City which is the more difficult drive, it is paved all the way, but it has steep grades and very hairpin curves. The other way is by taking New Mexico 35 out of San Lorenzo and Mimbres. Though this is a longer route it is the easier to drive of the two.

When you arrive at the National Monument, established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, there is a visitors center where you can learn all the secrets of the Cliff dwellings. A short mile later and you are at the parking lot for the trail into the cliffs. The hike isn’t long, round trip is about a mile, and the path follows a small stream that appears to have been cutting through the rocks for millenia. Then the climb begins.

There is about a 200 foot climb up to get on the level of the cliff dwellings. It is well worth the effort. The dwellings can be seen peeking out of the cliffs above on the left. Since it was raining, it was easy to come to the realization that these rocks are very slippery when wet. The pathway follows closely to the cliff edge and watching your step can save your life or serious injury.

One of the best things about visiting here is the fact that the Cliff Dwellings are not roped off. Visitors can walk in and through the interiors of this ancient village.

One can only marvel at the effort it must have taken to build these magnificent buildings so high in the air inside these caves. It is a feat of engineering that is almost hard to comprehend.

Because of the unrestricted access, the buildings can be seen with every perspective. Inside these caves would have been fairly cozy living for these ancient times. They are well sheltered and it wouldn’t have been often that wind or weather would have penetrated these caves.

There is beauty and aestetics here. Primitive yet elegant. Walking in the footsteps of these long lost people brings a feeling of timelessness that reaches deep into the soul. There is a memory there, one from the ancestors, powerful and almost familiar. Is there an ancestral memory here? Probably or at least something close to it.

Above is the gorge the small stream had cut that the path followed on the way in. This is what they saw from their homes. This rugged wild region has likely not changed since the Cliff Dwellers occupied this place. This would have been what their world looked like.

Some of the buildings could still be lived in. They are well preserved enough that the Mogollon could come back and start over without much difficulty.

This village dates back to 1200 – 1400 AD. It was continously occupied through those years and it is believed they left because of environmental changes. In the early 1900s some mummified bodies were found and were lost by looters and collectors. There was a child mummy found and that is the only mummy to make it to the Smithsonian.

Archaeologists have Idenfied nearly 50 rooms inside of the dwellings where they believed there were 10-15 families living. They even had bathrooms.

There are five caves all filled with rooms like these. Most of them consist of three rooms and though the are quite close together, each dwelling was definitively destinct as its own seperate structure.

This was one of those things that I have done in my life that I felt was quite profound. Realizing how old this village was, and how we overlook these pre-European civilizations with our education and history, it is a moving experience to stand amongst the remnants of this overlooked culture. The Mogollon achieved much in their two centuries on these cliffs. Though they didn’t leave much of a record, what they did leave behind tells a story of art, engineering and tenacity. They were able to carve out homes in the most formidable of environments, live their lives where most would have perished, and raise generations of family in harmony with their surroundings.

Writing and photography by Mikel B. Classen. Copyright by Mikel B. Classen 2020.

For more information on Mikel B. Classen go to his website at

Geronimo Springs Museum – Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

This local museum is packed with artifacts and exhibits that date back to times when dinosaurs walked the earth. Representing thousands of years of the history of Sierra County, the Geronimo Springs Museum has a surprise around every corner.

When walking in the door, one of the first displays is a pair of prehistoric skulls, one of a Mastadon and another from a Woolly Mammoth. As I’ve travelled through New Mexico it has become apparent that if you want to find evidence of dinosaurs, this is the state to do it. This room is full of fossils and gem stones that all came from Sierra County.

There is a wonderful collection of Mimbre pottery which includes ancient tribes of humans including the Mogollon and the Anasazi. These tribes flourished approximately 1000 years ago.

The color of the clay pottery helps determine what era they were made. These are from the Black and White phase. The patterns and imagery show a very sophisticated work of art that is difficult to achieve even today.

The Anasazi are probably the best known of the prehistoric tribes. Flourishing over a thousand years ago, they were proficient in astronomy, agriculture and trade. Like all of these early North American tribes, they abandoned their villages and disappeared into the shadows of the past.

Pictured above is an amazing display of prehistoric arrowheads and points that was displayed by a true artist. Not only is it fun to check out the countless heads and points on display here but the patterns the display creator chose to portray this collection with.

The beginning of European history in the area began with Coronado in the 1500s. The coming of the Conquistador conquerer opened New Mexico to early Spanish settlement, much to the detriment of the Native tribes that already occupied the region. They were enslaved by the Spanish and treated cruely with tortures only those during the Spanish Inquisition could devise. They brought those horrors to the tribes of New Mexico.

There were those that refused to be conquered. In 1680 the Natives had had enough. In what has become known as the Pueblo Revolt, tribes across the region almost suceeded in killing every Spaniard in the region. Even images of the conquistaors that were etched in rock were destroyed in an effort to wipe out all memory of their cruelty. As a note of weird trivia, the artist who painted the last two images, and I can’t remember is name, would sign many of his paintings by firing a bullet through the canvas.

Since the museum is named Geronimo Springs it is probably time we got to the namesake. Apaches such as Geronimo had made this region their home as had Victorio and Cochise. Each one went to war with the U.S. Cavalry and the Apache became one of the fiercest fighting tribes the Cavalry came up against. First off, they knew the countryside and thrived in it. When it came time for the Army to hunt them down, it was an endeavor that spawned legends. There is much to learn about Geronimo and the Apaches here.

Originally the Spanish came and encroached on their land and then their descendants, the New Mexican farmers pushed them. It was soon to be followed by American settlers who would also push them out. The Apaches pushed back, hard.

Eventually, the cattle and sheep ranchers came along claiming thousands of acres for themselves. The army was ordered to round up or destroy the Apache. Keep in mind this was also happening to the Navajo, who were further north, as well. It was time for the Native American to go!

The museum takes artifacts from all periods and paints a vivid picture of the past. The town of Truth or Consequences has its own story as well. From being Apache land to frontier town, it became Hot Springs, New Mexico.

One day this man came along, Ralph Edwards. He was a very popular producer and MC of radio shows. One of his most popular was the game show, Truth or Consequences. It eventully became a very popular TV show as well along with another favorite – This Is Your Life.

Edwards was aproaching the 10th anniversary of his show Truth or Consequences. He announced on the radio that he would do his 10th anniversary show in any town that would change their name to Truth or Consequences. Hot Springs, New Mexico responded which is how T or C got its name.

Edwards didn’t stop there. He made it an annual event, they called a fiesta, that went on for quite some time. The picture above shows the amount of Celebrities that showed up over the years in Truth or Consequences much to the delight of the residents.

The Geronimo Springs Museum covers a lot of historical ground and will take a little time to view it all. It is one of most comprehensive museums I’ve seen in the region and the displays are as good as anywhere. It is well worth some time to stop in here.

For more information and writing by Mikel B. Classen, visit his website at To buy any of his books go to his website or find them on Amazon.

All writing and photography by Mikel B. Classen. Copyright 2020 by Mikel B. Classen.

Crossing the Emory Pass – Sierra County, New Mexico

The Black Range Mountains are part of the Gila National Forest. The road above, New Mexico 152, runs between Caballo and Silver City through the heart of the Black Range Mountains crossing the Continental Divide. The drive is amazing and dangerous. Tight hairpin curves and sheer drop cliffs where ditches should be makes this an exciting drive.

The Emory Pass reaches and altitude of nearly 9000 feet and is breathtaking. It is named after William Henry Emory who crossed the Black Range in 1846 on the way with the Army of the West which marched from New Mexico to California to liberate the Californians from the Spanish. For the record many of the Californians did not want to be liberated and rose up and nearly defeated the American intruders.

There are over 3 million acres in the Gila National Forest. It encompasses the entire Black Range and is as rugged of a mountain range as any. Part of the national forest is known as the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Area. It comprises nearly 300k acres and includes much of the Continental Divide in this region.

Aldo Leopold was born in 1887 and fell in love with the outdoors at an early age. He eventually went to Yale Forest School and joined the U.S. Forest Service which had just been established in Arizona and New Mexico. In 1922 he developed a plan to manage the Gila National Forest as a wilderness area, the first of its kind. A few years later he wrote the first textbook on wildlife management. He became the first wildlife manager in the nation. He died from a heart attack fighting a neighbor’s grass wildfire in 1948.

At the top of the pass is the Continental Divide. A hiking path runs the ridge that makes up the divide for 30 miles. The hike meanders through the depths of the Black Range where legends of lost gold and stories of Apache wars abound. The Apaches used these mountains regularly before they were driven out.

This is the view from the top of the pass at the Continental Divide. There is a pullout here and this is a sight that shouldn’t be missed. I got out here and the smell of pine and melting snow made me feel at home. It smelled like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The Continental Divide Hiking Trail, a rough and treacherous trail. Not for the faint of heart.

Passing the Divide, streams run to the west and the melting snow is feeding the mountain streams. This is one of the origins of the Gallinas River. Driving down the other side of the pass, the stream grows as the elevation drops.

The speed through here is slow. When the say 15 miles an hour for a curve, heed it. This is a place where going into a ditch puts your vehicle in the top of a 40 foot tree. It takes time to negotiate this road with hairpins and S-curves. The beauty is magnificent and worth the drive.

This picture is looking back at the Black Range from the West. Back down in the desert lands, the trip almost seems like a dream, the wondrous world that exists in the Emory Pass, is behind, but it will be there for the next time I decide I need a fix for the Black Range Mountains.

For more from Mikel B. Classen visit his website at

For more information on the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Area go here: Aldo Leopold Wilderness – Wikipedia

Writing and Photography by Mikel B. Classen. Copyright 2020 by Mikel B. Classen

On the Road in New Mexico

The Ghost Town of Hillsboro, New Mexico

Today we are going to explore a New Mexico Ghost Town. Hillsboro was a prominent part of the mining boom that occured along the Black Range Mountains. Today the Black Range is part of the Gila National Forest which encompasses over 3 million acres of public lands. The Black Range is also called the Devil’s Mountains or Sierra Diablo.

This crumbling old adobe home is located in the ghost town of Hillsboro, New Mexico. This was from the “Spanish” section of town. The Anglos preferred to be in their own part of town. These old ruins still show the adobe bricks and mud. Close up you can see the straw poking out of the brick. 

I was informed by a neighbor across the street, Hillsboro isn’t completely abandoned, that the above picture is a trough for separating gold. I thought it was a watering trough for livestock, but he explained to me that the bar sticking up in the middle was a guide for a large mill stone that would roll around the trough crushing the ore to powder. The Hispanics would then separate the gold from the crushed ore. This milling method was something that was specific to the Spanish culture. 

This picture is a close-up of a vent. This vent would have run under the floor to keep the house dry. The long nails run through it was to keep varmints out which this desert region is full of. Old time solution to a timeless problem.

The ghost town of Hillsboro is technically still occupied with about 80 residents still living there. It was founded in 1877. A gold strike produced two profitable mines called the Opportunity and Ready Pay mines. It was the first county seat of Sierra County and had about 1200 people at its peak. The mines were said to have produced over $6 million in gold and silver. When the mines petered out the county seat was moved to Hot Springs eventually named Truth or Consequences.

Remnants of days gone by can be seen down every street in Hillsboro. There are still a few remaining businesses such as a small cafe, a bed and breakfast, a winery and a local museum.

Our Lady of Guadalupe church is still an active church with a congregation of current residents as well as ranchers from the countryside..

This is one of the other fascinating ruins at Hillsboro. It is the old jail house. It was fairly large for back then. Some of those miners were apparently out of hand frequently. In 1899 the jail held three men that were tried for the murder of Territorial Judge Albert J. Fountain and his son. Fountain once defended Billy the Kid for murder and lost the case. The Fountain murder is shrouded in mystery as the bodies of he and his son were never found and suspected of hiring the murderers was Oliver Lee and Albert Fall two of the largest ranchers in New Mexico at the time. The famous Pat Garrett was even suspected of being involved. Fountain was on his way to testify against the two ranchers when he and his son was murdered. The suspects got off with lack of evidence.

This is a B&W I did of one of the ruins that sets next to the jail in Hillsboro, NM. I’m not even sure what this was but I thought it looked cool. Hillsboro can be found on New Mexico 152 southwest of Truth or Consequences approximately 32 miles.

All Writing and Photography by Mikel B. Classen. Copyright 2020 by Mikel B. Classen

About the Author

Mikel B. Classen has been writing about northern Michigan in newspapers and magazines for over thirty-five years, creating feature articles about the life and culture of Michigan’s north country. He’s written about Upper Peninsula history, travel, outdoors, the environment and many other subjects. A journalist, historian, photographer and author with a fascination of the world around him, he enjoys researching and writing about lost stories from the past. Currently he is managing editor of the U.P. Reader and is a member of the Board of Directors for the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association.

   Classen makes his home in the oldest city in Michigan, historic Sault Ste. Marie. He is also a collector of out-of-print history books, and historical photographs and prints of Upper Michigan. At Northern Michigan University, he studied English, history, journalism and photography. He lives with his wife, Mary L. Underwood, and his Labrador retriever, Gidget.

His book, Au Sable Point Lighthouse, Beacon on Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast; was published in 2014 and his book, Teddy Roosevelt and the Marquette Libel Trial; was published in 2015. Both by the History Press. He has two books of fiction called Lake Superior Tales published by Modern History Press and Journeys into the Macabre, published by NetBound Books. His newest release is Points North a non- fiction travel book published in 2019 by Modern History Press.

   To learn more about Mikel B. Classen and to see more of his work, go to his website at