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 www.mikelclassen.com