New Mexico Grapples With Future of Fort Bayard

Fort
Fort Bayard in southwestern New Mexico was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2004.

Credit: Vladimir Laven

A former U.S. Army post built by Buffalo Soldiers in southwestern New Mexico is at a crossroads. Currently leased by a medical center, the fort will stand vacant next year when a new hospital opens nearby.

At a public meeting June 8, about 100 people, including state officials, met to discuss the fate of the historic buildings at Fort Bayard. Bill Taylor, director of New Mexico Property Control, the state agency that owns the 468-acre property, emphasized the need for a master plan, and said that next year the state will issue a request for proposals for its future use.

"Fort Bayard could pass out of local control unless a master plan is developed," says Maureen Craig, community development planner for the Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments, based in nearby Silver City. "There are a lot of ideas out there right now" for the site, she says, including a Buffalo Soldiers heritage center, a vocational school, or a park.

In 1866, Congress established the first peacetime all-black regiments in the U.S. Army. The same year, members of the U.S. Colored Infantry built Fort Bayard to hold off Apache tribes and to protect the gold and silver mining communities. Native American tribes referred to the African American troops as "Buffalo Soldiers." (Fort Bayard was home to Cathay Williams, the former slave who joined the U.S. Army as William Cathay, and became the nation's first female Buffalo Soldier.)

Nothing except a cemetery remains at Fort Bayard from the 1860s. Surviving structures on the post all date either to the turn of the last century, when the site became a tuberculosis sanatorium, or to the 1920s, when it became a veterans' hospital. 

Fort
An arson fire damaged this house, one of about 50 at Fort Bayard, N.M.

Credit: Vladimir Laven

Of the 80 buildings clustered on a third of the property today, most have stood empty since 2006. Only a few—including the commanding officer's house, which the state has maintained as the hospital administration building, and a 1941 theater, which was updated last year—are in good condition. The majority are deteriorating rapidly: a fire last January destroyed the roof of one house.

"The amount of vandalism that we've had in the last year is unbelievable," says Cecilia Bell, president of the Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society, which hosts tours, reunions, and annual celebrations of the fort. "The last couple of times that we have given tours we have found [evidence that] people are staying in there. We really need to move on to [establish] a state or national park so we have security."

 

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Comments

Submitted by Butch at: January 24, 2011
I lived and worked at Ft. Bayard, 1955-1962, then at Vancouver, WA Va hospital, 1962-1964, then at Ft. Lyon CO VA hospital, all 3 places had old historical living quarters. When Vancouver Va no longer needed theirs they were deeded to the city. The buildings, much like Ft. Bayards, only wooden, were converted to apartments. From the outside they looked like old, but had been repaired, repainted, etc. and were full all the time with renters. Ft. Lyon Va was given to the state and is a prison for giatric and mental prisoners. One or the other could happen at ft. Bayard.

Submitted by jwmatth@sbcglobal.net at: January 23, 2011
I was born in FtB in May 1931 and lived with my grandparents (Sam & Mimie) through the 3rd grade, then finished elementary school in "Central" moving on to Silver City for high school at THS, Class of '49. I last visited FtB in 2003 and was so shocked to see the deterioration; two of the three residence that I lived in were still standing and I toured with a guide to provided them information about the times, people and events during my youth. Living in Calif makes it difficult to assist the FBHPS but I have done what I can to restore old photos and collect forward information from other FtB kids, subsequently writing articles about life and times of "we" kid living there. Nostalgia tears at my heart as I fear the "Post" will be torn down. After reading comments by others I am sure that I knew a couple of them.

Submitted by fortbayardgirl at: January 23, 2011
I am currently the secretary of the Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society and am collecting, names, stories, photos, memoribilia for our historic records of Fort Bayard. I was living at the fort as Kathy Homyak from 1960-65 and would love to correspond with you. Contact me at kawhill@aol.com, kh44474@gmail.com or through our website www.fortbayard.org Thank you!

Submitted by zanequest@yahoo.com at: November 22, 2010
I lived at Fort Bayard in the officers quarters (second unit from the north end) with sister Brenda and our parents. My Dad was working for the NM Dept of Game and Fish at the time while he worked on his Doctoral Thesis. I've never lived in a more charming residence and I wished that as a kid I had more respect and knowledge of this historically rich preserver. We raised mule deer fawns on the second floor screened in balcony and then moved them to a one acre enclosure until they were a year old then transplanted them to a 44 acre enclosure near the mountains on the preserve and used to walk the fawns on 50' lanyards across the parade grounds!! So many rich wonderful memories of living in those old officer's quarters!! I truly hope the community can preserve this historically valuable fort.

Submitted by jocief@msn.com at: November 14, 2010
I AM LOOKING FOR INFO REGARDING MY UNCLE TONY EHRMANN (JOHN ANTHONY) WHO WORKED IN FORT BAYARD FOR 45 YRS 1920-1965. LOOKING FOR INFO RE GARDING HOOKER'S AND GRUEWELL'S FOR GENEALOGY..jOCELYN BARBASH (EHRMANN)

Submitted by karen d. at: September 22, 2010
I would LOVE to be able to visit Fort Bayard one day. I live in Fayetteville, ga. and my heart just feels so heavy after just now finding this article. My grandfather ( who sadly died before i was born) served in the Hospital Corp here in Fort Bayard from 1911-1915! i have a photo of him on the grounds. i pray i will get to see this area and the buildings before they fall in disrepair.

Submitted by Merry at: January 5, 2010
I lived in Ft. Bayard and lived in home 25A on the main street. It breaks my heart to see what is happening to the homes. What can be done to save the Fort and it's housing?

Submitted by Patsy at: December 17, 2009
There are many things worth preserving. Fort Bayard is one of them. Until we can get the locals to become excited about it's preservation, how can we get people around the nation to get excited? However, perhaps we need to get history minded people from around the nation and other countries to help preserve this wonderful treasure trove. Our nation is in a terrible mess financially right now and it will be hard to get money to preserve these buildings and grounds. We need people to come out and help. The best way is to join the Fort Bayard Preservation Society and fight together. There is a membership dinner on Jan 9,2010 at FB Theater at 6 pm.Come join us in the battle to keep FB alive in our history. Call Cecilia Bell @ 388-4477 for information.

Submitted by CSM MItch at: December 14, 2009
I think it would be wise to Include the Nde Warm Springs Apache people as well. They have shown a great deal of interest of late. They would love to co-locate a museum with the FBHPS and 9th Memorial Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers) . Richard Mitchem FBHPS

Submitted by GSF at: December 14, 2009
Fort Bayard is also on the National Register of Historic Places. The Landmark & National Register boundaries encompass portions of the historic district located on lands administered by the Gila National Forest, in addition to New Mexico State lands. To say that nothing remains from the 1860s except a cemetery is incorrect. There are historic features (rifle butts for target shooting, for example), that remain. In addition, there are historic foundations, walls, artifacts and other important historic archeological remains from 19th century occupation of the Fort, on both state and Forest lands. There are also significant prehistoric archeological sites within the boundaries of the National Historic Landmark. I'm a local who thoroughly supports preservation of Fort Bayard, and is greatly saddened by deterioration there. But, while I appreciate the National Trust's article about the Fort, there is much more to the story than only the built environment on State land that you addressed.

Submitted by Vera at: December 13, 2009
My grandfather worked at Ft. Bayard, my Mother and Father grew up there as well as myself and my brother. Some of those houses were built from lumber brought over from the Philippines on ships and they are put together with bolts. The Post is a treasure trove of Indian relics and so much history of Buffalo soldiers, the Veterans Administration and the fact that during WWII, there were many German Prisoners that were kept there and worked on the grounds. There were many Army mules and horses that were retired there after serving their tours of duty in the army. Please don't let this wonderful piece of history be torn down and disappear from the history books. Surely there is something that can be done to preserve it.