When in the ski town Ruidoso, New Mexico, consider taking a side trip to Fort Stanton State Monument. Fort Stanton is located off Bill the Kid Scenic Byway less than 30 minutes northeast of Ruidoso. It is situated in the Fort Stanton-Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area which features camping and 100 miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails.
Fort Stanton as a Military Post to Control Indians
Fort Stanton, named for Captain Henry W Stanton, was constructed of local stone in 1855 to serve as a base for controlling the Mescalero Apache Indians. The fort features officers’ quarters and barracks, a hospital and morgue, nurses’ quarters, a guardhouse, a dining hall, a chapel, a power plant and laundry, a gymnasium and pool, a fire station, horse stables and a functioning U.S. post office. There is also an impressive merchant marine cemetery down the street.
Though one of the most intact forts in nation from the 19th century, the buildings are in need of renovation, so there are not many exhibits within. That said, the fort and setting is very pretty. Its history is also very interesting, as it has been used in many capacities over the years.
While Fort Stanton served as a military post to control the Indians, it was seized by the Confederate forces in 1861 during the American Civil War. The occupation was short lived as they retreated to Mesilla and tried burning the fort (which was extinguished by a rainstorm). The Union Army took over the fort under the command of the famous Kit Carson.
The Fort During the Civil War
The fort was rebuilt after the Civil War and again used as a post to fight the Mescalero Apache Indians up until the 1880’s. The Army abandoned the fort in 1896 when the Indians settled on a nearby reservation, and the US Public Health Service converted the fort into a Tuberculosis hospital for the Merchant Marines.
Fort Stanton as a Tuberculosis Hospital
Fort Stanton served 5,000 sailor patients while it acted as a hospital, of which 1,500 are buried in the nearby cemetery marked with thousands of small white crosses. During this time, the hospital included farmland where patients worked in the fields while getting fresh air and sunlight, the only known treatment. Doctors enjoyed the golf course while resident workers took advantage of the baseball fields and theater.
The Fort During World War II
After being utilized as a hospital, the fort was turned into a World War II internee camp. The first men held were seamen from the German luxury liner SS Columbus. The fort’s internees expanded to German POWs and Japanese Americans which the US government confined during the war.
I have always wondered about the Japanese Segregation sites. Obviously, it is not something that the US proudly displays, but it should be remembered so it is not forgotten. Japanese Segregation Camp #1 can be found just up the road on BLM land. Annie and I stumbled upon it after a short walk.
Fort Stanton Transferred to New Mexico
In 1953, the US government gave the fort to New Mexico who continued operating the tuberculosis hospital and later the State Hospital for the Developmentally Handicapped until 1995. For a short time it also served as a low security women’s prison, and it housed juvenile drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.
When the state wished to dispose of the property in 1997, Fort Stanton was saved. Ten years later it was declared the Fort Stanton State Monument which is operated by the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.
Fort Stanton is open to visitors from Thursday to Monday from 10am to 4pm. Adult admission costs $7 and kids under 16 are free. Generally the fort holds several tours as well as many other events, currently, however, COVID has closed these options until further notice. ETB