Fort Bayard National Historic Landmark Introduction
Backstory and Context
The Fort Years 1866-1899
The United States officially annexed much of the current state of New Mexico with the ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1850. During the Mexican War in 1846, American forces under the command of General Stephen Watts Kearny had invaded and taken nominal control of the region. Kearny’s Army of the West passed through this part of New Mexico on its way to California in the autumn of 1846, taking note of the potential resources that would be conducive to mining, farming, ranching, and other commerce. Kearny also reported that bands of Apache Native sroamed undefeated in region, and that permanent military posts would be needed to provide security for any future settlers and entrepreneurs.
The first Army fort in the area was to be known as Fort Webster, and it was set up at the Santa Rita del Cobre copper mine, located just a few miles east of the future site of Fort Bayard, in 1851. Due to a lack of water, it was soon relocated a few miles farther east, along the Mimbres River. Several more short lived forts came and went until the Civil War ended in 1865. During those tumultuous years, gold had been discovered in the mountains a few miles north and west of the copper mine, and a mining camp known as Pinos Altos had been established. Native Apaches resented the intrusion of the white men, and their disruption to the wildlife, and the Apache way of life. Several violent encounters eventually led to an attempt by the Apaches, under the leadership of Mangas Coloradas and his son-in-law Cochise, to eradicate the Pinos Altos camp, in September of 1861. Though the attempt failed, the Apaches besieged the miners for almost a year afterward, until a force of California soldiers arrived in the summer of 1862. Several months later, the soldiers tricked Mangas Coloradas into appearing for a peace parley, captured him, then killed him at an abandoned military post twenty miles to the south, under treacherous circumstances. This ensured that warfare would intensify in the coming years.
It was clear that a permanent military post was needed, if the mineral wealth of southwestern New Mexico was to be exploited. In 1866, Company B of the 125th Colored Infantry marched over 300 miles from Fort Union in northwestern New Mexico, and officially established Fort Bayard on August 21st.