Fort Garland was established in 1858 to protect settlers from Indian attacks in the San Luis Valley, which at that time was part of the Territory of New Mexico. It replaced nearby Fort Massachusetts, the original fort in the area. Over a period of 25 years, Fort Garland was manned by a number of different companies of infantrymen, mounted riflemen and volunteers.

The Fort was named after Brevet Brigadier General John Garland, who was in command of the Department of New Mexico. It was constructed of adobe and aligned around a plaza in typical New Mexico style. Fort Garland was built on land that was part of the Sangre de Cristo Grant.

The Fort’s military strength consisted of two companies comprised of about one hundred enlisted men, commanded by two officers.

Troops from Fort Garland participated in the Civil War, when they fought along side Union forces in battles against Texas Confederates. The Texans were defeated at Glorieta Pass, near Santa Fe in 1862.

From 1866 to 1867, the famous frontier scout Christopher “Kit” Carson, was Commandant of Fort Garland. His mission was to keep the peace and negotiate with the Utes. During the Civil War, he had commanded units of Hispanic New Mexico volunteers. During his tenure at the fort, Kit Carson was able to negotiate a peace agreement with the Ute Indians, who inhabited the San Luis Valley.

When regular army troops were returned to Fort Garland in 1867, Carson and his volunteers were mustered out. Kit Carson moved to Boggsville, now called Las Animas, where he became Colorado's Superintendent of Indian affairs, until he died in 1868.

The Ninth Cavalry of the famed Buffalo Soldiers, members of the distinquished African-American regiments in the U.S. Army after the Civil War, who served during the Indian wars in the late 1860s and
in the Spanish-American War and World War II, were stationed at Fort Garland, between 1876 and 1879. In 1876, they played a role in preventing conflict between the Utes and white prospectors in the La Plata region. During the following year, they were active in the removal of white settlers from Ute reservation lands.

Life remained peaceful in northwestern Colorado from 1867 until 1879, at which time the Utes in an uprising, known as the Meeker Massacre, killed Nathan Meeker, who was the agent at the White River Agency, along with his employees.

Following that event, the garrison at Fort Garland was expanded and became a key base of operations against the Utes.

With the end of the uprising and the removal of the Utes to reservations in Utah, the troop strength was reduced and Fort Garland was officially abandoned as a military post in 1883.

Today, visitors can tour the parade ground and adjacent adobe buildings. The Commandant's Quarters has been restored to resemble its appearance during Kit Carson's time. It is now a museum that exhibits original military paraphernalia, folk art and items of Hispanic culture.

The present day town, which surrounds the fort, is a rural setting with a couple of gas stations, cafes and a few other businesses, located along the highway.

Fort Garland is located on U.S. Highway 160 in the San Luis Valley, 25 miles east of Alamosa. San Luis, Colorado's oldest town, is 16 miles south of Fort Garland.

For information about the Fort Garland Museum and Visitor Center, call 719-379-3512.

This story is based on information from the San Luis Valley Museum Association and other web sources.
Compiled and written by Mel Fenson.


Cover | Contents | Archive | Contact