The Quickest Fort in the West

In late July 1851 Fort Union, New Mexico came into being very quickly. There had been nothing at the location at the beginning of the month, but after Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner reached Santa Fe on July 19, it was only a matter of time, and not very much of that.

The search for a new U.S. Army quartermaster depot site east of Santa Fe had already been. The Army needed a convenient point for receiving supplies in bulk from Fort Leavenworth and then distributing them to posts throughout New Mexico.

When Colonel Sumner saw the location chosen for the depot, he realized it was also an excellent spot for a new military post and Department headquarters. Known as Los Pozos (“the pits” or “the potholes”) the site had several spring-fed pools of water, something of a rarity on the plains east of the Sangre de Cristo mountains.

July 29 illustration.Fort Union Plan.1853.Oliva 72

Not only would the new Fort be supplied with water in an otherwise arid land, but the location was near the junction of the Santa Fe Trail Cimarron and Mountain routes, near the trail through Mora to the Rio Grande valley, and also near settlements such as Rayado and Las Vegas, which were being threatened by the Jicarilla Apaches.

Once Sumner made the decision, things moved quickly. By the end of July, the number of civilians employed by the quartermaster department in Santa Fe was reduced to three clerks and one carpenter and moved to the new site along with the soldiers who had been stationed in Santa Fe and in Las Vegas. New Mexico’s Fort Union was born.

Sources: Ruben Cobos, A Dictionary of New Mexico and Southern Colorado Spanish, Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2003; Lawrence R. Murphy, Philmont: a history of New Mexico’s Cimarron country, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1972; Leo Olivas, Fort Union and the Frontier Army in the Southwest, Division of History, National Park Service, Southwest Cultural Resources Center, 1993; Marc Simmons, Kit Carson and His Three Wives, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2003.

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