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.

Prussian-Born Officer Becomes Etown Miner

On April 18, 1867, U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Edward Bergmann resigned from a promising military career to become a miner in Elizabethtown, New Mexico’s Baldy Peak mining district. But Bergmann wasn’t just any miner. He was the superintending partner in Lucien Maxwell’s Aztec Mine on the east slopes of Baldy, a venture that would haul out roughly $1.5 million in gold in the first five years of operation. Bergmann’s work there and in other operations was so successful that he was worth $60,000 in real estate by the summer of 1870.

Born in Prussia around 1833, Bergmann had been a 28 year old private in the U.S. Army when the Civil War broke out in 1861, a private who was granted an immediate discharge from his clerking duties at Departmental headquarters in Santa Fe so he could accept a 1st Lieutenant commission in the New Mexico Volunteers.

He rose quickly. By September 1862, Bergmann was a Captain and responsible for rebuilding and resupplying Fort Stanton. By early 1867, he was a Lt. Colonel leading scouting expeditions on the San Juan and Las Animas Rivers.

April 18 illustration.Edward H.Bergmann
Edward Bergmann in military uniform. Source: Louis Felsenthal, Citizen-Soldier by J. Meketa, UNM Press, 1982

But news of the gold on Baldy Mountain seems to have roused the mining fever in the Lt. Colonel, because he resigned his commission shortly thereafter and was soon on the ground in Etown and its surrounding mines.

He did well. By 1870, Bergmann owned $60,000 worth of real estate and was secure enough to attract the attention of local belle Augusta Sever, whom he married in December. Over the next fifteen years, he continued his activities in the area, participating in the Spanish Bar mine at the mouth of Grouse Gulch just east of Etown and taking on other roles, including acting as Etown Justice of the Peace during the Colfax County War.

Oddly, Bergmann’s real estate holdings seemed to have diminished to a mere $1,500 by April 1875, when the Territorial property tax assessment was made. However, he’d apparently made some powerful friends by that time, because when the New Mexico Territorial Penitentiary opened in Santa Fe in August 1885, Bergmann was named its first warden, a position he held until at least 1893. He must have gotten the mining fever once again, though, because he died in Colorado’s Bowl of Gold, near Cripple Creek, in 1910.

 

Sources:  Louis Felsenthal, Citizen-Soldier of Territorial New Mexico, Jacqueline Meketa, UNM Press, 1982; Lure, Lore, and Legends of the Moreno Valley, Moreno Valley Writers Guild, 1997, Columbine Books, Angel Fire, NM; Roadside History of Colorado, Candy Moulton, Mountain Press, Missoula, 2006; Philmont, A History of New Mexico’s Cimarron Country, Lawrence Murphy, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2014; Red River City: A history of Northern New Mexico 1800-2000, J.R. Pierce, JRP Publications Press, Red River, 2006; The Eagle Nest, New Mexico Story, F. Stanley, Dumas, Texas, 1961; A Civil War History of the New Mexico Volunteers and Militia; Jerry Thompson, UNM Press, Albuquerque, 2015; Myth of the Hanging Tree, Robert J. Torrez, UNM Press, 2008.