Ft. Stanton and the Indian War 1862 thru 1865

This is an excerpt from an article on the Ft. Stanton web site, written by Dr. Walter  Earl Pittman


On 30 October 1862, Col. Christopher (Kit) Carson arrived on the banks of the Bonita with troops of the 1st New Mexico Volunteers to inaugurate a renewal of the war to subjugate the Mescalero Apaches and to begin a new era in the history of Fort Stanton.

Carson found the Fort, “a mass of ruins, all the roofs, floors, doors and windows burnt, even the walls much damaged”. There was no hope of getting the troops into shelters before winter. Worse, Carson found that he was unable to get or transport enough corn from Fort Union for his horses and no decent hay was available near Fort Stanton. The little hay offered for sale was of too poor a quality for nourishment and even it could only be had at prices much higher than the Army’s allowances. By December, the horses of Carson’s men were in such poor condition, form lack of feed that Carson reported that he was unable to take to the field. The human part of Carson’s command was little better off. An inspection during the summer of 1863 found that while eight buildings were usable only one had a decent roof. All the rest “afforded hardly any shelter at all from the heavy rains that fell during the Summer season” or from the earlier winter snows. “Everywhere there were masses of earth and rubbish…[and] no attempt had been made to clean it away.” There simply were not enough troops to both repair the Fort and to campaign against the Mescalero. There were some signs of improvement. A “small acequia of clear water, diverted from the Bonita about one mile above the Fort, flowed through channels on all four sides of the  Quadrangle and thence to the stables, finally draining into a marshy area below the corrals.” Small cottonwoods had been planted along the acequia. The Commanding officer’s quarters were being refurbished and the old flagpole, now shortened, was remounted. A permanent horse grazing camp was established ten miles up the Bonita with a Corporal and 12 men permanently assigned there. There was no mess hall at the Fort, the kitchen was a tent, and the men had no mess tables to eat at. Lacking mattresses or bed sacks, the garrison soldiers slept on blankets spread over planks in their leaky buildings.

The men had no sugar, coffee or salt and Major Joseph Smith, the Fort’s Commander reported in May 1863 that over half his troops were “nearly naked” and wondered where all his requisition forms had gone.” His men had a surplus of hats and blouses but were utterly lacking uniform pants or boots, and were forced to wear a wide variety of clothing which was getting pretty ragged. The garrison was armed with a mixture of new model Springfield rifles and old .69 caliber muskets. Their drill, with the manual of arms, was only marginal but they performed well at mounted cavalry drills. The arms were generally in poor condition and not well cared for. The soldiers had been issued a new (1862) pattern of saddle which was padded with “brown paper” which quickly broke down in use, overheating the horses’ backs and wearing out. It was one of many examples of “shoddy” equipment foisted upon the Army during the Civil War by corrupt manufacturers.

The inspector found that the horses at the Fort were only in fair condition, living mostly on hay, of which there was an insufficient supply. The horses were grazed during daylight, under guard and then driven into corrals at night where two men guarded them. Captain Evans warned, prophetically as it turned out, that the guard was insufficient.

Conditions at the Fort improved very little before 1866. There simply were not enough men assigned to the Post to carry out field operations while affecting repairs or construction at the Post. When he was criticized for not doing more to repair and refurbish the buildings in late 1864, the Post Commander, Captain William Brady, angrily requested his own replacement, pointing out that he didn’t have enough men to carry out all the tasks assigned to the garrison, and he wasn’t willing to take the blame. Besides, the Fort still lacked feed for its horses and clothing for its men. The troops were also paid irregularly with long periods of time intervening between paydays. As early as 1861, senior officers had recognized “the habit of Mexican [New Mexico Volunteers] soldiers to have their wives follow the camp,” and recommended that “their families be housed with [the soldiers] and their general poverty will find relief in sharing the rations of the men.” How many soldier families followed the troops to Fort Stanton is unknown, but it was probably lower than at other New Mexico forts because of the rapid rotation of troops units and the isolated location. But some did come

and other settlers began to return to the Valleys of the Bonita, Ruidoso and Hondo. Life at the Fort also probably got better after Lucien B. Maxwell, an old

friend of Kit Carson, became the Post Sutler in May,1863.

As early as December, 1862, Carson was boasting to Headquarters (probably prematurely) that “the country adjacent to this post now begins to assume the appearance of industry and civilization…Settlers are arriving every day.” There were settlers on the Ruidoso River as well as the Bonito and Carson predicted a huge influx. There were, Carson reported, over 150 “Mexican” miners working gold prospects in the Fort Stanton area, but exactly where is unclear, probably around the old Jicarilla mines. Lack of feed for his animals still remained a problem and Carson was forced to establish a new grazing camp for all his horses and mules near the Capitan Mountains because they were starving to death, in December, 1862.

Carson’s prediction of a return of prosperity to the Bonita area proved unfounded. 1863 proved to be a “starving time” for settlers in southern New  Mexico. Heavy spring floods buried crops and destroyed acequias and were followed by a severe drought and plagues of insects. Starvation stalked the land and the Army had to dole out emergency food supplies to settlers along the Bonita and in the Rio Grande valley. Local crop failures made the task of feeding horses and men even more difficult and expensive.

There were other problems facing Kit Carson and his successors as Post Commanders. The most dramatic incident occurred within the first few days of  the reoccupation of the Fort. This was the Graydon-Whitlock affair. Paddy (James) Graydon was a poor Irish immigrant who served in the 1st Dragoon Regiment from 1853-1858. He had then settled near Fort Buchanan in Arizona where he opened a saloon and prospered. When the Civil War came Graydon, unlike most of his Arizona neighbors, joined his fortunes to the Union. He created and commanded a scout company and won a reputation in Union circles as a dashing leader of irregular New Mexico cavalry. His company was among the first troops that returned to Fort Stanton in 1862. While escorting a wagon train from Fort Union in October, Graydon’s men twice encountered a band of Mescalero Apaches led by Manuelito at Gallinas Spring in the Gallinas Mountains. On the second encounter, firing broke out under undeterminable circumstances resulting in 14 dead Apaches and another 10 wounded. Graydon  suffered no casualties. Major Arthur Morrison of the 1st New Mexico Volunteers arrived at the scene a few hours later and immediately began publicly accusing  Graydon of having lured Manuelito’s band with whiskey and then massacring the

unsuspecting Apaches. Manuelito, in fact, had already indicated his willingness to travel to Santa Fe and meet with Gen. Carleton to make peace. Carson, who had just taken command of Fort Stanton, withheld judgment until the investigation ordered by him was complete. Circumstantial evidence, however, indicates he also believed, that the Gallinas Spring affair was an unprovoked massacre.

Controversy swirled about Graydon. Among the most public critics of the Irish born soldier was Dr. John M. Whitlock a physician, former Army doctor and

businessman from Las Vegas and Santa Fe who was a personal friend of Kit Carson and Maj. Arthur Morrison. When Whitlock arrived at Fort Stanton on 4 November 1862, seeking a contract to supply forage, the stage was set for tragedy.

Graydon first confronted Whitlock about 9 PM on 4 November at the Sutler’s store where the physician was playing cards with some officers. Graydon accosted Whitlock, who ignored him, the Irishman’s temper flared but the crisis passed without violence. The second confrontation, early the next morning on the Fort’s Quadrangle, where a group of officers were warming themselves before a fire, erupted in gunfire. The first shots missed, then each protagonist hit their man. Graydon was fatally wounded, Whitlock shot in the side. Hearing the shots, Graydon’s men came pouring out of their quarters and began firing at Whitlock who took refuge in the Sutler’s building. The doctor was shot down as he tried to run from the Sutler’s to Carson’s quarters seeking help. He fell in a ditch at the edge of the Quadrangle where his body was riddled. Carson estimated that 125 shots were fired at Whitlock. Later examination found 20 bullet and multiple shotgun pellet wounds.

Meanwhile the garrison was mustered to forcibly disarm and arrest Graydon’s Company who already had a well deserved reputation for riotous violence, thievery, drunkenness and lack of discipline. First, Carson threatened to hang the whole Company, then, as he cooled down, every fourth man but finally after a lengthy investigation, only five men were tried including Graydon’s second in command, Lt. Morris. Graydon escaped punishment by dying three days later.

There were other less dramatic problems at the Fort including the “bad conduct of Quarter-Master Sargeant Jackson, Co. G, 1st NM Volunteers and a woman named Lucia Padilla.” Captain William Brady was forced to defend himself at length, in writing, and promise to do better, after his mother, back East, wrote to Gen. Carleton complaining that Brady hadn’t written to her in three years. And the commanders at Fort Stanton found themselves called upon to arrest and return runaway peons and Indian slaves during a war supposedly waged against slavery.

There were smaller tragedies too. Hospital Steward James W. Cadogan, an old time Regular soldier who was often the only medical specialist assigned to the Post was “frequently too drunk to perform duties.” He was finally arrested and sent to Santa Fe for courtsmartial after he shot at his wife several times with a Colt Navy pistol one Sunday afternoon and was only prevented from killing her by the “interposition of a little daughter” who stood in his way.

Rarely and poorly paid, badly mounted and armed, raggedly clothed and inadequately fed, lacking shelter from the elements and living isolated from normal society, Fort Stanton’s soldiers did their duty and generally did it well. The men at the Fort, either garrison troops or those operating from the Fort, came from U.S. Regular forces, New Mexico Volunteers, California Volunteers and some special scouts or “spy” companies, drawn from New Mexicans. Units passed through the Fort from 1862 to 1865 with dizzying speed depending upon the circumstances of the campaigns. Command of the Fort was in the hands of the senior officer assigned there. At least nine men exercised this function from 1862-1865. They included Maj. Joseph Smith, Capt. George Hollister, Maj. William Brady, Lt. Col. Emil Fritz, Capt. Thomas Chapman as well as four New Mexico officers. These were Col. Kit Carson, Maj. Rafael Chacon, Maj. Arthur Morrison, and Capt. Francisco Abreu. Morrison and Smith remained the longest in command. Most of the units assigned to or operating from, the Fort were cavalry, or more rarely infantry, either mounted or on foot, but sometimes, artillery units were assigned there.

These were the forces that Gen. Carleton used to pacify the Mescalero Apaches. During the Confederate invasion, in 1861 and 1862, the Army campaigns against the Apaches and the Navajos had been suspended. The result had been widespread raiding in which hundreds of soldiers, settlers and travelers had been killed and thousands of head of livestock stolen. Carleton was eager to renew the offensive against the Indians but he still had to watch the invasion routes form Texas in case of  another Confederate incursion. Therefore he reversed Gen. Canby’s strategy of warring first on the Navajo and then the Mescalero in order to keep his best troops in the South until he was certain no new threats would emanate form Texas. There was another factor. Carleton, and other Union officers, felt strongly that they had been betrayed by the Mescalero who had signed peace treaties in the Spring of 1861 only to sweep across the land in a wild wave of murder, robbery, arson and rape as soon as the

Federal troops withdrew in the face of Gen. Sibley’s invasion. Therefore, Carson was sent with five companies of the 1st NM Volunteers to Fort Stanton to resume

hostilities against the Mescalero and he was ordered to kill all grown males and to take no prisoners. If the Apaches wanted peace they would have to go to Santa Fe, under a flag of truce, to Gen. Carleton and accept his terms.

Apparently the Mescalero, at least most of then, did want peace. Remembering the campaigns of 1860-61 the Apaches understood what the massing of troops in their territory implied and quickly sought refuge under Army control. Bands led by Manuelito and Cadette made contact with Carson through the Indian Agent, Lorenzo Labadie, in September, 1862 and made arrangements to send a delegation to meet with Carleton in Santa Fe. The massacre, if it was a massacre, of Manuelito’s band at Gallinas Spring by Paddy Graydon did not derail the surrender process. In fact, it seemed to accelerate it, perhaps by emphasizing the Army’s ruthless determination.

The surrendering Mescalero came into Fort Stanton quickly and were just as quickly sent on their way to their new reservation at the Bosque Redondo where Fort Sumner was established. Carson lacked the manpower to guard the Apaches or the food to adequately feed them. Some came in from far south of the Guadalupe Mountains. They were allowed to camp near enough to the Fort to draw daily rations until approximately 100 had gathered and then they were sent to the Bosque Redondo, accompanied by wagons carrying rations for the trip. By February, 1863, Carleton reported to Washington that some 350 Mescalero had been settled at Fort Sumner including most of the major leaders. Some 100-200 recalcitrants remained scattered through the mountains as far west as Arizona and continued to constitute a major problem. It was a problem that years of strenuous campaigns did not eliminate and only partially controlled.

The campaigns against the Indians began as soon as Carson’s men reached Fort Stanton. Carson’s men were one tine of a three pronged force, that included troops from Mesilla and Franklin who invaded the Mescalero heartland. They made little contact with hostile Indians, none with combatants, but their pressure helped drive the moderate Indians to surrender at Fort Stanton. This became the pattern for dozens of patrols, large and small, that would be carried out between late 1862 and 1865. Many covered enormous distances over the rugged terrain, sometimes over 500 miles. Few patrols made contact with hostile Indians but they drove the Apaches from their safe base areas where they normally left their families and kept them constantly on the move, short of food and threatened at every turn. While this did not eliminate the threat of Indian depredation it reduced it to manageable levels and eventually induced all the Apaches, except a small hard core, to surrender.

At any one time, at least one and often two or three patrols would be out from Fort Stanton. For example on 24 December 1862, Carson reported that he had two patrols in the Mescalero Country, while Col. James R. West at Mesilla also had two patrols chasing Apaches. To facilitate operations, a semi-permanent depot was established, on West’s suggestion, at Tularosa, where a group of Hispanic farmers from Mesilla had recently settled after disastrous floods along the Rio Grande destroyed their farms. Raising fodder for cavalry horses gave the farmers a market for their produce, while easing the Army’s critical supply problem. Operating from Tularosa, a party of New Mexico Volunteers and civilians pursued and intercepted a band of 60 Apaches in the Oscura Mountains in April 1863, killing fourteen and wounding many. These

Indians, including women and children, had approached a train, traveling from Socorro to the salt lakes, under a flag of truce and then treacherously attacked. Two wounded men survived and each found help; one met a patrol from Fort Stanton led by Lt. L. A. Bargie and the other, the party from Tularosa under Capt. E. Duren. The combined pursuit force surprised and overran what was probably a permanent camp site. Some ten wagon loads of dried meat were destroyed.

Clashes with the Indians were almost continuous. In May 1863, a farmer on the Ruidoso River named Harding was killed and 10 or 12 horses stolen. In March and June, express riders were attacked near the Gallinas Mountains. They escaped by abandoning mules and mail. On June 24, 1863, Lt. L. A. Bargie was killed while successfully extricating his escort form an ambush on the Jornada. Gen. Carleton was particularly enraged by an attack on two of his express riders from Fort Stanton near the Gallinas Mountains on 28 June 1863. One man was killed but Pvt. N. Quintana was wounded and captured. The Indians then tied him to a stake and burned him alive. On June 20, Capt. A. H. Pfeiffer of the 1st N.M. Vols left Fort McRae for an outing at the nearby hot springs with his wife, two female servants and a small escort. They were attacked by Apaches. Two men were killed and three wounded, including Capt. Pfeiffer. The women, who had been bathing separately, were all shot and left for

dead. But a servant girl survived and identified the leader of the band as a Mescalero named Lorenzo that she had witnessed surrendering to authorities at Fort Stanton a few weeks earlier. The officials at Fort Sumner insisted that no one could have left that post. But someone killed Mrs. Pfeiffer.

Indians were not the only thing the soldiers from Fort Stanton looked for. The threat of a new Confederate invasion was always there, although any real possibility grew even fainter through time. Nevertheless, patrols were constantly sent out, at least monthly, from Fort Stanton, down the Hondo to the Pecos and down it to the Horsehead Crossing, north of present day Pecos. Other Union patrols from Franklin and Mesilla also covered approach routes as far as the Horsehead Crossing. From the other side the Confederates sent their own scouts westward as far as the Horsehead Crossing. The various patrols sometimes detected one another’s presence but avoided contact. The scouts down the Pecos were long and hard, in excess of 300 miles and although they were usually small (10-20 men) they were a constant strain on men and horses.

Even without contacting the Rebels, these patrols could be dangerous. Lt. Juan Marques was returning from the Horsehead Crossing on 19 July 1863 with his 15 man patrol when he was attacked by 50 Apaches on the Rio Hondo, probably near Tinnie, while he was in camp. The New Mexico Volunteers fought until their ammunition was expended and as the enemy strength had grown to over 200, his men destroyed their rifles, abandoned their horses and mules and made their escape, leaving one man dead. Meeting the fugitives, a patrol under Capt. Emil Fritz returned to the battlefield and tracked the Apaches toward the Capitan Mountains. When he caught up with them the Indians broke into small bands, one of which raided Placitas [Lincoln] killing one man.

There simply were not enough of either men or horses at the Fort to adequately perform all the missions that were assigned. The number of troops assigned to Fort Stanton averaged 1-200 men. Some men had to be assigned to guard the horse herds and hay camp. Escorts were required for mail and supply trains. The post required a garrison and guards. There were never enough horses healthy enough to take to the field. One Fort Commander, Maj. Joseph Smith, pointed out that he never had more than 70 mounted men available for field operations. A year later Capt. William Brady had so few horses that the only way he could carry out his orders was to chase the Apaches on foot. He was so short of personnel that, at times, he didn’t have a full guard mount available. Both men begged for more men and horses. But the Navajo campaign was by then soaking up all the resources available to the Army in New Mexico.

The Fort’s garrison hardly had enough manpower to even defend itself and the immediate area around. Twice in 1863, Indian raiders, probably Navajos, drove off most of the Fort’s livestock, horses, mules, oxen and cattle. Farmers and ranchers nearby also were victimized. In December, 1863, Navajos ran off horses and cattle from the Hopkins and Gilam hay farm. In February, 1864, Capt. Emil Fritz chased a band of Apache horse thieves to the Guadalupe Mountains after they raided Placitas. Capt. William Brady followed another band that stole horses from Fredrick Stipich’s farm near Placitas to the Peñasco before rain obliterated the trail. In August, 1864, Lt. Henry Gilbert, commanding a detached party sent by Capt. Francis McCabe to follow the trail of an Indian raiding party, followed it into Dog Canyon on the western slopes of the

Sacramento Mountains. Although warned by the guide, Gilbert marched his men into an ambush. He, the guide and another soldier were killed, and the other troops fled in panic abandoning horses, weapons and Lt. Gilbert’s body.

Most patrols resulted in no contact being made with hostile Indians. The frustration was best expressed by Maj. Joseph Smith after a lengthy scout from Fort Stanton along the western edges of the Sacramento Mountains. They had returned, Smith reported, “having accomplished nothing but the killing of one horse and learning a little of the geography of the Sacramento Mountains.”

By mid 1864 the bloody campaigns to control the Apaches and Navajos were winding down, at least temporarily. The Army’s entire scheme of pacification based upon settlement of the wild tribes on the Fort Sumner reservation was rapidly collapsing. Overwhelmed by nearly three times as many Indians as they had expected to capture, the Army could not feed nor clothe them. In fact, the Army wasn’t able to feed or clothe its own soldiers adequately. Crop failures in 1864 and 1865 at the Bosque Redondo completed the disaster. As early as 1863 some of the Mescalero had slipped off back to their beloved White Mountains and by the Fall of 1864 most were gone from Fort Sumner and all were by the Fall of 1865. To avoid Army attacks, many of the Mescalero settled near Fort Stanton where their visibility was their protection. Fort Stanton, in 1864 and 1865 gradually took on the nature of what would be its next function, the Reservation for the Mescalero Apaches.

The decision to retain Fort Stanton as an active Army post was made by Gen. Carleton who justified his actions to his superiors, describing the fort in glowing terms. Carleton, who had been stationed there in the 1850’s was obviously fond of the “Little Fort on the Bonito”. He was also under pressure from settlers in the Tularosa, Bonita, Ruidoso and Hondo River basins who were anxious for the protection of the U.S. Army and eager for the market the Fort represented. Carleton, himself, viewed white settlement as the ultimate solution to the “Indian Problem” facing the Army and understood the importance of Fort Stanton in encouraging settlement. He seems to have deliberately tried to start a “gold rush” to the region and to the Gila by giving wide publicity to every rumored discovery. He also released some of his California troops, experienced gold miners, from active service to explore for gold at a time he was short of men. He was rewarded by the finding of a lump of gold on the ground near the

Capitan Mountains in 1864. The gold, variously describes as a corn kernel size nugget or a musket ball found in a deer skeleton, triggered a small gold rush. Carleton also encouraged his California Volunteers to remain in New Mexico, allowing them to take their discharge in the Territory and to purchase their Army horses and weapons. Many did, and these were the men who determined the course of history in Lincoln County for decades. They included, William Rynerson, Emil Fritz, Lawrence Murphy, Warren Bristol, William Brady and others. Of the Confederates, only Alex Duval and Henry Beckwith are known to have returned to Lincoln County after the war. Clearly by 1865 a new era had dawned for Fort Stanton and its surrounding area.