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Gary B Speck


Fort Stanton is located three miles south of the junction of State Highway (SH) 220 and US 380, four miles east of Capitan and eight miles west of Lincoln, in the heart of New Mexico’s “Billy the Kid” country.  The historic frontier fort is also a mini-“town” and has declined in population from 300 in 1980 to 100 in 2000.  What remains of the fort is still well taken care of and worth a visit.


The fort was established in April 1855, along the south side of the Rio Bonito.  It was named for Captain Henry Stanton, who was killed in a nearby skirmish on January 19, 1855. It was built to provide protection, both for nearby settlers, as well as travelers through the area. Most of the buildings were built of adobe bricks or stone and covered with shingled roofs.  It was laid out in a rectangle around the parade field.  A large military reservation was established around it.


In May, 1855, over 400 troops arrived, but within two months the troop strength was reduced to 239.  It was a busy post with soldiers passing through to and from other posts.  Throughout its history, the troop strength varied from 135-330.


Fort Stanton played an important role in the American Civil War, because in New Mexico, Confederate sympathies increased.  It helped protect the territory for the Union until it was abandoned and torched on August 2, 1861.  At that time, the 305 troops stationed here were relocated to Fort Craig to help avert a Confederate threat from forces heading up the Rio Grande Valley from Fort Bliss, TX.


In September the post was occupied and briefly held by a regiment of Confederate soldiers from Texas.  It was again abandoned and the area suffered from Apache depredations.  After the Battle of Glorieta Pass on March 26-28, 1862, the Confederate Texans retreated and on October 12, 1862, a contingent of soldiers under the command of Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson reoccupied and rebuilt the fort.  The US Army then began its campaign to neutralize the Native American threats. 


Throughout the rest of the 19th Century, Fort Stanton was an active post until an order to abandon the post came in October 1895.  After the troops left, a tiny caretaker force of one officer, four enlisted men and several civilians remained.  On August 17, 1896 they left and the post was officially abandoned. 


Almost three years later, on April 27, 1899, Fort Stanton was reoccupied, this time in use as a US Marine Hospital, the first federal hospital for treatment of tuberculosis in military men.  It continued in that role until June 30, 1953, when the property was sold to the state of New Mexico, which used it for a state tuberculosis sanitarium.  The sanitarium closed in 1966 and the grounds were then used to house the mentally-challenged and developmentally-disabled until 1996.  Between then and 1999 the grounds were used as a minimum security women’s detention center.  It was then converted to an “at-risk” youth rehabilitation center until 2006.


Off-post and adjacent to the facility, a CCC Camp operated between 1935 and 1940.  When America entered WWII, the CCC was disbanded and the camp reused as a POW camp for 410 German sailors between March 1941 and August 27, 1945 when the last detainee was sent back to Germany.  The POW camp closed October 1, 1945. 


Today the 80 or so buildings at Fort Stanton are a wonderful museum to its multi-use past, while the Fort Stanton Post Office remains open and serving the civilian community at the old fort.




·        Latitude: 33.4959140 / 33° 29’ 45” N

·        Longitude: -105.5230362 / 105° 31’ 23” W

·        Sec 25, T9S, R14E, NMPM (New Mexico Principal Meridian)



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FIRST POSTED:  November 02, 2013

LAST UPDATED: December 01, 2013




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