Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society
to Celebrate Fort’s 157th Birthday
On August 19, 1866 Company B of the 125th Colored Infantry regiment arrived at a spot that their commanding officer First Lieutenant James M. Kerr described as “beautifully situated on the southern slope of the Pinos Altos Mountains, with wood, water and [livestock] feed in abundance”. They christened the spot “Fort Bayard”, in honor of Brigadier General George D. Bayard, who had died while serving to preserve the Union at Fredericksburg, Virginia in 1862.
The 125th, under the command of white officers, was composed of African American volunteers, many of whom had once been held in slavery. Their regiment had been formed in Lexington, Kentucky, and they had been ordered to New Mexico in the spring of 1866. While other companies of the regiment had been sent to other parts of the Territory, it was the mission of Company B to establish a new fort that would provide a permanent Army presence in the mineral rich area of southwestern New Mexico. The native Apache people, who had inhabited the region for centuries, were offering increasing resistance to settlers and travelers who they believed were stealing and ruining their home grounds. Fort Bayard was established to protect those settlers and travelers, and eventually to enforce policies toward the natives that would confine them to assigned reservations.
By the time the soldiers arrived, they had marched several hundred miles from Fort Union, far to the north. They were quickly put to work building the first structures at the fort. The military post they established would remain an active military base until 1899, when its mission would be drastically changed. In that year, Fort Bayard would become home to the first Army Tuberculosis Hospital, a role it would keep until 1920.
In 1920 the Army turned the facility over to the U.S. Health Service, which in turn transferred it to management by the Veterans Bureau (later renamed the Veterans Administration) in 1922. VA Hospital #55 remained in service until 1964 when it was sold to the State of New Mexico, who still owns the property today. In 2004, Fort Bayard was declared a National Historic Landmark.
The Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society invites the public to attend a birthday
party for the fort on Saturday, August 19th. The party will be held in the New Deal Theater building along the east side of the historic parade ground, beginning at 2 p.m. As part of the festivities, the new PBS documentary video “Buffalo Soldiers: Fighting on Two Fronts”, will be shown. Admission is free, donations are welcome. For more information, contact Dr. Doug Dinwiddie at 575-388-4862, or visit the organization’s website at historicfortbayard.org .