SILVER CITY, N.M. — Some people believe that our history must be preserved and Village of Santa Clara officials are no exception. They follow the maxim of Spanish philosopher George Santayana, who said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” HistoriCorps, established in 2010, is working to assure the past is remembered in Santa Clara and across the country.

Liz Rice, workforce manager for HistoriCorps, based in Morrison, Colo., said Sept. 9 their organization is a nonprofit that has been operating for 11 years. “Our mission is to foster a preservation ethic. We focus on training people in historic preservation. We work with volunteers from the general public and anybody can join us. We are funded through partnership agreements and since we are a 501(c)(3), we rely on donations and our corporate partners,” she said.

The Silver City area is chock full of history and Fort Bayard National Historic Landmark, six miles east of the city, has drawn the attention of HistoriCorps. Rice said the group partners with public lands agencies across the nation — and Fort Bayard is a perfect opportunity for preservation. 

HistoriCorps hopes the Western Institute for Lifelong Learning Lunch and Learn presentation Oct. 23 at Fort Bayard Theater will make people want to participate in historic preservation. “There are a number of HistoriCorps volunteers in Silver City — my primary goal is to share more about HistoriCorps,” Rice said.

“We focus on historic sites that are open to the general public. It (Fort Bayard) has a wonderful amount of history,” she said.

The Village of Santa Clara spent 10 years to obtain the Fort Bayard grounds, which contain 51 buildings, Sheila Hudman, village clerk/treasurer, said Sept. 9. “In 2019 we received a 99-year lease for the grounds. The village has been working with the state of New Mexico, who owns the fort. We are trying to find occupants for the buildings.”

Hudman said the village developed a business plan in 2015 to turn the site into a historical park. “We want occupants in the commercial sector because we want it to be a historical park. The effort has been spearheaded by the village for more than 13 years. It would be a wonderful site,” she said. Hudman said gift shops, B&Bs, RV parks and other tourist-oriented businesses would be desired.

Mary Stoecker, co-coordinator for the Western Institute for Lifelong Learning Lunch and Learn sessions and HistoriCorps volunteer, said Sept. 10, that she approached Hudman and Doug Dinwiddie this spring because she knew that work was needed on historic Fort Bayard. Stoecker said she believed a partnership with HistoriCorps could help achieve that goal. She proposed a Lunch and Learn that looked at not only HistoriCorps as an organization, but also the process and viability of partnering with it could be interesting, and potentially beneficial for the fort.

"I heard about HistoriCorps three years ago from a local friend. My husband was prepping to close his business and retire, we planned on taking a vagabond year traveling, and I thought volunteering with HistoriCorps could be one of the ways we used to ‘mix it up’ during the vagabond! For a very basic explanation of HistoriCorps, I ask people to think Habitat For Humanity, but rehabbing, restoring, preserving historic structures on public lands."  she said.

Rice, Hudman and Stoecker will be the presenters for the lecture, which is from from 11 a.m. to noon Oct. 23.

The restoration of the former U.S. Army outpost would be a massive project, Rice said. “I can see (that) generally working on all the buildings would be a new record for us. We want to find projects that are appropriate for volunteers. If this site were selected as a HistoriCorps project, we would focus on an individual building or just a handful of buildings to begin with.”

Those who are interested in volunteering may participate in the Lunch and Learn session in person or online or visit the HistoriCorps website or email volunteer@historicorps.org. “That’s me,” Rice said.

 “If individuals want to get involved, if they know somebody in the park service connected to Fort Bayard, say ‘Hey, as a resident I’d like to see this site  be preserved.’ If local foundations would like to put money toward this site, that would be great. We really rely heavily on our local partners,” she said.

Fort Bayard history

Gen. James Henry Carleton, who was posted to New Mexico in 1861, requested in 1865 that a new fort be established in southwestern New Mexico in the heart of the Apache homeland. Its mission would be to protect miners, ranchers, and emigrant and business trails, according to the Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society website. Carlton was infamous as the architect of the Navajo Long Walk and internment of Navajo and Apache at Bosque Redondo in eastern New Mexico in 1864. 

The new fort was to be named Fort Bayard in honor of Gen. George D. Bayard, who was killed at Fredericksburg. On Aug. 21, 1866, Fort Bayard Military Post was established by the 125th U.S. Colored Troops Company F. Other companies of the U.S. Colored Troops soon arrived. Eventually, elements of the 3rd Cavalry, the 5th Infantry, the 38th, 9th, 10th Cavalry Regiments and the 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments, 125th U.S. Colored Troops, served at Fort Bayard.

According to the website newmexicoculture.org, Buffalo Soldiers served at 11 of New Mexico’s 16 frontier forts between 1866 and 1900. The final Buffalo Soldiers to serve in the Land of Enchantment were members of the 25th Infantry Regiment and 9th Cavalry Regiment, who were stationed at Forts Bayard and Wingate between 1898 and 1899. 

A temporary hospital, built from logs, was situated in the northeast section of the fort by 1867 and was the beginning of the fort’s medical role, according to the Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society website. In 1869, near the area of the Officer’s Headquarters constructed in 1908, the first permanent hospital was built.  More than 150 years later, Fort Bayard Medical Center and Fort Bayard Veterans Home carry on the tradition established in 1867.

Today, Fort Bayard National Historic Landmark, a status granted by the U.S. Department of the Interior, is a protected site. The Fort Bayard Historic Preservation Society operates two separate facilities: a museum on site at the historic fort and the Santa Clara-Fort Bayard Historic Visitors Center, located in the former National Guard Armory, at 11990 U.S. 180, six miles east of Silver City. 

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