APRIL 2019 • 25
Make plans • Location: Fort Selden is located 13 miles north of Las Cruces off Interstate 25. Take exit 19 off I-25. • Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. • Cost: $5 for adults; free for children 16 and younger. • Military: Fort Selden participates in the Blue Star Museum Program, which offers free admission to active-duty military and their families from May 18 – which is Armed Forces Day – to Labor Day. • Special events: Site offers a range of special events throughout the year. There may be an extra cost associated with these events. • Volunteers: Volunteers are always needed to help with different aspects at the historic site. • Information: 575-202-1638 or nmhistoricsites.org.
A chuckwagon is one of the features that line the trail through the ruins at Fort Selden. The National Ranching Heritage Center and Texas Tech Museum, both in Lubbock, Texas, have donated wagons to the site in recent years. (Photos by David Burge)
HISTORIC EXPLORATION • DAVID BURGE
Fort Selden Infused
s you walk around the grounds at Fort Selden Historic Site, you can feel the history. You can imagine all the soldiers who manned the adobe fort during the mid- to late 19th century. But you can also feel the centuries of history that came before that making this site a crossroads and gathering place for more than 1,500 years. You can sense the presence of Native Americans and Spanish conquistadores who came long before the U.S. Army chose this spot to serve as a frontier outpost. Fort Selden Historic Site is located along Interstate 25, just 13 miles north of Las Cruces in the town of Radium Springs. “What was going on in the
Fun facts • Part of the historic Camino Real trade route runs through Fort Selden. Visitors can actually stand in part of this legendary highway. • Four units of Buffalo Soldiers were stationed at the fort during different parts of its history. There is a Buffalo Soldier statue on the grounds to remember this part of Army history. • A young Douglas MacArthur, the future five-star general and Army legend, spent part of his youth at Fort Selden. His father, Arthur MacArthur, served as commander of the fort. • Many of the soldiers at the fort were immigrants who came from countries such as England, France, Switzerland, Poland and Ireland. • Fort Selden is considered one of the best examples of an adobe-style frontier fort in the state of New Mexico – along with Fort Union National Monument in Las Vegas, N.M.
Southwest pre-dates the settlement of the East Coast, but people forget about that,” said Leslie Bergloff, regional manager for Southern New Mexico for New Mexico Historic Sites. The 25-acre site preserves the ruins of an old Army frontier fort that was in operation from 1865 – shortly after the close of the Civil War – to 1891. But it is so much more that. While the fort was only in operation for a few short years, the site has a much longer history. The fort was built on high ground near a ford in the nearby Rio Grande. That made it an attractive gathering spot and campsite for centuries before that. The Mogollon Native Americans
lived in the area from about 400 A.D. to the 1300s. Conquistador Juan de Oñate established a camp at the site in 1598 while forging the Camino Real – the famous trade route between Mexico City and Santa Fe. You can stand in part of the Camino Real while visiting Fort Selden. “We want to tell the fort’s story,” Bergloff said. “But we also want to tell the story of the Camino Real. We want to tell the story of the Mogollon. We want to tell the whole history and even what happened to this area after the fort.” The site includes a half-mile trail through the ruins of the adobe fort. In the past two years, numbered interpretive signs have been added along the trail, creating a A statue of a Buffalo Soldier is one of the highlights at Fort Selden Historic Site. Four Buffalo Soldier units were stationed there at different times.
self-guided tour. Besides taking you on a walk-through history, the trail also offers a stunning view of the ruins, the big New Mexico sky and the nearby Robledo Mountains. The site also includes a small museum full of artifacts – like an Army uniform from the frontier period and a large collection of vintage glass bottles – that document life in the Army and in the 19th century in general. One of the highlights is a statue of a Buffalo Soldier. Four units of the Buffalo Soldiers – segregated African-American units – were stationed at the fort at one time or another during its existence. Bergloff and her staff have some big plans to update and improve the site and tell some of those other stories. They would like to upgrade the exhibits at the museum, offer more interpretation along the trail through the ruins and continue with preservation efforts. Bergloff said those plans will be paid for with a generous gift of capital improvement funds awarded to the site by state Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces. “We are very thankful for his generosity,” Bergloff said. Those capital improvement funds will allow her team to broaden the historic interpreta-
tion of the site and tell stories that haven’t been told in the past. “As we begin to broaden that approach and interpret the site in a more comprehensive way, I hope it will bring more people who are interested in all of those different stories,” Bergloff said. One missing piece has always been the history of the Apache Native Americans, Bergloff said. Another big area that they plan to expand into is adding some interactive exhibits, especially along the trail through the ruins. They have already added one place where you can experiment and make your own adobe brick. In the future, the Museum of New Mexico system will lend them some artifacts to make the museum and their overall interpretation of the site’s history more interesting, Bergloff said. Park ranger Nathan Stone said the site offers a combination of history and scenic beauty. Stone urges people who have never visited to stop by and experience Fort Selden and all its history. “If you have been here before, it will continue to change for the better,” Stone said. “If you live around here, come out and visit every couple of years and see what you find.”
A collection of vintage bottles and glassware is one of the gems that await visitors at the small museum at Fort Selden.