During a month beginning March 25th and ending April 23rd, I lived in a National Park Service residence at Fort Union National Monument and the Santa Fe Trail National Historic Trail. That’s the official name and for good reason. As this blog goes on, I’ll abbreviate the name to either ‘Fort Union’ or simply ‘the fort’. But, it is important to remember that the Santa Fe trail is an intrinsically important aspect of this amazing place on the high plains of northeastern New Mexico.
The fort was initially built in its strategic location to protect travelers on the Cimmaron Cut-Off of the Santa Fe Trail from Indian attacks, mainly Kiowa and Comanche. The cut-off shaved 100 miles or 10 days from the journey. The problem was, in addition to Indian attacks, there was no potable water for the first half of the way across. Fort Union provided soldiers to help with attacks, but the water shortage was often more dire. Often times, the wagon trains would travel at night to mitigate the lack of water and to avoid the heat of the day.
The fort was, additionally, a critical supply depot for more than 40 other forts across the southwest during the wars with Native Americans who fought fiercely to protect their homes and their way of life. Life and death was part of story. One hundred and fifty souls were buried in a cemetery, about a mile from the fort.
In this scene from the cemetery, a marker identifying Maria Berg is in the foreground, while Fort Union is near the horizon.
The month of my residency included a number of side trips to the surrounding area, a deep dive into the history and the natural history of the area. Somehow, I’ve come to know a lot more about bison, Georgia O’Keeffe, Taos, and a host of other things about New Mexico that I never dreamed would be part of my life.
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