Fort Bayard Historical Site - Atlas Obscura

Fort Bayard Historical Site

Arenas Valley, New Mexico

This old army installation has worn many hats throughout its history. 


Just north of Santa Clara in southern New Mexico lies the site of Fort Bayard, one of the most storied military outposts of the old Southwest. The fort was established in 1866 to protect encroaching settlers against Native American resistance. It was staffed mainly by black “Buffalo Soldiers,” including some from the famous 9th Cavalry Regiment. It was named in honor of Brigadier General George Dashiell Bayard, who had been killed four years earlier in the Civil War Battle of Fredericksburg. 

Over its decades of operation, Fort Bayard forged a rich history. In 1886 it was visited by John Pershing, at the time a future officer, who would become well-known for his leadership in World War I. Pershing came to Fort Bayard to oversee the installation of a heliograph, a long-range communications device that uses sunlight to send messages in Morse Code. Pershing would later be nicknamed “Black Jack” for his service with Buffalo Soldier regiments, including the 9th Cavalry. The epithet was meant to be derisive.

After the surrender of Geronimo in 1886, Apache attacks were seen as less of a threat to settlers. As a result, western forts like this one began to shut down. Fort Bayard was converted to a military research hospital with a focus on tuberculosis. It was briefly reactivated as a military fort during World War II, used as the centerpiece of a German POW camp. It is now run by the New Mexico Department of Health as Fort Bayard Medical Center.

Unfortunately, the only elements of the site remaining from the 19th century are the landscaping and the cemetery. Still, there is a museum and walking tour available. There is also a monument dedicated to the Buffalo Soldiers who were stationed here, featuring Corporal Clinton Greaves, hero of the 9th Cavalry and a recipient of the Medal of Honor.

Know Before You Go

Guided tours are offered on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They meet in front of the Commanding Doctor’s Home and Museum, along the west side of the Parade Ground.

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July 1, 2021
January 22, 2024

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