Near Watrous, New Mexico, I have always sped past an I-25 highway sign that reads simply, ” Fort Union . ”
This trip, I exit, and follow the Old Santa Fe Trail that brought people west in the eighteen hundreds looking for opportunity.
After the Civil War, poor folks, who didn’t have prospects, came out west to start over. People with money, wearing suits, followed them, looking to build fortunes in a wide open territory of the United States before it was carved up into states by wealthy and powerful men who wanted to make more of what they wanted most from life.
The Santa Fe Trail became one of major routes taking settlers west and along its length the government built military forts to secure the land, protect settlers, provide law enforcement, settle disputes, and fight Indians who weren’t pleased with these invaders.
Fort Union, in it’s heyday, had 1600 soldiers, the only hospital for hundreds of miles, a jail, church, wagon repair shop, arsenal, and was a distribution center for food for military forts throughout the southwest.
The national monument opens every day of the week, 8 to 5, has a museum, and a staff wearing uniforms give tours every few hours.
The wind blows this morning and during the winter this place is brutally cold, isolated, and basic.
The most interesting fact I discover is that the fort had women working and living inside it as laundresses who drew regular military pay and had their own quarters.
Knowing how tough it was for men to be here, it must have been even tougher for women, and having women here, must have given the Commanding Officer grey hair.
Not knowing whether a man is going to protect a woman, or assault them,and how love and lust affect human behavior and execution of orders, is a Commanding Officer’s worst nightmare.