Ft. Union, New Mexico, on the Santa Fe Trail

Fort Union was established in 1851 as the guardian of the Santa Fe Trail. During it’s forty-year history, three different Fort Union New Mexicoforts were constructed close together. The third Fort Union was the largest in the American Southwest, and functioned as a military garrison, territorial arsenal, and military supply depot for the southwest.

The largest visible network of Santa Fe Trail ruts can be seen here.

Fort Union served both military and logistical functions. During the first few years, Fort Union’s mounted troops patrolled the trail. Later, the fort provided escorts for mail stages. Until the Civil War period, wagon trains usually provided their own defense. Then the combination of Indian uprisings and raids by Texas-based Confederates forced a new regime of patrols, escorts, and subposts to protect all travelers and keep open the critical link between the Southwest and the States.

The Fort Union Depot came under command of the District Quartermaster. It was a separate and distinct operation from the military post. Its job was to supply the network of southwestern forts and encampments strung along travel routes or located at reservations and trouble-spots.

Goods (subsistence, hardware, ammunition, etc.) came in two basic modes: stock inventories stored in the depot’s warehouses for later, on-order distribution to the outposts; bulk consignments for direct shipment to the individual posts. Contract freighters guided the huge ox-drawn wagons from Leavenworth, Kansas to Fort Union, where some of the goods were unpacked for storage and later consignment to the field. The bulk post consignments were regrouped into military wagon trains that might drop supplies at several posts along the route of travel.

As the railroad’s moved westward the supply line grew more flexible, with drop-offs and shorter hauls directly to nearby posts from the current railhead. In 1879 the rail road bypassed Fort Union. Its supply operations gradually phased out and the depot closed down in 1883.

The quartermaster operation lacked the flair of the cavalry charge, the heroics of the besieged infantry platoon. But without the men who processed supply orders, counted stock, cared for animals and wagons, packed freight, and then hauled it to the far posts, there would have been neither posts nor battles.

Traveler Alerts
Sunny year-round with semi-arid conditions. July’s average high is 85 degrees, low is 51 degrees. January’s average high is 47 degrees, low is 16 degrees. Wear comfortable walking shoes.

A 1.6 mile, self-guided interpretive trail enables visitors to tour the ruins. Visitors may opt to do a shorter .5 mile self guided tour. Allow approximately two hours for visit.

Getting There
Fly to Albuquerque, NM or Denver, CO.

From Albuquerque (156 miles), Santa Fe (94 miles) or Las Vegas, NM (28 miles) take I-25 north, exit 366 at Watrous, 8 miles on NM 161.

From Denver (313 miles), Colorado Springs (243 miles) or Raton (95 miles) take I-25 south, exit 366 at Watrous, 8 miles on NM 161.

Operating Hours
Open daily except New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.
Winter Hours: Labor Day to Memorial Day 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Summer Hours: Memorial Day to Labor Day 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

2007 Special Events
June 9 – First Fort Tours (Normally Closed to the Public) TBA

July 21-22 Cultural Encounters at Fort Union (Guest Speakers and Living History Programs)

August 25 – An Evening at Fort Union (Candelight Tours)

December 8 – Holiday Open House

Also of Interest in New Mexico
Petroglyph National Monument
Chaco Culture National Historic Park
Bandelier National Monument
Silver City
Ft. Selden
Gila Cliff Dwellings