Upon their arrival at Fort Stanton, coordinator Phil Schreiber had arranged a unique schedule specifically for the students. A special guest on site was the new Director of New Mexico State Monuments, Richard Sims. Photos were taken, introductions made and a full VIP tour of Fort Stanton began with author and historian Lynda Sánchez.
Sánchez, setting the stage, asked if they could still hear the bugles of returning Buffalo soldiers? Moving to the Parade Ground they were introduced to the fine exhibits in the museum, and walking the historic quadrangle they learned about the multi-faceted architectural history and significant eras that make Fort Stanton such a fabulous place to visit. It is exceptional and being surrounded by over 25 thousand acres of Bureau of Land Management public lands provides an aura of a magnificent, rich and vibrant past.
Sánchez described early pre-history, Apache and Hispanic era culture, even showing them artifacts from that time frame as well as a compass found on site at the German Internment camp. They walked around the historic cavalry stables, because of course, what would a cavalry post be without a stables area?
Fort Stanton has some of the best preserved stables anywhere. “Everything about the fort is distinctive,” noted both Sánchez and Schreiber. “We find that the German Internment camp and the stables are two sites that you can just walk around and really feel those Buffalo Soldier and German Internee ghosts watching your every move.”
Cadets were also presented information about the Snowy River passage of Fort Stanton cave and early military mapping and exploration in 1877 by the Wheeler Expedition. They were shown the “message in a bottle” exhibit in the BLM exhibit room. The bottle had been left in a cave passage in 1930 to be located many decades later.
Returning to the portal of Building 9, one of the original structures, the cadets viewed a 19th century antique gun collection, set up especially for their tour. Here the cadets examined, picked up and compared the guns to our modern 21st century firearms. This followed the theme of the tour in comparing the lives of the 19th century troopers to our daily lives of today.
Schreiber, as the tour coordinator, commented and instructed the cadets about the differences in the 19th and 21st century era weapons. He said, “The best way to educate the young is to allow them to touch and pick up items from the past.” This hands-on approach was successful as many questions were forthcoming.
Students took a lunch break sitting around under the huge shade trees on the Quadrangle. They also were encouraged to imagine what it might have been like for a young military recruit or resident of the U.S. Public Health Service when TB patients sat in wheel chairs or occupied the buildings where they ran the post office, stores, and helped with maintenance of the hospital grounds.
Reenactor and historian, Jack Shuster, in preparation for taking the tour from Fort Stanton on to historic Lincoln town and a member of the “ Fort Stanton Garrison” group, joined the students for a great show and tell by Mike Bilbo as to musket firings, and uniforms of the past, and mounted cavalry rider, Matt Midgett who spoke about revisiting the old fort and expressing his interest in the next generation of military officers. He galloped off into the mists of time just as the show ended.
One cadet noted, “Wow, this has been such a great variety and fascinating.” Another stated that actually coming on site was so much better than reading about it in a book or seeing it in a documentary or movie. “This is the real deal,” she said. Another asked if there were any “ghost stories” about the buildings. Perhaps the Public Affairs Officer, Rebecca Rudisill summed it up best. “It was a fun, knowledgeable day and we all learned a lot. The majority of us were extremely surprised by how much history there is here.”
Shifting gears and heading into outlaw Billy the Kid country was another jam packed event. Shuster exuded enthusiasm and attitude as they headed on to old Lincoln town. Cadets walked down the historic street as Shuster recounted anecdotes from the Lincoln County War era.
Col. Taylor is truly a gifted military historian because he understands the importance of taking his students on tours to see the exciting heritage we have in New Mexico. He is known for visiting the actual battle sites of southern New Mexico and we all salute him for that. During these tours, no cell phones or texting was allowed and the cadets learned first hand from a series of experts.
Will he return again next year? “You bet,” was his reply and each cadet thanked the entire team that made up this year’s tour. “And we want the same tour and team again next year,” was a last response.
On their way home to Las Cruces they also planned to stop at yet another incredible restoration project and that is St. Joseph’s Apache Mission and Veterans’ Memorial where they were given an inspiring tour by Mary Serna, restoration administrator.