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On Walkabout In: Ft. Selden, New Mexico

The American Southwest is home to many Native-American tribes that had been in conflict with European settlers ever since the days when the first Spanish conquistadors entered New Mexico.  After the Mexican-American War ended in 1848 the United States took control of the present day American Southwest which opened it up to be settled by American pioneers.  With the increase of settlers entering into the Southwest this brought greater conflict with the region’s Native-Americans who fought over land and resources.  Due to the increasing conflict with the Natives the US Army was tasked to protect settlers and secure the various wagon trails through the region.  To do this the US Army created various outposts to improve security throughout the American Southwest from the Indians.  The remains from some of these historic outposts can still be seen today with one of them being located just north of Las Cruces, New Mexico; the Ft. Selden State Monument:

The various state monuments I have been to in New Mexico I have found to be quite well done and on par with the various national monuments I have visited and Ft. Selden is no exception.  The monument has a nice visitor center to welcome guests at:

Picture from Ft. Selden

Inside the visitor center the park worker was quite nice and helpful and had me watch a brief film about Ft. Selden before going around and checking out the various artifacts from the fort on display:

Picture from Ft. Selden

Picture from Ft. Selden

The visitor center also had a number of historic photographs on display which is something I always find very interesting to view:

Picture from Ft. Selden

Picture from Ft. Selden

(Note: You can click the pictures to view larger images.)

After checking out the visitor center I then walked outside to walk towards the ruins of the fort:

Picture from Ft. Selden

As I walked towards the ruins I noticed this large sculpture constructed in honor of the cavalrymen that once served here:

Picture from Ft. Selden

As mentioned before this post was one of many spread throughout the southwest to protect settlers and trade along the wagon train roads.  Ft. Selden was one of the later built forts with it being constructed in 1865 to protect the Mesilla Valley portion of the wagon train route between Albuquerque and Las Cruces.  This area of southern New Mexico had become a growing area of commerce after the completion of the Gadsden Purchase in 1854.  For a highly detailed history of Ft. Selden I highly recommend reading this PDF file provided by the New Mexico National Monuments organization.

The fort like the other forts of this era was constructed in a rectangular shape with buildings made of adobe walls:

Picture from Ft. Selden

Many of these adobe buildings are in such bad shape that they are held up with assistance from support beams installed by the park service:

Picture from Ft. Selden

However, not all the buildings were constructed of adobe, the below building was the fort’s jail that was constructed of stone:

Picture from Ft. Selden

I guess it would make sense you would want a solid structure to make it more difficult for any prisoners to escape the jail.  However, if a prisoner did break out of the jail they had a quick means to escape because the fort’s horse stable was right next to the jail.   Not much from this old stable can be seen today since it was constructed of wood:

Picture from Ft. Selden

Something I found quite nice about Ft. Selden that I’m sure its occupants from all those years ago probably also appreciated was the amount of trees that lined the outer perimeter of the fort that provided some very good shade from the hot desert heat:

Picture from Ft. Selden

In the middle of the tree lined perimeter was the post’s parade field.  I found it interesting to compare the below historic photograph with how the parade field looks today:

Picture from Ft. Selden

Picture from Ft. Selden

Something else I found very interesting about Ft. Selden that I learned from reading the displays is that General Douglas MacArthur spent a few years living at Ft. Selden as a young boy when his father was an Army Captain stationed at the fort.  His father served as the post commander from 1884 to 1886.  Young Douglas MacArthur would have been age 4-6 when he was at Ft. Selden and it was easy to imagine him playing cowboys and Indians while living at Ft. Selden.  According to one of the displays this is what Douglas MacArthur said about his time growing up in Ft. Selden in his memoir, Reminiscences, “I learned to ride and shoot even before I could read or write—indeed, almost before I could walk and talk”.  These would later go on to serve him very well in the Army.  Here is a picture of young Douglas MacArthur and his family at Ft. Selden:

Picture from Ft. Selden

Here is a picture of what remains of their former home today:

Picture from Ft. Selden

Ft. Selden would go on to stay open until 1891 when it was decided to shut the post down in the wake of the surrender of Geronimo’s band of Apaches in 1886 who was the last real Native-American threat in the region.  It was decided since no real Indian threat remained that the all the small outposts in the region would consolidated into one major US military base with Ft. Bliss in El Paso, Texas becoming that location.  With the move of the soldiers at Ft. Selden to Ft. Bliss the post would eventually be sold off to a private land owner.  The buildings on Ft. Selden slowly eroded away over the decades until the last private land owner of Ft. Selden, Harry Bailey donated the land to the state of New Mexico in 1963.  Historical preservation of Ft. Selden would begin and in 1974 the fort became a New Mexico State Monument to which it remains to this day.

Here is some visitor information from the Ft. Selden website to help anyone who planning to visit to this interesting piece of New Mexican history:

Hours:
Wednesday – Monday 8:30am – 5pm. Closed Tuesday.

Admission Prices:
$3. Sundays are free for all NM residents with ID. Wednesday admission is free to New Mexico Seniors with ID. Children 16 and under are always admitted free.

Location:
Radium Springs, NM. I-25 Exit 19, 13 miles north of Las Cruces, NM.

Directions:
Radium Springs, NM. I-25 Exit 19, 13 miles north of Las Cruces, NM

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