Sending in the Cavalry
Here's your chance to join the Rough Riders. "Teddy Roosevelt" will be at the annual Fort Bayard Days, Sept. 16-18, at Fort Bayard National Historic Landmark this year to "recruit" troops. Like all the events at Fort Bayard Days, TR's recruiting visit is grounded in history—New Mexico really did supply the bulk of the famed Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War.
Fort Bayard's rich and varied history also prominently includes the "Buffalo Soldiers," African-American cavalry troops who demonstrated heroism in this corner of the Wild West, among the last parts of the American frontier to be "tamed." Re-enactments during Fort Bayard Days will celebrate these soldiers whose exploits once blazed across the region. In his recently published book, Six-Guns and Single-Jacks: A History of Silver City and Southwestern New Mexico (Gila Books, www.gilabooks.com, $21.95), award-winning Western history author Bob Alexander recalls two incidents involving the fort's Buffalo Soldiers that led to Congressional Medals of Honor.
The first, in 1877, began with a six-man detachment of 9th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers and three Navaho scouts, riding out of Fort Bayard under command of Lieutenant Henry H. Wright. They found a Chiricahua hideout in the Florida Mountains, Alexander writes: "Undermanned and outnumbered, Lt. Wright decided on a confab rather than an out-and-out charge on the hostile Apache camp. For a half-hour the two sides squabbled. When Wright tried to remove himself to his horse, Apache blocked the way. Soldiers fired, and all hell broke loose, cavalrymen having to use their rifle butts as clubs during hand-to-hand combat. Seizing the moment, Corporal Clifton [Clinton] Greaves fought like a man possessed, 'managing to shoot and bash a gap through the swarming Apaches, permitting his companions to break free.' No soldiers were killed, but five Apache were. Others were wounded. The fortunate squadron, pleased to even be alive, returned to Fort Bayard with six Indian horses. For his heroic action, Corp. Greaves was awarded tthe prized Medal of Honor."
Fort Bayard's Lt. Wright and his men figured again in the second saga of medal-winning heroism by the Buffalo Soldiers, which took place in 1879. Alexander picks up the story with the famed and elusive Apache Victorio in Six-Guns and Single-Jacks:
Not everything about Fort Bayard's colorful past was quite so heroic, of course. Elsewhere in Six-Guns and Single-Jacks, Alexander notes,
While the Fort Bayard Days re-enactments won't exactly recreate that bit of history, they will present a wide variety of activities not limited to soldiering. On Friday, Sept. 16, events kick off with School Days from 9 a.m.-2 p.m., with more than 30 living-history stations (again, presumably not including the above historic encounter) for local school groups and home-schoolers to tour. That will be followed by a square dance at the Fort Theatre ($3).
Saturday, Sept. 17, opens with a flag ceremony at 9 a.m. Interpretive centers will be open for touring from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., while special programs are scheduled throughout the day: 10 a.m. Ron Henderson as Lt. Fountain, the soldier who "discovered" the Gila Cliff Dwellings; 11-11:30 a.m. Silver Square Dancers; 11:45 a.m.-1 p.m. barbecue lunch by Copper Creek Ranch ($8); 12-12:30 p.m. T.J. Duncan music in the gazebo; 2-3 p.m. Toby Giese talks about his book, Apaches; 3-4 p.m. lemonade and cookies in the theater. The recreation and games center for kids will be open all day. Saturday evening brings the Military Ball at the Fort Theatre—costumes preferred but not required—from 7-10:30 p.m. ($2 FBHPS members, $3 non-members).
Finally, Sunday, Sept. 18, will close the festivities with a military worship service at 10 a.m. at the theater.
Other upcoming events at historic Fort Bayard include free guided walking tours the second Saturday of every month (Sept. 10), beginning at 9:30 a.m. (reservations requested—contact the Silver City / Grant County Chamber of Commerce or Tina Joslin, 538-9664), and the annual Harvest Tea, Oct. 8, 2-4 p.m. Tickets for the tea will be available at the chamber of commerce beginning Sept. 8. For information, contact Annette Mitchem, 534-0794.