OF OLD FORT MARCY
Articles by Marc Simmons
I had lunch not long
ago with Keith Lummis, the 90-something-year-old youngest son
of celebrated Southwestern author Charles F. Lummis. He and his
wife were visiting Santa Fe from their home in San Francisco.
In the course of the
meal I asked Keith whether he'd ever been up to Marcy Hill and
the old fort ruins that provide one of the best overlooks of the
entire city. He said he had not, but would like to go.
At the site, I remarked
to him: "You probably don't know that this was one of your father's
favorite places. On his last trip to New Mexico in 1927, he urged
the people of Santa Fe in a newspaper interview to build an amphitheater
What Charles Lummis had
in mind was an open-air theater where Indian pageants could be
staged. At that time, the 1920s,Hiawatha pageants were all the
rage in the Midwest, and he thought the idea could be adapted
to New Mexico.
Had his suggestion been
followed, I explained to Keith, it would have resulted in the
destruction of the military ruins and loss of an important piece
of New Mexican history. As it is, the fort walls remain today,
buried under grassy mounds. At some future time, they may be uncovered
Fort Marcy became the
first United States Army post established in the Southwest. At
the outbreak of the Mexican War, Gen. Stephen W. Kearny and his
troops marched over the Santa Fe Trail, seizing Santa Fe on Aug.
The very next day, he
sent two of his engineers, lieutenants William Emory and Jeremy
Gilmer, on a scout to find a good defensive site for a fort. This
was considered necessary, since an uprising by the conquered population
was still feared.
Lt. Emory discovered
just the place-what he described as "the only point which commands
the entire town." It was on the summit of a flat-topped hill,
only 650 yards northeast of the Plaza. A half-dozen cannons positioned
there could rule Santa Fe.
Soldiers and hired workmen
threw up thick adobe walls, 9 feet high and surrounded by a deep
ditch. A log structure inside the compound provided a magazine
for storing gunpowder. Gen. Kearny named the new installation
after William L. Marcy, the secretary of war at that time, and
Fort Marcy was originally
intended for a garrison of 280 men, but no quarters were provided
for them inside the fort. Instead, the men were lodged and the
horses were corralled in and around the old Spanish military barracks
next to the Governors' Palace.
It was thought that in
case of trouble the men should scurry up to the fort and defend
the walls. As late as 1853, military inspector Col. Joseph Mansfield
described Marcy as "the only real fort in the territory." Fort
Union, located on the Santa Fe Trail east of Las Vegas, had been
founded but was still a flimsy collection of huts.
Downriver, the Post of
El Paso, founded on Sept. 28, 1849, briefly had six companies
of the Third Infantry, but its soldiers were soon dispersed to
other stations in southern New Mexico. Its substantial successor,
Fort Bliss, did not come into being until 1854.
Since Marcy's troops
were all quartered in town and there existed no threat of attack,
the walls of the fort on the hill were allowed to deteriorate.
Only the magazine continued in use, since it remained the safest
place to keep powder, away from the townsfolk.
Santa Fe resident Marian
Russell remembered that after Fort Marcy fell to ruin, local people
used it for a burial ground. "One dear old lady, a Mrs. Sutton,"
she recalled, had a 19-year-old son buried in the fort. He had
been a drummer boy in the Civil War. Coming home, he had been
bitten by a mad dog on the streets of Santa Fe and died of hydrophobia.
Daily Mrs. Sutton climbed the steep hill to Fort Marcy to place
flowers or some little offering on her son's grave."
During 1887, a small
incident occurred that must have severely impacted what was left
of the fort. On Sept. 30, the Silver City Enterprise reported
that a local citizen, Mrs. Tassie Wilson, had gone to the territorial
capital for a visit. While there, she and friends had unearthed
a trove of Spanish coins buried under the walls of old Fort Marcy.
The value of the find,
said the Enterprise, was more than $2,300. The oldest coins were
dated 1726 and 1740, and these had been donated to the Historical
Society of New Mexico. And the paper added: "After the discovery
was made, large numbers of Santa Fe citizens turned out and dug
the whole country up in the vicinity of the fort, but without
finding anything new." That frenzied treasure hunt must have destroyed
the last of the standing walls.
In 1891, the government
sold the Fort Marcy property at auction. The site on the hill
was acquired by the city of Santa Fe in 1961, landscaped and turned
into a scenic overlook. It is not well advertised or marked, and
many visitors today miss this special place.
See historian Marc
Simmons's "Witchcraft in the Southwest: Spanish and Indian
Supernaturalism on the Rio Grande" (University of Nebraska
Press) and his many other books by visiting Amazon.com.
Articles by Marc Simmons