Fort Garland Museum, Fort Garland

#80 of 156 in Museums in Colorado
Western expansion fueled the need for frontier forts. The primary purpose of these forts was to keep the peace between settlers and indigenous people.

In 1852 the U.S. government saw the need for a military presence in the San Luis Valley and built Fort Massachusetts, the area's first stronghold. It soon became clear that the location of Fort Massachusetts was not strategically practical. It was vulnerable to attack from higher ground and it was too far from the settlers it was intended to protect. Brig. Gen. John Garland issued orders for a new post to be built 6 miles south between Ute and Sangre de Cristo creeks.

The fort is built of adobe or mud bricks, the local building material at the time. Exterior walls were plastered with mud, interior walls were plastered with mud and lime. Soldiers and local adobe skilled laborers built the fort under the direction of Charles Autobees. The flat roofs were constructed using large log beams called vigas andwith wood planks on top and then covered with dirt. It was completed in June of 1858, the flag was lowered at Ft. Massachusetts and Capt. Duncan marched his men to the new site where the flag was hoisted to the top of the new flagpole.

In 1861, Colorado Volunteers were training at Fort Garland. In March of 1862, they trekked through harsh winter conditions to join the New Mexico Volunteers, and the combined forces met the Confederates at the Battle of Glorieta Pass. The Union soldiers thwarted General Sibley's efforts to bring the Civil War to the far West.

After the Civil War, from 1866 to 1867, Christopher "Kit" Carson commanded the New Mexico Volunteers at Fort Garland. Drawing on his knowledge of American Indian languages and culture, he aided Chief Ouray and other Ute leaders in teh negotiations that created a Ute Reservation.

African-American cavalry men, the famed "Buffalo Soldiers" distinguished themselves at Fort Garland between 1876 and 1879.

Fort Garland was in use for 25 years, a long time for a frontier fort. The coming of the railroad and the removal of American Indians brought Fort Garland's 25 years of service to an end in 1883.

Five of the twenty-two original buildings at Fort Garland are still standing. Since the 1990s archaeological research has been carried out at the fort to determine the footprints of the original buildings.

The museum today is run by History Colorado.

Summer Hours:



9am- 5pm

Winter Hours:

November 1st-March 1st

Open Wednesday-Sunday.

10am - 4pm

Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Closed: January and February.

A regional museum of History Colorado.
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TripAdvisor Traveler Rating
64 reviews
  • August 10, 2017
    If you are interested in the old west and how people and our military survived the harshest of conditions, this is a must see. Take your time and read all the little post or the guided tour and you Wi...  more »
  • August 9, 2017
    An important fort in the history of settlement in the San Luis Valley. The historic fort museum is in great shape and it is evident that the builds are well cared for. Walking around inside I had a se...  more »
  • August 1, 2017
    This museum is a gem! Great Civil War documentation of the fort while it was in commission. Lots of emphasis on Kit Carson and the Buffalo Soldiers that were once stationed there. Five of the original...  more »
  • July 7, 2017
    My 13 year old daughter said "I thought it was going to be boring, but it was very informative.". It kept 3 adults and 2 kids entertained and we all learned something. There were a lot of displays that you can touch/pickup items.
  • July 3, 2017
    I was truly amazed with the amount of historical artifacts that the museum had. It is a must see!!! I loved it!
  • June 28, 2017
    Well preserved piece of civil war and colonization of the west history. Informative displays.
  • June 7, 2017
    Very interesting historical museum of Fort Garland during the Civil War where the confederates attacked and captured this fort.
  • November 15, 2016
    This is a very important fort in the story of westward expansionism. Many original adobe buildings chock full of artifacts. This was an important union fort in the civil war. In 1858 it was the middle of nowhere...still is. The gift shop has local jams and jellies native American crafts and a bookstore to satisfy any western bibliophile. If you are a Ghostbusters you are in for a real treat!

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