Fort Garland Museum, Fort Garland

#79 of 155 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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Fort Garland Museum Reviews
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71 reviews
  • This well-preserved Army fort from the mid-18C is a landmark testimony to the bitter struggles between the early settlers and the indigenous Utes. The soldiers stationed at the fort (1858-1883) had a ...  more »
  • I learned more about Kit Carson, the Buffalo Soldiers, and more, by visiting this self-guided tour than I ever did in school (or otherwise). The fort has been restored and preserved with care. Photos,...  more »
  • Our family of seven loves living history and we enjoyed going inside several of the buildings, some original and some new. Several buildings were closed which was disappointing. You can see everything...  more »
  • More historic places like this need to exist! All the information has been updated within this century, something less common than you'd think. You're free to walk around the beautiful and scenic grounds of the fort, and explore and imagine what life was like for the men and women who lived here over a hundred years ago. I highly recommend everyone come check out this unique, wonderfully preserved part of American history.
  • the displays are very well done, different aspects of the forts history are divided into small chunks and the self guided tour stays interesting. There are kid friendly displays and information sprinkled throughout. Great informative site.
  • I love this museum. They have books for sell for the history of this area. Very friendly staff. It's cozy and very informative
  • Cool place for some history on western expansionism and the battles of the 'civilization' of the native people's. You won't be disappointed. Side note. ..very haunted.
  • 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.

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