Last week, I talked about my visit to Silver City and doing the mural walk in the historic downtown area. What I didn’t tell you was that I actually visited Silver City twice. The second time I went to Silver City, I went just to visit a health food store that offered vegan products since vegan items were pretty hard to come by in Deming. So, it was a quick in and out. However, on the drive back, I stopped at Fort Bayard, followed by the stop at City of Rocks State Park.

I talked about my visit to City of Rocks last week. But,this week, I want to focus on Fort Bayard. It’s funny, Fort Bayard is just a bunch of old run-down buildings. Only one is set up for visitors, and even that is just once a month in the winter. In other words, how does a bunch of dilapidated old buildings justify an entire post? I don’t know. Maybe it doesn’t. But I was so fascinated with the medical aspect that I wanted to share. Let me know what you think.

Finding Fort Bayard

A painted signed along a street with white buildings and trees that reads, "Fort Bayard Comdrs House Open Now."
Once you are on the premises, it’s pretty easy to figure out which building you are allowed in.

On the road from Deming to Silver City you find the turn off to both City of Rocks and Fort Bayard. Therefore, if you were inclined, you could easily do all three in a day. I did it on two separate days but that speaks to personal preference.

Fort Bayard is in the town of Santa Clara which is just 10 minutes from Silver City. However, I have to say, I wouldn’t have gone on this adventure if not for my stubbornness and sheer determination. The reason? It was really hard to find.

There are no directions on their website, just the address. I plugged it into my phone’s GPS and a couple miles past Santa Clara, on the highway, with fields on both sides of me, it announced that I had arrived. Hmm. That’s not right. I turned around for try number two.

Turns out there was a sign on the main street in Santa Clara but it was so sun-faded it was impossible to read. Even now, I’m not entirely sure how I found it. It also turns out it wasn’t very far off of that main street. You just have to figure out where to turn.

History of Fort Bayard

The fort has been around for 154 years and, as expected, it served different roles during those years. Let me give you the bullet points version:

  • Established in August 1866 to protect miners and other locals from Apache Indians, it was actually the fifth fort in the area since 1803 for the purpose of protection. It was garrisoned by Buffalo soldiers, same as many posts across the southwest, and in 1992 a statue was placed at Fort Bayard commemorating this.
  • From 1866 through 1899, it served as a military post. In 1886, after the capture of Geronimo, the Apache were no longer considered a threat to locals.
  • Its next purpose is the most interesting, I think. In 1899, it converted to a hospital and from 1900 through 1920, it served as the first (and largest) military hospital dedicated to the treatment of tuberculosis patients. Because of this, it fell under the direction of the Surgeon General. More on this period in a bit.
  • From 1920 through 1965, it fell under the direction of Veteran Administration, still serving as a VA tuberculosis hospital.
  • In 1965, there were no longer enough TB patients to justify keeping it open. At that time, the Fort and all its buildings on 480 acres were sold to the State of New Mexico for $1.00.
  • New Mexico established the place as a long-term care facility (called Fort Bayard Medical Center) from 1965 through 2008 when it no longer passed fire code inspections. That same year a bond was passed by voters which allowed the state to build a new State Hospital after which Fort Bayard was abandoned.

Fort Bayard Historical Preservation Society

According to the volunteer at the Fort on the day I visited, the State of New Mexico was more inclined to let the buildings stand until they rotted and fell over than to do anything else. After more than a decade of working on the issue, New Mexico leased the property officially to the city of Santa Clara who then turned it over to the nonprofit, Fort Bayard Historical Preservation Society. The last hurdle to make this all official happened less than six month ago.

At Fort Bayard, s large two story white house with two door and a two large porches on the first floor and two large balconies on the second. It's very run down with paint peeling off.
The state of all the buildings except the one that allows visitors. It’s such a shame as they are beautiful buildings. This is the first house along officers’ row which has six, including the Commander’s House which is now the museum.

What I found particularly telling was that during my visit to Shakespeare I learned they’d had a similar issue with the State of New Mexico.

The stop I didn’t make and should’ve was Santa Clara / Fort Bayard Visitors’ Center, also run by the Society. This is actually along that main street, in an old Armory. It opened a year ago. I suspect most people stop there first which is a good idea. If for no other reason then to get directions to Fort Bayard.


Let me start with the very basics since most of us grew up during a time, for all intents and purposes, without tuberculosis. At least in the US. It remains a big problem in developing countries with 10 million people contracting it in 2018. Of those 1.5 million died. It is the number one infectious disease killer in the world. Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that primarily attacks the lungs.

TB has been around since antiquity. Beginning in the 1600 the disease began to rise and peaked throughout the 1800s. In 1882, German physician, Robert Koch, identified and described the bacillus causing tuberculosis. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1905 for his work.

With the understanding of how it was transmitted and milk pasteurization (because infected cow’s milk was a common way it was transmitted), the infection rate began to decline during the first half of the 1900s. Then the second half of the century saw further decline with improved sanitation, vaccines and the antibiotic streptomycin.  

Hospital room from  1900. It's in a museum so there are many additional items, info signs and photographs.
This room showed a typical patient’s room and had tons of info about the nurses who treated the men.
An old wheel chair with a wooden back, seat and leg holders. The frame and wheels are metal. The seat has a hole cut in it and a bed pan fits underneath.
Obviously, a wheel chair. I’d never seen anything like it so found it clever and very practical.
A sheet of paper with a daily agenda for the TB patients.
Heat was thought to help kill the bacteria. In a day, patients drank two glass of hot milk and a glass of hot water. I asked the volunteer what chasing meant and he said maybe it was the nurses chasing around the patients. Nice try. Then he said he wasn’t sure but that since I wasn’t the first to ask, he’d look into it.

Fort Bayard and TB

The Spanish-American War lasted less than four months in 1898. But one in four soldiers contracted TB while fighting in Cuba and with the high number of TB among military personnel, a treatment option was needed.

Turns out that the ideal climate for those infected was an arid one at between 4,000 and 6,000 feet in elevation. It was often referred to as the “zone of immunity.” Fort Bayard fit the bill and, thus, became the first and largest military hospital dedicated to helping those infected to recover.

A sign with a black and white old photo of four men in robes sitting with mirrors under their chins.
Another example of the idea that hot things helped. So when patients “took the cure” they were outside holding a mirror to reflect the sun into their open mouths. I was just fascinated by this.


Even though the area is quite large (you can get a good walk in just exploring the grounds) and there are many structures, only the Commander’s House (feature image) is open to the public. You walk through it and the various rooms are organized by theme, as is true of most houses that serve as a museum. The kitchen, in part, serves as a small gift shop.

Like I said, I found the information related to TB the most fascinating so I spent most of my time in the medical-related rooms.

a 6-shelf white book case filled with old glass.
This area wasn’t really a room, more an area tucked away. You are seeing about a third of the 1920s glass bottles in the room. I loved looking at it all. Some is from the hospital days but, nearby, a guy decided to clean out his barn and found it filled with the stuff. The volunteer told me the museum took the glass estimated to be from 1900 – 1920. The photo doesn’t do anything to capture how interesting it is to look at and to imagine what it might’ve been used for.

It may be decades before Fort Bayard is fully restored but if you are in the area, it’s worth the visit. Unfortunately, the limited open hours make it difficult. However, you can drive or walk around the grounds any time and there are a lot of information signs so it still might be worth the trip.

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