Archaeology in the San Luis Valley: The Lost Fort

Nicholas Spencer
The Paw Print

Fort Massachusetts is in Mississippi, right?!
There is a Fort Massachusetts in Mississippi, although, before that fort there was another here in the San Luis Valley.
In 1852, Commander of Fort Union appointed Lt. Col. George Blake to build a fort in our San Luis Valley. The fort’s primary mission was to perform raids on Ute Native Americans.
Fort Massachusetts was occupied for 5 years before its first general inspection.
General Mansfield performed the first general inspection. His assessment indicated that the location was poorly judged, and must be moved.
The fort moved six miles east from the Ute Creek and was renamed Fort Garland.
Fort Massachusetts has been lost twice, and found three times. The fort was lost mainly due to the fact that nobody considered it important to American history.
Early in the 20th century there was a wild fire that destroyed the remnants Fort Massachusetts.
Dr. Richard Goddard considered this site to be of great importance and believed it could provide an excellent outdoor classroom for students. He sought out and found its location, and has yet to lose it.
Goddard began looking for Fort Massachusetts in 2009. Any records he could find were a tremendous help because there was so little recorded history of Fort Massachusetts’ existence.
Records said the fort was situated on the west bank of Ute River. Since the remnants of the fort no longer existed, the search was very similar to a needle in a haystack.
The rediscovery of Fort Massachusetts was difficult, but in the end it pulled Goddard in. A hole swallowed Goddard’s foot and, without injury, he had found the fort. In 2010 the project had began, then in 2011 the dig started.
The dig is still active, although it is postponed until spring-summer when the ground is thawed enough to dig.
The discovery itself is an amazing feat, but to then extend the opportunity to gain a better understanding of the process of archaeology to the students of Adams State University is even more special.
For future archaeologists this is an outstanding way to get dig experience.
Fifteen students from all over the country participate during digging season, about half of those from ASU. Students spent six weeks of camping and living in the wilderness.
Groups operate in numbers of five with a team leader (usually a grad student).
Students have to live as the soldiers did during 1852-1858. Every morning, students line up for formation and raise the flag.
I suspect the most exciting part of the day comes next. Firing a replica six-pound cannon similar to what the fort owned.
Besides learning the daily routine of the soldiers, students were visited by experts on the time period.
These experts dress according to the time period. They speak, as well as act, just as soldiers and women did at the fort. Sharing knowledge of daily activities and how to pass the time in such a unforgiving environment.
The students didn’t just learn and work endlessly. They found their own ways to enjoy themselves at the fort.
Goddard says that the students were shy and uncomfortable during the first week. He described how fun it was to see the students bond and build relationships.
They spent time at the swimming hole or enjoying the electricity provided by the site owners. Six weeks in the wilderness, electricity becomes a means for sanity and not just survival.
The details of Goddard’s and the student’s experiences with discovering history in the Valley is beyond amazing. Just imagine in a few short years, students and residents throughout the Valley will go visit the once Fort Massachusetts.
People will try to imagine the daily life of soldiers at Fort Massachusetts, and have a greater respect for the people who lived there.
Records of the excavation will no doubt be on display, and school pride of ASU will radiate the location.
I recommend speaking to Goddard and asking further questions of the excavation.
He shared great details the dig and comical incidents happening on site. Volunteers are welcomed to participate.
Speak with Goddard to see if you can be part of history in the Valley. is powered by WordPress µ | Spam prevention powered by Akismet