The remains of old Fort Bascom is located roughly about ten miles north northeast of Tucumcari. It was situated near a horseshoe bend of the Canadian River and is located near the eastern border of San Miguel County, just north of Quay County. The fort was established early in the Civil War and was abandoned in 1870.
Fort Bascom was named for Capt. George Nicholas Bascom who was killed in the Civil War Battle of Valverde in February, 1862. Capt. Bascom was born in Kentucky to a family of French ancestry. He had graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1858 and was soon stationed in the West. In most of the earlier accounts, he is usually noted as having been involved in the Apache Pass incident in Arizona known as the “Bascom Affair” that touched off more than two decades of harsh fighting between the United States military and the Apache tribe.
In a greatly condensed version the traditional account, Bascom, then a lieutenant, was said to have held members of the family of the Chiricahua Apache warrior Cochise hostage in an effort to force Cochise to release a twelve year old Anglo youth (Felix Ward) who had been kidnapped in Arizona in early 1861. Bascom was charged with trying to recover the child. We now know that Cochise was not involved in the actual Felix Ward kidnapping but rather it had been done by another Apache tribe. The following January, Cochise came with family members to negotiate with the troops. Cochise denied having the child, though he is believed to have held other kidnapped individuals at the time. The talks broke down. Cochise escaped when Union troops tried to arrest him, leaving behind his brother and two nephews who remained in custody. Several more days of hostilities ensued resulting in more Anglo and Mexican hostages and casualties. Bascom was said to have ordered Cochise’s three relatives to be hung. Cochise then continued his hostilities against the Anglo and Mexican settlers and the United States Military for which Bascom was essentially blamed.
More current study, also greatly condensed here, paints Bascom in a greatly more favorable light and contradicts at least one of the major so called “first person” accounts that were initially reported and accepted, blaming Bascom. Two major conclusions of the later study were that Cochise is believed to have acted first by killing his adult hostages and that the U. S. Army retaliation was likely ordered by several of Bascom’s superior officers, over Bascom’s objection. Having been killed in battle around a month later, Bascom was not able to defend himself. The first, and most likely erroneous, account placing the blame for the start of the Apache War on Bascom still persists.
The Civil War was well underway in 1862 and had reached New Mexico. Bascom had been promoted to the rank of Captain and assigned to the 16th Infantry. However, he happened to be serving with the 7th Infantry out of Fort Craig in southern New Mexico when the Union troops were engaged by Confederate forces in the Battle of Valverde. On February 21, 1862, Bascom was killed in action. He was interred initially at Fort Craig, but all known remains were reburied at the Santa Fe National Cemetery after the closure of Fort Craig in 1885.
Fort Bascom was founded in 1863 near Tucumcari, then somewhat removed from Civil War activity, for the triple purposes of protecting settlers against the Kiowa and Comanche tribes, to watch over the cattle trail now referred to as the Goodnight-Loving Trail and to also watch over the activities of the Comancheros, traders with the Comanche tribe. During its existence, troops from Fort Bascom carried out these activities and also some against the plains tribes. The fort was finally closed around 1870 and its troops were consolidated with those at Fort Union.
The fort was physically constructed of adobe and sandstone, so little remains of the original footprint. It was also leased from local people and reverted to its owners after it was no longer used.
Cochise died in 1874 on a Chiricahua reservation during a peaceful period of the Apache Wars. He is thought to have died of natural causes at the approximate age of 69. Felix Ward was of Mexican descent. He was born to Santiago Telles and Maria Jesus Martinez who later became the common law wife of an Anglo settler named John Ward. After Felix was captured by an Apache tribe other than Cochise’s, he was traded, eventually being raised by the White Mountain Apaches. He was assimilated into the tribe. He later became a scout for the United States Army under the name of Mickey Free. He is believed to have lived a long life, been married several times and had a large family before his death around 1914, probably in Arizona.
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