Fort Bascom and the “Bascom Affair”

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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End of Watch: Officers Roy Lee Stanley and Andy Begay

The incident in which these officers were killed occurred on the Navajo Reservation near Goulding, Utah roughly about 30-40 miles due west of the Four Corners point.  The Navajo Nation meets at the corners of these four states: Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado and includes land in the first three states.  It is the largest reservation in the United States, amounting to just under 28,000 square miles.

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Pearl Hart

Pearl Hart was a female bandit who had a short career as an outlaw.  Born in the 1870s in Lindsay, Ontario, Canada as Pearl Taylor, she eloped and married Frank Hart when she was a teenager.  She and Hart had an off and on relationship, but had two children over the years.  The couple were living in Chicago during the Columbian Exposition during 1893 and Pearl is said to have become interested in the western lifestyle from watching the Wild West shows that included Annie Oakley.

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José Chávez y Chávez

José Chávez y Chávez lived from about 1851 to 1923.  Little is firmly known about his early life but he is thought to be born in Cebolleta, earlier known as Seboyeta, in western central New Mexico, to an Hispanic father and Apache or Navajo mother.  He appears as a constable and justice of the peace in San Patricio in the middle 1870s.  He was aligned with Tunstall and McSween and a member of the 40 to 50 gunmen hired by them and called the Regulators in accounts of the Lincoln County War in the late 1870s.  Tunstall and McSween had been two of the local challengers to the financial holdings of the Dolan and Murphy families and their associates in the Lincoln, New Mexico area.  The conflicts turned into a shooting war for many months.  Both McSween and Tunstall were killed in separate incidents, as were a number of other individuals on both sides.  The United States Army had an outpost at Fort Stanton, but were accused of standing by and not keeping the peace when McSween and some others died in the burning of McSween’s home.  Chávez is said to have witnessed the McSween incident, supported this account and is reported to have testified against certain Army officers in at least one of the subsequent trials.

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Robert Ford, Killer of Jesse James

Robert Newton Ford has traditionally been acknowledged as the person who killed Jesse James in James’ residence.  Robert and his brother Charles were not known to be connected to most of the James Gang’s crimes, but were nevertheless known to associated with Jesse and the other gang members.  Charles Ford is believed to have participated in at least one robbery, but Robert Ford is not thought to have participated in any.  In early 1882, the gang was inactive and Robert, Dick Liddil (sometimes spelled Liddel) and Wood Hite who was a cousin of the James brothers were residing at the Missouri home of Robert’s sister, a widow named Martha Bolton.  Jesse and his wife had taken a residence elsewhere, also in Missouri, and were living under an alias. They were all fugitives and at least Frank and Jesse had a reward for information leading to their capture offered by the state of Missouri.

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Ernie Pyle


(Image credit: Indiana University School of Journalism)

On April 18, 1945, only months before the end of World War II, popular war correspondent Ernie Pyle was killed by Japanese gunfire on the island of ie Shima, during the campaign to retake Okinawa.  At the time of his death Pyle had been serving as a correspondent since before the United States had entered the war and had accompanied troops in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific.

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Governor Lew Wallace

Lewis “Lew” Wallace served as Territorial Governor from 1878 to 1881.  After a long career in the United States Army, he had been appointed as Governor in the fall of 1878 by President Rutherford B. Hayes.  Wallace had previously earned a reputation as being an effective leader in both civil and military situations.  He succeeded Samuel Beach Axtell who had been “suspended” over allegations of improper conduct, though Axtell was never tried for any illegal activities and was soon appointed Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court.  The Lincoln County War was also ongoing in the south of of the territory, so Wallace was stepping into several situations that needed attention.

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Charles Winstead, Former FBI Agent


(Image credit: Findagrave)

On August 6, 1973, United Press carried an article out of Albuquerque, New Mexico reporting the death of Charles Winstead, a former FBI agent.  The column may have gone almost unnoticed nationwide, since Mr. Winstead had been retired from the Agency for such a long time.  He died at the age of 82 at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Albuquerque.

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Cathay Williams, Female Buffalo Soldier


(Image credit:,
believed to be in the public domain.)

Cathay Williams (1844-1893) was a woman who enlisted in the United States Army under the name William Cathay.  Most sources agree that she was the only documented woman to so serve in the U. S. Army while posing as a man.

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Miguel Antonio Otero

Miguel Antonio Otero was one of the last territorial governors of New Mexico before statehood.  Governor Otero was born in 1859 in St. Louis, Missouri to Miguel Antonio Otero (1829-1882) and Mary Josephine Blackwood Otero (1840-1900).  Otero County was named for Governor Otero’s father, also known as Miguel Antonio Otero.  The future governor was educated at St. Louis University and Notre Dame and as a young adult had worked in the family bank in Las Vegas, New Mexico.  The Otero family, originally from Spain, had long ties to New Mexico going back at least four generations and dating back as far as the 1700s.

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