Courier staff writer
FORT GARLAND — When the first caretakers arrived at this town’s namesake adobe fort, they were so focused on the future that they probably didn’t spend too much time dwelling on the past.
More than 150 years later, Anita McDaniel is also thinking about what’s in store for the property. But as the Fort Garland Museum’s newest director, she’s also dedicated to preserving its rich history for all to enjoy.
McDaniel, who previously served as the curator and collections manager of the Taos Historic Museums, says she hopes to build on the accomplishments that predecessor Rick Manzanares made over the last 15 years.
In the months and years to come, she’ll be working with others to expand the museum’s interpretive exhibits. She’ll begin by clearing out space that is currently being used for storage, including the fort’s cluttered jailhouse.
Likewise, dusty cavalry wagons will be moved to Denver for repairs and restoration work, which will eventually free up more exhibit space at the fort.
McDaniel also wants to promote public and private use of the facilities, which include a modern kitchen, restrooms and showers, as well as historic barracks that can accommodate groups of visitors.
The fort already hosts children’s camps and Civil War reenactments in the warmer months of the year, and McDaniel plans to open it up to other events and educational projects, from plays and poetry readings to weddings.
“We’re always looking for new ways to use the fort, and to get more people up here,” she said.
McDaniel herself was a visitor to the fort long before she took the reins as its newest director just over two months ago.
She and her husband, Gene Ramsey, have lived in the San Luis Valley since 1991. The couple shares 16 acres in Jaroso with their donkeys, dogs and a cat.
McDaniel comes to the job with an MA in anthropology and museum studies from Arizona State University.
After she graduated, she worked as the curator of Southwest Collections at the San Diego Museum of Man. Over the years, her career took her everywhere from the Heard Museum in Phoenix to Jamestown in Virginia.
A job as the exhibit designer at the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos first brought her to this area in 1988. More recently, she braved the commute from Jaroso to work at La Hacienda de los Martinez and the Blumenschein Home and Museum.
Fort Garland’s history doesn’t stretch back as far as Taos’ does, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
The first soldiers began to occupy the property in June 1858, and within a matter of years, it gained strategic importance for the U.S. government.
An interactive Civil War exhibit that opened last Memorial Day tells the story of the fort’s role in a lesser-known but definitive conflict in the history of the war.
A group of Colorado Volunteers trained at Fort Garland in 1861, and the following year, they left the Valley to join their Union counterparts in New Mexico.
Together, the Union soldiers and volunteers stopped General Sibley’s marauding Confederates in their tracks at the Battle of Glorieta Pass, bringing an end to Texas’ efforts to claim New Mexico.
A few years after the war ended, an aging and ailing Kit Carson commanded Fort Garland for a brief spell. Other famous occupants — including the African American cavalrymen known as the Buffalo Soldiers — also spent time within its walls.
By 1883, however, the fort’s service had come to an end.
In the decades that followed, the fort and its many buildings fell into disrepair.
A group of concerned Valley residents knew that something had to be done, though, so in 1928, they began raising money to buy the property.
They reached their goal by the next year, and thanks in part to their efforts, five of the fort’s original 22 buildings are still standing.
Today, McDaniel says the very active Friends of Fort Garland’s members are continuing those traditions by raising money for the museum’s exhibits and events, and by volunteering their time on various projects.
However, they’re missing one thing: namely, a volunteer with a degree in library science who might be able to help them catalog manuscripts.
If you’re interested in volunteering — or if you’d like to participate in other ways — you can call 379-3512. You can also visit the group’s website at: http://fortgarlandfriends.org/, or you can go to the museum’s official website at: http://www.historycolorado.org/museums/fort-garland-museum-and-pikes-stockade-0.
The museum, which is located at 29466 Highway 159, is currently open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $4.50 for seniors, $3.50 for children ages six to 16 and free to members and children under the age of six. Group rates are also available.