SHAKO: Old West Cavalry Post at Fort Garland, Colorado
Boots and Saddles
While your 4GWAR Editor on vacation last week we traveled from Denver, Colorado to Santa Fe, New Mexico via the scenic route through La Veta Pass. The aspens were turning golden in the bright fall sunshine and made a striking contrast to the lodge pole pines and other evergreens.
Along the way we passed historic Fort Garland, an Old West Army post saved from ruin by local activists. The fort is actually a collection of adobe buildings, arranged in a rectangle around a tree-lined parade ground without walls. We toured the officers’ quarters — now the museum shop — commandant’s quarters and the two barracks buildings: one for a company of cavalry and one for a company of infantry.
After the Civil War, the post was commanded for a year by Kit Carson, the mountain man and trapper turned Army officer. Carson is famous/or infamous (depending on your point of view) for subduing the Navaho (Dine) tribe in the mid-1860s. Troops from Fort Garland took part in the 1862 battle of Glorieta Pass, in which union troops — assisted by volunteers from the Colorado and New Mexico territories prevented Confederates who marched up from El Paso, Texas from invading Colorado and seizing its rich gold and silver mines. (Think of the impact that might have had on the Civil War).
For about three years in the 1870s the fort was garrisoned by troopers of the 9th Cavalry, one of two all black cavalry regiments formed after the Civil War. The Buffalo Soldiers, as they were known, patrolled the San Luis Valley keeping Ute Indians and encroaching white miners, ranchers and traders away from each other’s throats. There was no need for Army protection by the early 1880s and the post was closed in 1883.
SHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.