Fort Garland Museum and Cultural Center, Fort Garland

#83 of 268 in Museums in Colorado
Must see · Specialty Museum · Museum
Western expansion fueled the need for frontier forts. The primary purpose of these forts was to keep the peace between settlers and indigenous people.

In 1852 the U.S. government saw the need for a military presence in the San Luis Valley and built Fort Massachusetts, the area's first stronghold. It soon became clear that the location of Fort Massachusetts was not strategically practical. It was vulnerable to attack from higher ground and it was too far from the settlers it was intended to protect. Brig. Gen. John Garland issued orders for a new post to be built 6 miles south between Ute and Sangre de Cristo creeks.

The fort is built of adobe or mud bricks, the local building material at the time. Exterior walls were plastered with mud, interior walls were plastered with mud and lime. Soldiers and local adobe skilled laborers built the fort under the direction of Charles Autobees. The flat roofs were constructed using large log beams called vigas andwith wood planks on top and then covered with dirt. It was completed in June of 1858, the flag was lowered at Ft. Massachusetts and Capt. Duncan marched his men to the new site where the flag was hoisted to the top of the new flagpole.

In 1861, Colorado Volunteers were training at Fort Garland. In March of 1862, they trekked through harsh winter conditions to join the New Mexico Volunteers, and the combined forces met the Confederates at the Battle of Glorieta Pass. The Union soldiers thwarted General Sibley's efforts to bring the Civil War to the far West.

After the Civil War, from 1866 to 1867, Christopher "Kit" Carson commanded the New Mexico Volunteers at Fort Garland. Drawing on his knowledge of American Indian languages and culture, he aided Chief Ouray and other Ute leaders in teh negotiations that created a Ute Reservation.

African-American cavalry men, the famed "Buffalo Soldiers" distinguished themselves at Fort Garland between 1876 and 1879.

Fort Garland was in use for 25 years, a long time for a frontier fort. The coming of the railroad and the removal of American Indians brought Fort Garland's 25 years of service to an end in 1883.

Five of the twenty-two original buildings at Fort Garland are still standing. Since the 1990s archaeological research has been carried out at the fort to determine the footprints of the original buildings.

The museum today is run by History Colorado.

Summer Hours:



9am- 5pm

Winter Hours:

November 1st-March 1st

Open Wednesday-Sunday.

10am - 4pm

Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Closed: January and February.

A regional museum of History Colorado.
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Fort Garland Museum and Cultural Center reviews

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94 reviews
  • This is a fort constructed in 1858 of Adobe bricks. Several of the buildings are still standing and contain artifacts and authentic furnishings. The Buffalo soldiers were housed here as well as...  more »
  • This is a well done museum and such a gem when one is traveling through this part of Colorado Fortunately, we had been told that it existed and it was a longer stop than we had planned because there....  more »
  • A living history museum and a quiet rest stop in the San Luis Valley. Go back in time and learn the history of the American military forts in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico. They tell it like it was with fun exhibits and occasional reenactments. Can be a quick stop or a longer visit, maybe bring a picnic lunch.
  • It's not a huge place, but the curators are doing a marvelous job in restoring it. I was more impressed with it than I thought I would be. The displays are interesting and well put together and there really is a lot to see and learn.
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