One was as a reminder to the government of Mexico that this was now U.S. Territory. The Mexican-American War had ended a few years before with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, giving certain lands to the United States. Interestingly, the region, at the time, was part of New Mexico, not Colorado.
Another purpose was to maintain the peace. While the San Luis Valley had few settlers of any kind, it was still home to the Utes. With more settlers coming every day, it was a sure bet there would be run-ins Between settlers and the Utes.
The third purpose was as a headquarters for Indian Agents.
Unlike Ft. Garland, which was of adobe construction, Ft. Massachusetts was built of
wood. It is located at the base of Mt. Blanca and on the western bank of Ute Creek.
When founded, the post was commanded by Maj. George A. H. Blake. He had two
companies (Company F, 1st Dragoon, and Company H, 3rd United States Infantry) were
garrisoned at the fort. In total, 93 men lived inside the fort’s walls.
Like many old west forts, soldiers brought their families with them, and wives often
worked in the laundry, kitchen, and as seamstresses to support the troops.
Despite a military presence, the Utes continued to attack and raid settlements. And it didn’t
take long for things to go from bad to worse.
On Christmas Day, 1854, Utes and Apaches
attacked Fort Pueblo near
present-day Pueblo, Colorado.
Five hundred volunteers were
raised for a six-month campaign
and joined up with the garrison
at Ft. Massachusetts. One of the
volunteers was Indian Agent
and Famed Scout Kit Carson. Carson would one day command Ft. Garland, the post that
replaced Ft. Massachusetts.
After several battles with the Utes and Apaches, both tribes decided they’d had enough. The Utes eventually gave up all the land in the San Luis valley to exclude a one thousand mile square tract defined as west of the Rio Grande and north of the La Jara Creek. Eventually, the Utes gave that up too, and moved to a reservation elsewhere.
With that and a cash payment to both tribes, Ft. Massachusetts’s role in the San Luis valley’s taming begins to fade away.
Not long after it was built, there was a realization that the fort was built in a bad area. First, there was the matter of nearby hills. An enemy could get up on them and shoot down into the fort. The location was also harsh in the winter and became a swamp in the spring and summer as well.
In 1858, the post was closed and allowed to rot into the ground.
Today, there’s very little above ground to show it was even there. The former site is on private property and not open to the public. It is an active dig being done by my old school. Adams State University conducts an active dig to excavate and study the old post.
Link to an article on the excavation of the fort: