Fort Craig, New Mexico

Where is Fort Craig?

Fort Craig sits near the Rio Grande River about 35 miles south of Socorro, New Mexico.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) oversees this historic site, so it is not a national park. Click here for the BLM website.

Southern New Mexico’s desert terrain.

The site features:

  • Visitor center
  • Restrooms
  • Sheltered picnic tables
  • Self-guided tour on accessible pathways
  • Free admission

Why is Fort Craig significant?

Fort Craig was built on the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, which means Royal Road of the Interior Land. Following the Rio Grande River, the National Historic Trail runs roughly 400 miles from El Paso, Texas to Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico. However, the original trail began in Mexico City and ended at San Juan Pueblo north of Santa Fe. Explorers, missionaries, traders, and settlers utilized the trail from 1598 to 1882.

A map depicting a trail from Santa Fe south into Mexico.
The map below shows El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro meandering its way along the Rio Grande River through New Mexico.

When the Guadalupe Hidalgo Treaty was signed in 1848, ending the Mexican-American War, Mexico surrendered what are now the states of New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California, and Utah. The US paid $15 million for 525,000 square miles of land, which also included parts of Oklahoma, Kansas and Wyoming. Shortly after the end of the war, settlers began arriving in the new frontier via the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. Fort Craig was established in 1854 to protect travelers from attacks by disgruntled Apache, Commanche, and Navajo people who resented the intrusion. By the onset of the Civil War in 1861, Fort Craig was home to infantrymen, calvary, and Buffalo Soldiers. Just one year later, those men would clash with the Confederate Army in the Battle of Valverde.

This National Park Service image shows the desolate Jornada del Muerto.

Jornada del Muerto

Fort Craig replaced Fort Conrad which was located about nine miles to the north. Both forts were not only necessary for the protection of travelers on the Camino Real, but they also served as resting places and water stops for those who had managed to cross the Jornada del Muerto section of the Camino Real. Jornada del Muerto means Dead Man’s Journey and is a ninety-mile-long stretch of mainly waterless, barren desert. Still, with very little water, its desert wastelands, and sometimes rough volcanic terrain, the Jornada del Muerto remains largely uninhabited today.

Located roughly 10 miles south of Fort Craig, Jornada del Muerto Volcano is an eroding shield volcano that last erupted 760,000 years ago. Photo courtesy of Cody Boehne.

Fort Craig

Fort Craig was a self-contained community with a hospital, living quarters for officers and enlisted men, and large store houses. With such large store houses, Fort Craig, was able to supply other nearby forts. Children who lived at the fort attended school, and enlisted men’s wives worked doing laundry. There was also a sutler’s store which was a general mercantile usually owned by a civilian, a blacksmith shop, corrals, and carpenter’s shop. However, with the end of the Civil War and Indian Campaigns as well as travelers using train travel rather than the Camino Real, Fort Craig was abandoned in 1885.

The Ruins

Two of Fort Craig’s three large store houses.
This storehouse image shows the rock back wall and adobe side walls.

Store houses, which were dug six feet underground, had soil reinforced above-ground adobe walls and wooden roofs. The interior walls and roofs were covered with jaspe, which was a locally made type of plaster.

These crumbling rock walls are all that remains of the fort’s sallyport (entrance) and guardhouse. For a time, the guardhouse also served as a prison.
Remains of the commanding officer’s quarters.
These are the remains of the officer’s quarters.
These old adobe walls may soon be lost to the elements.

Towns north and south of Fort Craig flourished as trade centers while soldiers continued to protect travelers on the Camino Real. Although, when the Civil War began, Fort Craig would face different kind of enemy.

The Battle of Valverde

Edward Richard Canby, Fort Craig’s commanding officer, likely stood watch as Confederate troops gathered along the eastern banks of the Rio Grande preparing to fight. But Canby was ready. He had 1,200 seasoned soldiers ready to do battle, plus 100 Colorado Volunteers, 500 militia, and 2,000 New Mexican Volunteers led by Kit Carson. The Battle of Valverde was fought in February of 1862 at a shallow ford in the Rio Grande River a few miles north of Fort Craig.

This Library of Congress image shows the Valverde Battlefield.

Colonel Henry Hopkins Sibley was intent on marching his Confederate troops into battle in order to claim the New Mexico Territory which included Arizona. His plan was to capture Fort Craig, take their supplies, then head north to capture the territorial capital of Santa Fe. Sibley wanted to move on to seize Fort Union and then take the Colorado gold fields. By conquering these sites, Sibley believed he could easily take California, thus expanding the Confederate States of America to include west coast ports. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

Soldiers sketch of the Battle of Valverde. “Photo credit: Wikipedia.

While Canby led his men north into battle, Carson and some of his men held down the fort. The battle ended with the Confederates claiming victory, but they were unable to take Fort Craig. Upon Sibley’s command to surrender the fort, Canby refused, and the Confederates retreated. In all, casualties included the deaths of over 100 men, injuries to more than 200, and several missing.

Fort Craig Cemetery

Some of the Valverde battlefield casualties may have been buried in Fort Craig’s cemetery, however, the burial ground no longer exists. In 2004, reports surfaced of a man having the mummified body of a Fort Craig Buffalo Soldier in his home. Upon the death of the man, Dee Brecheisen, a Vietnam War veteran and Civil Air Patrol pilot, officials began investigating. Mummified remains were indeed found, along with some artifacts, though it was speculated that many other stolen artifacts had been sold.

Fort Craig Post Cemetery Report
Pot sherds fill a flowerbed next to Brecheisen’s house. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Authorities believe that Brecheisen had also robbed graves at other old forts as well as some Native American burial grounds. His obituary referred to him as a collector as well as one of the State of New Mexico’s foremost preservationists of historical facts and sites, he shared his extensive knowledge with historians around the state, adding significantly to New Mexico historical literature. Fort Craig’s cemetery excavations began in 2005 by archaeologists with the Bureau of Reclamation. Further excavations were made in 2007, and sixty-seven of Fort Craig’s remaining bodies were reinterred in the Santa Fe National Cemetery.

We would like to thank all of our followers and readers for your continued support of our site and for joining us at Fort Craig, New Mexico!


Do you enjoy Civil War history? Check out these other historic sites:

Antietam National Battlefield
Gettysburg National Military Park
Fort Donelson National Battlefield


Travel safely, y’all.

Mike and Kellye  


As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.








47 thoughts on “Fort Craig, New Mexico

  1. I don’t have much information on Civil War history, but I’d like to read more about it since it’s an integral part of American history. I feel I need to know more about what happened in the past to learn more about today’s America—but I guess it applies to almost everywhere 😊 By the way, I would love to visit Jornada del Muerto no matter how “deadly” it is as long as I have solitude 😂

  2. Thank you for this informative post! I have never heard of Fort Craig. Also, interesting to me is the Civil War happenings, including Sibley’s plan to conquer the fort. Living here in Missouri, I haven’t heard much about Civil War happenings in New Mexico. The twist with Brecheisen and later discoveries shows how a perspective of events can change over time.

    1. Thank you, Betty! There were several Civil War battles/skirmishes in New Mexico, but the farthest one west was a small one in Arizona. The Confederates must’ve believed in their cause to “grow” the CSA. Brecheisen’s looting was just astonishing to me.

  3. Those ruins look rather haunting in that desert/mountain landscape. Somehow we missed this even though we must, if it’s a little south of Socorro, have driven right past it. But I’m puzzled by the map at the top which seems to show Socorro in Texas – are there two towns of that name and the NM one not shown on the map?

      1. Ah yes, it was the NM one we went to, although I don’t remember it being referred to as Socorro Island, simply as Socorro. A friendly little town with a great brew pub!

  4. Such an interesting post illustrated with lovely photos.about Fort Craig. My son sent me some superb photos this weekend of Caldera NP and of the ski slopes near Santa Fe whilst he was making the most of his weekend off on his business trip. Have a lovely Easter!

      1. Indeed! If we can time it right when he is working out there again I plan to fly out and join him and we can then enjoy a road trip together at the end of his business trip. Fingers crossed!

  5. A rugged and historical place Kellye. Too bad it has deteriorated so much and that “collectors” opted to disturb the site. Thanks for sharing. Happy Tuesday. Allan

  6. This was really informative and interesting. To me, the ruins of the staff quarters almost looked like ancient standing stones … or the soldiers still standing guard

    1. Thanks for checking out the post! The climate conditions probably contribute to most of the erosion of these places, but so does vandalism, and the fact that they probably weren’t built that well to begin with.

  7. I don’t know much history about how the Civil War played out to the West, so this was a very informative post. Sometimes we do forget about the longevity and scope of that conflict. A shame more of the area could not be preserved better.

    1. Thank you for reading the post Bruce. I have mixed feelings about the preservation of certain places. Most of the time I would rather see the ruins than something that has been rebuilt. To me, the ghosts of the past still live in the ruins.

  8. Your posts always make me wish that you had been my American history teacher, I think I would have enjoyed it far more 🙂 This was a really interesting part of history to read on. I love the ruins against that desert landscape. I’m always glad when they preserve ruins like this because it gives such a better understanding of what it was.

  9. The story of Fort Craig is a fascinating lesson in American history. Your writing is evocative and engaging as always. I love the desolation of the landscape and the way these ruins seamlessly blend in with their surroundings. I’m trying to imagine a traveler walking through the Jornada del Muerto section of the road, such a hostile terrain never fails to capture my imagination. Life in the fort must’ve been very difficult indeed.

    1. Thank you for your sweet words, Leighton. The landscape will take those ruins completely at some point. I have seen parts of the Jornada del Muerto, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere in it during the hot months of the year.

  10. Fascinating read! I’ve never heard of that trail! One of my boy and my favorite restaurants is in Clinton, MO and is called El Camino Real. I could never figure out why a restaurant would be called Real. Learned a lot with your post. Thank you!

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