Frontier fort to munitions fortress.
The National Park Service listed the Fort Wingate Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Fort Wingate was a 22-acre military installation in the foothills of the Zuni Mountains east of Gallup. The fort is bordered by Zuni land and Navajo land. It is readily visible from I-40.
The fort sits on land considered ancestral homeland to both Zuni Pueblo and the Navajo Nation. Over 200 Navajo ruins have been surveyed, as well as hundreds of Zuni sites, and over 200 ruins associated with the Ancestral Puebloans. The land is currently being returned to the Navajo and Zuni, with ongoing litigation regarding ownership and potential development.
Fort Wingate and The Long Walk
The official policy towards New Mexico’s native inhabitants during the 1800s was based on conquest and control. The commander of the U.S. Army in the territory was a proponent of forced incarceration on reservations. In 1864 troops based at Fort Wingate, led by Kit Carson, destroyed crops, and killed livestock and wildlife to starve the Navajo families that refused to move from their land voluntarily. The Navajo were forced to walk 400-miles from Fort Wingate to a reservation at Bosque Redondo. The traumatizing event is referred to as “The Long Walk.” Hundreds of Navajos died of starvation and exposure to the elements.
After four years of living in horrifying conditions at Bosque Redondo, Navajo leaders, including Chief Manuelito, traveled to D.C. in 1868 to negotiate a treaty with the U.S. government. The treaty allowed them to return to their homeland, establishing a new reservation on a portion of their former land in New Mexico and Arizona.
After the U.S. Army subdued the Navajo, they turned their attention to the Apache in southern New Mexico. Their former enemies became critical allies. The U.S. army enlisted hundreds of Navajo Scouts during the Apache Wars. Additionally, the U.S. Army used the fort to incarcerate Apache prisoners.
Fort Wingate become part of the Navajo reservation, operating as a police force for the Navajo reservation and the surrounding area. Additionally, soldiers from Fort Wingate protected the construction of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad.
Fort Wingate in the 20th Centry
As conflict with the native population waned, the U.S. Army decommissioned the fort in 1912. However, the United States Ordnance Department reactivated the fort as the Wingate Ordnance Depot. They decided to move the depot closer to the train tracks in 1925 and a Navajo school took over the buildings.
Fort Wingate supplied 100 tons of Composition B high explosives to the Manhattan Project for the first atomic bomb. Additionally, the Navajo Code Talkers trained at Fort Wingate during World War II. The code talkers are credited with shifting the tides of the war in the Pacific by creating a code based on the Navajo language that stymied the Japanese. The fort remained a major weapons depot until it was abandoned in 1993.
The fort’s parade grounds are intact, as well as several historic structures, including an 1883 adobe clubhouse, one barracks, and a row of c.1900 officers’ quarters. The Bureau of Indian Affairs demolished many of the fort’s historic buildings in the late 1950s to build the Wingate Elementary School. The first school’s barn and silos, power house, and maintenance building remain.
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