Fort Selden State Monument
An often-seen photo in World War II literature is that of General Douglas
MacArthur wading ashore at Leyte, honoring his "I Shall Return"
promise to help liberate the islands from the Japanese. As a young
boy 60 years earlier, he might well have waded barefoot in the muddy
Rio Grande River in Southern New Mexico.
Visitors to the fort are reminded of its connection to MacArthur, one of
the 20th Century's best-known military figures.
Fort Selden is
located about 15 miles north of Las Cruces, up the Rio Grande valley
near Radium Springs. You can get there on Interstate 25, but it's a more
pleasant drive up Hwy 185, which follows the course of the Rio Grande
Remnants of the fort's adobe walls remain, and there's a modern visitor
center with a museum housing interesting exhibits depicting life in a
frontier army post in the late 1800's. Visitors may view a short video
telling the history of the fort before taking a self-guided walking tour
of the grounds.
Fort Selden was one of a series of frontier outposts
established by the government after the Civil War to protect western
settlers from the Indians and from outlaws. The fort was built in 1865
and occupied off and on until it was finally abandoned in 1891. In 1884,
career officer Captain Arthur MacArthur was assigned to Fort Selden as
Commanding Officer. He brought with him his wife and two young sons, one
of whom was the young future general Douglas.
threat in the region was winding down. The following year, however,
Apache chief Geronimo and his band escaped from the reservation in
Arizona and began raiding along the borders of Mexico, Arizona, and
Southern New Mexico.
Walking among the stone foundations and
adobe ruins of the fort, I could imagine young Douglas MacArthur and his
friends running and hiding between the buildings, playing at Cavalry and
Indians, their imaginations sparked by the latest army post scuttlebutt
about the whereabouts of Geronimo. In 1886, a year after their escape,
however, Geronimo’s band surrendered, and life at Fort Selden probably
settled back into its normal dusty army post routine, especially
unexciting for boys on the lookout for Apaches.
Fort Selden was
laid out like many military posts, buildings arranged in a rectangle
with a drill field in the center. The MacArthur residence quarters faced
out onto the drill field, and are marked today by a sign. As a boy,
MacArthur probably watched out the windows of that adobe apartment as
the daily military rituals of reveille, forming the troops, and evening
retreat took place. In later years, Douglas MacArthur would march the
drill fields at West Point, first as a cadet, and later as
Superintendant of the academy. Perhaps the seeds of his devotion to
“Duty, honor, country . . . ” were first planted here at Fort Selden.
The MacArthur family left Fort Selden toward the end of 1886, moving
on to a new assignment. Douglas later went to a military academy in
Texas, then to West Point, and on to a long distinguished military
career, ultimately achieving the rank of five-star General. He served in
both World Wars and the Korean conflict. MacArthur was one of those
characters in history whose lifetime bridged two eras, from the final
years of the Indian conflicts on the western frontier to the beginning
of the Atomic age at the end of WWII.
Military history buffs will
especially enjoy a visit to Fort Selden. There are no camping facilities
there, but it’s just a short drive up the road to Leasburg Dam
State Park, which has some nice scenic campsites and RV facilities.
It’s an interesting and peaceful spot to spend a day or a weekend,
watching the sun set over the mountains and imagining what it must have
been like here in those earlier times.