CHAPTER 2: FROM RUINS TO A NATIONAL MONUMENT (contined)
A breakthrough finally occurred in Santa Fe in 1953. State Senator Gordon Melody of Las Vegas helped to sponsor a bill in the state legislature. According to House Bill No. 297, the state of New Mexico would authorize the state park commission to acquire the Fort Union Military Reservation and the right-of-way for access through eminent domain proceedings. Then New Mexico would convey them to the federal government for national monument purposes.  On March 20, 1953, the state legislature passed the bill. Governor Edwin Mechem signed the bill on the following day.
When the state of New Mexico showed that it could acquire the land without approval from the company, the passage of House Bill No. 297 conceivably changed the attitude of Andrew Marshall and the company from one of antagonism to cooperation. As soon as the bill became law, The Las Vegas-San Miguel Chamber of Commerce planned to negotiate with the Union Land and Grazing Company to acquire lands for the proposed monument by appointing two committees: a negotiating committee and a financing committee. In less than a month the board of directors of the company, who believed the establishment of Fort Union National Monument was inevitable, decided to "deal amicably" with the representatives of the chamber of commerce. They sent Marshall to New Mexico to negotiate. Once in Las Vegas on May 6, Marshall frankly informed Assistant Director Hugh M. Miller of the Park Service, "they would not again exert pressure to defeat in Congress a bill authorizing the creation of Fort Union National Monument...."  In the next few months negotiations between Marshall and Schiele seemed cordial. Marshall again raised the issue of the reversionary clause and mineral rights because the company worried about the possibility of draining oil out from under its adjacent property.  But the company's fears imposed no serious threat at the bargaining table. By late August the two sides reached a tentative agreement that, after local donors paid the company a sum of $20,000 for "damages," the company would then transfer the lands directly for national monument purposes. 
In 1953 New Mexicans made their third legislative attempt in Congress to create Fort Union National Monument. Realizing the significant change through the new state law and in the attitude of the company, Rep. John Dempsey again introduced bill (H.R. 1005) authorizing the establishment of Fort Union National Monument in the 83rd Congress.  To accompany Dempsey's bill, Sen. Clinton P. Anderson of New Mexico submitted a bill (S. 2873) in the Senate. With the absence of negative lobbying from the Union Land and Grazing Company, the bills received a warm reception on Capitol Hill. Meanwhile people in the executive branch showed their support, recommending the bills be enacted immediately. On February 19, 1954, the House Subcommittee on Public Lands held hearings on H.R. 1005. John Dempsey and Conrad L. Wirth, director of the National Park Service, testified before the committee. Both of them did a superb job in convincing the committee that the future operation of the monument would not be too costly. In the end, the members of the subcommittee unanimously approved the bill and sent it to the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs. 
Accompanied by a reversionary clause, which was acceptable to the Department of the Interior, H.R. 1005 encountered little opposition from the committee and passed the House in late March. Immediately, Senator Anderson urged the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands to support his monument bill (S. 2873) and to hold a hearing, which, he thought, needed only a few minutes.  During the era of the Second Red Scare, the McCarthy hearings had preoccupied the Senate Chamber in which many members "engaged in that circus everyday." Twice, Henry C. Dworshak, chairman of the Subcommittee, tried to set up the hearings on the bill and each time a scheduled hearing had to be canceled due to certain "difficulties." Finally, Anderson requested that the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs report the bill out without subcommittee's consideration. The full committee did so and sent the bill to the floor.  On June 15, 1954, the bill passed the Senate and went to the White House. On June 28, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed it. The new law authorized the secretary of the interior to acquire the site and remaining structures of Fort Union for national monument purposes. 
Along with this long and troublesome legislative battle in Washington, the main campaign for the establishment of Fort Union National Monument was taking place in New Mexico. After the preliminary agreement between the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and the Union Land and Grazing Company, the finance committee superseded the negotiation committee in taking a major role in the business. The finance committee was responsible for raising the $20,000 required under the agreement. In late 1953, those involved realized that a larger, independent organization was needed to handle contributions. Thus, a non-profit organization known as Fort Union, Inc., was formed to replace the finance committee in December 1953. The specific purpose of the new organization was to undertake the acquisition of the site of Fort Union through fund raising.  Recruiting interested citizens from different groups such as politicians, businessmen, teachers, and Masons, Fort Union, Inc., united all forces in the campaign in a coordinated way.
At the first meeting, on January 11, 1954, eleven of the original fourteen members of Fort Union, Inc. elected Ross E. Thompson as president, James W. Arrott vice-president, and Lewis F. Schiele secretary-treasurer.  Under the leadership of these three able and devoted men, the corporation launched a state-wide campaign to secure $20,000 to reimburse the Union Land and Grazing Company for their inconvenience. Since the proposed road to Fort Union had been approved as a secondary federal aid project, the New Mexico State Highway Department agreed to contribute matching funds of $10,000. Through its coordinators in Las Vegas, Raton, Gallup, Deming, Santa Fe, Socorro, Albuquerque, Roswell, and Farmington, Fort Union, Inc., contacted various companies, organizations, and individuals who might be interested in helping the cause.  Fund-raising efforts were also taken to the public schools. No contribution was too small to be accepted. For example, Castle Junior High School of Las Vegas in a poster stated that even a five-cent contribution would be welcome.  Each student who contributed would receive a small card saying, "I helped save Old Fort Union." By the end of 1954 the organization had already collected $10,076 after spending only $431.14 on office supplies; it had a net deposit of $9,645.61. 
In the meantime, federal and state government politicians continued to work out the details for land title and the access road. The chief concerns of the company were the scenic easement and the cattle underpasses. According to the agreement, the government was going to build at least three underpasses on the highway and prohibit all billboards along the road. On June 10, 1955, Regional Director Hugh Miller sent a draft of the deed to Andrew Marshall and the attorney general of the United States. Six days later the board of directors of the Union Land and Grazing Company voted to grant 720.6 acres of land to the U.S. government. The final deal came on August 24, 1955, when Ross E. Thompson, on behalf of Fort Union, Inc., turned over to Marshall two checks totaling $10,000. On the following day the deed was recorded with the County Clerk of Mora County. With the approval of the attorney general, the U.S. government accepted the donation on October 18, 1955. On April 4, 1956, Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay signed the order to establish the Fort Union National Monument in Mora County, New Mexico.  The ruins of Fort Union officially became a national monument.
After the nation bid farewell to the frontier in 1890, the War Department abandoned Fort Union, once the largest military post in the West. The land reverted to the original owners; the adobes reverted to the earth. In the next 65 years the buildings at the fort gradually deteriorated because of natural attrition and human vandalism. Many people, however, were concerned with saving the old fort from further destruction and asked for help from the federal government and the state of New Mexico. From the 1920s, New Mexicans, joined by government officials, campaigned to created a national monument at the site. In 1956, after many defeats, they finally achieved their goal. The establishment of Fort Union National Monument was the result of an arduous and persistent effort by both the officials of the National Park Service and the citizens of New Mexico.
Last Updated: 22-Jan-2001