CHAPTER 4: INTERPRETATION AND VISITATION (continued)
Beginning in 1957, full-scale research into Fort Union's past took the lead in all interpretive activities. As soon as Mawson became acquainted with the area, he set to work on the James W. Arrott Collection at the Rodgers Library at New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas. The study of historical documents significantly improved his ability to guide visitors and to answer their questions. At the same time, the regional office asked contract historian Arthur Woodward to write a book-length report on the history of Fort Union. Two years later, he produced a well researched paper entitled "Fort Union, New Mexico--Guardian of the Santa Fe Trail." It gave the most comprehensive picture of this nineteenth-century military post up to that time.
Two other frontier scholars, Chris Emmett and Robert Utley, were also working on the same topic. In 1957, James Arrott, a founding father of the monument, interested historian Emmett in writing a history of the fort. He spent eight years on the project before the University of Oklahoma Press eventually published his book, Fort Union and the Winning of the Southwest (1965). In 1959, Southwest Regional Historian Utley authored a special report, "Fort Union and the Santa Fe Trail," for the National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings. His concise account of the fort not only provided government officials with clearer ideas about the historical significance of the military post but also showed to the Park Service the potential of good interpretive material. In 1962, he expanded his paper into a handbook. Because of its solid research and colorful writing, Fort Union National Monument immediately became a popular handbook. Today, almost thirty years after its first publication, students and visitors alike are still enjoying Utley's classic work.
The study of Fort Union also included oral history. Since a few eyewitnesses of the nineteenth-century frontier were alive, the park staff, encouraged and directed by Superintendent Hastings, conducted a series of personal interviews with the people who had lived during the fort's heyday. As living archives, they offered valuable information that supplemented the written documents. For instance, 103-year-old Hough Loudin recalled the social life of the military personnel at nearby La Cueva, a former recreation spot for officers. The Reverend Jay Wilson of Laramie, Wyoming, discussed an early Protestant church at Wagon Mound. And Ramon C. Baca talked about the "good old days" at Loma Parda.  The oral history program continued until the mid-1960s when interest shifted to living history. By that time, the monument had obtained an extensive collection of tape-recorded interviews for its library.
In 1961, Park Service Washington Office Historian Roy E. Appleman visited the fort and inspected its overall development. He found that the "museum exhibits, self-guided foot trail, and personal services...[were] not only good but superior to most similar features and services in most of the other units of the [Park Service] system."  Within a short period after its establishment as a national monument, Fort Union had developed an interpretive program, which enabled visitors to experience the ruins in an enjoyable and educational manner.
Beginning in the early 1960s, the interpretive program entered its second stage, a period of refinement. Without any major change in principle, the program improved in many aspects. Because of New Mexico's large Hispanic population, the monument planned to provide bilingual services. In 1962, Ranger Patricio Quintana prepared a Spanish language version of the self-guided trail booklet.  Although the Spanish language was less common than English in the park's operation, Quintana's task showed the consciousness of the administration to a bilingual approach.
The dated English version of the self-guided trail leaflet received more attention. In 1967, the monument decided to revise the text and to add a colored cover. The Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, a non-profit organization of promoting national parks and monuments in the region, kindly handled the printing. In June, just before another heavy tourist season, the new leaflet arrived at the fort. On the cover, a picture of a frontier soldier superimposed on a general view of Fort Union. The new guidebook, as Superintendent Hastings reported, was spectacular, and the park staff were anxious to dispose of the old leaflets so that they could start selling the new ones. 
Offsite talks and presentations, initiated by Kittridge Wing, became more common and popular during Hastings's administration. In 1961, Hastings assembled a set of slides accompanied by a tape with a musical background for his standard slide show. It introduced to the public Fort Union National Monument, as well as the National Park Service at-large.  In the same year, historian Dale F. Giese of Carlsbad Caverns National Park succeeded Donald Mawson, who transferred to Tumacacori National Monument in Arizona. Both Hastings and Giese frequently delivered speeches or presented slide shows at various places such as New Mexico Highlands University, the State Hospital, the Mora-San Miguel Electrical Cooperative, the American Legion, the Las Vegas Rotary and Lions Clubs, the Masonic Lodges, Kiwanis Clubs, and Castle Junior High School.  These offsite presentations strengthened the relationship between the park and the community.
The monument regularly informed the media about its most recent activities. Accordingly, the press and radio releases kept the public aware of changing activities at the site. Meanwhile, the fort sought to reach larger audiences through either educational or entertainment programs. In May 1968, Clear Sight Cable Television in Las Vegas began a biweekly series under the title "Fort Union, New Mexico--Yesterday and Today." It aired through September and resumed in February 1969 for another season. The following month, historian Nicholas Bleser recorded a 30-minute program about the fort for KNME-TV of Albuquerque.  The program was broadcast on April 4, 1969. The footage of Fort Union also appeared on other television stations in the state.
The national monument needed more national publicity as well. Whenever a professional cameraman showed up at the fort, regardless of his purposes or affiliation, the park personnel offered assistance. As early as October 1958, a Life magazine photographer visited the fort to take pictures for an article on the old West. In July 1963, the Manco Recording Company of Fort Worth, Texas, filmed a documentary movie about Fort Union and the surrounding area. Two years later, a team from Screen Gems, Inc., shot film at the ruins to use in an advertisement for 1966 Chryslers.  All of these activities helped increase the national exposure of Fort Union.
Ironically, Fort Union personnel interpreted the historic site without an interpretive prospectus for eleven years. In 1965, a year after Giese left for the University of New Mexico to pursue a Ph.D. degree, administrative assistant Nicholas J. Bleser filled the vacant park historian position. He started to work on an interpretive prospectus and completed the first draft in March 1967. The prospectus presented three objectives: to explain the history of the American frontier, to stimulate the imagination of the visitor, and to provide access to detailed information.  It dealt primarily with the monument's physical improvement, such as the approach road, signs, photos, and the visitor trail. Although the 43-page document offered little in the way of new approaches or effective methods, it explained and justified contemporary practices.
Under the auspices of the prospectus, various improvements made visits to the park more enjoyable. In 1967, an army escort wagon and mule dump cart were placed in the center of the mechanics' corral. These vehicles of the 1880s created a vivid historic scene among the unadorned walls. Also, more than 30 metal photo plates featuring historic pictures were erected throughout the ruins for visitors to compare how the buildings appeared at present with how they looked in the nineteenth century.  A year later, park employees installed a replica cell door at the stone jail building and then added a new exhibit at the location of the Star Fort.  Piece-by-piece physical improvements animated this historic site.
In addition to the improved visual image of the fort, an audio system was introduced into the ruins areas to enrich the historic atmosphere. Park personnel had long realized that visitors often endured stillness along the 1.6-mile trail. The prospectus suggested that occasional soft notes of a bugle call could bring back the sounds of frontiersmen and their daily chores. In November 1970, the Park Service installed an audio system on the eastern end of the parade ground. It consisted of a recorder and clock-controlled speaker. The new device played thirty different calls, at regular intervals of sounds that were heard daily during the 1880s. Those "sounds of the past" gave the visitors a sense of the bustling activity of the garrison. 
After a three-year trial, in which the monument actively sought public opinion, the Park Service replaced the audio equipment with a high quality system. Following the suggestions of electrical engineer Daniel Zigler, the fort administration decided to relocate the speakers. According to the new plan, two speakers were mounted back-to-back horizontally on two 15-foot metal stands, running along the same lines as the top portion of the wall, which camouflaged them from the visitor. Elevated from the ground, the speakers projected the sounds much farther, to every corner of the ruins site. 
Other audio devices also served as powerful interpretive tools. In 1970, for the first time, the monument set up two small audio stations among the ruins to tell about the history of the post. Regularly delivering the pre-recorded messages, the stations operated basically the same as did the bugle call system.  After a test period chief ranger Robert Arnberger decided to place eight extra message repeaters along the visitor trail to supplement the existing ones. In 1974, under a $2,486 contract, Cockrell Electric of Las Vegas erected the metal pedestals.  Southwest Audiovisual Depot helped make the tapes, which featured first-person dialogues revolving around incidents in the Red River Indian War of 1874. Each station had a speaker and push button. Whenever visitors pushed the button, they listened to the conversations.  Together with the bugle call system, the message repeating stations further broke the quiet atmosphere of the ruins.
In addition to those internal improvements, good public relations were crucial for attracting more people. To strengthen ties with the local community, the park staff took some of the museum collections to various places in the region and set up itinerant exhibits. For example, in 1968, the fort arranged a show at the museum at Springer, New Mexico.  In 1972, a Fort Union exhibit graced the lobby of the Bank of Las Vegas and later traveled to the Southwest Public Service Company. The bank employees thought that it was "the best received display ever."  In the same year, with the cooperation of the State Highway Department, Fort Union placed new exhibits at the nearest I-25 southbound rest area to stimulate traffic flow to the monument. 
Meanwhile, the Fort Union staff encouraged people to spend their special days at the fort. From Rough Riders reunions to Boy Scouts' adventures, special events often took place in the park. In the summer of 1971, the park initiated a fiesta called "Las Vegas Day at Fort Union." On that day, the one-dollar entrance fee was waived as a gesture of goodwill to all neighbors. As a result, five hundred people showed up.  Because of the success of the fiesta, the park staff planned to expand the event the following year. Sponsored by the Las Vegas Fiesta Committee, the second annual "Las Vegas Day Fiesta" occurred on August 13, 1972, and included a free luncheon for all the participants. The delicious aroma of barbecue beef, posole, chile, and beans lured a crowd of 1,200 people. Many of them saw the ruins for the first time. 
Other special events included an International Student Day and a Veterans Day observance. In the spring of 1972, with the help of Highlands University, Fort Union hosted a party for foreign students. Under a contract with the United States Department of Information, Patton Enterprise of Santa Fe filmed the activities for Hurst Metrotone News.  Working with the Veterans of Foreign War Post 1547 in Las Vegas, the park invited veterans to hold the Veterans Day observance at the fort. On October 23, an unexpected snowstorm forced all activities into the visitor center but the spirits of 250 veteran remained high throughout the ceremonies. 
Among the special visitors were foreign journalists. As a presentation of the American frontier legend, Fort Union drew the attention of Europeans, who were fascinated by western American history. In July 1969, three members of the Italian television station RAT-TV visited the fort and shot film for a program entitled "The History and Legend of the West." Seasonal ranger-historian Lois Emrick presented a talk and rifle demonstration to the camera team.  In September 1977, a film crew from West Germany came to film the historic structures at both the monument and the nearby ranch for a public education television series in the fatherland.  Fort Union National Monument was gaining international fame too.
Last Updated: 22-Jan-2001