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[graphic] Fort Lyon

Fort Lyon, Colorado
Photos courtesy of Colorado Historical Society, photographs by Stephen Lingo

Fort Lyon , Bent County , Colorado

Founded initially in 1867 as a United States Army Post, Fort Lyon was a military-related site until its transfer to the State of Colorado’s Department of Corrections in the year 2000. As an Army fort, a navy hospital, and a Veteran’s Administration hospital complex, Fort Lyon was in active service to one or more branches of the United States military for 133 years. Several companies of African American soldiers were quartered here in anticipation of General Philip Sheridan’s winter campaign against the southern Cheyenne in 1868.

Fort Lyon, Colorado
Photos courtesy of Colorado Historical Society, photographs by Stephen Lingo

Some of the most active and significant troops of the western Indian Wars of the 19th century were companies of African American soldiers known as Buffalo Soldiers. African Americans were added to the regular army for the first time when Congress established four black regiments in 1866 and 1869. Two were cavalry and two were infantry, and in the years following the Civil War the African American soldiers in these regiments constituted about 10 percent of the effective strength of the army. Although companies of the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments and the four all-black Infantry units served in many theatres of war until the end of World War II, their service in the American Southwest from the late 1860s to the early 1890s played a major role in the history of the region.

The 10th Cavalry was engaged in extended campaigns against the Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho and Apache groups throughout Colorado, Texas, Kansas, New Mexico and Arizona between 1867-1886. Buffalo soldiers served in spite of extreme racial prejudice, and in some cases, violence at the hands of civilians and white soldiers. One incident at Fort Lyon in March of 1869, where white soldiers provoked a fight with some Buffalo Soldiers in a theater, eventually led to the removal of the 10th Cavalry from the region. Despite the racial divide, certain economic and military factors mitigated the resentment of local citizenry against African American soldiers in their midst. Merchants benefited from African American troopers, and the soldiers provided protection to the local citizenry. The Army fort, active from 1868 through 1888, was laid out as a typical 19th-century western military fort, possessing a central Parade Ground surrounded by Officers’ Row in the north, Company Quarters on the east and west, and the Headquarters building to the south. The fort was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on May 5, 2004.

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