THE ENGLISH WESTERNERS' SOCIETY

 

 APRIL 2018 BOOK REVIEW

This review first appeared in the Tally Sheet (Autumn 2016, Volume 63, Number 1)

FORT BASCOM: Soldiers, Comancheros, and Indians in the Canadian River Valley.

By James Bailey Blackshear. University of Oklahoma Press, 2016; 258pp; 11 illustrations; 4 maps; appendix; notes; bibliography. HB

Fort Bascom - named for the captain who was killed in 1862 while defending Fort Craig on the Rio Grande against Confederate forces at the Battle of Val Verde - doesnít exist, not even as a ruin. Thereís nothing to see, except a sign along the highway north of Tucumcari, New Mexico which indicates its former location. The adobe walls have been washed away...

Thereís not much to see in the literature about this fort either. There are two very dated works: one a masterís thesis [1955] by James M. Foster, the other by a Franciscan priest, using 'F. Stanley' as a pseudonym, and based on anecdotal recollections [1961]. So this present definitive inspired by the author's passing by the site one day, is a very welcome addition to the documented history of southwestern forts.

The fort was constructed in 1863 by General Carleton in what was to become a strategic position in the Canadian River valley, when the United States feared a second Confederate invasion of New Mexico territory from Texas. The outpost and its position soon became critical, located in what General Sherman described as ďan awful countryĒ, dry as dust and only a few miles from the western escarpment of the forbidding Llano Estacado (the Staked Plains). It became a base for the defence of Anglo-American settlements in eastern New Mexico and far western Texas, and for the efforts to control the Comanches and Kiowas. A number of significant operations were staged from the fort as part of the eventual subjugation of the southern plains tribes, one notable event being the first Battle of Adobe Walls.

Then there were the problems arising from the Comanchero influence. In a detailed yet readable fashion the book throws much light upon the fortís increasing importance in attempting to control and end the trade between the Comanches and the New Mexican Comancheros, and reveals how  strong the links were between them. It details how the enticements of illegal profits drew former military personnel into what was a black-market economy.

There is a corresponding history of almost equal significance. This concerns the hardships of life at the fort, which always existed alongside the armyís efforts to control the tribes. Blackshear well outlines the difficulties of actually maintaining a post like this in a hostile environment, with problems of access to water - which had to be hauled from the river - and forage, together with the poorly constructed facilities which often had leaking roofs. Then there was the monotonous duty which became a real test of endurance. Sheer logistics such as the crucial procurement of civilian contractors of beef, hay etc. were uppermost in importance. The expeditions and forays themselves were also logistical nightmares. Itís the stories of these and other social aspects of life in and around this fort which provide a thorough and very interesting outline of this relatively short-lived post.

Raymond Cox


 

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