Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Who Are The 67 Bodies of Fort Craig?

Late last evening, I came across an interesting story(1) on the AP newswire concerning the exhumation of 67 bodies which was done in secret by federal archaelogists near Fort Craig, New Mexico.

It appears that some graves had already been looted over the course of several years, mainly for the Civil War artifacts they contained. The archaeologists, working for the Bureau of Land Reclamation, came upon scores of empty graves, 20 of which had been looted.

At first I thought it odd that there would be Civil War artifacts buried at Fort Craig which is in Socorro County, New Mexico, but upon further research it makes sense. Many of the bodies buried at Fort Craig undoubtedly either fought at the Battle of Valverde (February 20-21, 1862) or had served in other locations back East. After the Civil War, many of the men who chose to remain in the military were stationed "Out West" at various outposts in what is now Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. This was part of the "Indian Campaigns" in various territories with purpose of containing Indian raids on new settlements.

No doubt the identification process for the 67 bodies will take years, and information such as census data for Fort Craig may be used. In my preliminary search of the censuses for the period 1860 - 1880 (Fort Craig was abandoned by the military in 1885), I found that the makeup of the residents changed quite a bit during that 20 year period.

In the 1860 census, there are 199 residents and the overwhelming majority of them are of Spanish or Mexican descent judging from the surnames listed. For this census, it appears that both Valverde and Fort Craig are used as towns to list the residents of Fort Craig.(2)

In the 1870 census, there are 239 people listed in Valverde with no Fort Craig listed at all in the data. In addition, almost all the names are of Hispanic descent which leads me to believe that while the military still had a presence at Fort Craig until 1885, the data for the military families must be listed either at one of the other forts (Bascom maybe?) or by the precinct number.(3)

In the 1880 census, there are many more surnames matching Roberts, Gardner, and Williams with many of the residents having been born in New York, Vermont and Illinois. Some of those born in the New Mexico Territory do not have Hispanic surnames leading me to believe that they were born there in the Valverde/Fort Craig area. The 1880 census lists a total of 141 residents of just Fort Craig.(4)


(1) 67 bodies secretly exhumed from NM grave, Melanie Dabovich, Associate Press article, retrieved on April 9, 2008.

(2) 1860 United States Census, (, accessed April 9, 2008, citing Census Place: Fort Craig, Socorro, New Mexico Territory; Roll: M653_714.

(3) 1870 United States Census, (, accessed April 9, 2008, citing Census Place: Census Place: Socorro, Socorro, New Mexico Territory; Roll: M593_896.

(4) 1880 United States Census, (, accessed April 9, 2008, citing Census Place: Fort Craig, Socorro, New Mexico; Roll: T9_804; Family History Film: 1254804.

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