Fort Garland is the oldest standing fort in Colorado and it is home to a cast of characters determined to make sure visitors to the fort know how its inhabitants lived in years past.
The idea is to give visitors a living history lesson.
“It was put here among many, many other forts in the West,” said Rick Manzanares, the director of the Fort Garland Museum. “Really to secure that dream of westward expansion.”
For the soldiers and their families, serving at Fort Garland meant serving on foreign soil because it was not part of the United States at the time. And life inside the fort walls was not easy.
“The women in those days didn’t have a lot of social time with each other because their time was taken up with day-to-day living and struggling here out west,” explained Teresa Rudder, who plays one of those women. “(They) didn’t have the amenities that the women back east had.”
Rudder’s husband Jack also gets into character as an officer at the fort.
The most well-known of the fort’s commanders was Kit Carson.
“What he did have is a familiarity with the Utes, and he had a friend with Chief Ouray and he was able to promote peace with Chief Ouray and bring about treaties for the peaceful removal of the Utes as it was inevitable,” said Manzanares.
The post was open for 25 years, from 1858 until 1883, giving travelers a glimpse of civilization tucked into Colorado’s mountains.
“For those folks to be on that supply train and to come up over the mountain and to see this little fort nestled in this valley as a shelter, and it’s still here today, that is amazing,” Manzanares said.
Quite a few of the fort’s original buildings still stand today because of a preservation effort that began in the 1920s.
E.C. Corvdova and his crew continue their efforts today. Part of the work includes applying new plaster to old adobe bricks.
The dry conditions mean the buildings can last a very long time.
But a complete model of Fort Garland has been built so visitors can really see how it looked at its peak. The intricate details include areas like the commissary.
“There were none of the doors on the ground level and the reason,” said Doug Blake who spent five years researching the model. “The wagons would back up to unload so they would need to be above ground level.”
“I love this place. When I think of those here, I think of this fort and I walk these grounds, I can feel their spirit,” said Jack Rudder. “To me the importance of the fort is that we don’t forget those soldiers who served here.”