of the Santa Fe Trail
Ft. Lyon was once a sanitarium for those suffering from tuberculosis, including Kit Carson. Ft. Lyon is located off of Highway 50 East and is now a correctional facility but the Naval Cemetery and Kit Carson Chapel are still open to the public.
Charles Bent had been making wagon train trips for trade purposes for quite sometime before his brother William joined him in 1829. William began a life lasting friendship with the Indians during that time by successfully hiding two Cheyenne from their Comanche enemy. William built his first stockade at the mouth of Fountain Creek, now Pueblo, in 1831. In 1832 his brother, Charles, while visiting from New Mexico, was impressed and suggested they build a stronger stockade than log construction. They set out to find a location and met with Yellow Wolf, leader of the Cheyenne, and other tribe members, and selected a site near the Purgatoire River. A trade license was granted to "Fort William and which would later be known as Bent's Fort or Bent's Old Fort. To avoid dangers encountered on the Cimarron route of the Santa Fe Trail, travelers made it to Fort William and this new trail became known as the Santa Fe Trail Mountain Branch.
Bent's Old Fort was a major trading post for all, including Indians, the military and suppliers with Mexico. The Indian wars brought increased trade with the Army, but William disapproved. The Indian raids on supply wagons caused a decline in business. In 1849 William Bent offered to sell the fort to the army, but they declined in hopes that they would get it for free. The enraged William Bent moved out and blew it up with kegs of gun powder.
In 1853 Bent built a new stone fort east of the old one in what is now known as Amity in Prowers County. He continued his profitable trading with the Indians. By 1857, the increased Indian harassment prompted Indian Agent, Robert C. Miller to withhold the annual allotment of food, clothing, and other supplies. These good were stored at Bent's New Fort and William was concerned at the possibility of raids. Miller accepted Bent's offer to rent the fort and William Bent packed and left for the states.
That summer the Colorado gold rush began and spurred unrest among the Indians. A military fort was built a mile west of Bent's New Fort in 1860 to protect the new settlers. Major John Sedgwick Jr. was given permission to build a stone structure on the river bed just below the bluffs of the new fort's location. Reason being that Bent's New Fort had troops and military supplies stationed there. This new Army post was called Fort Wise after the governor of Virginia at the time. The military personnel called it Fort Fauntleroy. In 1861 the name was changed to Fort Lyon after General Nathaniel Lyon who had been killed at the battle of Wilson's Creek in Missouri. William Bent once again left this stone fort, and rented it to the Army as a storage depot and retired to a farm on the Purgatoire, to an area which later became known as Boggsville. William Bent's Grave is located at the Las Animas cemetery. The marker is pictured at left.
Colonel John Chivington marched his troops to the Cheyenne's Sand Creek Reservation on November 29, 1864 from Fort Lyon. At 9:00 in the evening 250 men set on a forced march of 42 miles to attack the Indian camp at dawn. Chivington and his men slaughtered more than two hundred men, women, and children which became known as the Sand Creek Massacre.
In 1865, Fort Lyon was moved, abandoned and units were moved to the new site near Las Animas in Bent County. A spring ice dam in the river which backed up the snow melt deep into the buildings prompted the move. Wagons hauled bodies of dead soldiers that had been buried at the Old Fort Lyon Cemetery to Kit Carson and then shipped by train and reburied in Fort Leavenworth.
Fort Lyon went from frontier fort to naval hospital, actually a tuberculosis sanitarium in 1917. The Veterans Administration took over the facility and grounds in 1922. Fort Lyon VA became a town in itself and it had a post office and two newspapers (at different times). The Fort Lyon News was in operation in March 1923, and the Fort Lyon Scout was active from 1925-1928. It was a psychiatric care hospital and later became home to many elderly veterans who needed a nursing home environment. Fort Lyon became a National Cemetery as well. Today, the hospital is still active. The Veterans Administration has sold the hospital to the Colorado Prison System.