Digital Collections

Cantonment Burgwin Postings

About the Collection

Holding library: Fort Burgwin Library, SMU-in-Taos


The Cantonment Burgwin Postings digital collection chronicles the establishment and history of this small military installation in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains located 10 miles outside of Taos, New Mexico. It was established in 1852 as a cantonment to denote a temporary cavalry installation to protect the Taos Valley from the Utes and Jicarilla Indians. It was named after Captain John K. Burgwin, in honor of his death in 1847 while fighting during the siege of Taos Pueblo. The excavated, rebuilt compound was renamed Fort Burgwin in 1956 by Dr. Fred Wendorf.

About the Digital Collection

The digital collection is being created from two sets of documents. The first set, presented in Series 01 through Series 06, includes transcripts of primary documents relating to Cantonment Burgwin. The transcripts are held by SMU and the primary documents are mainly held at the National Archives and Records Administration. The second set, Series 07, was obtained from the Arrott Fort Union Collection (described below).

 Diary entry of James A. Bennett

Diary entry, January 1, 1853, by Dr. James Bennett, written while he was serving in the 1st Dragoons of New Mexico assigned to Cantonment Burgwin. (Forts and Forays A Dragoon in New Mexico 1850-1856. University of New Mexico Press. Alburquerque, NM 1958. P. 41.)

About the transcripts: The transcripts in Series 1 were made by anthropology graduate student Bill Westbury, who used microfilm as his source material. The transcripts contain monthly reports from Fort Burgwin, including early reports when it was a garrison in Taos in 1848. Westbury also combed through all the letters sent and received from Fort Union headquarters and other forts, transcribing only those letters to and from Cantonment Burgwin. Furthermore, he reviewed and transcribed letters that made mention of Cantonment Burwgin. As a result, Series 1 comprises a highly-selected group of documents pertaining to Cantonment Burgwin.

These documents are intended as a tool for researchers who cannot visit the National Archives and/or recreate the set of disparate documents relating to Fort Burgwin. The transcripts in Series 01 through Series 06 contain a large number of typographical errors that were created during transcription. However, we believe the inherent information is easily discernible and useful for background research in the study of Fort Burgwin and the U.S. Southwest.

The documents are structured in the following Series:

Cantonment Burgwin and Fort Union

The first six Series contain transcripts of virtually all of the correspondence, special orders, quartermaster reports, commissary reports and post returns for Cantonment Burgwin, as well as the letters sent to and received from Cantonment Burgwin and other forts.

The Cantonment Burgwin Postings in Series 07 are the official correspondence between the small fort at Taos and the main installation of Fort Union. Fort Union, built just outside Las Vegas, New Mexico, was established in 1851 as the guardian of the Santa Fe Trail. The Santa Fe Trail was an important commercial and cultural link between New Mexico and Missouri, from 1821 to 1879. During Fort Union’s 40-year history, three different forts were constructed close together. The third Fort Union was the largest in the American Southwest, and functioned as a military garrison, territorial arsenal, and military supply depot for the southwest.

These fascinating and poignant documents to and from the commanding officers include reports of battles, medical records and military history of the region and bring to life the day-to-day realities of Cantonment Burgwin, as well as depict the turbulent way of life in the West during the second half of the 19th century. In addition to the postings, you will find related documents that provide background details and information about the cantonment and its development.

By 1860, little need was seen for Cantonment Burgwin to continue operations and the post was vacated and fell to ruin. All of the soldiers stationed at Burgwin were relocated to either Fort Union or Fort Garland, or joined Civil War regiments.

A century later, archaeologists would begin to uncover the remnants of Cantonment Burgwin, which would ultimately be resurrected, reconstructed, and devoted to the pursuit of education as Fort Burgwin Research Center, and eventually SMU-in-Taos at Fort Burgwin.

About the Arrott Collection

Excerpt from a report of fight with combined force of Jicarilla Apaches and Utes by Lt Davidson, April 1, 1854.

The documents in this digital collection are copies of transcripts made from original documents, most of which are held at NARA. The transcribed copies from Series 07 were obtained from the Arrott Fort Union Collection housed at the Special Collections & University Archives, New Mexico Highlands University. The digitized transcripts are presented as freely accessible, searchable .pdf files. Paper copies are also available at the Fort Burgwin Library.

The late James W. Arrott compiled a magnificent collection of documents relating to Fort Union. His collection is housed in the Thomas E. Donnelly Library at New Mexico Highlands University, Las Vegas. James Arrott was a retired industrialist from Pennsylvania who moved to Sapello, New Mexico, near the ruins of Fort Union. He became interested in the history of the Fort and did research and reading on its history.

In 1950, Arrott began collecting documentary sources on the history of Fort Union. At his own expense, he hired researchers at the National Archives in Washington D.C. and between 1956 and 1958 he had typed transcripts of reports, orders and official correspondence concerning Fort Union prepared by several researchers. The majority of the transcription work was done in 1957. Extracts from the post returns were added in the late 1950s and early 1960s by William S. Wallace, Head Librarian at Rogers (now Donnelly) Library in Las Vegas, NM. It is these transcripts that make up the great bulk of what is now Arrott’s Fort Union Collection.

James Arrott gave the collection of transcribed documents to Highlands University in 1957. The finding aid to the collection can be used to identify other postings from Fort Union.

Learn more about corporate histories in these other collections from DeGolyer Library:

See WFAA news clips from the 1960s and 1970s in the WFAA Newsfilm Collection, ca. 1960-1978.

Items in SMU Libraries Digital Collections are digitized following the nCDS Digitization Guidelines and Procedures. Digital collections are created under the guidelines of the Digital Collections Workflow and Metadata Guidelines, or through specialized metadata profiles tailored for the collection.

Copyright usage terms vary throughout the collection. Each item contains information about usage terms. If SMU does not have the right to publish the item on the Internet, only the item's metadata will be available and the digitized object will be available on a restricted access basis. Such items may only be viewed on campus. When items are available for use, please cite DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University. A high-quality version of these files may be obtained for a fee by contacting

For more information about the collection, please contact