With the Navajo return to their old country, there was no need to continue Fort Sumner as a military post, and the garrison was reduced to one company. These troops were able to protect buildings and government property, but were unable to keep the post in repair and soon the fort became dilapitated.
On August 30, 1869, Fort Sumner was abandoned and all government property was removed or sold. A year later, the buildings (not the land) was offered at auction. They were purchased for $5000 by a wealthy rancher and cattle baron named Lucien Maxwell. In the spring of 1871, Maxwell moved into the old Fort Sumner buildings and brought with him a number of Spanish-American families from his ranch in Cimarron. At the time of his death on July 25, 1875, Maxwell had a thriving agricultural and ranching enterprise that included 9,000 head of cattle and 17,000 sheep at Fort Sumner. His wife and son would continue his successful operations, as well as establish a homestead outside the fort with businesses, a post office, and a church. The town of Fort Sumner was born.
Lucien Maxwell had rebuilt the Officer’s Quarters into a 20-room house. It was in this house that, on July 14, 1881, Sheriff Pat Garrett shot and killed the infamous outlaw Billy the Kid. It is know referred to as the Maxwell House. A marker at the Memorial marks the site.
In 1881 the land surrounding Fort Sumner was surveyed and split into sections. Every desirable spot having water was taken by long-time residents or by in-coming cattlemen. In 1887 the buildings of old Fort Sumner were dismantled and stripped of timber. Everything usable were carted away and would be used in buildings throughout New Mexico. By 1890 nothing was left standing of the old military establishment. Over the years, the meandering Pecos River would destroy any evidence of the fort, except for the memory of once what was known as the Bosque Redondo.
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“Barboncito caught the animal and put a piece of white shell, tapered at both ends, with a hole in the center, into its mouth. As he let the coyote go free, she turned clockwise and walked toward the west. Barboncito remarked, ‘There it is, we will be set free.’”
—Navajo quote at the site of the Treaty Rock