Our towns: Fort Sumner has celebrated history

De Baca County Chamber of Commerce: Courtesy photo The site of the Billy the Kid tombstone is one of the many tourist attractions in Fort Sumner, along with the Billy the Kid Museum, Bosque Redondo Memorial, the Pecos River and more. Fort Sumner Community Development Corporation Executive Director Allen Sparks said the town is also full of agriculture and a great school system.

Alisa Boswell

Fort Sumner is a town with a lot of history and some rough beginnings. In 1862, Congress authorized establishing a military fort to protect a new Indian reservation, Bosque Redondo. It was the first Indian reservation west of Indian territory (Oklahoma), and the purpose of the reservation was to civilize the Navajo and Apache by turning them into farmers and giving them religion.

“For some 10,000 Navajo and hundreds of Mescalero Apache, Manifest Destiny meant death or imprisonment on the ill-fated million-acre Bosque Redondo Indian Reservation,” reads a historical account at the De Baca County Chamber of Commerce.

Over the years, Fort Sumner has become a community rich with agriculture.

“The people are primarily farmers and ranchers,” said Allen Sparks, executive director of the Fort Sumner Community Development Corporation. “In the past, it has been a close-knit community. They are friendly and they are caring and help each other.”

Along with the vast agriculture in the area, Fort Sumner has even more history to offer with the detailed story of Billy the Kid, who often came back to Fort Sumner during his lifetime and died there.

Sparks said with how many people outside Fort Sumner take interest in Billy the Kid’s history, he hopes to one day get residents more interested as well.

“People in France and around the world all know more about Billy the Kid than we do,” Sparks said with a small laugh. “There could be more revenue tied up in Billy the Kid, but the local people don’t really care if he’s exploited or not.”

Chamber of Commerce Clerk Brittany Starritt said despite the lack of knowledge of some locals, the Billy the Kid Museum has a lot of facts and Fort Sumner history to offer along with some artifacts and the Billy the Kid Tombstone.

As part of the annual June event, Old Fort Days, residents participate in the Billy the Kid Tombstone Run where they run a race while holding an 80 pound tombstone.

Sparks said it was a tradition started from the fact that Billy’s tombstone was stolen several times.

Sparks said along with agriculture, the other major part of Fort Sumner is its school system.

“Most of Fort Sumner is centered around the school,” Sparks said. “Fort Sumner has won state in all our athletic categories many times. We’re very proud of our athletic programs.”

He said along with a good school system, the town being small and close knit means there is very little crime.

“When a kid goes to one side of town and does something bad, his parents will know he did it before he gets to the other side of town. There’s no graffiti and no gangs,” Sparks said. “It’s a really good place to live.”