This dissertation examines the conception, planning, creation, and management of Fort Union National Monument (FOUN) in northeastern New Mexico. Over approximately the last eighty-five years, writers, bureaucrats, boosters, and the National Park Service (NPS) have all been engaged in several different kinds of place-making at FOUN: the development of a written historical narrative about what kind of place Fort Union was (and is); the construction of a physical site; and the accompanying interpretive guidance for experiencing it.
All of these place-making efforts make claims about why Fort Union is a place worthy of commemoration, its historical significance, and its relationship to local, regional, national and international contexts. The creation and evolution of Fort Union National Monument as a memorial landscape and a place for communion with an imagined past—in short, a site of memory and public history—is only the latest chapter in a long history of migration, conflict, shifting ownership, and land use at that site. I examine the evolution of a sense of place at Fort Union in two broad time periods: the twenty-five years leading up to the monument’s establishment, and the seven decades of NPS management after it was created.
Taken as a case study, the story of FOUN raises a number of questions about the basic mission and meaning of NPS as a cultural institution and educational organization; how the agency conceptualizes and “talks about” Native Americans and the Indian Wars; the history and practice of public history; and how best to address sites like Fort Union that seek to historicize America’s imperial past.