Topic ID #34895 - posted 2/11/2015 7:49 AM

2015 Field Season at Fort Massachusetts


Quick Details

Six miles north of Fort Garland, Colorado

Dr. Richard A. Goddard

Department of HGP

Adams State University

Alamosa, CO  81102

Office: 719-587-7267


Primarily Historical Archaeology Fieldschool

$800 total,  June 15th –July 22nd, 2015

Students provide own food and camping gear (tent, trailer or RV)

An optional field trip is offered during the second break.  Students split travel costs.



          In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo officially ended the Mexican War and the lands of Southern Colorado, including the San Luis Valley, were ceded to the United States.  The San Luis Valley was already the location of several Hispanic settlements that represented the northernmost reaches of the Mexican frontier in this region.  Five years later, the United States Government established a military presence in the San Luis Valley with the construction of Fort Massachusetts.  This fort was occupied for approximately five years before it was relocated further south and renamed Fort Garland.  Those five years represent a period of poorly documented changes for the US military.  Many of the details we would like to know about that time are only contained in the archaeological record, a record that is particularly well preserved at the Fort Massachusetts site.

Location of Fort Massachusetts:   The layout, and features of Fort Massachusetts have been lost to history.  Simply identifying, and mapping the outlines and features of the post would be a significant contribution to local history.  It has puzzled modern historians why the Fort was located where it was.  The location does not seem to make complete military sense.  We hope to gain some insight into the thought process of the Fort planners.

Fort construction:  Every fort on the frontier was constructed differently yet conformed, more or less, to general conceptual models used by the Army.  Specific details of construction for Fort Massachusetts are sketchy.  There is only one official map of the Fort that is known to exist.

Military organization:  The 1850s was a time of reorganization and change for the U.S. Military.  For instance, the typical mounted troops at the time were dragoons, not cavalry.  Historical records indicate that both dragoon and infantry units made up the Fort garrison.  It is unclear how these units were expected to function and what types of uniforms and equipment were being supplied to frontier troops at this time.  It is anticipated that the archaeological record present at the fort will supply some of this kind of information.

Lifestyles at a frontier outpost During the 19th century, little was documented about daily life at military posts, especially those on the frontier.  For example, military posts rarely were populated entirely by military personnel.  Investigations at Fort Garland revealed the presence of a number of civilians, a considerable number of whom were women and children.  However, since Fort Massachusetts was the first post in this area, it is unclear whether the same kinds of non-military personnel would have been present. 

Existing studies of women at military posts usually focus on upper middle class and upper class women who were wives of the officers.  Working class women have been largely ignored in historical and archaeological studies.  Yet, such women were present in the form of “laundresses.”  Our studies of this class at Fort Garland have been particularly revealing.  We know that they were present at Fort Massachusetts since the only existing map of the fort identifies laundress quarters. 


Academic Training


The field school offers 6 credits in history or archaeology at the graduate or undergraduate level.  Training is provided in a number of areas and a variety of levels depending on the research questions and material culture found in each season.  All areas will be introduced and when possible students will get hands on training:

Archaeological survey:  Students will be introduced to standard techniques used to find, recognize, evaluate, and record archaeological sites.

Geospatial Data Management           Students will receive training in the recording, management, and analysis of spatial data with an array of devices often including but not limited to optical transit, electronic total stations, Global Positioning System (GPS), and a selection of geophysical devices as appropriate to the work. As data is collected, students will be introduced to concepts of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as they apply to archaeology.

Archaeological Excavation:  Students will be trained in the basic procedures of excavation, including:
1. Laying out an excavation unit
2. Using standard excavation tools to dig the unit to professional standards
3. Filling out excavation forms
4. Completing unit level and profile sketches
5. Photographing the unit

Artifact Processing:  Students will learn the basic field procedures for cleaning, cataloging, and preserving artifacts for later analysis.

Archaeological survey

Archaeological excavation techniques

Optical and Electronic survey and mapping

Global Positioning System (GPS)

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

Field laboratory procedures

Artifact and feature stabilization*

Basic soil analysis *

Remote sensing *

LIDAR scanning *

* As required by the research





Students as young as 16 will be considered for the field school.  Volunteers may attend free and receive the same training as students, but only on a space-available basis.  They will not receive academic credit. 

Participants provide their own tents, trailers, or RVs (No hookups available).  They also provide their own food.  Various cooking facilities will be provided as will bathrooms with flush toilets and showers.

Participants will be in a semi-primitive camping situation in a moderate to cool climate.  The location is in a wooded area near the base of a mountain.  A mountain stream runs through the site and adjacent to the camping area.

Participants will walk the short distance from the camp to the site.  Private vehicles, other than RVs will not be allowed on the site or in the camping area.  Cars will be parked in a parking area several miles away.  Periodic shuttle trips will be made to the parking area or nearby towns to replenish supplies.

A wide variety of extracurricular activities are available during the breaks.  An optional field trip to a major archaeological site, such as Chaco Canyon, is offered during the second break.


Mandatory evening lectures will be presented by the field school staff.  Occasionally, lectures may be presented by visiting specialists.  Local historical reenactors will visit the site and provide hands-on experience with 19th century living.

Free time travel by private vehicle will not be possible during the 10-day sessions but will be possible during the breaks.  Local hiking or running will be possible during free time.

Students and volunteers accepted into the field school will be provided access to a restricted website where they will be provided additional information and where they can communicate with other students, volunteers, and staff.


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