December 11, 2021
The history museum in Deming has a large room devoted to military artifacts, reflecting the U.S. military’s impact in this part of southwestern New Mexico dating back to the U.S. Civil War period – and those from the Deming area who later served their country around the world.
There’s an extensive exhibit covering, and scale diorama depicting, Fort Cummings, which was established about 20 miles north of Deming in 1863. Its primary purpose as a U.S. Army outpost was to protect people moving to California on the Southern Emigrant Trail and travelers on the Butterfield Overland Stage line. The fort, established on Oct. 2, 1863, was near Cooke’s Spring, the only source of fresh water between this area and Mesilla, about 70 miles to the east. The spring, along with many other natural features in the area, was named for Philip St. George Cooke, a U.S. Army general who served in the Civil War and is referred to as the “father of the U.S. Cavalry.” His contributions to the war were overshadowed by those of his son-in-law, J.E.B. Stuart, an officer in the army of the Confederate States of America.
The fort north of present-day Deming was named for Major Joseph Cummings, who was killed by Native Americans. It was made of adobe bricks and was in service for 10 years until being abandoned in 1873.
Camp Cody, active from 1916 to 1919, was established in northwest Deming to provide basic training to National Guard units from the Dakotas, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Iowa prior to their deployment to service in France. The camp was first established as Camp Brooks during the Mexican Border War (1910-1919), in which the United States sent troops into Mexico (more on that in a later posting), then the name was changed to Camp Deming at the outset of World War I. Upon the death of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody in 1917, the name was changed for the final time. At its highest level of activity, Camp Cody accommodated 30,000 troops.
The camp was also intended to minimize the threat of Mexico, 30 miles to the south, from becoming active in World War I.
Deming Army Air Corps Field
The clear skies and mild weather of southwest New Mexico allowed the U.S. Army Air Corps, which later became the U.S. Air Force, to develop a bomber training base two miles southeast of Deming in 1942. By the end of the war in 1945, about 12,000 cadets graduated from the training program. The airfield was deactivated in 1945 and today serves as the city’s municipal airport, averaging about 80 flight operations a day.
There is also a significant amount of memorabilia from other wars and conflicts in which people from Deming served, ranging from the U.S. Civil War on through the 21st-century wars in the Middle East. There are uniforms, banners, military equipment, journals and diaries and letters to home – all of which tell a continuing story of individuals from southwest New Mexico who served their country.
Outside Exhibits in Veterans’ Park
Fitting its name, Veterans Park has several memorials to soldiers who served in World War II and other conflicts. Following the surrender of U.S. forces after the three-month-long Battle of Bataan in April 1942, between 60,000 and 80,000 U.S. and Filipino prisoners of war were transferred over land to camps. Many of the prisoners marched until they died; estimates of the deaths range from 5,000 to 18,000 Filipinos and 500 to 800 Americans. An outsized number of the troops involved with the operations in Bataan were from the 200th/515th Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft Regiments comprised mainly of New Mexican men. In fact, many of the soldiers initially signed up for service in World War II just a few steps away from the location of this monument, in the former National Guard armory that now serves as the Deming museum.
Southwestern New Mexico, and Deming in particular, has a very rich history of U.S. military contributions, beginning with the U.S. Civil War era and continuing to today. Exhibits like these helps us remember their service.