Film Diary 4

Day two in the Gila wilderness, near Silver City, New Mexico:

Yesterday we travelled to the site of old Fort Cummins in the shadow of Cook’s Peak on the old Butterfield Stage/mail route. This awful place is literally in the middle of nowhere. The cemetery is truly a lonely patch of weeds where soldiers and emigrants are buried. For years their bones were scattered all across the countryside but later emigrants were offended by the sight and so the army gathered and buried them together. Standing under the harsh sun I felt the glorious images from John Ford’s cavalry movies slip away as I considered the terrible plight of the soldiers at Fort Cummins. Mostly black “buffalo soldiers,” for them it was a life of boredom and discomfort. At night they placed their bed legs in containers of water to keep off the red ants and hung blankets over their heads as protection against centipedes, spiders etc. Unplanned death was never far away and the Apache regularly preyed on soldiers going for water or wood that meant going beyonbd the perimeter of the fort.

Encountering the past is often life enhancing, as standing before the mysteries of the pictographs of early man was.  But Fort Cummins is a place of death and maybe always was.

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