Built in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado, Fort Garland was a active US Army outpost from 1858 to 1883. It was originally constructed to protect the inhabitants in the valley and to establish the authority of the United States in the recently acquired territory, which had already been settled by Hispano pioneers from Mexico. The fort was active during the Civil War, during which it served as an important site for enlistment and rendezvous for the companies of Colorado volunteers heading south to fight the Confederate insurgents in New Mexico. Soldiers from Fort Garland participated in the battle of Glorieta Pass, which put an end to Confederate attempts to hold New Mexico or invade Colorado.
After the Civil War, the fort remained active and its soldiers primarily served to enforce treaties with local indigenous groups, especially the Ute of southern Colorado. During this time, the fort was home to a diverse group, including companies of largely Hispano volunteers and later the black Buffalo Soldiers of the Ninth Cavalry, from 1876 to 1879.
The fort was decommissioned in 1883 and the remaining troops were moved to Fort Lewis. The fort and its land reverted to local landowners, and the property fell into disuse. It passed through several hands until the 1920s, when the last owner announced plans to raze the remaining buildings. Locals in San Luis Valley formed an association to purchase and preserve the fort. In 1945, the site was acquired by the Colorado Historical Society, now History Colorado. By that time all but five of the original twenty-two buildings had either been demolished or deteriorated. The remaining buildings were restored and the newly refurbished site opened as Fort Garland Museum & Cultural Center in 1950.
Today the site includes a large parade grounds surrounded by several restored adobe buildings which contain reconstructed 19th-century army quarters, several exhibits, and a large gift shop which features locally-crafted goods and an excellent selection of books on Colorado and the West.