William Rufus Shafter and the Monument

Colonel William R. Shafter (1835-1906) was a United States Army officer in command of so called Buffalo Soldiers of the 24th United States Infantry Regiment in West Texas and the New Mexico Territory. He led troops during the Civil War as a first lieutenant in the 7th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment and for his actions received the Medal of Honor. He was captured by Confederate forces during the war and was confined to a prison until his release in 1864. Thereafter, he was in service as a colonel in the 17th United States Colored Infantry, among his other postings. He continued to serve during the Spanish-American War in 1898. By then he was about 63 years old. Shafter retired in 1901 and lived in Bakersfield, California until his death in 1906.

In the summer of 1875, Shafter was leading troops from the 10th Cavalry and 24th Infantry based in of Fort Concho. They were searching for Apaches and looking for water sources, the latter was known to be rare between the Concho and Pecos rivers. At a landmark then known as Dug Spring, believed to be located near the Texas-New Mexico border in what is now Winkler County, Texas and Lea County, New Mexico, they were attacked by a group of Apaches. Pursuing them, they came across a large spring in the New Mexico Territory.

Shafter is said to have ordered a structure erected to help make the location easier to find on the nearly flat prairie. Gil Hinshaw quotes Shafter as writing the following about the monument (1), “Monument Spring is so named from a monument I had built on a hill southwest and 1/12 miles distant from the spring. This monument is of nearly white stone, about eight feet in diameter at the base, four at the top, and 7 1/2 feet high. It can be seen for several miles in all directions… Monument spring is a very large spring of excellent water, furnishing enough for several thousand head of horses. The country to the north is for fifty miles, hard high prairie, to the south and west sandy; grass in all directions, of luxuriant growth, of the finest quality found on the plains; wood abundant (roots) for fuel, and good building stone in the hills near by (limestone).”

The spring was first occupied by Anglo buffalo hunters near the end of the years in which buffalo were plentiful on the plains. Eventually the community of Monument grew up nearby, thought to be the oldest Anglo community in what is now Lea County. The fate of the Shafter monument is not documented, but is thought to have either been destroyed and scattered by the native tribes or scavenged and used in the construction of early houses and other buildings by settlers. The image below is believed to be a replica of the original monument. No images of the original monument are known to exist.

Image credit: attributed to Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

(1) Hinshaw, Gil, “Lea, New Mexico’s Last Frontier,” Hobbs Daily News-Sun, publisher, 1976.

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