Fort Sumner: More than meets the eye

Clyde Davis: Guest Columist

It’s a place where you stop for gas on the way to Albuquerque, right? Perhaps, instead of that, it’s a place where you make the decision whether you are going to go to Taos, or Santa Fe, or continue west on Highway 60, which can take you right into Arizona, a wonderful ride.

Isn’t that the place where the Civil War started? Oh, that’s Fort Sumter, not Sumner.

No, it’s the place where they buried Billy the Kid, right? Wait, I heard that the real Billy the Kid is still alive, that he never died and he is, like, 150 years old. My cousin’s best friend saw him once. In Lincoln, if you can imagine.

No, it’s the location of the Bosque Redondo, and that is nothing to joke about because it’s all about how Kit Carson betrayed the Navajo people, who thought he was their friend. Look it up if you want to read more.

Definition: Fort Sumner. A town that is in the midst of reinventing itself, revitalizing itself, a place where you can go and come back in a day, engage in a variety of activities, spend less than $10 in gas, and visit a community that is finding new life.

The beautiful old building that houses the Fort Sumner Community Development Corporation (and an art gallery and exhibit that I’ll speak of next week) was built as a bank, back around 1916. Not long enough ago for William Bonney but, thank you very much, there is more to Fort Sumner.

It’s one of those great old buildings whose spaces just seem to fold into each other, making it much larger than it appears. You’ve seen them used in such places as Austin and Ruidoso, and the plans are on line for this one as well.

Step outside, for a few minutes. We are on the road to Santa Rosa, having turned north off the Clovis highway. Simply Western sits across and down the street from the Development Corporation, toward the center of town, and whatever you are looking for, in the way of quality Western arts, furnishings and artifacts, you are likely to find it.
Benches with carved longhorn wooden backs, and comfortable leather seats.

Baskets, big and little. Frontier-style pie cupboards with punched tin door panels, crafted from distressed pine. Western-themed paintings, prints, bronzes. Crystal decanters and Colonial candles. Metal art silhouettes.

This has all made me hungry. Fred’s Restaurant has just the ticket. You don’t need to fight over the ticket, either, for the prices are reasonable.

Sandwich, fries and drink for under 10 bucks. Steaks under $15. Local foods such as burritos and enchiladas, in case you have an out-of-town guest. Kids menu, too, which is an important consideration.

The lake is back a few miles out of town. On my trip to look at the art gallery and exhibit, and survey the rest of town, I didn’t have time to go to the lake. However, I rode out there on a bike last year (from Fort Sumner, not from Clovis) and I can attest to the restored health of the lake. It’s a great swim and scenic.

Last but not least, Fort Sumner is home to one of those great old hardware stores. If you’re a fan of hardware stores like me, you’ll know what I mean, and if you aren’t — well, there’s no way to explain.

This would be a great time to rediscover Fort Sumner, about an hour from Clovis or Portales. Next week, I will focus on the gallery and exhibit, along with the driving vision behind them.