XXXCamp Purgatory came into possession of the United States Army as a result of the 1873 Treaty of Tarantula Springs. Apache victories at Petroglyph River, Tres Hermanos, and Salt Flats forced the Army to accept it.
XXXThe site of the camp was originally named "Pah-Go-Tarry," which is Apache for "Place Where Nothing Grows." This was shortly renamed "Purgatory" by settlers heading West. Their short stop at the site seemed like Purgatory. The first camp buildings did little to inspire confidence.
XXXCamp Purgatory became the first site of the United States Disciplinary Barracks, until General Sherman decided that if War was Hell, this place came a close second. He ordered the barracks moved to Fort Leavenworth. It was just as well, since the inmates quickly broke the one big rock at Camp Purgatory into little rocks.
XXXThe post next saw action during the Punitive Expedition against Mexico in 1916. National Guardsmen from Kentucky were sent to Camp Purgatory to guard the nearby border, and wrote home for corn whiskey to make their stay more palatable. A mound of empty jugs still sit in the desert outside the camp.
XXXDuring World War Two it was decided to begin antiaircraft training at Camp Purgatory. Soon the sky was filled with flak near the camp. The camp was expanded in order to support searchlight and radar units, and a nearby airfield supported tow target aircraft. Camp Purgatory was known affectionately to pilots as "Kamikaze Alley."
XXXFor a while some German and Italian POWs were housed at the camp because of overflow from POW camps in New Mexico and Texas. Escape attempts were rare. One Nazi soldier escaped as far as El Paso, but was quickly arrested. He was under the mistaken impression that he had crossed the border into Mexico and was therefore safe from extradition back to the U.S.
XXXThere was some talk of conducting atom bomb tests at Camp Purgatory towards the last months of the War. The camp was ideal for this purpose: isolated, with no population centers, no possibility of secondary fires, etc. Unfortunately, an Army directive passed in 1944 stated that "no improvements would be made" at the Camp Purgatory location, and an atomic explosion was deemed by the Army survey team to be definite improvement over the existing state of affairs.
XXXCaptured German rocket scientists were sent to Camp Purgatory and White Sands to teach Americans how to fuel and launch V2 rockets. Upon arriving at the camp, many of the scientists looked around and at least one muttered "Vell, it's at least it's not Siberia."
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXNot all tests at Camp Purgatory were successful...
XXXAir defense training has gone on at Camp Purgatory and nearby Fort Bliss since World War II. Errant missiles occasionally plow into the ground and antiaircraft shells have been known to pock-mark local mountains, but for the most part mistakes at Camp Purgatory have been inconsequential. The worst one killed a record three cows, two sheep, and one (probable) jackrabbit. Acid-filled missiles guard the skies over Purgatory.
XXXBasic Training has also been conducted at the camp, especially weapons training. One good thing about Camp Purgatory: after going through basic training there almost any new assignment was considered an improvement. Soldiers training in the 1960s to the command "Dump... flowers!"
XXXToday, Camp Purgatory provides an ideal place for the Army to train units in a cost-effective manner (i.e., without spending a dime).