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Along the Texas Forts Trail

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"You don't curl up with this book„you get in your car with it and start driving . . . We set out one blustery March morning to trace the northernmost section of the Texas Forts Trail beginning at Jacksboro. The drive northwest from Dallas grew downright scenic once we reached Bridgeport, and soon thereafter began to reveal some of the prettiest Texas hill country north of Kerrville.

The task of providing military defense for the Texas Frontier was never an easy one because the territory was claimed by some of the greatest querrilla fighters of all times—the Comanches, Kiowas, Apaches, and Lipans. Protecting a line running from the Red River southwest to El Paso was an impossible task, but following the Mexican War the federal government attempted to do so by establishing a line of forts. During the Civil War the forts were virtually abandoned and the Indians once again ruled the area. Following the war when the military began to restore the old forts, they found that the Indians no longer fought with bows and arrows but shouldered the latest firearms. With their new weapons the Indians were able to inflict tremendous destruction, bringing demands from settlers for more protection. In the summer of 1866 a new line of forts appeared through central Texas under the leadership of General Philip H. Sheridan, commander of federal forces in Louisiana and Texas. Guardians of a raw young land and focal points of high adventure, the old forts were indispensable in their day of service and it is fitting that they be preserved. In and around the forts and along the route of the Texas Forts Trail, history is abundant and enduring. Historian Rupert Richardson first wrote the travel guide of the fort locations for the Texas Highway Department. B. W. Aston and Donathan Taylor took the original version and revised and expanded it, giving additional historical information on the forts and their role in frontier defense, making this a valuable historical resource as well as a travel guide to the forts and surrounding towns.

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FORT RICHARDSON

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Fort

Richardson

The northernmost fort of the line to be established was Fort Richardson, located near Jacksboro on US Highway 281, 62 miles northwest of Fort Worth.

Jacksboro and Jack County were named after two Texas Revolutionary patriots, brothers William H. and Patrick C. Jack. The brothers were from a family of patriots. Their grandfather, Captain James Jack of Mecklenburg, North Carolina, was one of the signers of the famous Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence during the American Revolution. Their father, Patrick Jack, a prominent lawyer in Wilkes County, Georgia, was an officer in the War of 1812. The Jack brothers both graduated from the University of Georgia with law degrees, and shortly afterward headed for Texas. William arrived in San Felipe in 1830, and was joined by Patrick in 1832. Patrick was arrested with William B. Travis at Anahuac in 1832; William was with Sam Houston at San Jacinto.

After the war, Patrick served in the Texas House and as District Judge of the Sixth District. William served as Secretary of State under Burnet in 1836, and served terms in both the Texas House and Senate. The brothers died of yellow fever in 1844.

 

FORT BELKNAP

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Fort

Belknap

Southward from Jacksboro take Highway 4 to Graford, which takes its name from its position halfway between Graham and Weatherford.

The first settler of the community was George R. Bevers in 1854, who located at Flat Rock Crossing on Big Keechi Creek, three miles east. This became a well-known stopping place on the road between Weatherford and Fort Belknap. Today there is not much in Graford although it is the home of Big Tex porkskins. Other than for the scenic drive, you might want to bypass Graford and go straight to Graham from Jacksboro along Highway 380.

From Graford take either Highway 337, the man direct, route to Graham, or Highway 16 which stays on the Forts Trail along the west side of Possum Kingdom.

Graham was founded in 1872 by Gustavus and Edwin S. Graham, and it soon became a mercantile and milling center. The Cattle Raisers Association of Texas, which was the predecessor of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, was organized here in 1877.

 

FORT GRIFFIN

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Fort

Griffin

From Fort Belknap, take Highway 380 west to Throckmorton.

Frontier history looms great in Throckmorton County, where Throckmorton was established in 1879 as the county seat. The old military road from Fort Belknap to Forts Phantom Hill and Chadbourne, a route followed by the Butterfield Overland Mail, ran through its southeast corner. The trail, made by Captain R. B. Marcy on his return from Santa Fe in 1849 and followed by hundreds of California-bound emigrants in the 1850s, ran nearer to the center of the county. Near the southern boundary of the county—the Throckmorton-Shackelford line—is the site of the Comanche Indian Reservation, where from 1855 to 1859 several hundred Comanche Indians were maintained and given a start on the white man’s road. These Indians were blamed for the atrocities of their wild kinsmen. The fury of the frontier white people was turned against them, and, like the agricultural Indians on the Brazos Reservation, they were moved to the Indian Territory in 1859. The presence of the Indian reservation and Camp Cooper brought a few settlers to the region, with the 1860 census recording 124 people in the area of Throckmorton County.

 

FORT PHANTOM HILL

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Fort

Phantom Hill

Continue along Highway 283 from Fort Griffin straight into Albany.

Albany became the county seat of Shackelford County in 1874, and soon overtook and passed Fort Griffin in population and business. Sallie Reynolds Matthews lived here, whose life story, along with that of the community, is related in a frontier classic, Interwoven. The title comes from the intermarriage of members of two outstanding families of the county, Matthews and Reynolds.

Albany’s awareness of its past is immediately noticeable in the historical preservation in the town. Also Albany produces the “Fort Griffin Fandangle” each year, an historical pageant put on by home talent. In the early 1930s, Robert Nail, a Princeton graduate in drama and a Phi Beta Kappa, began to apply his talent to the fascinating story of the Clear Fork country frontier. Through the years he made the production an event of renown. Since his death his associates have continued this fine production.

 

FORT CHADBOURNE

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Fort

Chadbourne

From Winters head west along Highway 153, then northwest on 153 by Wingate to U.S. Highway 77. Go southwest here for a few miles and you will pass the site of Fort Chadbourne. The site, a half mile to the southeast of the road, is on private land, and the owner has basically closed the site to the public.

Fort Chadbourne, established in October 1852, by Companies A and K of the Eighth U.S. Infantry, was named for Lieutenant Theodore L. Chadbourne who was killed at the Battle of Rasaca de la Palma during the Mexican War. The fort served as a station on the Butterfield Overland Mail line and remained an active post for almost a decade before federal troops abandoned the site on March 23, 1861, on the eve of the Civil War. The site was then taken over by Henry E. McCulloch, commissioner for Texas. Following a six-year absence United States troops reoccupied the post for a short period after the war, beginning on May 25, 1867, and concluding the following December.

 

FORT CONCHO

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Fort

Concho

During the 1860s Charles Goodnight, Oliver Loving, and others drove large cattle herds to New Mexico and Colorado along the Butterfield Trail, and Indian activity once again became a problem in the region. The Comanches were bellicose, and need of military protection along the upper Concho River country was imperative. Fort Chadbourne, which had more than four hundred troops, provided some security for a period, but it was not located where protection was needed most. Furthermore, the fort continued to suffer from the persistent problem of an inadequate water supply.

Accordingly, in November 1867, an army locating party selected a new site at the junction of the Concho Rivers, where the main (North) branch of the Concho joins the waters of the Middle Concho, Dove Creek, Spring Creek, and South Concho. This location served as the site for construction of a new fort to replace Chadbourne. The post was established in December as Camp Hatch by 388 men of the Fourth Cavalry under Captain George P. Huntt. The name originated in recognition of Major John P. Hatch of the same regiment. He respectfully declined the honor, and one month later in January it was renamed Camp Kelly in honor of Major Michael J. Kelly, again a member of the Fourth, whose death the previous August inspired the tribute. In February 1868, the post was renamed Fort Concho. (Bitner 1933, 10; Conger 1966, 89, 92; Haley 1952, 126, 130; Gregory 1957, 19)

 

FORT MCKAVETT

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Fort

Mckavett

Construction began on Fort McKavett during the summer of 1852, another in a line of new forts established to protect the westward advance of settlers and travelers through central Texas. The post received its name in honor of Captain Henry McKavett, an officer killed on September 21, 1846, during the Battle of Monterrey while serving with the Eighth Infantry during the Mexican War. (Sullivan 1969, 138) Five companies of this same regiment, under the command of Colonel Thomas Staniford, arrived on the banks of the San Saba River in March 1852. Orders issued by General Persifer Smith, military commander in Texas, specified the new post location at the headspring of the San Saba. This was initially adhered to, though by May a more suitable site was chosen approximately two miles downriver which afforded a natural spring and lagoon.

The post was constructed roughly three hundred yards from the lagoon and five hundred yards from the river, providing the fort with an unending supply of water. (Sullivan 1969; Crimmins 1950, 308)

 

FORT MASON

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Fort

Mason

Upon leaving Menard head east along Texas Highway 29 to Fort Mason, located on a hill south of Mason.

Mason grew up around the fort and became the county seat in 1861. Mason County was created on January 22, and organized on August 2, 1858. It is said that the first settlers who drifted into the region in 1846 were from John 0. Meusebach’s settlement in Fredericksburg. Because the settlers were beyond the protection of government troops, Meusebach negotiated a treaty with the Comanches to allow his settlers to live in peace. Unfortunately the peace did not last, and the settlers were soon demanding protection.

Fortunately, the United States Army was already developing a plan to establish a chain of forts to provide protection across the Texas frontier. During the 1850s, as settlers began to move into central Texas, an ever-increasing need arose for armed protection against Indian attacks in the region. To this end, the United States army established the forts at approximately fifty-mile intervals to provide a network of defense for the civilian communities. Fort Mason was one of the posts which provided this service.

 

Back to Jacksboro

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Back to Jacksboro

Fort Mason is the last of the forts on the Texas Forts Trail. From here the route travels north through central Texas to Jacksboro and roughly follows the military supply route to Forts Griffin and Richardson. Each of the communities along the way of the supply route benefited from the presence of military traffic as well as from the civilian supply trains traveling along the trail.

From Mason, head northeast along County Road 386 to Fredonia.

Fredonia was settled by W. L. and Samuel P. Hays in the late 1850s. After the Civil War the community began to grow as new settlers moved into the region. In 1879 a post office named Deerton was established, but the name was changed a year later to Fredonia.

The village of Voca was settled in 1879 by John Deans and named for his old home, Voca, Arkansas. Seven miles west of Voca is the site of old Camp San Saba, on the San Saba River.

From Fredonia, head back northwest along State Highway 71 which leads you by Voca in southwest McCulloch County.

 

Additional Forts

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Additional Forts

Additional forts in Texas that are not on the designated Texas Forts Trail but that will be of interest:

FORT BLISS

Fort Bliss, located in El Paso, is a U. S. Army post established in 1848 as defense against hostile Indians and to assert U. S. authority over lands acquired after the Mexican War. Headquarters for Confederate forces in the Southwest during the Civil War, it was later a refitting post for military efforts against Apache chief Geronimo. Today it is used as a U. S. Army Air Defense Center and for combat training for allied nations.

Fort Bliss Replica Museum is located at Pleasanton Road and Sheridan Drive, Building 600. The museum has a replica of the adobe buildings of Fort Bliss. A walk through the buildings takes you on a history tour of the fort from 1848 to 1948. Open daily 9–4:30.

Closed Christmas, New Year’s, Easter and Thanksgiving. For additional information call 915-568-4518.

El Paso

 

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