TRAIL of TEXAS FORTS
The frontier forts of Texas were spearheads of civilization thrusting into a primitive land. As settlers poured West - ever eager for new fields to break and sow and broader pastures to produce beef - line of forts were established to secure and protect the far-flung frontier.
The passions of that era were often volatile: frontiersmen on one side, tough and self-reliant, accustomed to taking what they wanted; Indians on the other side, savage and resentful of intruders in a land they had once roamed at will. Often in between was the frontier soldier. His hardships were many and his dangers very real.
Usually it was the soldier who built the fort - who felled the trees and shaped crude timbers, quarried stone, and heaved both into place with pure muscle.
Then when it was finished - by the time frayed tents gave way to rude barracks - he looked around and found the nucleus of a town. Farmers were plowing new ground; stores and saloons had sprung up. "Civilization" had arrived, and the frontier had moved. but the frontier's edge was still bloody, and the soldier moved with it.
More than 30 U.S. military forts were established in Texas, not to mention earlier forts of the republic, private bastions erected by pioneer families, and a host of much older presidiios (forts) from the Spanish colonial period. The Texas Forts Trail leads to eight of the famous frontier forts of West Central Texas and includes one of the ancient presidios.
For the Trail experience to be complete and rewarding, a copy of the Texas State Travel Guide should be used along with this information. The guide describes cities visited by the Trail, along with their attractions. The book and an Official Highway Travel Map are available free from any Texas Travel Information Center or by mail from the address at the end of this article.
The starting point is Abilene, the major metropolitan area on the Trail. The route description is presented in a clockwise direction. However, the Trail is designed so that it may be started at any point along the way and driven in either direction by carefully consulting the accompanying map and descriptive copy. See the map's legend for information about special Trail signs and arrows.
General.. The population is 106,654 and the Alt. is 1,738. Taylor County
One of the West Texas' busiest cities, Abilene thrives as a result of a combination of old and new economic, transportation, and social factors. In a county named for three brothers who died at the Alamo, Abilene remains fundamentally Western in outlook and lifestyle. Traditional ranching operations spread a hundred miles in all directions. The city is a transportation hub, and travelers find an abundance of excellent accommodations. A college and two universities accent the cultural aspects of the area. And, in recent decades, oil has become a primary economic bonus.
During the city's centennial celebration in 1981, a demonstration oil-drilling rig was set up on the Taylor County Fairgrounds - just to illustrate the techniques of "making hole." The demo rig struck oil...not much, but enough for profitable production.
In Abilene, visitors will find some of the best Western dining opportunities in the state. The city's features are highlighted in the state travel guide, and firsthand details are available weekdays at the Abilene Convention and Visitors Council, 325 Hickory Street, or the Visitor Information Center, open daily on I-20 at FM 600.
The first leg of the Forts Trail aims north, soon looping around a popular recreational feature, Lake Fort Phantom Hill.
Crossing the dam, the Trail leads to an attractive lakeside park, with a free public boat ramp.
Just a few miles north are the ruins for which the lake was named, Fort Phantom Hill. The fort burned in 1854, and solitary chimneys are the principal remainders. Only the stone commissary, guardhouse, and powder magazine are intact. Privately owned, the ruins are open to the public and offer interpretive signs. Fort Phantom Hill was never a thriving post, and duty here was hard. The post gardens were undependable, and pickles were included in the troops' rations to make up for the lack of vegetables. Historians say many desertions came because of the monotony and loneliness. More details about the fort's three-year life are available in a folder from the Abilene Visitors Council.
Leaving the Fort, the highway crosses gently rolling plains until near Albany the road loops down to the Cross Timbers region. This was once an area of dense woods, but now mostly cleared.
General.. The population is 1,962 and the Alt. is 1,429. Shackleford County.
A sign proclaims that Albany is "The Home of the Hereford." referring to the early introduction of that popular breed in Texas here. Other breeds now share this ranching country, but fine herds of Herefords are still prominent.
Sixteen buildings around Albany's many-cupolaed courthouse (1883) make up a national historic district. The museum the 1878 jail is exceptional. Read about it and other Albany attractions in the Texas State Travel Guide, and for additional information visit the chamber of commerce, in the old MKT depot at Central and Main streets. Open Tuesday thru Friday.
North of Albany the Forts Trail travels through gently rolling pasturelands, occasionally passing oil activity. Most of the pump jacks are relatively small, indicating that the oil is being pumped from rather shallow depths.
The site of frontier Fort Griffin. whose ruins spread n both sides of the highway, is a state park. First, visit the headquarters on the west side of the highway, where a model of the fort provides an excellent interpretation of the site's appearance a century ago. Around the grounds, historical markets and plaques give additional details.
The park headquarters also offers a slide show about Longhorn cattle. The state's herd of Texas Longhorns is maintained here. The big, tough, rangy creatures sparked the Texas cattle boom after the War Between the States. Returning Confederate veterans found a shattered plantation economy but vast herds of Longhorns running wild. The nation was hungry for beef, and Longhorns were perfectly suited to frontier range conditions. They could stand up the any natural enemy and thrive on native grass and brush. They required o shelter and could be trailed a thousand miles while gaining weight on the way!
But the characteristics that made the Longhorn famous also spelled its decline. The range became tamer as railroads were built throughout the state, and the nation's taste for beef demanded more tender meat. With fenced pastures, the Longhorns' primitive stamina was no longer needed. They were long of leg for months of training, but the trails were closed. They were heavy with horn and bone--a costly waste at the packinghouses.
And, they almost disappeared. Once on the point of extinction, herds like this one at Fort Griffin now perpetuate the proud tradition of the Longhorn. Probably no other animal breed in history had such a great effect on the economy, culture, and course of events as did the Texas Longhorn.
The herd can usually be seen roaming the Fort Griffin grounds, and to give passerby a close-up view, one or two animals are generally penned on the East side of the highway by a road that leads to the park's campground area. See the state travel guide for visitor facilities.
The post was established on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River in 1867 by Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis and four companies of the Sixth Cavalry (cavalry units were not officially designated as "troops" until 1880). The fort once had quarters for six companies of cavalry and a band, officers' quarters, storehouses, stables, adjutant's office, hospital, and guardhouse.
Cavalry patrols from the fort regularly scouted the countryside. Their duties included escort of government mail and not-infrequent clashes with hostile Indians. Although troopers could not always prevent Indian attacks on isolated homesteads, their swift pursuit and punishment of the raiders established a significant aura of protection in the area.
Rowdy Fort Griffin town once occupied the flat north of the fort's hilltop. Thriving stores and boisterous saloons lined board sidewalks. Buffalo hunters shipped more than 200,000 hides from here, and trail-herd cowboys slaked their thirst at the Bee Hive Saloon.
Disputes were settled in the swift and violent tradition of the frontier. Over a dozen years there were 34 public killings. Little remains of the frontier settlement. When the post was abandoned, the town likewise disappeared.
Between Fort Griffin and Throckmorton the Trail spans the low, rolling terrain of native pasture, thick with mesquite and small oaks. Through considerable effort, some areas, have been cleared to provide better grazing conditions.
South of Throckmorton, the Trail crosses a region that is of interest to geologists. Its structure is a Permian formation, rich in fossils and dinosaur bones. In prehistoric times, plants and animals thrived here in what was a verdant corridor through a desert, much like today's Nile Valley. Many fossils discovered here represent animals' evolution from amphibious creatures to land-dwelling reptiles.
General.. The population is 1,0365 and the Alt. is 1,441. Throckmorton County.
On the grounds of Throckmorton's 1891 courthouse is a marker about Camp Cooper, once located some 17 miles south. Founded in 1856 by Colonel Albert Sidney Johston, its most distinguished commander was Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee. A nearby Comanche Indian reservation was technically under the fort's protection, but the hostility of local settlers caused the removal of the Indians to Oklahoma in 1858.
A 106,900 acre division of the famed Swenson Ranches is in Throckmorton County. The ranchers were founded by a prominent Swedish settler, Swen Magnus Swenson, who came to Texas in 1838.
The Civil War years and Reconstruction were blemished by defeat and bitterness, plus and Indian menace that had gained strength while the frontier had little protection. About 19 miles east of Throckmorton two markers recall the bloody events of that period. Here at Elm Creek, Indians swooped down on a ranch complex in 1864, killed 12 persons, and abducted 6 women and children. Another marker commemorates 3 youths killed by Indians in 1867.
Just beyond the Brazos River crossing, the Trail follows a short Texas 251 to introduce the third fort on this route. However, travelers interested in historical architecture may wish to take a short side trip to Newcastle which once thrived as a coal-mining town. Prosperity faded when the mines closed, leaving interesting structures from a past era. The facade of the defunct First National Bank is of interest.
The site of fort Belknap is now a county park. Several structures have been restored, and historical markers offer a wealth of details. A museum in the large, two-story stone building (once the post commissary) is open daily except Wednesday. Exhibits include not only military items but also Indian artifacts, ranch and trail equipment, and a collection of early barbed wire types. Eighteen-inch lengths of rare barbed wired command impressive prices among collectors.
Established on June 24, 1851, near Newcastle, Fort Belknap was the northern anchor of a second line of forts, which extended form the Red River to the Rio Grande. The first, earlier line, which was some 80 miles to the east, had been overrun by settlers constantly pressing westward.
Selected in the green flush of spring, the first site proved inhospitable in later seasons. Two wells sunk to more than 60 feet encountered solid rock, but produced no water. In November the post was moved to its present location near the river, but water was still a problem. The river water was said to be too salty to drink, and nearby springs provided only a few barrels a day.
The fort became a hub of roads and trails, including the famous Southern Overland Mail Route (Butterfield Stage). Buildings included barracks for five companies of infantry, officers' quarters, guardhouse, library, hospital, and forage house. Married enlisted men built small huts for themselves and their families.
Among the commands at Fort Belknap were companies of the Second Cavalry, the most elite unit that ever saw field duty. From its officers, 17 generals served in the War Between the States, 12 with the Confederacy.
Fort Belknap was abandoned in 1859 and was reactivated only briefly, in 1867.
The Trail route between Fort Belknap and Graham skirts Lakes Graham and Eddleman. To the south are the scenic Belknap Mountains.
General.. The population is 3,350 and the Alt. is 1,074. Jack County.
Unlike most frontier fort towns, Jacksboro preceded Fort Richardson by a dozen years; the 1855 settlement was known as Lost Creek. Sturdy nineteenth century limestone buildings surround the courthouse square where the Trail highway turns, can provide information on the city and Jack County.
Indians threatened the post-Civil war frontier, and new Army posts were needed. Tentatively founded in 1866, Fort Richardson was permanently established in 1867 and saw more than a decade of distinguished frontier service. Now the fort is a state historic site administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Its original buildings include the native fieldstone hospital, morgue, guardhouse, commissary, powder magazine, picket-type officers' quarters, enlisted men's barracks, (which houses the museum displays), and the bakery where an average of 600 loaves of bread were produced daily.
Adjacent parkland facilities include utility-equipped campsites, picnic areas, rest rooms and showers, nature hiking trails, and fishing. An admission is charged.
Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie, who later gained fame as the leader of Mackenzie's Raiders, commanded the Fourth Cavalry here in 1871. General William T. Sherman, who had belittled the Indian threat on the frontier, arrived on an inspection tour in May of that year. A few hours later a wounded survivor stumbled into the fort to describe the massacre of an army wagonmaster and six teamsters by Indians...along the same road Sherman had traveled that day. Sherman's opinion of frontier danger changed abruptly, and he ordered Mackenzie to go in pursuit, but the trail was lost in a downpour. The Indians, led by Satank, Santana, and Big Tree, returned to their reservation near Fort Sill, where their boasting led to their arrest.
Satank was killed trying to escape, but Santana and Big Tree were returned to Fort Richardson for trial. The chiefs were convicted of murder and sentenced to hang, but a national outcry resulted in life terms instead. Later paroled, both violated the terms of their release. Santana was recaptured and sent to Huntsville prison, where he killed himself. The elusive Big Tree stayed free, later helping to establish an Indian mission.
The Jacksboro trials firmly established the white man's law on the frontier - a turning point in relations between the Indians and the government.
South of Jacksboro the Trail slices through a section of the huge Boonsville Conglomerate Oil Field. Heavy pump jacks nod on both sides of the highway. Here is prime ranching country. Geologically, the Trail is crossing a fan delta - lots of gravel, conglomerate, and sandstone deposited millions of years ago by an ancient river. This formation continues on the Trail to well beyond Mineral Wells.
General.. The population is 14,870 and the Alt. is 925. Palo Pinto County.
A well driller in the 1880's discovered mineral waters that made the town famous. Medicinal qualities were credited to the water, and the area became a popular spa. Minerals extracted from the water were marketed as Crazy Water Crystals, and the original Crazy Well is marked by a plaque at 109 S. Oak Avenue. Details about the city and its history may be obtained from the chamber of commerce at 515 E. Hubbard Street.
Lake Mineral Wells State Park three miles east of the city is described in the Texas State Travel Guide, as well as Lake Palo Pinto, 25 miles southwest.
Between Mineral Wells and Palo Pinto the Trail winds through beautiful vistas of steep, wooded hills. The Brazos River Valley (17) offers some fine landscape views.
In Palo Pinto, plan to see the massive 1880 jail, two blocks south of the courthouse. It's open as a museum only on weekend afternoons in summer, but the exterior is worth a drive-by look anytime. On the grounds is a dog-run log cabin that served as a ranch bunkhouse for many years.
Palo Pinto ("painted stick") is the seat of the county by the same name, which derives from the Spanish name of a local creek. It's also the name of a colorful building stone found in the area. Examples of the stone outcroppings can be seen a few miles west of town.
To the northwest are the Palo Pinto Mountains. They are mostly shale, typically with limestone caps that retard weathering of the underlying shale. Individual peaks include Crawford Mountain, Antelope Mountain (the tallest, at about 1,420 feet), and, near Metcalf Gap, Sugarloaf Mountain. At the gap, U.S. 180 continues on through the gap, but the Trail heads toward Strawn. where pyramidlike bare hills to the east are tailing heaps of coal mines. Mining in this area started about 1860 and ceased in the 1930's.
The Trail turns east on I-20, but the town of Thurber is just six miles east. Few ghost towns have more interesting histories than Thurber.
Thanks to modern highway engineering, the Trail climbs easily over the ridge of the Palo Pinto Mountains to Ranger. In years past, Ranger Hill caused many an overheated radiator, and for the railroad this was the toughest challenge between Fort Worth and El Paso, often requiring an additional engine.
General.. The population is 2,803 and the Alt. is 1,429. Eastland County
The story of Ranger's larger-than-life boomtown days is told in the state travel guide, but for a more graphic description, visit the Roaring Ranger Museum in the 1923 railroad depot. Historic photos, artifacts, and an old cabletool rig tell the story of this classic example of a boomtown (open Mon. - Fri. form 10-2; also Sat. 9-5 and Sun. 1-5 in summer). Across the street is a typical example of a drummers hotel. When railroads were the only practical mode for long-distance travel, such accommodations were standard fixtures close to almost every depot in the nation.
Between Ranger and Desdemona the Trail crosses a dam impounding Lake Leon, which offers picnic areas, public boat ramps, and marinas. Shortly southeast of the Trail crossing of FM 571, note a change in landscape appearance. The terrain exhibits much younger (Cretaceous) limestone -based soils "only" about 100 million years old. The gently rolling surface doesn't form cliffs; it is rich, excellent farmland.
During its oil boom days, Desdemona had the nickname of Hogtown, and old-timers still talk of "drilling in Hogtown," where, in 1919, 400 derricks were within a four mile radius of the town. Just south of Desdemona a historical marker by the roadside tells of Fort Blair, a private family fort established on this dangerous frontier before the Civil War.
Crop-wise travelers will note fields of peanuts in this area of sandy soil particularly suited to the lowly legume. Comanche County leads the state's production with some 43,000 acres, while adjacent Eastland County ranks fifth with 26,000 acres.
General.. The population is 2,150 and the Alt. is 1,268. Comanche County
De Leon is a shipping point for agricultural products, and the railroad crossed by the Trail in town serves just that purpose. It's the Texas Central which connects Dublin, De Leon, and Gorman, but locally it's called "the Peanut line" because of the immense quantities carried each harvest season. Another agricultural venture, just west of the Trail on Texas 6, is one of the nation's largest orchards - mostly peaches, but also apples, pecans, and persimmons. The orchard's 65,000 trees would make one row 236 miles long. The fruit is available at roadside stand in season.
Visit the chamber of commerce, at 404 Navarro Street, for local and regional information.
The Trail between De Leon and Comanche passes near popular Proctor Reservoir. A Corps of Engineers project, the lake covers 4,600 acres and provides facetious for fishing, water sports, and related activities.
Four public-use areas are at lakeside. Between the Sabana River and Rush Creek is access to Promontory Park, (also reservoir headquarters), is accessible off the Trail, on FM 2861.
General.. The population is 4,087 and the Alt is 1,358. Comanche County
For early settlers, Comanche's name was all too appropriate. Established in 1858, the area suffered Indian raids for 15 years. Today Comanche is a trade center for an agricultural area that annually ranks third or fourth in the state in dairying and is tops in peanut production. It's the Spanish peanut that is grown here, and the yields can exceed 1,500 pounds per acre.
The chamber of commerce, on the Trail highway at the west side of town near the underpass, offers information about more than 50 historical markers in the county, a historical museum, other area attractions, and recreational sites.
An excellent four lane highway speeds Trail travelers between Comanche and Brownwood. Mot of the broad landscape is devoted to hay and pasturelands.
General.. The population is 18,387 and the Alt. is 1,342. Brown County.
Watch for a pleasant picnic area beside Pecan Bayou at the Brownwood/Early city limits; there a historical marker cites details about Brown County. The city's chamber of commerce is at 521 East Baker Street, across from the coliseum, where a variety of events are regularly scheduled. Check for information about lodging, dining (some of the most famous barbecue in Texas), and visitor sites (the 1902 stone Gothic jail with its castle-like tower; St. John's Church, a Tudor Gothic structure dating from 1892; and historical markers on the courthouse grounds).
The Douglas MacArthur Academy of Freedom, described in the state travel guide, is beside the Trail highway (FM 2524/Austin Avenue) at Coggin Avenue, a few blocks from downtown.
Brownwood's eight city parks cover almost 300 acres. They include beautiful Festival Park, near the southern edge of the city, and Riverside Park, at the northeast edge on Pecan Bayou.
From Brownwood State Park, about 20 miles north. The popular recreational park overlooks the large lake and offers cabins, screened shelters, campsites, rest rooms with showers, and RV hookups. Excellent fishing; admission is charged. Take Texas 279 north from U.S. 67 to Park Road 15.
A major crop in Brown County is pecans. The U.S. Department of Agriculture operates a pecan experimental station in Brownwood, and occasional pecan orchards will be seen along Trail routes. Fall travelers may see odd looking orchard equipment - tractors with long metal booms that terminate in a crescent-shaped arm; they are pecan tree shakers. The boom is placed against a branch, vibrating power is applied, and down comes a shower of nuts! Travelers may also note metal triangles attached to telephone cables beside the highways. High winds in this country are not infrequent, and the devices are designed to maintain even pressure on the cables to prevent their whipping. Similar treatment will be seen later near Fort McKavett.
South of Brownwood, much of the pastureland is edged by mesquite trees along fences. Mesquites thrive in a variety of climates, and their size is determined by the amount of rainfall. These middle sized mesquites reflect an annual rainfall of about 27 inches. Round, green clumps of mistletoe (a parasite) will be seen in both mesquite and oak trees.
In Richland Springs, at the highway intersection, a historical marker describes John Duncan's private fort. The marker's few lines provide considerable insight into the perils of frontier life.
Six miles east of Brady, another marker recalls the time, not so long ago, when this area was on the fringe of civilization, citing a violent incident that occurred on Onion Creek in 1866.
General.. The population is 5,946 and the Alt. is 1,670. McCulloch County.
The town, near the geographical center of Texas, was situated on a military road between Forts Mason and Griffin and on the old Dodge Cattle Trail. Historical markers are on the courthouse grounds, and a block west of the impressive courthouse is the Heart of Texas Museum in a red brick jail (c. 1910). The handsome structure is typical of many such jails built early in this century in a style called Romanesque Revival.
The Brady Chamber of Commerce, a block south of the courthouse on the east side of the Trail highway, at 101 E. First Street, offers details about area attractions and historical points, including the site of Texas Ranger Camp San Saba, 11 miles south, off U.S. 87/377. Camp San Saba was established in 1862 as a ranger station for the Frontier Regiment, created by the Texas Legislature to replace the federal troops that had been withdrawn because of the Civil War. The regiment formed a contracted defense line of 18 such posts for frontier protection form hostile Indians. Thinly manned, they were only minimally effective as the Civil War drained more and more manpower from Texas. Fort Belknap, previously visited on the Trail, served as a frontier regiment post during this period.
Richards Park, in town beside Brady Creek, offers picnic tables, pavilions, playground, and rest-rooms. Year-round fishing is good on nearby Brady Reservoir and Brady Creek.
Between Brady and Mason the Trail crosses the San Saba River. At the bridge a marker tells of an important feature in frontier days - a waterwheel mill that provided power in a time when most power was produced by man or animal. Camp San Saba (mentioned above) was abut three miles upriver form this crossing.
South of Frendonia, occasional bald domes of rock mark the Llano Uplift mineral region. Though relatively little of the pink granite domes is visible at the surface, many of them are the tops of buried mountains, the result of ancient igneous intrusions thrust to the surface form 35 to 40 miles deep. They are a feature of the Llano Basin, so called because the higher edges of the Edwards Plateau surround it. The Llano Basin is relatively small - only about 1.5 million acres including Mason, Edwards, and Gillespie counties.
During World War II, the Department of Defense scoured the country to compile a list of strategic mineral reserves. Mason County had many - from chromium to iron to zinc. They are still here, but none are commercially feasible for development at current prices.
General.. The population is 2,041 and the Alt. is 1,550. Mason County.
The history of Mason, and of frontier Fort Mason around which the city grew, is summarized in the state travel guide, The chamber of commerce, on the Trail highway on the north side of the square, can provide information and directions to the Fort Mason site, the elegant Seaquist Home, Mason County Museum, and, for rockhounds, the Seaquist Ranch, where, for a modest charge, travelers may pause for rock hunting and camping.
On the courthouse square are historical markers about Fort Mason and about the nearby site of Confederate Camp Llano. Other markers are in picnic areas in the west part of town and just beyond the intersection of Texas 29 and U.S. 87.
The museum has details about the Mason County War, which was in fact an ethnic confrontation. Both German and Anglo-American settlers came here. The land-hungry Europeans bought property and fenced it precisely with rock walls. The Anglos in favor of the open range put their money in livestock and saw fences as restricting the area available for their cattle. After the lynching of five men charged with rustling, retaliation erupted, and a dozen more persons were murdered in less than a year. The hatred was so savage that several victims were also scalped.
It is impossible to detail here Fort Mason's dramatic and colorful history, but one incident may give insight into the fort's mission. It began in July 1857 when 24 troopers rode out under the command of Lieutenant John Bell Hood in search of a reported Comanche war party.
The patrol was not supposed to be difficult'; three days out to scout the suspected war party, perhaps some action, and then back to the fort. After 12 days of blazing July weather, the persistent Hood finally located a fresh trail of 15 or 20 Indian horses headed south and took up pursuit. Food rations were exhausted, and far-spaced water holes were often dry. Then, after Hood and his men had been 16 days on the trail, the tracks showed that the original band of Indians had been joined by a larger group.
Despite the apparent odds of at least 50 Indians to 25 calvarymen, Hood pressed on before the Indians appeared, waving a white flag - the frontier signal meaning "friends."
Well in the lead, Hood warily approached the "friendly" group. When his group was 20 paces away, the Indians threw down the white flag, seized weapons, and attacked, as scores of hidden warriors, rose from concealment around the troops and fired a fusillade of arrows and rifle shots.
Hood, thoughtfully armed with a double-barreled shotgun, promptly dispatched his first tow attackers and then drew his two Navy Colt six-shooters. The troopers also relied on six-shooters after firing their single-shot carbines, then fought with sabers because there was no time to reload. The Indians set fire to the tinder-dry grass, then scattered in all directions.
During the fray an arrow had pierced Hood's left hand. He broke off the head, withdrew the shaft, and wrapped a handkerchief around the wound while still mounted and still fighting.
It was later learned that nearly 100 Comanche and Lipan-Apache Indians were in the war party. They lost 19, including two minor chiefs, and twice as many were wounded. Two troopers were killed and five wounded, including Lieutenant Hood.
After burying their dead, they rode to Fort Clark (Brackettville), where Hood filed his report, then northeast to Fort Mason. The "routine" patrol spanned five weeks, during which the troopers had ridden more than 500 miles.
The flamboyant Hood later received the most rapid series of promotions of any man, North or South, during the Civil War, attaining the rank of full general in the Confederate Army in 1864.
Among the distinguished personnel who served at Fort Mason was a quiet, dignified lieutenant colonel named Robert E. Lee.
Fort Mason was Lee's last command in the U.S. Army. From here Lee was summoned to Washington, where he was offered - and refused - the command of the Federal army being prepared for the Civil War. Only briefly activated after the Civil War, Fort Mason was finally abandoned in 1869.
Between Mason and Menard, travelers will note small ground-clump types of yucca, usually Yucca arkansana. From the clump of green, spiky leaves, the plants thrust up straight, thin stems in early summer, topped by masses of beautiful white blossoms.
A historical marker 10 miles east of Menard tells about events at the Pegleg Crossing of the San Saba River, and a marker of U.S. 83 just south of Menard in a picnic area notes that this pass between the hills, Puerto de Baluartes ("haven of the strong points"), was a landmark on old Spanish trails.
General.. The population is 1,606 and the Alt. is 1,960. Menard County.
The story of the city's establishment in 1858 near the ruins of the Spanish fort, Real Presidio de San Saba, is told in the state travel guide, along with the story of the fort. For more details on Menard, visit the chamber of commerce office, just off the Trail on U.S. 83 north (open Mon., Wed., Fri., afternoons), and the Menardville Museum, in the old depot on U.S. 83 North.
A historical marker downtown tells about an irrigation system dating fro 1874; another, on the courthouse grounds, gives details about Fort McKavett (soon a feature of the Forts Trail). A city park alongside the San Saba River by the Trail offers picnic tables shaded by towering pecan trees. Note the old-fashioned country store south on U.S. 83 on the Trail. Browsers can find local hone, home-canned fruits and vegetables, rag dolls, and crafts.
The entrance to the ruins of Real Presidio de San Saba is at the western edge of Menard, and a marker on the highway gives brief details. As mentioned above, the state travel guide tells the story. The presidio's history (100 years before the first Anglo-American settlement in the area) gives a greater dimension to the problems faced by all newcomers in lands that the Indians called their own. Spanish missionaries and soldiers met the same fierce hostility as did later cavalrymen and settlers
Seventeen miles west of Menard, a short side trip on FM 864 lead south to Fort McKavett. The drive is through rolling hills, woodlands, and farms often irrigated from the San Saba River.
Now administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the extensive ruins of Fort McKavett are being preserved and restored. On display at park headquarters is a model of the fort as it was about 1880. At that time it was a busy military post staffed by hundreds of men engaged in protection of the frontier.
Fort McKavett is listed in the state travel guide, and more details are available in literature at the park. At its peak, the fort had some 40 buildings. Today 12 have been restored; 18 others are in various stages of ruin. Restored buildings include the schoolhouse, officers' quarters, post headquarters, bakery, officer-of-the-day quarters, barracks, hospital, and "dead house," This is a prime historic site to explore.
Between For McKavett and Eldorado, the area's rocky fields are suitable only for sheep, goats, and deer. Woven-wire fences attest to sheep and goat ranching. Highway cuts reveal almost solid rock, thinly overlaid with soil. Even so, trees are able to find enough nourishment to grow to fairly large size.
General.. The population is 2,109 and the Alt. is 2,410. Schleicer County
The seat of Schleicher County, Eldorado was established in 1895. these are the highlands of the Edwards Plateau, dissected into hills and valleys by the Devils, South Concho, and San Saba Rivers. The often rugged terrain is prime habitat for the white-tailed deer that attract hunters in season. Eighty percent of the county's agricultural income is form sheep, wool, goats, mohair, and cattle. Eldorado Woolens is in town, just east of U.S. 277 south. Among it colorful, luxurious products are blankets, drapery and upholstery material, sportswear, and robes.
If the Schleicer County Museum, on U.S. 190 just east of U.S. 277, appears to be closed, read the sign on the door. A friend of the museum works nearby and will be pleased to show it.
Eight miles north of Eldorado, on a hill to the east, the large disk that is visible to the traveler is an Air Force radar tracking station.
Between Eldorado and Christoval, historical markers tell of a former town, an early settler, and a stagecoach stand. Near Christoval there is a tree-shaded picnic area, and just north is Christoval Park. It is closed now, but in the 1920's and 1940's it was a popular spot. There were pedal boats, swimming and concessions. A ship-shaped, two-story rock building was built in the early 1940's as an elegant restaurant, but even that couldn't save the park. Lots of area residents get nostalgic about the good times that they had at Christoval Park.
North of Christoval, travelers will notice several areas where cedar and mesquite trees have been poisoned to eliminate competition for the moisture needed by native grasses. The mesquites here are smaller than those near Brownwood. Rainfall here is about 18 inches a year. The trees are recent, unwanted invaders in the formerly productive grasslands.
Geologically the Trail is moving into a formation of Permian Age (230 million years old) rocks, mostly sandstone and gypsum. The formation extends from here north-east through Bronte to Abilene. The rocks were formed in an environment much like today's North Africa when the area was at about sea level. Continental sediments washed in regularly, at times in massive quantities during floods. This era saw the beginning of animal life on Earth, but virtually no fossils can be found.
Curiously, when these surface formations were deeply buried, they probably contained a huge oil pool. The surface sandstone shows evidence of having trapped oil, but as it became exposed, the oil evaporated or was consumed by bacteria. This is what an oil field of today would look like if it were lifted to the surface of the earth.
Near San Angelo, two prominent, similar-sized hills to the west give the name to Twin Buttes Reservoir.
Nearby is Lake Nasworthy, and northwest of the city is O.C. Fisher Lake. All offers extensive water sports opportunities. Much of the farmland here is irrigated from Twin Buttes Reservoir, and the Trail crosses the main irrigation canal at Loop 306.
General.. The population is 84,474 and the Alt. is 1,847. Tom Green County.
Review San Angelo's attractions in the state travel guide, and for firsthand information about city events, accommodations, and dining, visit the chamber of commerce in the convention center, at 500 Rio Concho Drive.
Pertinent to this Trail's title are the extensive remains of Fort Concho, centered along Burgess Street and Avenues C & D. Stop first at the Fort Concho Museum to see a diorama of the post as it appeared in the previous century, as well as other displays of guns, wildlife, pioneer relics, and old vehicles.
One colorful story describes a foray from Fort Conch led by a man whose name crops up frequently in the chronicle of Texas frontier forts; Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie. In 1871 he was ordered to mount a strong force of the Fourth Cavalry and proceed to Fort Clark , at Bracketville near the Mexican border. A band of Kickapoos and Lipans had been marauding in the area. Mackenzie's orders: 'Take whatever action your own judgment deems fitting."
Seminole scouts employed by the army reported that the raider's headquarters lay 80 miles into Mexico. Mackenzie judged that "fitting action" would be a quick thrust to destroy the home base, even though it meant invasion of a foreign country, and flagrant violation of international treaties.
Leaving Fort Clark before dawn, Mackenzie an his 400 cavalrymen splashed across the Rio Grande at daybreak and rode all day through the parched country. When the supply wagons couldn't keep up, the relentless colonel ordered the troops to stuff their blouses with cartridges and biscuits and abandon the wagons.
There was no rest even at nightfall, for the column kept moving constantly. At dawn, after more than 24 hours in the saddle, scouts reported three Kickapoo and Lipan villages just ahead. In classic cavalry tradition the troopers formed two columns and galloped forward in an all-out charge.
They achieved complete surprise, and soon all three villages were in flames. The Indians suffered heavy casualties, and the Lipan chief, Castillitos, was captured.
Mackenzie did not pause. When the destruction was complete, the column immediately turned north for an 80 mile race back to the United States. When the troopers recorded the Rio Grande, they had been in the saddle for more than 60 hours.
Only then did Mackenzie advise his officers that they had invaded Mexico only on his own initiative. Several were shocked, and one captain demanded to know what would have happened had he refused to go. Mackenzie replied levelly, " I would have had you shot."
When Mackenzie moved to other frontier posts, Colonel B.H. Grierson took command at Fort Concho. Other battles were fought, and other hardships were endured, but the might of the frontier soldier finally prevailed. New settlers arrived, and with the earlier pioneers they laid the foundations for a peaceful, civilized society.
In a sentimental ceremony, the colors were struck, and a last column of troops and supplies clattered out of Fort Concho on March 27, 1889, as the regimental band played "The Girl I Left Behind Me."
North of San Angelo, low hills squeeze in from both sides, and farmland is replaced by ranchland. In Coke County, long, flat-topped mesas appear to the north, features of erosion on a gigantic scale. The mesas' flat surfaces show where all the land once stood. Huge gaps in between reveal the appetite of ancient rivers.
A few blocks off the Trail in Robert Lee, a county park offers a pause at shaded picnic tables, with a swimming pool and golf course nearby. A historical marker in the cemetery east of town notes that 34 Confederate States of America veterans are buried here.
Between Robert lee and Bronte, the Kickapoo Mountains (38) lie to the north. Among obvious shapes are Hayrick Mountain and Nipple Peak.
In Bronte, a marker where the Trail turns cites historical details about the town. Other markers give details about the 1911 Santa Fe depot, and the 1940's movie theater that was featured in a Japanese "Old West" TV commercial. A city park offers picnicking, swimming pool, and sports fields, and there is also a nine hole golf course.
Just north of the "Y" intersection of Texas 70 and U.S. 277 is Oak Creek Reservoir. Off the Trail, Texas 70 (three miles north) leads to lakeside camps, fishing docks, and boat ramps. At the "Y" a marker (40) details the history of the Southern Overland Mail (Butterfield Stage), whose route crossed here.
Within two miles is another historical marker, a small pink granite slab to the south on a bank above the highway cut, honoring Fort Chadbourne. The well-maintained Fort Chadbourne cemetery is nearby.
Time and weather have taken their toll at the cemetery, and many inscriptions on the soft sandstone markers are illegible. Some of the ones that are still readable date back to the 1870's, and some poignant stories are told by the brief lines. The ruins of nearby Fort Chadbourne are on private property, but the owner generously permits visitors to drive through, asking that people stay in their cars and not disturb the site in any way.
Fort Chadbourne's history was relatively brief, though it served as an important contact and parley point with Indians. Elements of the Eighth Infantry established the fort in 1852. Early picket structures were erected, but stone was eventually quarried for a number of substantial buildings. The fort was established on Oak Creek, but the creek proved unreliable and water was a serious problem. Troops left in 1859, and with the outbreak of the Civil War two years later, the remaining property was surrendered to Confederate forces. The fort was reoccupied from 1865 to 1867, but the water shortage forced abandonment and transfer to new Fort Concho in San Angelo.
On FM 53, rich farmlands appear after miles of brushy pasture, and the Trail slices through two oil fields, providing close views of pump jacks.
In the north part of Winters a small, pleasant park has picnicking and camping sites. For details about the city or camping at Lake Winters, just east of town, visit the chamber of commerce, 118 West Dale Street.
North of Winters the huge mesa to the northeast is called Moro Mountain. Its flat top is 2,350 feet high.
Farther north, the hills of the Callahan Divide break the horizon. The chain of hills and buttes forms a barrier between the watersheds of the Colorado River and the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. Some of the notches in the divide have been identified as streambeds of prehistoric rivers that flowed here before the land weathered away.
West of Tuscola, at a sharp turnoff FM 613, a sign points to Abilene State Park. A better access road, however, is shortly available at Buffalo Gap, via FM 89. The park covers 500 acres along Cedar Creek, which has been impounded to form Lake Abilene. Visitor facilities are described in the state travel guide.
General.. The population is 499 and the Alt is 1,926. Taylor County.
The community is at a natural gap in the Callahan Divide, where well-worn buffalo trails were visible when settlers first arrived. During the great cattle trails era, the Dodge or Western Trail passed through here and resulted in establishment of the community of Buffalo Gap. Oliver Loving and Charles Goodnight drove their herds through this pass, as did other early cattle barons.
Today's travelers will find several restaurants and art-souvenir-specialty shops. Of special interest is Buffalo Gap Historic Village, a complex of nine rustic, historic structures that is described in the state travel guide.
North of Buffalo Gap the highway leaves the jumbled hills of the Callahan Divide and takes off toward Abilene, where the Trail began. Those who have traveled the entire route can now speak with authority about much of this fascinating region of Texas, especially the colorful history of the frontier forts.
But one word of caution: The vastness of Texas dwarfs even this broad region, and the frontier forts were only one page in the volume of Texas History. There are other eras and other regions to discover before the whole can be measured....green forests sweeping to infinity, mile-high mountain ranges, a palm-edged tropical valley. That too is Texas, and other Trails, can guide you through every part. Such is the purpose of the Texas Trails. When travel efficiency is in everyone's best interest, the Texas Trails are the way to go!!!