Western Trips

Western Trips

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Fort Concho / Texas

fort concho texas

Road trips in the western U.S. have a lot to offer. Among these are the old army forts. One fort I think that makes an enjoyable trip is Fort Concho, located in San Angelo, Texas. It's probably one of the finest examples of an old west army fort in existence today with excellent exhibits.

A Visit to Fort Concho

The visitor to Fort Concho will see 23 original and restored buildings. In addition there is a other interesting exhibits is a telephony museum and a museum regarding frontier medicine. There are also many events scheduled throughout the year which makes it a fun and educational travel stop for the entire family. If you live within easy driving distance it makes a nice weekend trip.

Fort Concho on the Frontier Line 

comanche indiansFort Concho was built in 1867 along the banks of the Concho River in west Texas. Settlements were moving westward at a fast clip and the fort was established to protect settlers from Indian attacks and to map the region.

The fort was built in an area referred to at the time as Comancheria. This was the western part of Texas dominated by the the Comanche Indians who were quite hostile toward the advancing white settlers. At it's peak the fort housed some 400-500 troopers. When the Texas Republic was first established, the area west of a line from about Waco to Austin to San Antonio was referred to as Comancheria.

During the early to mid parts of the 19th century, army forts were built roughly in a line representing the current advancement of settlements. The Comanches had struggled against the white settlers for decades reaching all the way back towards east Texas at about the time of the start of the Texas Republic and they were considered both excellent warriors and superior horsemen. Raids on settlements had been commonplace for a long time. Even before the Americans poured into Texas, the Spaniards and Mexicans had all they could do trying to stop Comanche raids.

The primary reason that Mexico granted land to American pioneers during their rule of Texas (Tejas) was to have them serve as a buffer between themselves and the Comanches. Later, during the war with Mexico and after the Texans took over the territory from Mexico, the forming of the famed Texas Rangers was largely in response to the dangers posed by the Comanches.

Ranald Mckenzie

Fort Concho's more notable commander was Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie (pictured below right), a career army officer and Civil War veteran.

Mackenzie was considered an up and coming military officer having graduated at the top of his class at West Point in 1862 where he immediately joined the Union Army in it's fight against the South. Mackenzie was even recognized at the time by General Ulysses S. Grant who reportedly commented that Ranald Mackenzie was one of the most promising young officers in the army. He rose to the rank of Brevit General during the war but reverted back to his permanent rank of captain when the war ended.

Mackenzie on the Western Frontier

After the Civil War Mackenzie spent the rest of his military career on the western frontier. He spent time at Fort Richardson in northern Texas then later as commander at Fort Concho near San Angelo, further south and west. There he headed the 41st Infantry which was comprised of the famed Buffalo Soldiers.

During Fort Concho's existence it had an element of every Buffalo Soldier regiment at one time serving there. While on the Texas frontier Mackenzie fought several battles during the Red River War far to the north of his Fort Concho command. The war's purpose was to put renegade Comanches, Kiowas and others back on their Indian Territory reservations.

In 1876 he was successful in defeating the Cheyennes to help bring about the end of the Black Hills War. Ranald S. Mackenzie had a very successful military career which is sometimes overlooked. Many Indian War stories tend to center around the military expeditions of George Armstrong Custer. If you research the two army commanders, aside from the fact of Custer's Little Bighorn defeat, you might form the opinion that Mackenzie had better overall success as an Indian fighter.

fort concho national monument
For those of you who can remember television programs from the 1958-59 period, you may recall a one year TV series called "Mackenzie's Raiders". The series was based in part on the exploits of Colonel Randle S. Mackenzie in Texas. Richard Carlson was the actor portraying Mackenzie.

red river war comancheThe two interesting images to the left are of a group of settlers at Fort Concho during the 1800's and below it is an Indrian drawing that many believe depicts a battle during the Red River Wars.

Ranald S. Mackenzie had many brilliant successes on the battlefield but what lay in store for him in the near future was something altogether different.

Mackenzie's Later Years

In 1882 Mackenzie was promoted to brigadier general and assigned to the Department of Texas.

Mackenzie bought a ranch and was engaged to be married but started to show signs of instability. His odd behavior was first thought to be caused by a fall from a wagon at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He reportedly injured his head in that fall. Mackenzie was later diagnosed as insane in 1884. The cause was at the time attributed to his fighting during the Indian Wars where he received at least seven wounds. The doctors further attributed the illness to his spending so much time on horseback in all types of weather along with the constant tension of combat.

Today, the medical profession refers to this condition as "Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome". In 1884, the army doctors used the term "General paresis of the insane". This of course was before the creation of modern drug therapy and before the advances in understanding the disease. With this diagnosis, Mackenzie was retired from the army in 1884 and subsequently died at his sisters home on Staten Island, New York in 1889 at age 48. He is buried at the West Point Military Academy. It's interesting to note that at the time of his death, the New York Times which at one time chronicled Mackenzie's frontier exploits, gave little space on it's pages in announcing his passing away. This may have been because of the circumstances of his death but no one really knows. The military publications printed a much ore lengthy obituary. Fort Concho was deactivated in 1889, the same year of Ranald S. Mackenzie's death.

Another good story is that of Fort Davis on the San Antonio to El Paso Trail.

fort concho historic marker
The websites below tell more about Fort Concho and Ranald S. Mackenzie. Take your camera because there's many exhibits to see.





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(Article copyright Western Trips. Photos and images in public domain) 

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