Western Trips

Western Trips

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fort Davis Texas

Army forts were established on a rough line of westward emigration. When the Gold Rush of the mid 1800's came about more people than ever headed west. The goal of military forts such as Ft Davis was simply to extend security whenever possible. The military forts existed to aid emigration. In the case of Fort Davis, it was established in 1854 to help protect a road which was 600 miles in length stretching from San Antonio Texas all the way to El Paso.

The military post helped protect settlers, mail coaches and freight wagons on this isolated south Texas trail. During this era the biggest concern for anyone traveling the trail was the nomadic Comanches. The Comanches were hunters and excellent horsemen and were also known to be some of the fiercest warriors of all Indian tribes. Many historians have contended that the Comanches were tougher warriors than even the Apaches.

The Civil War and Texas

Photo by Zereshk, CC Share-Alike
The Civil War, especially in Texas, had unintended repercussions. The Comanches and in some cases the Apaches threat to westward expansion was alive and well in Texas from the time of the Texas Republic.

The Spaniards and Mexican, during both of their rule of Texas, had fought the Comanches. This was considered one of the reasons that the Spaniards and Mexicans offered land grants to American settlers. Both the Spaniards and then the Mexicans in the 1820's wanted some type of buffer between them and the Comanches.

The Spaniards were also looking for a buffer between Louisiana and their territory in New Mexico. Offering land to settlers seemed like a solution. The Indian threat was one of the reasons for the founding of the famed Texas Rangers. In a way, you could say there was an ongoing frontier war in Texas even prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War.

Settlers Flock to the Southwest

There was quite a bit of western migration in the 1850's. This was not only because of the western gold strikes but also because of the end of the Mexican-American War which opened up the New Mexico Territory to the Union. Many of the early New Mexico settlers came from Texas, especially along the southern tier of the vast New Mexico Territory. This concentration of pro confederate settlers was one reason for the attempted succession of the southern part of the New Mexico Territory during the Civil War. The Confederacy ideally wanted to establish a link to the Pacific from Texas to southern California. Geographically, Fort Davis located near the beautiful Davis Mountains near the Big Bend area of Texas was in a Confederate stronghold.

Desolate terrain of southwest Texas
The Civil War caused big problems in Texas and not only involving the Union. Two things happened. Many Union troops were called east to the major battle areas. This stripped the Texas frontier of military protection. The second element was that Texas was on the side of the Confederacy. Texas militia attacked and took over the Union forts in their area of the country. Most accounts report that the forts actually surrendered as opposed to full scale warfare between Union troops and Texans. The Texans would have had much greater numbers.

With the absence of Union Cavalry Comanche raids increased. Settlers along the frontier edge were at much greater risk. While the Texas militia drove Union troops out of Texas at the beginning of the war, they had no less trouble with the Comanches. You could almost say that the pro Confederate Texans were fighting a two front war. In addition to the Comanches, the Apaches were also present in south Texas until they were later literally driven out by the Comanches. Texas settlers and militia fought the Comanches before the Civil War and continued to do so after the war ended.

The Post War Buffalo Soldiers

Post-war troopers were black "buffalo soldiers," many of them former slaves from Southern plantations. The Buffalo Soldiers also served during this time at Fort Concho in San Angelo Texas to the north of Fort Davis. The Buffalo Soldiers served at Fort Davis from about 1867 to 1885. Later on at the turn of the century, the Buffalo Soldiers distinguished themselves again by being the first unofficial "park rangers" in Yosemite National Park in California.

Ninth Cavalry Buffalo Soldier,circa 1890
As the western movement resumed, troopers patrolled the long immigrant road, escorted mail and wagon trains, and mounted wide-ranging expeditions into the vast wilderness territory until Fort Davis was deactivated in 1891.

At about this time many western forts were being shut down as the Census Bureau officially announced the end of the western frontier in 1890. The year 1890 also saw what many historians refer to as the last battle of the Indian War, the Wounded Knee Massacre, which really wasn't a battle as it was more of a one sided massacre of captured Sioux.

Visiting Fort Davis Texas

The old Fort Davis site was officially dedicated in 1966 and is now managed by the National Park Service. The old Fort Davis today is an excellent example of frontier forts from that historic era, including both ruins and restorations.

The fort's museum, open daily in reconstructed barracks, does a fine job of interpreting frontier life during the mid 1800's. Another event at the fort is a sound re-creation of a 19th-century military parade—bugles and hoofbeats, the unique sounds of mounted troops, and music from 1875 band manuals.

Ft. Davis Post Hospital, circa 1910

A visit to old Ft Davis makes an excellent stop as part as your Texas vacation.

Easily accessible from Interstate-10 in southwest Texas, the fort gives the visitor a real feel for life on a southwest frontier post. Located on the northern edge of town, the fort can be reached from I-10 on the north, or U.S. 90 from the south. The site can be reached by Texas 17 and Texas 118.

Fort Davis is located about 175 miles southeast of El Paso Texas. Also a very good stop is Fort Davis State Park located 4 miles northwest of the town of Fort Davis TX. It is one of the best state parks in Texas.

Don't miss the McDonald Observatory also in the Davis Mountains. This is a first class observatory and functions as a research unit for the University of Texas in Austin. This is a fun Texas side trip for the entire family. There are many excellent stops on your Texas road trip between San Antonio and El Paso and Fort Davis is one of them.

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

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