Western Trips

Western Trips

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pecos County / Fort Stockton Texas

fort stockton parade grounds
View of Fort Stockton Parade Grounds
Fort Stockton is a town in southwest Texas that has a rich and colorful history. Located directly on Interstate-10 it's an easy place to reach and I think you'll find it both fun and interesting as a Texas vacation stop. 

The fort itself was not built behind a stockade which was how many people thought  frontier forts were situated. This was how most old west motion pictures portrayed them. Fort Stockton is essentially a group of buildings all situated around a rectangular parade ground. This included everything from the officer's quarters to the jail. Fort Stockton is officially owned by the city of Fort Stockton. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites and is managed by the Fort Stockton Historical Society. The Friends of Fort Stockton is another group that helps in fund raising and the ongoing development of the site.

There's many stories to tell about Fort Stockton and probably the best two have to do with it's action during the mid 1800's as a protector of the crucial San Antonio to El Paso mail and stage route and it's place in the role of the Buffalo Soldiers on the western Texas frontier. The basic threat to westward expansion in the area wwere the Comanches and to some degree the Apaches. A mail, freight and passenger stage trail was established during the early 1850's and the Indian threat remained front and center.

sharps rifle cabinet
1800's rifles
The displays you'll view at Fort Stockton are extremely interesting. The photo at right displays several rifles used during the 1800's including the famous Sharps Rifle . The Sharps 1874 Sportsman model is the second rifle from the top. This is a breechloader with high accuracy at a great distance which was favored by most buffalo hunters. The buffalo herds of North America were decimated largely because of the accuracy and distance of that one rifle.

Also among the exhibits on display at the Fort Stockton Museum are genuine artifacts of the era. Pictured below right is a leather message carrier which was used for communications among the various military outposts.  

military mail pouch
Military mail pouch
The mail pouch as it was called would be carried by a fast rider. The biggest danger by far was capture by the Indians. This had occurred a few times in Texas and the outcome wasn't good. Often times the commanders would assign escorts to help protect the carrier. The importance of military mail call was just as significant then as it is today, perhaps more so.

History books tell of the anticipation for the arrival of the carrier. People gathered around as names were called out by the officer distributing the letters. At a remote military fort such as Fort Stockton, the arrival of the mail also was a morale booster. 

When you travel the western United States visiting the former cavalry outposts, the type of artifacts on display can vary widely. At Fort Stockton there is am excellent collection of cavalry and infantry equipment and clothing. The articles of clothing on display are exact replicas of the period and were put together with much historical research. 

frontier army belt buckleThe photo at left is a standard issue U.S. Army belt buckle which I believe would be post Civil War.The photo below it is a reproduction of a 1st Sgt's Infantry uniform. All of these exhibits and many more are displayed in the Fort Stockton Museum. There was a big difference in headgear. The infantry hat shown is quite different than the cavalry Stetson hat (not shown).

frontier first sergeants army uniformAnother excellent artifact on display at Fort Stockton is a cavalry bugle. The bugle shown below right is similar to what is called a "Spanish Bugle". The bugle was used by the frontier army for a variety of purposes including calls to formation, call to quarters, call to church, call to drill, fire call, charge call, First Sergeants call, call to arms, taps and several others. The bugle was basically used to communicate with a large body of troops. The instrument was also used to play ceremonial tunes certain ranking officers and VIP's. The bugle on display at the Fort Stockton Museum is a rare and invaluable find.

frontier cavalry bugle
Cavalry bugle
 It's interesting to note that many of our frontier military posts were built on leased land. In the case of Fort Stockton, the fort was situated on about 960 acres leased from civilian landowners. The fort's garden was established on an additional 25 acres on Comanche Creek. Prior to the fort being established the area was known as Comanche Creek particularly when the Butterfield Overland Mail Stage Line ran through there in the late 1850's.There was also a small military camp there known as Camp Stockton but it was destroyed by the Confederates during the war and the frontier installation we refer to today was built in 1867 after the war. With the Civil War raging in the east, many of the frontier forts in Texas were generally abandoned by the Union. 

Also see our Western Trips visit to Historic Fort Richardson Texas.

Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Stockton

Fort Stockton was also home to four regiments of Buffalo Soldiers. This was also the case with among others, Fort Davis and Fort Concho, both in Texas. The Buffalo Soldiers were established in 1866 and most of their service was in the frontier west during the height of the Indian Wars.  

barrack interior at fort stockton
Enlisted man's quarters
The photo left is a recreation of the interior of the enlisted man's barracks in a restored barrack on the north side of the parade grounds. Each soldier had a chest at the foot of his bed for personal belongings. Not too different from the soldier barracks in today's modern army. Perhaps the real improvement between then and now is a mattress to sleep on as opposed to only a cot.

A visit to Fort Stockton during your next Texas vacation will be both fun and educational. It's one of the best family side trips while traveling through west Texas on Interstate-10. The fort museum also has a very good selection of books relating to the frontier era in west Texas. Located directly on Interstate-10, Fort Stockton is about 240 miles east of El Paso Texas and about 312 miles west of San Antonio.

(Photos from author's private collection)

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