Western Trips

Western Trips

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Frontier America

1800s horse carriage
Late 1800's Carriage

The subject of the Frontier America is one of our country's biggest stories. In a large way it was all about Manifest Destiny, the U.S. self given mandate to occupy North America from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.

One of the best ways to learn about life during the days of western settlement is to visit some of the smaller museums spread throughout the western states. They make an excellent as well as economical addition to your western road trip planner. Many of these smaller museums are free to browse in. Most are operated by historical societies. Visitors can donate whatever amount they wish. At other museums the fees are nominal. These museums are also terrific side trips for the entire family. And are filled with historic artifacts and photos.

Frontier America involves all kinds of history. The Oregon Trail, the Indian Wars, the gold mining booms, the Mexican American War, stagecoaches and railroads and the building out of towns and cities that were at one time merely camps. It's a fascinating subject and the artifacts, photos and exhibits at small town museums do a great job in telling the story. You’ll also find well informed docents who can answer just about any of your questions.

fort stockton barracks
Enlistedmens Barracks, Fort Stockton Texas
Fort Stockton Texas- Fort Stockton is located on Interstate 10 in southwest Texas between El Paso and San Antonio. During the mid 1800’s this was a very important army fort in frontier America with a variety of tasks. One was to protect the stage and freight lines that mostly traveled west out of San Antonio. Both the Comanche Indians and to a lesser extent the Apaches roamed the region. Fort Stockton was not built in the stockade style but rather with buildings on all four sides of a center parade ground. Today, Fort Stockton, which is the same name of the city it now resides in, is a National Historic Site and a great place to see and learn about the old west Texas days. The fort features a walking tour all around the parade grounds with several interesting buildings open for exhibit. This includes the old guard house, officers quarters and elistedmens barracks. In addition to these is a very interesting museum and gift shop. In the museum you’ll view a lot of authentic artifacts of frontier America. These includes many frontier firearms such as a Sharps rifle, cavalry and infantry uniforms, saddles, canteens, an army bugle and other personal items. You’ll also find a lot of information about the Buffalo Soldiers who at one time were stationed at Fort Stockton.

More photos and information about Fort Stockton is in our Western Trips article about the historic west Texas fort.

Another site in Fort Stockton you’ll want to add to your trip planner is the Annie Riggs House. The Annie Riggs House was a frontier hotel with quite a lot of history. A tour of the Annie Riggs House features period artifacts along with fully furnished rooms. It’s definitely worth the stop while in Fort Stockton.

red river museum in vernon texas
Red River Museum, Vernon Texas
The Red River Valley Museum- The Red River Valley Museum is located in Vernon Texas and is all about the cattle ranching days in north Texas. A terrific display of artifacts are exhibited with a room dedicated to the old Waggoner Ranch which occupied much of the area. Frontier firearms, carriages, musical instruments and much more are exhibited.

The Red River Valley Museum does an excellent job in telling the story of the frontier cattle days in Texas. Another interesting thing about the museum and Vernon Texas is that it was on the old Texas Trail which started on the Rio Grande in south Texas and eventually extended with additional routes that led all the north to the Canadian border. Various parts of the Texas Trail went by different names, especially in the northern sections. The Texas Trail sometimes referred to as the Great Texas Trail was the longest of any of the old cattle trails. Just a few miles northeast of Vernon is a place called Doan’s Crossing. Doan’s Crossing is on the Red River which in the 1800’s was the Texas border with the Indian Territory, now present day Oklahoma. Doans's Crossing represents the spot where the Texas Trail cowboys drove their herds across the river and into Indiahttp://westerntrips.blogspot.com/2014/08/visit-truckee-california-and-its.htmln Territory on their way to the Dodge City Kansas rail heads.

See our Western Trips article and photos of the Red River Museum in Vernon Texas and a Visit to Truckee CA and It's Historic Hotel

navajo county courthouse
Old Navajo County Jail exhibit
Holbrook Arizona- Holbrook Arizona is directly on Interstate 40 in northeastern New Mexico and adjacent to the Navajo Reservation. The place you want to stop by in Holbrook is the old Navajo County Courthouse which today is a fascinating frontier America museum. The courthouse is located at the northeast corner of Arizona Street and Navajo Blvd. In 1976 a new center of government was established just south of Holbrook and the old courthouse remained vacant for about five years. At that point the Navajo County Historical Society obtained artifacts from local residents and opened the museum. Home furnishings, historical papers and many other artifacts tell the story of this old west pioneer town. You’ll also see an old 46 star flag which represents the time before Arizona gained statehood. Navajo County Arizona was created when the Arizona Territory Legislature voted to slice off a narrow piece of Apache County. Both Holbrook and Winslow Arizona competed to be the new county seat and Holbrook won out. The courthouse construction was completed in December of 1890.

There is a section of the building which was the old sheriff’s office and jail. The jail you will see is one of the oldest jail exhibits in the west and was constructed in the east and shipped to Holbrook by rail.

See our photos and history in our Western Trips article about the Navajo County Holbrook Courthouse Museum.

charles bent house in taos new mexico
Charles Bent House and Museum

 Charles Bent House- The Charles Bent House is located in Taos New Mexico, about an hour and a half drive north of Santa Fe. Charles Bent was the very governor of the New Mexico Territory. The New Mexico Territory was created after the Mexican American War in the latter part of the 1840’s. The territory was ceded to the U.S. from Mexico as part of the peace agreement. The Mexican government only controlled New Mexico for about twenty years after they expelled the Spaniards from North America in the 1820’s. The first years of territorial government were rugged times in New Mexico in as much as there were so many diverse cultures there. The territory was essentially Spanish and Mexican with a large population of Native Americans. Loyalties at first were all over the place. The Indians always had a mixed relationship with the Spaniards and later Mexicans and the introduction of American rule just added to the diversity of interests.

You’ll be interested in our photos and article of the Charles Bent House Museum.

Unfortunately for New Mexico Territory’s first governor, there were plenty of hostilities to go around. Governor Charles Bent was killed in a massacre at his home in Taos in 1847. There are a few versions of what exactly occurred but the prevailing story is that a group of disgruntled Mexican soldiers along with some northern pueblo Indians made an attempt to oust the Anglos from New Mexico. Charles Bent was shot when standing in the doorway of his home and died soon afterward. More Anglos were slain north of Taos. The rebels were subsequently defeated by the U.S. military who arrived from Santa Fe. Today, the old Charles bent Home is an interesting museum filled with artifacts of the era. Indian artifacts, firearms of the period, home furnishings, musical instruments, photos and more are all on display.

There's a great many small frontier America  museums all over the western U.S.  Hopefully you'll have the opportunity to add some of these to your road trip itinerary.

(Photos are from author’s private collection)

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