Forgotten Forts Series - Fort Lancaster

NFB22

Sergeant Major
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Jun 21, 2012
Location
Louisville, KY
Fort Lancaster was a U.S. Army post located in the Pecos River Valley near present day Sheffield, Texas. The post was originally founded in 1855 as Camp Lancaster. In 1856 it would become a permanant fort designed to protect nearby settlements and to patrol the area, mostly for hostile Native Americans.
fort lancaster 3.jpg

In early 1861 with war on the horizon Fort Lancaster was garrisoned by Co. K of the 1st U.S. Infantry. However, Co. K was order to abandon the fort and did so on March 19, 1861. Confederate troops quickly recognized the fort was abandoned and quickly re-garrisoned the position later in 1861. The fort was under the command of Col. John S. Ford however in 1862 Confederate commanders chose to abandon the fort. Col Ford would go on to command Confederate forces at the Battle of Palmito Ranch at the close of the war. Fort Lancaster would lay abandoned for the remainder of the war having never fired a shot in anger.
fort lancaster 2.jpg

Following the war the fort would remain abandoned until 1867 when it was once again garrisoned by the U.S. Army. In December of that year it would come under major attack from the Kickapoo tribe however troops were able to withstand the assault forcing the Kickapoo to withdraw. U.S. troops involved sustained minimal casualties. This would be the final major role Fort Lancaster would play.
fort lancaster 1.jpg

In 1975 a rancher donated the land on which Fort Lancaster sat to the state of Texas. Today the fort is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is known as the Fort Lancaster State Historic Site and maintained by Texas. The site houses ruins of multiple buildings and the post cemetery. There is also a visitor center on the site that contains multiple artifacts taken from the area. The site is open all year to visitors.

http://www.visitfortlancaster.com/index.aspx?page=8
http://www.fortwiki.com/Fort_Lancaster_(1)

Links to other "Forgotten Forts Series" forts
http://www.civilwartalk.com/threads/forgotten-forts-series-fort-craig-nm.79104/
http://www.civilwartalk.com/threads/forgotten-forts-series-fort-pike.78757/
http://www.civilwartalk.com/threads/forgotten-forts-series-fort-livingston.78737/
http://www.civilwartalk.com/threads/forgotten-forts-series-fort-mcallister.78469/
http://www.civilwartalk.com/threads/forgotten-forts-series-fort-caswell.78408/
http://www.civilwartalk.com/threads/forgotten-forts-series-fort-wool.78325/
http://www.civilwartalk.com/threads/forgotten-forts-series-fort-mackinac.77950/
http://www.civilwartalk.com/threads/forgotten-forts-series-fort-norfolk.77859/
http://www.civilwartalk.com/threads/forgotten-forts-series-fort-clinch.77816/
http://www.civilwartalk.com/threads/forgotten-forts-series-fort-adams.77979/
http://www.civilwartalk.com/threads/fort-warren.77775/
http://www.civilwartalk.com/threads/fort-alcatraz.77732/
 

unionblue

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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Feb 20, 2005
Location
Ocala, FL (as of December, 2015).
Looks like it followed the idea of most US Commanders of the period who wanted no walls to hide behind, thinking it would be bad for the men to "cower" behind them.

It also looks like its seen some hard times.

Thanks for posting,
Unionblue
 

NFB22

Sergeant Major
Joined
Jun 21, 2012
Location
Louisville, KY
Looks like it followed the idea of most US Commanders of the period who wanted no walls to hide behind, thinking it would be bad for the men to "cower" behind them.

It also looks like its seen some hard times.

Thanks for posting,
Unionblue

From what I could find there were just 4-5 large stone blockhouses meant for defense but yes the post took on the "open" look as a whole.
 

Nathanb1

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Smack dab in the heart of Texas
It's, IMO, the best idea to get an idea of the isolation of those frontier forts. There were some wives and children there, and the main Butterfield line came right down the amazing (make that scary) hill and on to Ft. Stockton. And thereby lies the real story of Ft. Lancaster. There were no nearby settlements when it was built. It was there in actuality to protect the southern route (from San Antonio) going to California. The nearby Escondido waterhole was an important stop for travelers from historic times onward--and particularly for the freighters bringing goods from the East.

From a couple of historical markers at the fort, quick descriptions:

Marker Title: The Chihuahua Trail and Escondido Water Hole
Address: Fort Lancaster State Historic Park
City: Ozona
County: Crockett
Year Marker Erected: 1976
Marker Location: Visitor's Center Parking Area, Fort Lancaster SH Park, 36 miles west of Ozona Via IH-10 and US 290.
Marker Text: The Chihuahua Trail was opened by segments, but was not called by this name until the 19th century. A small part of the route, along the nearby Pecos River, was followed by the Spaniard Gaspar Castano de Sosa in 1590, during an expedition to New Mexico. By 1850, the trail was finally extended to connect the city of Chihuahua and the Texas Gulf Coast, by way of San Antonio. Gold seekers going to California found it practical because it touched at all known water holes in this rugged terrain. Heaviest use of the trail came during the mid-1870s, when freighters transported tons of silver and copper from the state of Chihuahua for shipment to the eastern U.S. One of the landmarks along the Chihuahua Trail in this part of western Texas was Escondido ("Hidden") water hole, seven miles southeast of Fort Lancaster. A small, deep well in the side of a rugged canyon, this water source was very hard to find, but saved the lives of many travelers. However, it is flanked by rock cairns marking the graves of some who died near the water hole of accidents or disease.

Marker Title: Fort Lancaster, Ruins of
City: Ozona
County: Crockett
Year Marker Erected: 1936
Marker Location: at the ruins of Fort Lancaster, 36 miles west of Ozona via I-10 and US 290.
Marker Text: Established in 1855 by the United States Government as a protection to travelers and mail on the overland route from San Antonio to San Diego. Abandoned in 1861. Reoccupied in 1868 for a short time. Established August 20, 1855. By United States Government. One half-mile above the junction of Live Oak Creek with the Pecos River in present Crockett County. Garrisoned by U.S. Second Cavalry who protected travellers and mail on the San Antonio - El Paso Military Road. Fort was abandoned March 18, 1861, after Texas seceded from the Union. Reoccupied by Federal troops, 1868, for a short time. At Pecos River, just south of Hwy. 290 river bridge, is one of the most used Texas pioneer fords. Ruts made by wagon wheels sliding downhill are plainly visible. (new marker that is now missing -1966-) behind TxDot Ozona Office on SH 163 N in scrapyard - poor, star and plate missing

Marker Title: Government Road, Old
City: Ozona
County: Crockett
Year Marker Erected: 1968
Marker Location: Lancaster Hill Roadside Park, 30.5 miles west of Ozona on Hwy. 290 (via I-10).
Marker Text: Route of march and troop supply on Texas frontier. Followed in part pre-Columbian Indian trails and "Old Chihuahua Trail" that ran from San Antonio to El Paso and Mexico. In 1840s this was extended to Gulf Coast Port of Indianola where imported goods arrived from the United States and Europe, and were freighted out to be exchanged in Chihuahua for ore of silver and gold, leather goods, and other products. In 1848 water holes and camp sites were marked as this road was re-charted for use of U.S. troops sent to protect Texas frontiers from Indian invasions. Army posts were built along this road: Fort Clark, between San Antonio and Del Rio, 1852; Fort Davis, in the Davis Mountains, 1854; Camp Lancaster, at this site, became Fort Lancaster in 1856. Camp Hudson and Fort Stockton were founded in 1857 and 1859. With all the army traffic, trail won new name of "Government Road." Pioneer settlers, adventurers, California-bound gold seekers--even camel trains in government service--traveled this road in spite of frequent encounters with Comanches, Apaches, Kiowas, and other Indians. The Army finally stationed troops in continuous picket line from San Antonio to El Paso. However, it was not until 1870 that relatively safe passage was assured.

Marker Title: Howard's Well
City: Ozona
County: Crockett
Year Marker Erected: 1976
Marker Location: Visitor's Center Parking Area, Fort Lancaster SH Park 36 miles west of Ozona via IH-10 and US 290
Marker Text: First known to civilized men in the 18th century, when, according to legend, Franciscan Padre Alvarez prayed for water to ease his thirst, put down his staff, and saw a spring gush forth from the ground. This landmark of western travel was named for its rediscoverer, Richard A. Howard of San Antonio, an ex-Texas Ranger. Howard and other men, along with 15 Delaware Indian guides, made up an expedition sent out in 1848 under Col. John Coffee Hays to map a wagon road from San Antonio to El Paso. Although aided by the discovery of the well, the expedition failed, turning back in a state of near-starvation. In 1849 the US Army made its maps of the route, with Howard along as a guide. Many forty-niners went this way to the California gold rush. In 1853 the first regular San Antonio to El Paso mail line was routed by way of the well. So were many later ventures. Although white travelers seldom caught sight of them, Indians frequented the well. There on April 20, 1872, Comanches and Kiowas surprised a large wagon train led by a man named Gonzales, and killed 16 persons. This was one of the events that led to the US Government's cancellation of hunting permits for reservation Indians.


FROM Texas State Historical Association Online:

FORT LANCASTER


FORT LANCASTER. Fort Lancaster was on the left bank of Live Oak Creek above its confluence with the Pecos River. It is now a state historic site off old U.S. Highway 290 ten miles east of Sheffield in Crockett County. The post was established as Camp Lancaster on August 20, 1855, by Capt. Stephen D. Carpenter and manned by companies H and K of the First United States Infantry. Camp Lancaster became Fort Lancaster on August 21, 1856. Carpenter was succeeded in command by Capt. R. S. Granger, who served from February 1856 to March 31, 1858. Carpenter resumed command after March 31 and was succeeded again by Granger in January 1859. Granger commanded until the removal of federal troops in March 1861 after the secession of Texas from the Union. During the Civil War the post was occupied from December 1861 to April 1862 by Walter P. Lane's rangers, who became a part of Company F, Second Regiment, of the Texas Mounted Rifles. After the war the fort was reoccupied in 1871 as a subpost by a company of infantry and a detachment of cavalry. Personnel changed monthly. The post was apparently abandoned in 1873 or 1874 and much of its masonry was used for buildings in Sheffield.
Fort Lancaster protected the lower road from San Antonio to El Paso in the years following the discovery of gold in California. The duties of the men stationed at Fort Lancaster were to escort mail and freight trains, pursue Mescalero Apaches and Comanches, and patrol their segment of road to keep track of Indian movements. The post was originally constructed of picket canvas and portable Turnley prefabricated buildings. By the time it was abandoned all its major structures were made of stone or adobe. The Butterfield Overland Mail changed its route west from the upper road between San Antonio and El Paso to the lower road in August 1859. Mail on the lower road had previously been contracted to George H. Giddings and John Birch. Three coaches per month passed over the road. In June of 1860 Lt. William E. Echols and his "camel corps" visited the fort (see CAMELS).
The site of Fort Lancaster was deeded to Crockett County in 1965 and donated to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1968. Archeological exploration had been begun two years earlier by T. R. Hays and Edward B. Jelks; their project involved excavating one barracks and three latrines and testing two other barracks and two commissary structures. Three structures-an officers' quarters, the commissary, and the hospital kitchen-and the flagpole location were entirely excavated in 1971 by John W. Clark. Dessamae Lorraine did additional mapping of the site and work on the flagpole site shortly after Clark's excavation. In 1974 Wayne Roberson excavated two enlisted men's barracks and two officers' quarters. The excavations produced large numbers of artifacts and a great deal of architectural information for interpreting the site. Much of this material is presented at the visitors' center at Fort Lancaster State Historic Site and in state archeological reports. Because of a budget shortfall the state yielded management of the site to Texas Rural Communities, Incorporated, in 1993.
BIBLIOGRAPHY:
Art Black, Fort Lancaster State Historic Site, Crockett County, Texas: Archeological Investigations (Archeological Report 8 [Austin: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Parks Division, Historic Sites and Restoration Branch, 1975?]). John W. Clark, Jr., Archeological Investigations at Fort Lancaster State Historic Site, Crockett County, Texas (Texas Archeological Salvage Project Research Report 12 [Austin: University of Texas, 1972]). John W. Clark, Jr., "The `Digs' at Fort Lancaster, Texas, 1966 and 1971," Military History of Texas and the Southwest 12 (1974). T. R. Hays and Edward B. Jelks, Archeological Exploration at Fort Lancaster, 1966 (Austin: State Building Commission, 1966). University of Texas School of Architecture, Texas Historic Forts: Architectural Research (5 vols., Austin: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 1968).
 

Nathanb1

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Some photos....#1 is coming off Lancaster Hill....I'll have to look up what the grade is, but it's incredibly steep (not as bad as the old stage road, however). Right in front of you is the Pecos Valley. The fort is just this side of the Pecos, which is the line between Crockett County and Upton County....so it's East of the Pecos, LOL. Local joke.

Hwy290Sheffield800.jpg


FtLancasterTxOldGovernmentRoad1207BG.jpg

Park at top of the hill looking toward Ft. Lancaster. The old stage road is actually where you see that white streak coming off the mesa to the right. That's where Bigfoot Wallace drove the stage down the hill, racing away from the Indians who were chasing them. Yee-Haw!
 

Nathanb1

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The best part of all is that it's haunted. I'm pretty much not a believer, but this I believe because of my daughter, who's even more skeptical than I am. She worked there during high school (for her cousin, the female Simon Legree). One day Malinda went to town and Katharine was the only one out there. She was reading in the visitors center when she heard children's voices laughing and playing. Thought "Yeah! Visitors!" and went outside. Nothing. Walked around the center. Nothing. Thought maybe they were up on the hill at the picnic area, so she got the binoculars out and looked....nothing up there. School day, so the nearest kids 10 miles away weren't home.

Not until she got home and told me the story did I remind her there were two small children buried out there in the post cemetery. She quit shortly afterwards. It was a 112 mile RT anyway. She wasn't really making money--mom was paying for gas.

When the state wanted to shut it down in the 1990's I worked with the committee to have it given over to rural communities. It is an excellent example of what those soldiers and families lived through, and needs to be preserved.

One warning. If you want to visit, there is probably no gas within at least 60 miles. Katharine regularly brought home stories of folks in motor homes pulling up wanting to know where the gas station was....
 
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