Texas Forts Trail

James N.

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Fort Sam Houston, 1879-Present, Part I
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The Quadrangle with its clock tower, dating from 1876 is the best-known landmark at Fort Sam Houston.

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Build it to Last - Painting by Bud Breen

The establishment of what was to become Fort Sam Houston brings us full circle back to San Antonio. As previously noted, although no fort had been built here the town remained the center of administrative and supply activity for the entire Department of Texas in the years before the Civil War. It was reoccupied during Reconstruction and resumed its role, although a fire in 1861 had damaged some of the buildings used beforehand. Still, the army resisted building anything more permanent until 1876, though the city fathers encouraged it, fearing they would lose the lucrative army business to the state capital at Austin. Work was begun that year on what would become the landmark clock tower of what was still being called The Post at San Antonio.

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The original post was the San Antonio Quartermaster Depot, but in 1879, the post was expanded by the erection of the Infantry Barracks, the first of what would become the sprawling fort of today, one of the largest in the Nation. Soon followed barracks and facilities for cavalry and artillery as well. Above and below are now-unoccupied ca. 1885 Officer's Quarters that stand around one of the original parade grounds.

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Above, an unlikely pair who never came into contact with each other but who affected the history of the post: Arizona Apache warrior Geronimo and former General and President of the Texas Republic, United States Senator, and Governor of Texas Sam Houston, in whose honor the post was named on Sept. 10, 1890. A Unionist during the Secession Crisis of 1861, Houston had resigned his office as Governor and lived quietly at his home in Huntsville until his death in 1863.

Geronimo at Fort Sam Houston
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Above, Apache leaders Nachie or Natchez sits third from left in the front row; Geronimo is third from right. This was their "special train", as recounted by author W. C. Nunn in Frontier Forts of Texas:

At length, the last and perhaps the most notorious of the Apaches, Geronimo - with Natchez and their band of Apaches - was convinced by the strength of the United States troops to surrender to them. Geronimo and his braves had met defeat in a battle on Little Dry Creek, in what is now the state of New Mexico, on December 19, 1885. In the following September, Natchez, Geronimo and thirty-one other Apaches arrived as captives at the post in San Antonio. The Quadrangle served as a stockade in which the Indians were imprisoned. Geronimo and his braves had been brought on a special train from Fort Bowie, Arizona... Geronimo's band had not been defeated. A Lieutenant Gatewood in whom the Apache chief had confidence, convinced Geronimo of the wisdom of surrendering. Thus ended the last significant Indian campaign. Geronimo and his braves were kept at the San Antonio post for about forty days and then taken to Fort Pickens, Florida.

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Unsaid in the account above is why the Apaches were here in the first place: when they arrived in 1886, San Antonio was the first major city their train had reached. It was halted while controversy raged as to their fate as citizens of Arizona wanted them back in order to try them for murders, rapes, and other crimes committed in the course of their depredations, a 'la the trial of Satanta and Big Tree here in Texas. The famous "guests" stayed within the walls of the compound as much for their own protection as to confine them. While here, the notorious Geronimo posed for pictures like that above; in the one below, notice the then-new clock tower in the background. After a good deal of legal wrangling, the prisoners were finally declared prisoners-of-war, therefore immune to prosecution and were allowed to resume their train trip all the way to the Florida Atlantic coast where they were imprisoned in the old Spanish Colonial fortress Castillo de San Marcos. Eventually, they were moved to the more healthful climate at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Geronimo was "rehabilitated" converting to Christianity and riding as a guest of honor in the Inaugural Parade of President Theodore Roosevelt. Still technically a prisoner of war, the old warrior died at Fort Sill in 1909.

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Though originally built as an enclosed commissary and supply warehouse area, The Quadrangle serves today as administrative offices for modern Fort Sam Houston.

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Next, Part II
 
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James N.

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Fort Sam Houston, Part II
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Uniforms of the United States Army from the 1880's to the turn of the Twentieth Century as pictured by period artist Henry Ogden. At left, an infantry corporal and cavalry sergeant talk with a mounted trooper, all in 1880's full-dress uniforms. At right, in a scene from his campaigns in Montana, Commanding General Nelson Miles stands at center with a cavalry officer while in the background a lieutenant of artillery talks with a veteran infantry officer and a mounted trooper holds the officers' horses. In the 18880's, the infantry abandoned their traditional light blue trim for the older white because it was found the western sun soon bleached the blue to white anyway. At the same time, the cavalry adopted a more orange-yellow because their yellow also faded excessively. The uniform regulations of 1902 largely brought an end to these colorful uniforms of the past, however, with the introduction of British-influenced khaki campaign uniforms, replacing the French and Prussian styles of the Nineteenth Century.

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Fort Sam Houston is the only one of the forts here under discussion that remains an active duty post. Although much-reduced by cutbacks in personnel and mission since WWII and later, there remain vestiges of its grandeur, as in these photos of the more modern and still occupied officers quarters.

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In the Twentieth Century the fort turned towards aviation and medicine and away from its inception as a cavalry and infantry post. A museum in a former cavalry barracks recounts the early history of the fort and a museum of military medicine commemorates Brooke Army Medical Center.

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Troops here have participated in campaigns from chasing Pancho Villa's insurgents in 1916 as well as both world wars and later. More recent times have seen the post assume an active and important role in the modern army, but that presence is sorely waning.

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Lastly, A Note on Sources
 
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James N.

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Reading About Old Forts of Texas
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In case anyone who has come this far would like to know more about these old forts or the frontier army that manned them, I can make a few suggestions; I have relied completely on books, guides, and pamphlets in my collection, assembled over the course of a half-century. With a title like Frontier Forts of Texas, you would think the book pictured above would be all that's necessary - but you would be wrong. It was one of a series of ...of Texas books that also included Soldiers, Missions, and Six Flags, each chapter contributed by a different author who had specialized in some way on his particular topic. Each of the volumes is good in its own way but severely limited in scope; for example, only four of the eight forts included are relevant to my subject: Belknap, Clark, Concho, and Sam Houston. This would be the preferred source, if only it were more inclusive.

Much better in that respect are the books below, though they too have their limitations. Robert W. Frazier's Forts of the West, published by the University of Oklahoma Press, is the best for a short survey of each fort, but because it includes the entire western United States, grouped by state, it is necessarily spare on information about each. It reads much like the stereotypical "history" book: date established; by whom; named for what or whom; what regiment; how long; repeat. Little better is Soldier and Brave, published by the National Park Service, which suffers similarly by attempting to cover the entire Trans-Mississippi United States, including not only forts but also Spanish Colonial missions and presidios; Indian sites; and battlegrounds. In both these books temporary establishments like camps and cantonments get short shrift, and even major installations seldom receive as much as a full page or any kind of illustration. Maps are better but very general, often showing entire states or regions more as diagrams.

Still better but now severely dated are the books by Herbert Hart published in the 1960's by Superior Publishing Company as part of their vast output of similar-format series that included Western railroads; ghost towns; and illustrated biographies like those of Custer, Grant, and Sheridan by Lawrence Frost. Hart's books are frustrating because of their slap-dash organization, often around a particular topic rather than geographic location or chronology; for example, one chapter is devoted to the so-called Camel Experiment of the 1850's and moves from Camp Verde, Texas, on west through New Mexico Territory to California following the pack trains. That might be fine for the armchair reader sitting at home; but if you're trying to locate Camp Verde among the Texas posts it can be highly annoying. That's why two of his titles are included here - all the Texas forts are not in a single volume! Also, Superior Publishing was not known for the quality of their photo reproduction, so the black-and-white illustrations are often smallish and muddy.

On the plus side, Hart's books are chatty and conversational and tend to include the little snippets of human interest I have tried to include here. Each subject covers two or more pages and includes several illustrations each, though they may only be of open prairie or a historical marker for posts that have disappeared. To his credit, Hart visited and photographed every major fort, post, or cantonment and directions to all the sites are given. Of course over such a long time, some of that information is now outdated: Fort Chadbourne, for example, is described as being inaccessible on private ranch land, which is happily no longer the case.

Of course there are other sources available, though perhaps not so many as was once the case. Other books on the west and army life also pertain to these; the best general-purpose history of western army life is probably Forty Miles A Day On Beans and Hay and the first-person memoir Five Years a Cavalryman by H. H. McConnell has already been discussed. Biographies of commanders and other period memoirs also exist.

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Three of the forts here are now units of the Texas Parks System so each has its own informational folder including a brief history, location, directions, and information about visiting.

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The other forts like those named above and below that are owned by communities, associations, or individuals also have informational folders and brochures.

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Visiting the Forts Today
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As I noted earlier, I have been visiting these places now for a half-century, some only very recently. A few like Camp Cooper or Fort Mason have disappeared entirely - at least as far as I am able to tell - while others like Concho, Clark, and Sam Houston remain remarkably intact, if often changed or altered in appearance. While Fort Concho, above, is one of the best-preserved and is the best interpreted, it suffers nevertheless from its location, engulfed as it has become by the city of San Angelo; indeed, but for the sign, unknowing drivers can pass right by, thinking - if they think at all - it's some project or perhaps some kind of old industrial park. Others like Phantom Hill and Griffin are essentially stabilized ruins, interesting and evocative for that fact alone to anyone whose mind can conjure up the departed dragoons, teamsters, settlers, scouts, and Indians.

All included forts are fairly easily found on modern highway maps, though knowing where to look for them is often necessary. Keep in mind the comment made by Phil Sheridan if you are planning to visit - avoid most of them in the depths of Summer when temperatures can easily reach triple digits! Several are in fairly remote locations, but the state highway system is generally very good, even on backroads like those leading to Phantom Hill and Chadbourne. The Texas Forts Trail that links most of them has its own informational map, but beware that the purpose of this, like other Trails found throughout the state - Forest, Hill Country, Independence, Plains, Lakes, etc. - is to promote tourism rather than to educate, so any historical information given is almost coincidental. Plan your trip well, and I think you will be rewarded!

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James N.

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One of these gentleman i have met.

He hangs around at some old historic site in San Antonio...


:wink:

Of course this refers to my friend Dr. Richard B. Winders, who for the past decade-and-a-half has been the curator of the Alamo; here's another photo taken around the same time in Dallas' Old City Park in Dec., 1985, now over thirty years ago, showing several of the principals in the above post, though in radically different attire:

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Left to right: Mike Hubbard, Ed Owens, the late David Dunnett, Bruce Winders, and myself.
 
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James, if you don't mind I'd like to add to your reference information a bit (generically)... If i am jamming up your thread please speak up and i will gladly repost elsewhere!

(To anyone interested in a particular title, let me know if you require information on authors/publishers/etc. Several of these works have been long out of print and/or were locally published and may be rather scarce/expensive. I'd be more than happy to provide information or scan whatever materials you may need.)

'Texas Forts References and Ramblings'
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As James has mentioned, the Texas forts can be found in a wide range of literary works. Some of these sites have an almost immeasurable number of titles dedicated to them and feature (often redundant) information (Fort Davis inmediatley comes to mind) - while other sites may have little, or even a single title.

As an example (and at the far left in the photo below) 'From Muskets to Mohair' is a gem of a reference and is rather unique - the first half of the book is entirely dedicated to the military history of Fort Terrett, while the second half pertains to the history of the Fort Terrett Ranch, which has been in continuous operation on the post grounds since 1882. Where else will you find a book that bears not only the 1853 post expenditure reports by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Bainbridge - but also mohair bale production rates for 1933?

The photo below also serves as a very abbreviated example of the wide range of publications on the subject of 'Texas Forts' - many are dedicated to a specific site, while others are designed to serve as a guidebook for newcomers following the Texas Forts Trail.

(Both here and elsewhere in this post, you will see several titles and/or authors that James has already mentioned... I apologize for the redundancy!)

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James has already commented on the Texian Press 'Six Series' of which three examples can be seen in the photo below (top row). While common sense discourages the utilization of any one publication as an 'all encompassing' reference, you would be very hard pressed to find a better collection from which you could build a proper research library from. This series features 9 titles (and they don't all cover only six subjects.)

The bottom row features (bottom left) Margaret Bierschwale's 'Fort McKavett, Texas: Post on the San Saba' which is easily the finest book on the subject and unfortunately has become as much of a collectors item as a research reference.

At the other end of the pricepoint spectrum - 'Frontier Forts of Texas' by Charles Robinson III (bottom right) is a more abbreviated work, but at a pricepoint of ~$2 for a lightly used copy it is more than worthy of a home on a Texas history bookshelf.

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'Local publications' are among my favorite of research materials... These are the sold-at-site glorified pamphlets/visitor center booklets/anniversary event programs/etc...

They are usually made available in part by the local newspaper, the applicable 'Friends of Fort ___' organization, the hosting-county historical society, or the TSHA. Symposiums are another great place to find these little treasures.

Whatever you call them, they typically have a great deal of information, often feature a stellar 'works cited' listing, and are always dirt cheap.

Here is a very small example of available offerings - including a reprint of Barry Scobee's 1947 release of 'Old Fort Davis' that came out of the personal library of author/historian Robert K. DeArment.

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As we all know, you will need to branch out to get 'the whole picture' when you are studying a particular site/event.

For example - James has already written (gloriously!) about the existence of 'parasite settlements'.

Books that focus on topics such as the two below are excellent avenues of research for those who seek information about these sites that co-existed (sometimes solely) with/because of the military presence.

For those of us who are law-abiding relic hunters, these references prove themselves to be invaluable.

County history books serve the same purposes, and contain much, much more than just birth/death/census records.

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Anyways, I appreciate anyone who followed me this far - and genuinely hope that anyone interested in delving further into Texas military history is able to walk away from this with something new - whether it be a book title or a tip.

Finally, thanks to James N. for taking the time to create this thread - your engaging writing draws the reader in and hooks them, and your decades worth of historic travels and photographic record keeps us coming back.

You've done more for Texas history exposure on this forum than any other!
 
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Bee

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Thanks, guys, for the fabulous collection of references. I just caught up with the edits and additions to the thread, James N. and I am very very impressed. I have scrambled some of the country that Geronimo and his band hid out in, and it is pretty rugged. Bring lots of water! (another 1:30am post, so hopefully I did not accidentally insult you with bad grammar)
 

James N.

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Thanks, guys, for the fabulous collection of references. I just caught up with the edits and additions to the thread, James N. and I am very very impressed. I have scrambled some of the country that Geronimo and his band hid out in, and it is pretty rugged. Bring lots of water! (another 1:30am post, so hopefully I did not accidentally insult you with bad grammar)

Not this time - glad you liked the final result!
 

EmmaRose222

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Anyone know where to find a drawing of the layout of Camp Joseph E. Johnston -1852 N. Concho ?

Or where to find a drawing of the Camp? Anything is greatly appreciated.

Thanks so much.
 

Irishtom29

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On our way from Duluth to San Antonio we stopped overnight at the campground at Fort Richardson state park in Texas. That night we heard the coyotes howl and I was put in mind of “The Cowboy Song” by Thin Lizzy. I also thought of the scene in Rio Grande where Ben Johnson and Victor McLaglen discuss just what is and what ain’t a coyote call.

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James N.

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On our way from Duluth to San Antonio we stopped overnight at the campground at Fort Richardson state park in Texas. That night we heard the coyotes howl and I was put in mind of “The Cowboy Song” by Thin Lizzy. I also thought of the scene in Rio Grande where Ben Johnson and Victor McLaglen discuss just what is and what ain’t a coyote call.

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Great photos of the fort! I'll mention for those who haven't been there that the picket-post structure in the last one is the small museum in the replica bachelor officers' quarters on Officer's Row, with the Hospital, Bakery, and Powder Magazine visible from the left.
 

James N.

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Anyone know where to find a drawing of the layout of Camp Joseph E. Johnston -1852 N. Concho ?

Or where to find a drawing of the Camp? Anything is greatly appreciated.

Thanks so much.
Sadly, no, I do not; I suppose like so many of the temporary posts it simply disappeared without a trace, although possibly someone like @7th Texas Mounted Rifles may know something about it.
 

Nathanb1

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Anyone know where to find a drawing of the layout of Camp Joseph E. Johnston -1852 N. Concho ?

Or where to find a drawing of the Camp? Anything is greatly appreciated.

Thanks so much.

I might have a source! Check the next post about Ft. McKavett--Cody Mobley is the director and they do a lot of research on area camps--they're featuring one at Kickapoo Springs right now.
 

Nathanb1

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Since James N. is doing such a bang-up job with his thread, I'll just add the info for Ft. McKavett right here. It's not far for us (comparatively!) so we like to run over when they have events. They just held their Camp of Instruction--during one of the coldest weekends we've had this winter. Those wool coats and pants were helpful, but I guarantee the red noses weren't caused by a little nip in the outhouse! Here's the Facebook page info: https://www.facebook.com/visitfortmckavett/

And here's the website: www.thc.texas.gov/historic-sites/fort-mckavett-state-historic-site

We are extremely lucky to have Cody Mobley at Ft. McKavett--he's a terrific expert and photographer using period techniques. Kevin Malcom, the educator, is a terrific resource on the period. Enjoy the great photos and information on both sites!
 

Nathanb1

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Anyone know where to find a drawing of the layout of Camp Joseph E. Johnston -1852 N. Concho ?

Or where to find a drawing of the Camp? Anything is greatly appreciated.

Thanks so much.

Boy, now that I've read more, I'd think you could inquire at Fort Concho. https://fortconcho.com/ I feel sure they have something in their archives. It appears it was close to Water Valley--this article has the gps info for the area--but seems like it's unknown (or on some ranch and they shoot tresspassers :unsure:)
 

EmmaRose222

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I might have a source! Check the next post about Ft. McKavett--Cody Mobley is the director and they do a lot of research on area camps--they're featuring one at Kickapoo Springs right now.
Sadly, no, I do not; I suppose like so many of the temporary posts it simply disappeared without a trace, although possibly someone like @7th Texas Mounted Rifles may know something about it.

Thanks so much for the suggestion, I sent a message.
 
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