By Alexandra Dedovitch
In the days when Texas travelers needed protection from warring Native American tribes, wagons sought safe passage as they expanded westward, and camels roamed the region as an experiment for military transportation, Texas military forts were a pinnacle of importance for the Texas frontier. Although long deserted from active duty, these 3 famous Texas Forts preserve the legacy of a powerful past in our nation’s history, including the many stories behind their unique uses and their undeniable impact on Western settlement.
Head to the banks of the Clear Fork of the Brazos River in West Texas and you will discover the historic remains of Fort Griffin, along with massive herds of hybrid bred Texas Longhorn cattle. Fort Griffin State Historic Site was once a defense and support post brimming with troops, including Buffalo Soldiers and Tonkawa scouts, offering protection during the Red River War of 1874 and even from the rowdy townspeople of Fort Griffin itself!
The town of Fort Griffin, also named The Flat or Hide Town, which eventually dissolved, was once said to be “one of the West’s five wildest towns.” In fact, infamous characters and outlaws like Wyatt Earp, John H. “Doc” Holliday, “Bat” Masterson, John Larn, John Selman, “Big Nose” Kate Elder, and “The Poker Queen” Lottie Deno could be spotted lurking in one of the town’s scandalous establishments. While it is believed that Fort Griffin soldiers partook in some of the amiss activities, they were often sought after and used to police this exceptionally unruly town.
Of course, Fort Griffin’s official purpose was to oversee the Southern Plains, serving the area from 1867 to 1881. Aged barracks, first sergeant’s quarters, a mess hall, powder magazine, bakery, hand-dug well, and campgrounds can all be found among its stony remnants.
It is also home to the Official State of Texas Longhorn Herd. Not only does Fort Griffin offer a rare experience for visitors to get up close and personal with these authentic Texas creatures, but also provides a truly unique space for outdoor activities like fishing for river catfish, outdoor camping, hiking nature trails, and perfect night skies for stargazing due to the large surrounding ranches and minimal light pollution in the area.
Both a National Historic Site and a Texas State Antiquities Landmark, Fort Griffin offers visitors a particularly interesting experience combining military history, livestock migration, and leisurely outdoor recreation all in one place.
Onward and outward! Fort Lancaster State Historic Site was a significant post in aiding westward expansion in the 1850s. On your visit, you will discover both incredible views of the desert landscape of the Trans-Pecos region, but also staggering remnants of the over 30 permanent limestone and adobe structures once permeating this memorable Texas state historic site spanning 82-acres in size.
Fort Lancaster resides in a peaceful and isolated pocket among the Pecos River Valley. Designed to defend the Lower San Antonio – El Paso Road and safely escort wagon trains, mail carriers, and western settlers on their way to California, visitors can explore the Fort Lancaster remains, including a sutlers store, bakery, blacksmith shop, hospital and they can even spot the old wagon road on a hillside east of the site.
This unique military fort was the only U.S. Army post in Texas ever attacked by Native Americans and it was the one and only, fort owned, and Texas operated site that hosted camels for military transportation. An experiment conducted by the U.S. Army in 1855 to use military camels in expeditions, Fort Lancaster became a resting spot for their passage across arid western destinations.
A historic treasure, both statewide and nationally, Fort Lancaster is an official Texas State Antiquities Landmark and a National Historic Place worth taking a trip to see for yourself.
Among the most well-preserved Texas military frontier forts, Fort McKavett State Historic Site continues to be a shining example of a historic Texas Indian War military post. Surrounded by majestic Hill Country scenery, Fort McKavett is 160 years in the making. Of course, it remains one of the most intact and was described as the “prettiest post in Texas,” by General William T. Sherman.
Home to all four of the famous Buffalo Soldier troops, the first Medal of Honor was awarded to an African American soldier, Sergeant Emanuel Stance, for his service at Fort McKavett. Women were also employed by the military as laundresses at this unique Texas fort.
Once used as protection for West Texas migration, Fort McKavett became an important military post for supplies, rations, and provisions as tensions between Comanche Indians and Western settlers worsened after the Civil War.
Visitors can explore restored structures and historic remnants including barracks, officer’s quarters, a dead house (known as a morgue today), schoolhouse, hospital, sink, post headquarters, the commanding officer’s quarters, and learn about the real tales of early West Texas in the lives of soldiers, women, and children at Fort McKavett.
Fort McKavett is a famous Texas fort that is a trip-worthy destination for anyone interested in Texas history, military culture, and western settler exploration.
Visit any of these 3 famous Texas forts to feel the same flame of merit, intrigue, and discovery as you explore the physical remembrances of a telling time when military forts were forged from the hands of the soldiers themselves, protection from warring tribes was necessary, and westward expansion was at its peak in our nation’s history.