The excitement of discovery is what draws us to wander. Our travels have taken us to the far corners of our home state of Texas as well as the diversity of the fascinating states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Florida and Massachusetts.
Join us here as we share some of the special moments we have encountered through our photos and essays.
After the Civil War, as settlers began arriving in North Texas, clashes broke out with the Native Americans living and hunting these lands.
The military turned its attention to the Texas Frontier as settlers pleaded for help against the raiding Indians
The military responded by building a line of federal defensive frontier forts in West Central Texas.
We visited two of these anchor forts in March of 2007.
The most northern, Fort Richardson was established in 1867 and played an important role in this hostile Indian Territory for 12 years. The site was chosen on a high rolling prairie about half a mile to the southwest of the town of Jacksboro, on the south side of Lost Creek, a tributary of the Trinity River.
Indians living on their reservations in Oklahoma just 70 miles away frequently raided and terrorized settlers in the area then hastily retreated to the reservations where they could not be followed. The Quaker Peace Policy implemented by President Ulysses S. Grant in 1869 protected the Indians on their reservations and gave the military no authority.
One of the primary duties of the troops at Fort Richardson was protecting the local settlers and travelers. They also escorted cattle drives on the dangerous northern trails from Texas into Kansas. Famed Indian fighter Colonel Ranald Slidell Mackenzie, known for taking the battle to the Indians, commanded Fort Richardson from April 1871 to December 1872 and launched partially successful campaigns against the marauding Indians.
The desertion rate at the fort was high as many of the men constructed the wood buildings or labored in the quarry when they would rather have been fighting Indians. Finally The Quaker Peace Policy was removed in August of 1874 and all out war against the Indians was launched. The great Red River War ended the Indian threat to Texas ending the need for Fort Richardson. In May of 1878 the command and the properties of Fort Richardson had been transferred to Forts Griffin and Concho.
In 1963 the National Parks Service designated Fort Richardson a Registered National Historic Landmark and restoration of the fort began. A self-guided walking tour explores the 41-acre site where the fort buildings stood. Begin at the Interpretive Center, which houses exhibits about the history and the fort. The post hospital, the largest building, was completed in 1870 and is now an authentically restored military hospital. Two replica picket style troops barracks as well as seven of the post’s original structures are standing, including the hospital, bakery, guardhouse, and magazine all constructed of native limestone. The bakery operated 24 hours a day supplying the post with 600-800 loaves of bread daily. The Guardhouse, originally 4 ft. by 8 ft. consisted of 4 stone cells housing three men to a cell. It was nearly always full with deserters or bored soldiers who were jailed for drunkenness or fighting. Additional rooms had to be added.
One of the five original officer’s houses built out of cottonwood in 1867 is standing and is the only one of its kind left in the United States.
Fort Richardson State Park provides campsites. Also at the park Lost Creek Reservoir State Trailway part of the Rails-To-Trails program, is a 10 mile hike, bike and equestrian trail following the creek, Lake Jacksboro then crossing the dam at Lost Creek Reservoir. The former quarry is a small fishing lake, stocked with rainbow trout each winter.
Fort Richardson is on U.S. 281 one mile SE of Jacksboro 60 miles W of Ft. Worth.
After 3 days we moved on, 87 miles to the SW, following the path of the soldiers to Fort Griffin. Soldiers had arrived as early as July 31st, 1867 to establish the post. After the original location they had chosen was flooded during heavy rains they moved to the top of a 100-foot mesa overlooking the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. The remaining soldiers and officers arrived at this fort located at the edge of hostile Indian Territory In May of 1878 from Fort Richardson as it had been officially ordered abandoned.
More than 90 structures were built here. Original plans were for all of the buildings to be constructed of stone however only six actually were. Today you can explore the grounds of the fort viewing ruins of the original stone buildings as well as reconstructed wooden structures. A self-guided walking tour starts at the visitor center and leads directly out to a 45-foot deep well, which provided drinking water for the fort.
Two replicas of barracks face the parade grounds, which is dominated by a flagpole in the shape of a ship’s mast. The wooden barracks housed 6 men in a miserable space 13 ft. long 8 1/2 ft. wide and 6 ft. high. Built as temporary wooden structures they soon became permanent, and as the green wood they were built from began to shrink and warp, cold winds, rain, sand storms and in winter snow blew in through the jagged cracks in the walls. These poor living conditions were barely better than living outside and fostered low morale and combined with the lack of hygiene disease was common.
Ruins of the officer’s quarters are mainly chimneys and foundations. The restored post bakery still has its original brick ovens. The Sutler’s store is one of the best-preserved ruins on the post. Settlers and buffalo hunters patronized the store for supplies while the soldiers were usually found spending their wages on drink and gambling in the Flat. When not occupied in the field the soldiers could be found in this parasite town that had sprung up to serve them. It became one of the wildest towns in the west as the Cowboys and cattlemen stopped for supplies and entertainment in the saloons, houses of ill repute and gambling dens creating a lawless community that became the town of Fort Griffin in 1874.
It is easy to imagine their lives, these men who lived and died on the Texas frontier as you walk the grounds. The wind follows you as you tour the ruins and if you listen carefully you can hear whispers of their voices from long ago. Echoes of discontent as they struggle through harsh conditions and boredom on the post are followed by sounds of excitement as they head into the field and finally the raucous sounds of time off duty down at the Flat.
Soldiers at Fort Griffin served in every decisive campaign against the Kiowa and Comanche. They also protected settlers, travelers and provided armed escorts for stagecoaches. Tonkawa Indians, enemies of the Comanche assisted the enlisted men as scouts and guides on a regular basis. In between patrols the men became bored and complained they were being used as construction workers to improve the quarters of the officers. Colonel Mackenzie, headquartered his campaigns against the Indians out of Fort Griffin in 1871, 1872 and 1874. As the Indian wars moved further west the area around Fort Griffin quickly settled. Also the Quaker Indian policy, now under attack would soon be repealed allowing the military to pursue the war parties.
The Flat’s industry was buffalo hides but as the herds were being decimated focus moved to cattle. Roaming across the Texas ranges were millions of longhorn cattle whose ancestors arrived with Columbus on his second voyage to the new world in 1493. The Spanish brought them into Mexico and later across the Rio Grande into what is now Texas in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. An estimated 10 million head of these cattle were driven north from this area. Today the descendants of the wild and tough Texas longhorn live in a small herd managed by the state of Texas and freely roam the park’s pastures.
As the plains tribes were finally subdued and Kiowa and Comanche domination came to an end in N TX. the Post was closed and ordered abandoned on May 31, 1881. With the closing of the fort the town began to decline. Most people moved on as the cattle drives were winding down and the railroad bypassed the town.
Bisected by U.S. 283 about 15 miles north of Albany in Shackleford County. The post is west of the highway and the campground on the east side.
The Comanche and Kiowa warriors and the brave frontiersmen are long gone but their story is preserved and lives on at these two state parks and historic sites. Both of these posts were garrison rather than stockade fortification. They were not meant to withstand siege attacks, rather a camp where soldiers retreated to recover their wounds, mend gear, clean weapons and regroup for another venture.