Postcard from a Frontier Fort - Ft. Davis, Texas

Entrance to Fort Davis
An important post in the defense of frontier Texas, Fort Davis played a major role in the history of the Southwest. Between 1854 until 1891, its troops protected emigrants, freighters, mail coaches, and travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso Road on their way to the gold fields of California. Fort Davis is now considered one of the best examples of a frontier military post in the American Southwest.

Named for Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, the fort was first garrisoned by six companies of the Eighth U.S. Infantry. Constructed in a box canyon near Limpia Creek on the eastern side of the Davis Mountains, wood, water, and grass were plentiful. From 1854 to 1861, the soldiers spent much of their time in the field pursuing Comanches, Kiowas, and Apaches. With the outbreak of the Civil War and Texas' secession from the Union, the federal government evacuated Fort Davis. The fort was then occupied by Confederate troops until they abandoned it in the summer of 1862 and Fort Davis was deserted for the next five years.

Ruins of Ft. Davis
In June 1867, four companies of the Ninth U.S. Cavalry reoccupied Fort Davis and construction of a new fort just east of the original post began. By the end of 1869, a number of officers' quarters, two enlisted men's barracks, a guardhouse, temporary hospital, and storehouses had been erected. Construction continued through the 1880's until there were more than 100 structures, including quarters for more than 400 soldiers.

The primary role of safeguarding the west Texas frontier against the Comanches and Apaches continued until 1881, but the last major military campaign involving troops from Fort Davis occurred in 1880. The Comanche had been driven from the area several years earlier and in a series of engagements, units from Fort Davis and other posts forced the Apaches and their leader Victorio into Mexico. There, Victorio and most of his followers were killed by Mexican soldiers. With no more Indians to fight, garrison life at Fort Davis became routine and often boring for long stretches of time. Occasionally, the soldiers were called upon to escort railroad survey parties, repair dirt roads and telegraph lines, and pursue Mexican bandits and horse thieves. In June 1891, Fort Davis was once again abandoned as it had "outlived its usefulness." Over the subsequent years, many of the structures were stripped for lumber and building materials by area ranchers and the site decayed in the harsh West Texas sun. However, some of the buildings were utilized as homes and these were kept in repair and can be seen today in their original condition.

In 1961, the fort was authorized as a national historic site and restoration work began. Today there are 24 buildings fully restored (some are furnished with historically correct furniture and objects) and more than 100 ruins to explore. For those interested in frontier history, this is a must see. Of course, for a site that is over 160 years old, there are many interesting stories. There's even a reported haunting which you can read about on our sister site by clicking here. Ft. Davis is definitely out "in the boonies," but it is well worth the effort to get there.

2-story officer's quarters
Ft. Davis parade grounds. Officer's quarters
to the left.