As the line of westward migration progressed so did the building of military forts along that line.
When gold was discovered in California in the late 1840’s more people than ever headed west. The charge for military forts such as Ft Davis and it’s troops was simply to extend security whenever possible. The military forts existed to aid emigration. In the case of Fort Davis, it was established in 1854 to help protect a road which was 600 miles in length stretching from San Antonio Texas all the way to El Paso on the border with the new New Mexico Territory. This southern route west was desirable during the winter months for it’s relatively mild weather. Memory of the ill fated Donner Party caught in the Sierra Nevada blizzards was still fresh on peoples minds.
The Dangers of Comancheria
The military post helped protect settlers, mail coaches and freight wagons on this isolated south Texas trail. During this era the biggest concern for anyone traveling the trail was the nomadic Comanches. The Comanches were hunters and excellent horsemen and were also known to be some of the fiercest warriors of all Indian tribes. Many historians have contended that the Comanches were tougher warriors than even the Apaches. Texans or Tejanos, including the Spanish and Mexican military had fought the Comanche tribes for years as settlement moved from east Texas to west Texas.
Heading West in the 1850’s and a Waiting Civil War
There was quite a bit of western migration in the 1850’s. This was not only because of the western gold strikes but also because of the end of the Mexican-American War which opened up the New Mexico Territory to the Union.
Many of the early New Mexico settlers came from Texas, especially along the southern tier of the vast New Mexico Territory. This concentration of pro confederate settlers was one reason for the attempted succession of the southern part of the New Mexico Territory during the Civil War. The Confederacy ideally wanted to establish a link to the Pacific from Texas to southern California. Geographically, Fort Davis located near the beautiful Davis Mountains near the Big Bend area of Texas was in a Confederate stronghold.
The Civil War caused big problems in Texas and not only involving the Union. Two things happened. Many Union troops were called east to the major battle areas. This stripped the Texas frontier of military protection. The second element was that Texas was on the side of the Confederacy. Texas militia attacked and took over the Union forts in their area of the country. Most accounts report that the forts actually surrendered as opposed to full scale warfare between Union troops and Texans. The Texans would have had much greater numbers and a secure supply line.
With the absence of Union Cavalry during the war Comanche raids increased. Settlers along the frontier edge were at much greater risk. While the Texas militia drove Union troops out of Texas at the beginning of the war, they had no less trouble with the Comanches. You could almost say that the pro Confederate Texans were fighting a two front war. In addition to the Comanches, the Apaches were also present in south Texas until they were later literally driven out by the Comanches.
See the additional Trips Into History articles on the links below…
Adding a Stop to Fort Davis Texas to Your Travel Planner
The old Fort Davis site was officially dedicated in 1966 and is now managed by the National Park Service. The old Fort Davis is an excellent example of frontier forts from that historic era, including both ruins and restorations.
The fort’s museum, open daily in reconstructed barracks, does a fine job of interpreting frontier life, it’s hardships and dangers during the mid 1800’s. Another event at the fort is a sound re-creation of a 19th-century military parade—bugles and hoofbeats, the unique sounds of mounted troops, and music from 1875 band manuals.
Easily accessible from Interstate-10 in southwest Texas, the fort gives the visitor a real feel for life on a southwest frontier post. Located on the northern edge of town, the fort can be reached from I-10 on the north, or U.S. 90 from the south. The site can be reached by Texas 17 and Texas 118.
Fort Davis is located about 175 miles southeast of El Paso Texas. Also a very good stop is Fort Davis State Park located 4 miles northwest of the town of Fort Davis TX. It is one of the best state parks in Texas.
Another must stop if your Texas vacation takes you to Fort Davis is the world famous McDonald Observatory. Located in the Davis Mountains, this is a first class observatory and functions as a research unit for the University of Texas in Austin. This is a fun Texas side trip for the entire family. There are many excellent stops on your Texas road trip between San Antonio and El Paso and Fort Davis is one of them.
(Article copyright 2014 Trips Into History. Photos and images in the public domain. Davis Mountains photo credited to Zereshk, CC share-alike.)