A Visit To San Francisco’s Unique Fort Point

If you’re visiting the San Francisco California area you’ll make a good choice by adding a stop at Fort Point to your itinerary.

fort point california

Fort Point under the Golden Gate Bridge

Fort Point is one of the most unique historical sites the the United States. The Fort has been called “the pride of the Pacific,” “the Gibraltar of the West Coast,” and “one of the most perfect models of masonry in America.”

A big reason why this fort is so unique has to do in where it’s located. The site of Fort Point is directly under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge and in the Golden Gate National Parks area. Stand inside or outside the fort gate, look up and you’ll see the bottom of the bridge. There’s nothing else like it.

In 1959, a group of retired military officers and civilian engineers created the Fort Point Museum Association and lobbied for its creation as a National Historic Site. On October 16, 1970, Fort Point became a National Historic Site. Today, Fort Point is a National Historic Site administered by the National Park Service.

fort point under golden gate bridge

Fort Point with the Golden Gate Bridge towering overhead

Fort Point of course was at the mouth of San Francisco Bay well before the Golden Gate Bridge. This fort represents the story of the beginnings of California as well as US Army history. The fort stands as a historical site showcasing the American military from the time of the California Gold Rush and into the 1900’s.

A Strategic Location

There may not have been a better positioned fort to protect the bay entrance. The Spaniards, the first Europeans to arrive in present day San Francisco, built the famous San Francisco Presidio as well as fortifying the cliffs where Fort Point is now located. This was all on the south side of the bay entrance. The Spaniards were concerned with encroachment from the north by both the Russians and the British and having a defense facing the Golden gate opening was preferred

The Russians and their trading operations actually had reached all the way south to around present day Bodega Bay, about 60 miles north of San Francisco. As it turned out, the Russian colony was engaged in trading as opposed to any type of colonization. The Russians were never involved in armed skirmishes with either the Spaniards or the Mexicans after them.

fort point san francisco during golden gate bridge construction

Fort Point during construction of Golden Gate Bridge in 1934

Construction in the 1850’s

Fort Point was constructed by the Americans between 1853 and 1861 as a base to protect the bay. This was during the Gold Rush era of California and during the first decade of American rule.

The final decision to build the fort came in 1850 when California became a state. At that time a series of fortifications were planned to protect the very important and busy bay. The Gold Rush changed San Francisco’s economy virtually overnight and the bay became one of the most important parts of the U.S.

The work in building Fort Point was done by some 200 workers, many unemployed miners. At it’s completion, the U.S. was in a Civil War and the fort was manned to protect against any possible Confederate attack. Military officials stated that the fort’s position and sophistication with large brick walls (seven feet thick) at the San Francisco Bay mouth was the key to the whole Pacific coast.

While Fort Point saw no action during the Civil War the possibility was always there.

fort point pre civil war masonry

Pre Civil War masonry construction at Fort Point California

The One Time Fort Winfield Scott

Another interesting fact according to the National Park Service was that the fort was actually renamed Fort Winfield Scott in 1882 but for whatever reason the name didn’t stick. Eventually the name Winfield Scott was placed on an artillery post at the nearby Presidio. Winfield Scott was a national hero of the Mexican American War.

Turn of the Century Changes

As the years went by, many technological weapon changes took place. In 1892, the army started to construct new concrete and steel fortifications that would contain breech loading rifled guns. The era of the cannon was coming to an end. The 1906 Earthquake was obviously devastating to San Francisco and the fort wasn’t entirely spared. Fortunately it was only moderately damaged. After the earthquake, Fort Point was mostly used for training and for barracks space although the members of the 6th Artillery Coast Guard were stationed there during World War two.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

The Last Days of the California Stagecoach

San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill

A Six Month Voyage Chasing for Gold

A Visit to the Gatekeeper’s Museum / Tahoe City CA

fort point cannon exhibits

One of the several cannon exhibits at Fort Point

Building the Golden Gate Bridge

When you visit Fort Point today you’ll first notice how the fort is constructed directly beneath the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. Fort Point was actually scheduled to be demolished to make way for the 1930’s bridge building. When the bridge building plans were finalized the fort was spared and construction plans called for building around the historic fort. This was a big win for historic preservation and as a result we have a fascinating site to visit taking us back to the last half of the 1800’s.

civil war cannon powder

Cannon powder exhibit at Fort Point National Historic Site

Visiting Fort Point National Historic Site

Fort Point is located at the end of Marine Drive on the Presidio of San Francisco. Getting there can be a bit tricky. If you’re coming from San Francisco proper or points south of the Golden Gate Bridge, take Highway 101 north and exit right at the Golden Gate Bridge toll plaza but before getting on bridge. Turn right at end of exit ramp and then left onto Lincoln Boulevard. Take the first left onto Long Avenue and follow onto Marine Drive and Fort Point at its end. There is parking available before getting to the fort itself.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History)

Visit Historic and Scenic Fort Davis Texas

As the line of westward migration progressed so did the building of military forts along that line.

fort davis texas mountains

Davis Mountains of Texas

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.

map of comancheria

Area referred to as Comancheria

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.

old fort davis texas hospital

Old Fort Davis Texas Hospital circa 1910

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…

Searching for Old Pioneer Trail Wagon Ruts

A Visit to Fort Apache Historic Park

Exploring Western Art in San Antonio Texas

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 paradebugles and hoofbeats, the unique sounds of mounted troops, and music from 1875 band manuals.

mcdonald observatory fort davis texas

McDonald Observatory

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.)

New Mexico Fort Ruins

 

The state of New Mexico is home to a great many historic sites. The rich history of New Mexico includes the Native Pueblo peoples of the southwest, it’s occupation by the Spaniards followed by the Mexicans and beginning in 1846 the occupation by the United States. This mixture of cultures is why New Mexico is such a fascinating state to visit.

fort selden new mexico

Fort Selden, NM ruins

Old Military Forts

When New Mexico was made a territory of the U.S., military outposts were established along the Rio Grande. The Rio Grande generally followed the main travel route between the capital of Santa Fe and Mexico. This was the El Camino Real, the trail carved out by the Spanish Conquistadors. It was the lifeline for supplies between Mexico City and Nuevo Mexico.

It was only natural for military forts to be established along this route. The forts and their garrisons would be key to the U.S. settlement of the territory including protection against Indian raids.

Two Historic Western Forts and Their Ruins

Traveling south to north from Las Cruces along Interstate-25 will take you past two old U.S. Army forts which today lay in ruins. While today the fort’s are in ruins we’re fortunate that the sites have been preserved so that they can be explored by future generations.

fort selden ruins

Fort Selden

Fort Selden

The ruins of Fort Selden, located about thirteen miles north of Las Cruces New Mexico and just west of Interstate 25 near the Rio Grande, is today a New Mexico State Monument. Visiting historic Fort Selden, viewing the ruins and exploring through the Visitors Center, will paint a good picture of what life was like for the soldiers stationed at this frontier fort.

Buffalo Soldiers comprising eight companies of the 125th Infantry were sent to New Mexico Territory. These troops were the first stationed at Fort Selden and would eventually serve at seven forts throughout the territory. At Fort Selden, these Buffalo Soldiers along with others would go on to construct the buildings including the army hospital. Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry stationed at Fort Selden played a major role in chasing down the Apache leader Victorio who was leading many of the deadly raids in southern New Mexico.

Fort Selden, located just west of Interstate-25 is very easy to reach from the Interstate and makes an excellent addition to your New Mexico road trip planner. The state monument is open Wednesday through Monday. The site is closed on Tuesday. Take Exit 19 off of Interstate-25 about thirteen miles north of Las Cruces. The fort is located in the town of Radium Springs, NM.

fort craig new mexico

Fort Craig ruins

Fort Craig

Fort Craig is a National Historic Site which was taken over by the BLM in 1981. The site consists of a Visitors Center and the ruins of the once large and proud military fort. Fort Craig was named for U.S. Army Captain Louis S. Craig who was murdered by deserters in California in 1852.

Fort Craig was built in 1854 and was considered one of the largest and most important frontier forts in the West. Fort Craig played a big role in both the New Mexico Indian campaigns as well as in the American Civil War. Fort Craig was home to the Buffalo Soldiers of the 9th Cavalry and 38th and 125th Infantry.

battle of valverde map

Battle of Valverde Map

Fort Craig lies adjacent to the site of what many believe was the largest Civil War battle in the southwest. This was the Battle of Valverde fought on February 21, 1862. The batttle lasted the entire day. While the Confederates (mostly Texans) prevailed in this battle, and were thus able to thrust further north to Albuquerque and Santa Fe, they were later defeated at the Battle of Glorieta Pass just to the east of Santa Fe. The site of the Battle of Valverde is just to the northeast of Fort Craig on private ranch land. The site is visible from the fort.

Links below are to two additional Trips Into History photo articles you’ll enjoy.

Buffalo Soldiers of West Texas

Santa Fe Trail Wagon Ruts at Fort Union

Barrio de Analco and America’s Oldest House

Could Be The Best Hiking Trail in Sedona Arizona

Visit Fort Craig New Mexico

Fort Craig is located just to the east of Interstate 25 about 44 miles south of Socorro New Mexico and on the west side of the Rio Grande.

From the north, take I-25 to the San Marcial exit, then east over the Interstate, and south on old Highway 1 (about 11 miles). Then follow the signs to Fort Craig. (If traveling on I-25 from the south, take exit 115.) The fort is to the east of NM 1, which parallels the freeway thru some lovely scenery and towns, and will also take you to the entrance of Bosque Apache Wildlife Area and the turnoff to the El Camino Real Museum.

(Article and photos copyright 2013 Trips Into History)

 

 

 

A Visit to Fort Apache Historic Park

 

Today the site of Fort Apache is an Arizona State Historic Park located off Arizona State Hwy 73. The site of Fort Apache is in the White Mountains of Arizona about 190 miles north of Tucson and about 177 miles northeast of Phoenix.  The fort is also four miles south of Whiteriver Arizona in a very scenic and pine forested part of the state.

fort apache arizona

Fort Apache Captain's Quarters

It’s a fun and educational stop during your Arizona vacation road trip and one of Arizona’s finest historic landmarks. You’ll also find several other historic sites within a thirty mile radius.

Fort Apache

Fort Apache was a major outpost during the Apache wars (1861-1886) and remained a military post until 1922.

Today, the 288 acre site is comprised of 27 buildings dating between 1870 and 1930. Buildings include a guardhouse, officer quarters, stables and dormitories. Also included is the White Mountain Apache Cultural Center and Museum.

The museum features an exhibit about the legacy of Fort Apache and an exhibit “Footprints of the Apache”. Many very interesting photos and artifacts make this a must see during your Arizona vacation. It’s one of the most historic of Arizona State Parks and it’s an ideal family road trip destination.

fort apache state historic park

Fort Apache Commanding Officer's House

Some may even remember the 1948 John Ford directed film Fort Apache starring John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Shirley Temple. The film involves an honorable and veteran war captain who finds conflict when his regiment is placed under the command of a young, glory hungry lieutenant colonel with no respect for the local Indian tribe.

The Battle of Fort Apache

The Battle of Fort Apache took place on September 1, 1881. It was an engagement between the cavalry of Fort Apache and dozens of mounted White Mountain Apache’s. The attack on Fort Apache was actually a  reprisal for the Battle at Cibicue Creek in which a notorious medicine man had been killed along with a cavalry officer.

theodore roosevelt indian school

Theodore Roosevelt School Dormitory Building

The Fort Apache battle lasted all day but the Apaches more or less stayed outside of the range of the cavalry riflemen. Reinforcements arrived a few days later but by that time the Apaches had scattered into hiding.

Only three American soldiers were wounded and White Mountain Apache casualties were unknown. While the battle itself was not large in scope, it’s repercussions were.

After the battle other groups of Apaches left their newly formed reservations. They either escaped to northern Mexico or joined Geronimo and other Apache leaders in their war against the whites, both military and civilian. Many innocent people were killed in this running conflict. Geronimo was to later surrender at Skeleton Canyon New Mexico in1886. This represented the ending of the Apache Wars.

fort apache buildings

First Commanding Officer's Quarters log cabin

The Great Indian Leaders

Geronimo remains a Native American legend much the same way as Cochise, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. The difference was that each of these Native American leaders met a different ends.

Cochise was sent to Florida as a captive, returned to Indian Territory and died, Sitting Bull was slain during the uprising that led to the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890 and Crazy Horse was killed by a soldier at Fort Robinson Nebraska in 1877. Geronimo like Cochise was sent to Florida as a prisoner only later to be sent to the Indian Territory where he died.

What to See at Fort Apache

Fort Apache is one of the most preserved old forts in the southwest. The twenty-seven historic buildings on the site will give you plenty of opportunities for picture taking.

One interesting group of buildings was part of the original Theodore Roosevelt Indian Boarding School which was established at the fort during the 1920’s. Several of the  school buildings you’ll view were built during the 1930’s by the WPA.

battle of cibucue creek

Cibucue Creek Battle Monument

Other finely restored structures include the commanding officers quarters, the captains quarters and general barracks structures. Visiting Fort Apache is definitely a trip back into history.

Another excellent stop to make is to the Kinishba Ruins.  The ruins are a National Historic Landmark and are located just four miles west of the fort. The Kinishba Ruins are what remains of a pueblo village that was once occupied by ancestors of today’s Zuni and Hopi pueblo tribes. The site was initially excavated during the 1930’s and was partially rebuilt. This historic site dates back to 1200 to 1400 A.D.

Each year there is an opportunity to attend the annual Apache Song and Dance Celebration at the fort. Arts and crafts are on display as well as food vendors, trail hikes and tours of Fort Apache / Theodore Roosevelt School National Historic Landmark. Information can be found at website www.fortapachearizona.org

For additional information regarding planned events, visit website www.fortapachearizona.org

You’ll also enjoy additional TripsIntoHistory photo articles found on the links below.

The Comanche Indians

Stagecoaches in Black Canyon Arizona

Fort Apache State Historic Park is open daily from 7A to sunset. The Nohwike’ Bágowa museum at the historic park is open Monday-Saturday 8am to 5pm during the summer, and Monday-Friday 8am to 5pm during the winter.

(Content and photos copyright TripsIntoHistory)

 

The Buffalo Soldiers of West Texas

Protecting the Trails

One of the least publicized stories of the old American West might just be the history of the “buffalo soldiers” involvement during the years decades after the American Civil War. This includes the history of the buffalo soldiers of west Texas.

fort stockton texas

Fort Stockton barracks

In a large way, the Civil War divided the era of American westward expansion into two distinct periods.

Prior to the war, westward expansion involved, among other things, in 1849 a mad dash to the California gold fields. It also involved large migration into the Texas area as well as into the northern plains. Migration picked up into the southwest after the Mexican American War in 1846.

Prior to the war years there was no transcontinental railroad and the way west was either over the Oregon Trail through the center part of the country or via the stagecoaches that ran through the southwest. There was no transcontinental telegraph system as well during this time. In fact, 1858 marked the year of the start of the Butterfield Overland Stage Line. This line ran from Missouri through Texas, the New Mexico Territory and into California near San Diego. From their it ran north to San Francisco which was growing tremendously from the Sierra Nevada gold mining.

buffalo soldier

Drawing at Fort Stockton TX

The Buffalo Soldiers

The buffalo soldiers have a very unique history. There are several books written that offer a good overview of how, when and why the buffalo soldier regiments were formed into the regular U.S. Army.

The history of the buffalo soldiers is extensive. The fact is, African-American’s fought bravely alongside the Union army during the Civil War. After the Civil War and by 1867 there were four black regiments established. They were the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry. These were the first  “Buffalo Soldiers“.

It was evident that using black regiments in southern reconstruction was not a good political idea and even more so when there was a real need of more soldiers on the western frontier. Indians were impeding white settlement everywhere from Texas north to Wyoming and Montana. Red Cloud’s War in Wyoming and Montana was arguably the first large conflict starting in 1868.

western infantry uniform

Late 1800's Infantry Buckle

At this very same time plans and construction were getting underway to build the transcontinental railroad. This meant a need for security for both settlers and railroad laborers. Post Civil War, if someplace had to be designated a battle front, it would have been the frontier west.

The buffalo soldiers were sent west out of Fort Leavenworth Kansas and eventually occupied most of the frontier west military outposts at one time or another during the latter 1800’s.

Forts in Texas, New Mexico Territory, Wyoming and Montana..the buffalo soldiers made an appearance. Having African-American troops in a position of authority obviously caused some friction, especially with the Civil War fresh in everyone’s mind.

Research will tell you that the majority of racial abuse came from the area of Texas and New Mexico which of course was home to a large number of ex-Confederate soldiers and sympathizers. Amazingly, some Texas newspapers after the war editorialized negatively concerning the skills of the new buffalo soldiers. The San Antonio Texas newspaper at the time was one of the more aggressive on the subject. The newspaper had a sympathetic readership with most being ex-Confederate military or southern cause supporters. The negative press certainly didn’t help and it had to be endured. If anything, it complicated the work that the soldiers were sent out to accomplish.

cavalry buffalo soldier

Buffalo Soldier exhibit, Fort Stockton

The Mission

If you had to sum up the goals of the buffalo soldiers in the post Civil War West, it would be to protect the trails and in doing so foster westward migration.

There are so many events and incidents in the west involving the buffalo soldiers, the list seems endless.

The story of the buffalo soldiers in Texas and particularly at Fort Stockton in southwest Texas is a good representation of what these brave soldiers were involved in. The buffalo soldiers were an integral part of the post Civil War old west and perhaps more than many realize.

Fort Stockton lies between San Antonio and El Paso and today is directly on Interstate 10. During the 1860’s and 1870’s, the fort was at a crucial junction for the stagecoach and freight lines heading to El Paso and eventually California. Routes that ran past Fort Stockton came out of San Antonio and down from Fort Concho to the north. The Butterfield Overland Mail stage came down through Fort Concho near present day San Angelo Texas on it’s short lived route between Missouri and California. While the Butterfield line disappeared with the start of the Civil War, the area around Fort Stockton still saw a good deal of traffic after the war.

sibley stove

Sibley Stove from Fort Stockton

The route down through El Paso heading west still was popular. In 1867, the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry (buffalo soldiers) went down into Texas.

When the buffalo soldiers arrived at Fort Stockton after the war they found that the forts were in disrepair because of their abandonment  and their occupation by the Texas Confederates. They required rebuilding. Fort Stockton was rebuilt on 960 acres of leased land. It was quite normal for Uncle Sam to build forts on leased land. Thirty-five buildings were constructed by the buffalo soldiers and the construction was completed in 1868. Fort Stockton was essentially a group of buildings with a large parade ground in the middle. It was not built with a stockade wall as most frontier forts were portrayed by Hollywood. It was obviously tough duty in a very remote area.

Both the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry of buffalo soldiers served some nineteen years at Fort Stockton. The Tenth Cavalry was moved to Fort Stockton in 1875 when the Ninth was transferred to New Mexico. What some may not realize is that it was estimated by the government that during that nineteen year span of occupation, 87% of the soldiers based at Fort Stockton were buffalo soldiers. That gives you a good idea of their historic footprint in west Texas. By 1870, the population around the fort grew to over 400. Irrigation was received from the Pecos River and people, mostly from San Antonio, moved there to start farms.

fort stockton guardhouse

Interior of Old Fort Stockton jail or guardhouse

By 1875 there were an estimated 1,100 hundred settlers in the county. Indian threats remained, mostly from the Comanches and Apaches, but during the 1870’s the dangers were dying down.

The last of the Comanches, including their famed leader Quanah Parker, eventually surrendered to the famed Colonel Ranald Mackenzie in Palo Duro Canyon Texas and were sent to the Indian Territory reservations.

Another Trips Into History photo article you’ll enjoy are the Wagon Ruts on the Old Santa Fe Trail. On our Western Trips site see our article on the New Mexico Buffalo Soldiers.

Fort Stockton Today

The military post of Fort Stockton was eventually closed and abandoned in 1886. The Indian threat was gone but the railroads bypassed the town. In fact, a good many western forts were closed at or near the end of the Indian Wars. Today, the fort has been restored and is one of the finest old west military museums depicting the important role of the buffalo soldiers.

fort stockton guardhouse cell

Guardhouse cell door

Operated by the Fort Stockton Historical Society, the museum houses many authentic artifacts of the era. The artifacts on display were retrieved from the site over the years and are now on display for all to see and learn from. The fort tour includes the museum building plus a variety of restored structures such as the officers quarters, enlistedmens barracks, the original guardhouse and others.

It’s really a great stop for the entire family while traveling through southwest Texas. Fort Stockton is also near other historic locations such as Fort Davis, another buffalo soldier fort, the world renown McDonald Observatory at Fort Davis and the Big Bend National Park along the Rio Grande. Southwest Texas is a great addition to your family vacation planner.

(Photos from author’s private collection)