Sunday, August 28, 2011

Trip Report: Fort Davis National Historic Site

Fort Davis National Historic Site is located at the mouth of a box canyon on the north edge of the town of Ft. Davis, the highest incorporated town in Texas. The fort was established in 1854 to protect emigrants and stagecoaches from Apaches and Comanches along the San Antonio-El Paso Road, which came directly through the grounds of the post. The fort was closed in 1891. It is regarded as one of the best preserved frontier forts in the Southwest.

Today, visitors can enjoy self-guided tours of furnished buildings and ruins and hiking on designated nature trails, which connect with trails of adjacent Davis Mountains State Park. One of the more unique features of the post are the bugle calls and sound representation of an 1875 dress retreat parade heard over the parade ground at scheduled times throughout the day. Five restored and refurnished structures are open on a self-guided basis.

Parade ground with officers' quarters
Donna and I visited the fort in the 1980s, but wanted to tour the grounds again. We began at the visitor center, which contains numerous exhibits. The visitor center is housed in a restored barracks. Next door is a restored and furnished barracks detailing what living conditions would have been like in the 1880s.

Interior of restored and furnished barracks
Next, we toured the restored/furnished commisary building, and then took a short hike to the post cemetery. Following this short detour, our route took us by several two-story officers' quarters. Next we stopped to tour some of the houses along "Officers' Row".

Ruins of two-story officers' quarters in foreground. Restored two-story officers' quarters in center. Officers' Row beyond this with Sleeping Lion Mountain in background.
The first house we toured was that belonging to the commanding officer, which is located near the center of Officers' Row. We then toured a house shared by lieutenants.

Quarters for commanding officer. Note 3 chimneys on near side, with 2 more on opposite side.
Much of the fort is comprised of foundation ruins. Work is being done constantly to improve and maintain the buildings.

Originally, the post was located deeper in the canyon than the buildings indicate. During the War-Between-the-States, the post was eventually abandoned. When re-occupied in 1867, buildings were located farther out on the flat area at the mouth of the canyon.

The fort is located in a very scenic area, with rocky escarpments on the west side of the post. Limpia Creek lies just to the north, and this served as the main water source. There were also numerous trees nearby, a rarity in much of West Texas, and these were useful for building materials and fuel.

North edge of Officers' Row at left. Intact two-story officers' quarters and ruins of another officers' quarters. Ruins of fort chapel at right. Note canyon escarpment in background.

Fort Davis had a colorful history. In addition to protecting emigrants and settlers, it was involved in an experiment beginning in 1855 to use camels in the southwest to carry supplies. During 1859 and 1860, Fort Davis served as the base of operations for this experiment, and the camels were able to carry heavier loads than horses, mules, and oxen while requiring less water and food. However, with the outbreak of the War-Between-the-States, the experiment was forgotten.

Following the war, buffalo soldiers occupied the post, as they did many other frontier posts. By 1880, things became peaceful on the frontier, and the post was finally closed in 1891.

Visitors to the fort should allow 2 or 3 hours to walk the grounds, tour the furnished buildings and visitor center, and watch an interpretive film.

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