On Monday as we drove on I-10 heading west we saw the signs for Fort Lancaster State Park and Hwy 290 and decided to take the exit. After an interesting trip down a 2 lane road and a few hills, we arrived at this neat location. Fort Lancaster was one of four forts built to protect stage and mail routes during the 1850s and 1860s from Apache Indians. It was only used from 1855 until 1861 and then was abandoned. There is not much left now but they have done a great job with the museum and the layout and research. They display one of the Stagecoaches out front and many signs near the ruins out back. When you pay at the visitor center you get to use the golf cart to tour the remains out back. So off we went with Basenjis in the cart. We spent a good deal of time here and wondered how they had so many soldiers here with so little resources other than LIve Oak Creek trickling nearby. The other three forts were Fort McKavett, Fort Davis and Fort Stockton – all of which are located in this part of Texas.
When it was initially constructed in 1855, the buildings were just “hackadales,” portable frames covered with canvas, but in the summer of 1857, various companies of the 9th Calvary rotated through Fort Lancaster and rebuilt the outpost. By 1860, most of the buildings had been replaced with 25 structures made of stone and or adobe. While there were usually two companies of soldiers at Fort Lancaster, most of them were not well trained, probably because of the absence of qualified instructors. In 1856 an Army Inspector visited the fort and found that the troops were so untrained, he did not want them to demonstrate their rifle firing skills. He also found that there were 76 prisoners in the guardhouse, 15 of them for drunkenness. The Inspector reported, “they desire nothing better than to get drunk and lay in the guardhouse.” The problem stemmed partly because of lack of officers at the fort, and also because of poor conditions.
The soldiers did make contact with the Indians, however. A typical encounter occurred in July of 1857 when a band of Apaches attacked a mail train on its way to Fort Davis from Fort Lancaster. The escort was made up of infantry which fled back to Fort Lancaster after the sergeant in charge of them was killed. Lieutenant Hartz from Fort Davis happened to be at Fort Lancasterat the time with 40 men. He loaded his men into wagons and covered the sides so that the troops were not visible. About forty miles from Fort Lancaster, the Indians attacked again only to find themselves face to face with forty unexpected rifles firing from the wagons. The Indians quickly pulled out of range and set fire to the grass to prevent the soldiers from pursuing them. The troops moved the wagons to an area that was free of grass and attacked the Indians after the flames had passed. This time the Indians just fled.
In 1858, Fort Lancaster housed approximately 150 men and 3 officers of companies H and K of the First United States Infantry, but on April 12, 1859 Company H was reassigned from Fort Lancaster to Fort Stockton. In June of 1860, the U.S. Camel Corps, based at Camp Verde, stopped at the fort. The soldiers at Fort Lancaster escorted stagecoaches and fought skirmishes with Apaches. On December 26, 1867, a large band of Kickapoo and Comanchero raiders attacked the fort to steal the company’s horses. The company was able to repel the attack but did lose 38 horses and mules. Some of the raiders returned two days later to take the few remaining animals but were unsuccessful. Fort Lancaster was not challenged again by the Indians. Sounds like a really interesting place in those days and still a neat place to visit.