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SPANISH FORT, TX

SPANISH FORT, TEXAS. Spanish Fort is located in north central Montague County at the end of Farm Road 103 one mile south of the Red River. Spanish Fort began in the eighteenth century as a fortified Taovaya Indian settlement, misnamed later by Anglo settlers who found Spanish artifacts and ruins of a fort near the site. Spanish records show that between 1750 and 1757 the Taovayas established two permanent villages on opposite sides of the Red River near the site. The story is told that in 1759 Col. Diego Ortiz Parrilla led a retaliation effort against Taovaya and Comanche Indians who had looted San Luis de las Amarillas Presidio. Several hundred Spanish soldiers found the Taovayan village fortified with entrenchments, wooden stockades, and a moat and protected by some 6,000 Indians flying the French flag. After a four-hour battle the Spanish retreated. They even left their baggage train and two cannon. By 1771 the Spanish had made peace with the Indians, but concern over continued theft, especially of horses, led to a visit in 1778 by Athanase de Mézières, lieutenant governor of the Natchitoches region. He named the region San Teodoro and persuaded the Taovayas to surrender the two cannon.

Beginning in 1778 a series of smallpox epidemics and American encroachment after the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 decimated the population. By 1841 the Taovayas had left their fortification to crumble in San Teodoro. An early white settler reported visiting the ruins in 1859, but since the Taovayas had long ago departed, he had no idea of their history and assumed the ruin had been an old Spanish fort. By the early 1870s a town called Burlington had developed near the site of San Teodoro. It served as a watering-hole for cattle drivers headed for the Chisholm Trail. Stockmen on the trail bedded their herds at Red River Station, then rode to nearby Burlington for supplies and entertainment. The town grew quickly, and local citizens applied for a post office in 1876, but postal authorities supposedly rejected their request because another post office in Texas had the name. Two local men suggested the misnomer "Spanish Fort" after the ruins nearby. The new name was accepted, and the Spanish Fort post office opened in 1877. At its peak, the town had numerous businesses and churches, a Masonic lodge, five physicians, four hotels, and several saloons, the most popular of which was J. W. Schrock's Cowboy Saloon, where cattle men collected to drink and swap stories. On the town square, Herman J. Justin founded the boot company which later grew into Justin Industries. Justin took orders from the drivers going north and had their custom boots ready in time for them to pick up on their way south again.

By 1884, when the first school opened in a log building, at least two newspapers had been published in Spanish Fort, the Burlington Times and the Spanish Fort New Era. The population reached 300 by 1885, but Spanish Fort developed a reputation as a rough town. Justin's wife later reported that over forty murders took place there during the cattle heyday-indeed, on one Christmas morning, three men were killed before breakfast. Outlaws hiding out in Indian Territory crossed the Red River to obtain supplies at Spanish Fort, causing frequent "affrays" which further disrupted the town. Ultimately, the excitement at Spanish Fort died down when the cattle trails moved further west, and the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway bypassed the settlement. In the late 1880s Justin moved his boot company to nearby Nocona, where it continued to flourish in the 1980s. Spanish Fort's population remained at about 250 through the first forty years of the twentieth century, with a half-dozen businesses surviving to 1941. As better job opportunities attracted residents elsewhere, the population rapidly declined to only forty by 1952. The post office and all but one of the businesses closed around 1970. By the 1990s Spanish Fort had become a virtual ghost town. The ruins of the old Taovaya fortification had disappeared after more than a century of farming by Spanish Fort residents, but a state historical monument, erected in 1936, marked the site of old San Teodoro. In 2000 Spanish Fort had a population of fifty, but nearly all of the buildings in the square, including a brick school erected in 1924, remained empty and abandoned.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

T. Lindsay Baker, Ghost Towns of Texas (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986). Dallas News, April 14, 1935. Guy Renfro Donnell, The History of Montague County, Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1940). Llerena Friend, "Old Spanish Fort," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 16 (1940). Jeff S. Henderson, ed., 100 Years in Montague County, Texas (St. Jo, Texas: Ipta Printer, 1958).

Lea Anne Morrell

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Lea Anne Morrell, "SPANISH FORT, TX," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hns64), accessed August 29, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.