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FORT CONCHO

FORT CONCHO. Fort Concho, in San Angelo, was one of a number of United States military posts built to establish law and order in West Texas as settlers began to move in after the Civil War. A site at the juncture of the Main and North Concho rivers was selected in November 1867 for a new post to replace Fort Chadbourne, which lacked an adequate water supply. Company H of the Fourth United States Cavalry arrived there in December. The post's first commanding officer, Capt. George Gibson Huntt, named the post Camp Hatch after the commander of his regiment, Maj. John Porter Hatch. Later it was called Camp Kelly for the recently deceased Maj. Michael J. Kelly, and in March 1868 the post became Fort Concho, named after the Middle and North Concho rivers, which converge in San Angelo to form the Concho.

Fort Concho's commissary storehouse (today the oldest building in San Angelo) and its twin, the quartermaster storehouse, were constructed in 1868. Subsequent construction progressed slowly because building materials not available locally had to be hauled from the Gulf Coast by oxcart. An official report in 1876 stated that "a flat, treeless, dreary prairie" surrounded the fort, but Capt. Robert G. Carter recalled Fort Concho in the 1870s as "one of the most beautiful and best ordered posts on the Texas border. Its arrangement was artistic and every feature bespoke comfort and convenience. On the south side of the ample parade grounds stood the officers' quarters, tasty, elegant, imposing; on the north, the commodious and handsome barracks; on the east side the commissary and quartermaster's buildings, while the west side of the grounds was closed with an ornamental fence with a large gateway in the center." Civilian stonemasons and carpenters from the Fredericksburg area were employed in the early years of construction, and soldiers built the later buildings. The government did not buy the land on which the fort was built but leased it from private owners.

By 1879 Fort Concho was an eight-company post with some forty permanent structures built of locally quarried limestone around a parade ground that measured about 500 by 1,000 feet. Besides the buildings mentioned by Carter, the fort's stone buildings included stables, blacksmith and carpenter shops, a forage house, an ordnance storehouse, a guardhouse, a powder magazine, a pump house, a bakery, a hospital, an administration building, and a schoolhouse that was used also as a chapel. A number of temporary frame buildings-married soldiers' quarters, telegraph office, and post trader's store-were built adjacent to the fort. The fort was not stockaded, but stone walls surrounded the hospital and the backyards of the officers' quarters. A belvedere on the post hospital afforded a distant view in every direction.

Food from the commissary was sometimes supplemented from the post garden at nearby Bismarck Farm or purchased from the sutler's store. Grain and meat were contracted from local suppliers. Hunting parties killed buffalo and turkeys when possible. Drinking water came from a clear-running spring three miles south of Fort Concho, and water for cooking, washing, and animals was abundant in the nearby rivers.

Fort Concho was commanded by such famous officers as William R. Shafter, Ranald S. Mackenzie, Benjamin H. Grierson,qqv John P. Hatch, and Wesley Merritt. While in command of Fort Concho, Colonel Grierson also commanded the District of the Pecos throughout the existence of that military jurisdiction in far western Texas (1878–81). Fort Concho served as regimental headquarters for the Tenth United States Cavalry, known as the Buffalo Soldiers, from 1875 until 1882. The Fourth Cavalry headquarters was at Fort Concho for several brief periods between 1868 and 1873. The Eleventh Infantry was headquartered at Fort Concho in 1870 and the Sixteenth Infantry from 1882 until 1887. Units of the Third, Eighth, and Ninth United States Cavalry regiments and of the Tenth, Eleventh, Nineteenth, Twenty-fourthqv, and Twenty-fifthqv United States Infantry regiments also served the garrison, along with signal corps personnel, who managed telegraph and weather service.

Soldiers from Fort Concho scouted and mapped large portions of West Texas; built roads and telegraph lines; escorted stagecoaches, cattle drives, and railroad survey parties; and served generally as a police force. At times Fort Concho troops were stationed at semipermanent subposts at Grierson's Spring, Camp Charlotte, and the head of the North Concho. Among the numerous temporary field camps were several former Butterfield Overland Mail stops such as Johnson's Station, Grape Creek Station, and old Fort Chadbourne.

In the early years of the fort's existence, its soldiers skirmished with numerous small parties of Indians. Fort Concho also furnished personnel and supplies for three major Indian campaigns: Mackenzie's 1872 campaign, the 1874 Red River War, and the Victorio campaign of 1879–80. In 1872–73 more than 100 Indian women and children captured by Mackenzie were imprisoned in a stone corral at Fort Concho for six months. Other important Fort Concho events include the 1875 exploration of the Llano Estacado by Colonel Shafter and Capt. Nicholas Nolan's expedition of 1877 (see NOLAN EXPEDITION).

In 1870 a town, which later became San Angelo, began to form across the river from the fort. As civilian law enforcement improved, Fort Concho ceased to be of any value as a military post; from 1882 to 1889 the fort was mainly a holding point for soldiers awaiting reassignment. The army abandoned the fort on June 20, 1889. Most of its buildings escaped demolition by being converted into civilian housing and commercial storage space. In 1929 Ginevra Wood Carson headed a fund-raising campaign to buy the former Fort Concho administration building. She had established the West Texas Museum in 1928 in a room of the county courthouse. In 1930 she moved her museum into the newly acquired building and changed the name to Fort Concho Museum. The city of San Angelo took over the operation of the museum in 1935 and began a program of land acquisition and building restoration. By the mid-1950s the city had acquired several fort properties and had rebuilt two barracks and two mess halls from ruins. The fort was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961, and its first master plan for reconstruction was prepared by the National Park Service in 1967. Besides museum exhibits and living history programs, Fort Concho hosts a variety of community activities. See also FORT CONCHO NATIONAL HISTORIC LANDMARK.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Robert G. Carter, On the Border with Mackenzie, or Winning West Texas from the Comanches (Washington: Eynon Printing, 1935). Fort Concho Report. J. Evetts Haley, Fort Concho and the Texas Frontier (San Angelo Standard-Times, 1952). Frank M. Temple, "Colonel B. H. Grierson's Administration of the District of the Pecos," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 38 (1962).

Wayne Daniel and Carol Schmidt

Citation

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

Wayne Daniel and Carol Schmidt, "FORT CONCHO," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qbf11), accessed July 25, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.