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Fort Hancock

Bruce J. Dinges General Entry

Fort Hancock, originally designated Camp Rice, was a military installation established on April 15, 1881, as a subpost of Fort Davis to defend against Indians and bandits from across the Rio Grande. On July 9, 1882, it was moved from its initial location six miles northwest of Fort Quitman to a site on the Southern Pacific Railroad. The next month it was moved again to higher ground nearby. Commanding general William T. Sherman believed the fort would be permanent because of its proximity to the railroad, and it was one of the few Texas forts to be purchased by the United States War Department (for $2,370 in 1883). On July 1, 1884, Camp Rice became an independent post in order to establish more efficient administration, and on July 17 Congress authorized major improvements that cost $47,000. On May 14, 1886, the fort's name was changed to Fort Hancock, in honor of Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, who had died on February 9.

Capt. Theodore A. Baldwin and Company I, Tenth United States Cavalry, formed the first garrison of the independent post. Thereafter, it was generally garrisoned by mixed detachments of infantry and cavalry rarely numbering more than sixty men. These troops patrolled the Rio Grande to prevent illegal crossings by smugglers, Mexican bandits, or insurrectionists. Post commanders included ethnologist and author Capt. John G. Bourke (June-August 1885) and Maj. S. B. M. Young (August 1885-November 1887).

Fort Hancock suffered at various times from the ravages of both water and fire. Under Bourke, soldiers of the Third Cavalry constructed dikes to protect the post from overflow from the Rio Grande. On the night of May 31, 1886, the western dike broke and the lower portion of the fort was flooded. The break was repaired and the dike strengthened, but four nights later a heavy gale pushed water over the retaining wall and flooded the entire post to a depth of eighteen inches to three feet. In the mid-afternoon of February 14, 1889, the carpenter and blacksmith shops were burned, and on the morning of March 30 the blacksmith and wheelwright's shop followed. Fires on May 4 and May 11 burned the post gymnasium, the quartermaster's stable, and the haystack. By this time Fort Hancock had virtually outlived its usefulness. It was turned over to the Department of the Interior on November 1, 1895, and abandoned by the army on December 6. A marker on U.S. Highway 80, fifty-two miles southeast of El Paso, marks the site.

Herbert M. Hart, Tour Guide to Old Western Forts (Boulder, Colorado: Pruett, 1980). George Ruhlen, "Fort Hancock-Last of the Frontier Forts," Password, January 1959.

Time Periods:

  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

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

Bruce J. Dinges, “Fort Hancock,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 17, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.