Pope's Camp

By: Julia Cauble Smith

Type: General Entry

Published: May 1, 1995

Pope's Camp was established in May 1855 by Capt. John Pope of the United States Topographical Engineers 300 yards east of the Pecos River near Red Bluff Springs in what is now Loving County. The camp was on a rounded bluff of limestone. Its buildings were made of stone and adobe and set in a large area. The main buildings were enclosed by a wall or rampart, designed in the form of an irregular five-pointed star. Many of the buildings had stone-paved floors and well-constructed fireplaces. The porches of the buildings had limestone-slab floors. Some of the outbuildings were connected by cobblestone walkways. The camp presented the appearance of a small fortress. A large garden was cultivated under the brow of the hill.

In 1854 Pope had been sent to find the best railroad route from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. He selected a promising course through the Llano Estacado and along the Pecos River, but the lack of water on the route was a disadvantage. Pope believed the problem could be remedied by drilling for artesian water, and he was given approval to drill test wells. In January 1855 he returned to the Pecos with a company of engineers and established Pope's Camp as a base of operations for the drilling experiment. A large quartermaster's department was organized, and two companies of dragoons were assigned to protect the camp. After three drilling attempts, only the first had even found water, and it would not rise to the surface. On July 10, 1858, Capt. Andrew H. Humphreys ordered Pope to terminate the drilling experiment and abandon the camp.

Pope's Camp was not a formal military camp, although a detachment of soldiers was stationed there to protect the engineers from Indian attack while they drilled for water. The camp, however, was actually the first drilling camp in West Texas. Though Pope drilled for water, many of the problems he encountered were similar to those experienced by men drilling for oil in Loving County in the 1920s and 1930s. After Pope and the engineers left the camp in 1858, the buildings were occupied by employees of the Butterfield Overland Mail Company as a stage station. At the end of the 1980s part of the camp area was covered by Red Bluff Reservoir.

Roscoe P. and Margaret B. Conkling, The Butterfield Overland Mail, 1857–1869 (3 vols., Glendale, California: Clark, 1947). Robert W. Dunn, The History of Loving County, Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1948; condensed in West Texas Historical Association Year Book, 1948).


  • Exploration
  • Missions, Presidios, and Camps

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

Julia Cauble Smith, “Pope's Camp,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/popes-camp.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995