Fort Concho is a National Historic Landmark owned and operated since 1935 by the city of San Angelo, the seat of Tom Green County in West Texas. Situated on the North Concho River, near its confluence with the South and Middle Concho rivers, the site selected for Fort Concho was strategic to the stabilization of the region, because of the location of no fewer than five major trails in the vicinity. Even though the fort was surrounded by miles of flat treeless prairie, it was considered to be “one of the most beautiful and best ordered posts in Texas."
Other forts in the frontier fort system were Forts Griffin, Richardson, Belknap, Chadbourne, Fort Stockton, Fort Davis, Fort Bliss, McKavett, Clark, Fort McIntosh, Fort Inge and Phantom Hill in Texas, and Fort Sill in Oklahoma. There were "sub posts or intermediate stations" including Bothwick's Station on Salt Creek between Fort Richardson and Fort Belknap, Camp Wichita near Buffalo Springs between Fort Richardson and Red River Station, and Mountain Pass between Fort Concho and Fort Griffin.
The earlier Fort Chadbourne
Concho was established as a United States Army post in 1867 and named for the nearby Concho River. It replaced the earlier Fort Chadbourne in Bronte in Coke County north of San Angelo. Chadbourne was established in 1852 by elements of the 8th Infantry and named for Second Lieutenant Theodore Lincoln Chadbourne, who was killed in the Battle of Resaca de la Palma in the Mexican War. The post experienced a chronic water shortage, and was abandoned in 1867. Troops transferred to Fort Concho, but the military maintained a presence at Chadbourne until 1873. The Chadbourne ruins are open to the public, but no artifacts may be taken. The fort is a popular site for school field trips. The Fort Chadbourne Cemetery contains numerous poignant old markers. The oldest tombstone dates to 1877.
Building the fort
During its 22-year existence as an active Army fort, Concho mainly served to protect frontier settlers, stagecoaches, wagon trains and the United States mail, and maintain trade routes. Several successful campaigns against the Comanches were launched from Fort Concho. In addition, the post played a pivotal role in the suppression of illegal profiteering between the Mexican and American traders known as Comancheros.
The initial site for Concho was abandoned after the expenditure of $28,000 to prepare the land for future construction. Pecan wood was first considered as the building material, but it was found to have been too hard and unmanageable. Adobe bricks were then used, but the soldiers lacked experience with that material. Soon their work was melted away by heavy rains. Finally, sandstone from nearby quarries was used to build Concho, but there were no stonemasons available. Therefore, private German contractors were recruited from Fredericksburg, the seat of Gillespie County in the Texas Hill Country to the south. The masons anchored the sandstone with pecan wood beams and rafters. Construction continued for the entire existence of the fort, and it was deactivated before it was ever actually completed. It consisted of forty buildings on 40 acres (160,000 m2).
Among the infantry and cavalry officers who commanded Fort Concho were Colonels Ranald Slidell Mackenzie of New York, William R. Shafter of Michigan, Benjamin H. Grierson of Illinois, John Porter Hatch of New York, and Wesley Merritt. Under Grierson, there were African American troops at the fort as well, which became known as the headquarters of the Buffalo soldiers, the black troops of the 10th Cavalry. One of the buffalo soldiers, George B. Jackson, later became a businessman, rancher, and politician in San Angelo.
Mackenzie was the dominant figure in the history of Fort Concho. It was long said that he continued to exert his command from beyond the grave. Numerous ghost stories have been told about Concho.
In September 1872, Mackenzie and his troopers, called "Mackenzie's Raiders", surprised the Comanches and successfully attacked a large encampment. Twenty-three Indians were killed, and another 127 women and children were taken captive. The captives were marched to Fort Concho, where they were imprisoned through the winter in the stone corral. The following spring, the women and children were allowed to rejoin their families at the Indian reservation near Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
On the morning of September 27, 1874, Mackenzie and his troops were again thrust into battle with the Indians. Mackenzie came upon hundreds of teepees in the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle, considerably to the north of Fort Concho. Mackenzie immediately ordered his troopers to attack. There was little early warning, and the Indians were routed and their village destroyed. Mackenzie's men slaughtered more than a thousand horses and livestock to keep the Indians from reclaiming them.
Colonel Grierson commanded the 10th Cavalry, and "Fort Concho served as regimental headquarters for the Tenth United States Cavalry, known as the Buffalo Soldiers, from 1875 until 1882."
Grierson, regimental commander of the 10th Cavalry, faced a personal tragedy at Fort Concho when his daughter Edith, about twelve years of age, died in the upstairs bedroom of one of the houses at the fort. The child was particularly fond of playing jacks.
Deactivation of the fort
By the late 19th century, the railroad arrived in West Texas, and the military protection became less necessary. In a nostalgic ceremony on June 20, 1889, a small remaining company of the 19th Infantry took down the American flag at evening retreat. The party left the next morning for San Antonio.
The 40 acres (160,000 m2) of land occupied by Fort Concho became privately owned, but increasing interest in the preservation of the fort in the early 20th century led to donations of part of the property to the city, and subsequent purchases of the other portions. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961.
The landmark today includes most of the original fort and twenty-three main structures, mostly original or restored, but some reconstructions. These structures include a Headquarters, Officers' Quarters, Soldiers' Barracks, and the Post Hospital. There are regular and changing exhibits in the fields of military history, the heritage of San Angelo and West Texas in general, and the daily life of a soldier and an officer.
The main attraction for fort visitors today is the Fort Concho Museum, with its collection of more than 35,000 artifacts.
Fort Concho is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. It is located at 630 South Oakes Street, between Avenues C and D. There is an admission charge. Pets on leashes are allowed on the premises. An annual festival "Christmas at Old Fort Concho" is held the first weekend of December.
Fort Concho is not air-conditioned, except for the museums. The fort features 23 original and restored buildings, including cavalry and infantry barracks, post hospital, schoolhouse/chapel, guardhouse, powder magazine, stables, commissary, quartermaster, headquarters, post NCO and surgeons' quarters, officers' quarters and the stable.
Fort Concho Museum
There are historic exhibits and period rooms in many of the restored buildings. The visitors' center is located in Barracks 1, and includes free exhibits and a gift shop. Special living history reenactments are held during the year.
E. H. Danner Museum of Telephony
The E. H. Danner Museum of Telephony contains interesting models of telephones from the 1880s to modern times. Exhibits include a model of Alexander Graham Bell's "Gallows Frame Phone", of which only five were assembled,a manual switchboard, an 1898 hotel lobby telephone, the Independent Telephone Pioneers Association Hall of Fame, which features photos and biographies of former Verizon leaders, and career memorabilia of former GTE Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rocky Johnson. The museum occupies the old Officers' Quarters No. 4.
Robert Wood Johnson Museum of Frontier Medicine
The Robert Wood Johnson Museum of Frontier Medicine features typical instruments, medicines, surgical kits, and hospital furniture of the 19th century. Some of the items are related to the medical history of San Angelo. The museum is located in the post hospital building.
Fort Concho Historical Trail
The Fort Concho Historical Trail showcases not only the fort, but also old buildings of the early community of San Angelo and other historical areas along the Concho River, which was named because of mussel shells in the water.
Involvement with YFZ Ranch raid
Beginning April 7, 2008, the 416 children and 139 women removed from the YFZ Ranch, operated by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints polygamist sect, were transported to Fort Concho and the Wells Fargo Pavilion (also in San Angelo), where they were housed until authorities decided what to do with them.
In the 1979 Disney comedy, the The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again, the characters played by Don Knotts and Tim Conway, arrive at Fort Concho after hitching a ride on a U.S. Army wagon to escape a crazed sheriff. They accidentally set fire to the fort, burning it completely to the ground. There is no mention of where this "Fort Concho" is located, and the desert canyon terrain does not match that of San Angelo, TX, where the real Fort Concho is located. However, since there was only one Fort Concho ever established by the U.S. Army, and the fort is so named due to its proximity with the Concho River (which only resides in West Texas), it is assumed the film's producers meant to portray a loose copy of the real fort.
- Welcome to Fort Concho
- Fort Concho
- Carter, R.G., On the Border with Mackenzie, 1935, Washington D.C.: Enyon Printing Co., p. 48
- Carter, R.G., On the Border with Mackenzie, 1935, Washington D.C.: Enyon Printing Co., p. 49
- Texas Department of Transportation, Texas State Travel Guide, 2007, p. 112 Cite error: Invalid
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- Suzanne Campbell of Angelo State University, San Angelo, "George B. Jackson, Black (or African-American) Businessman, Rancher, and Entrepreneur," West Texas Historical Association, annual meeting, Lubbock, Texas, April 2, 2011
- Wayne Daniel and Carol Schmidt. "Fort Concho". Handbook of Texas Online article. Texas State Historical Association. http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/FF/qbf11.html. Retrieved 2008-07-08.
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- Bruce Westerhoff (June, 1985). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Fort Concho Historic District" (PDF). National Park Service. http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NHLS/Text/66000823.pdf. Retrieved 2009-06-22. and PDF (6.71 MB)
- http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/06-05-2007/0004602347&EDATE= "Verizon Ensures Telecom History Lives On Deep in the Heart of Texas", 06/05/2007
- Fort Concho Historical Trail
- "FLDS kids may overload Texas' troubled foster care". The Salt Lake Tribune. 9 April 2008. http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_8859784. Retrieved 2008-04-11.
- Smart, Christopher (11 April 2008). "FLDS children to stay in care of Texas officials pending court hearing". The Salt Lake Tribune. http://www.sltrib.com/News/ci_8893463. Retrieved 2008-04-11.
- Official website
- Fort Concho National Historic Landmark Handbook of Texas Online
- Texas Beautiful: E. H. Danner Museum of Telephony
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