Tales from the Texas Frontier

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Fort Stockton | Pecos County Texas | founded c. 1859

If you’ve ever been drawn by the lure of frontier history, look no further than Fort Stockton Texas. Where Comanche, cattle rustlers, American soldiers, cowboys, and gunslingers crossed paths.

Kansas City-Mexico Orient Railroad Freight Depot at Fort Stockton

A Frontier Road is Forged

This Texas Frontier town sprang up around Comanche Springs, the source of the Comanche River, where Native Americans had long relied on the water. When white settlers began to make their way into this area in 1849, they were headed West to California, chasing the promise of gold that had just been discovered. A reliable road was needed to make it to El Paso and so the San Antonio-El Paso Road, also known as the ‘Lower Emigrant Road,’ was established, following the Comanche Trail.

The route became an economically important trade route, connecting San Antonio and El Paso for travelers, mail, and freight service by people on horse and wagon. The ‘Upper Emigrant Road,’ which originated in Austin, intersected the lower road here near Comanche Springs which became a popular rest stop.

A Fort is Established

To protect people and supplies along the road from Natives and bandits, the Army constructed a series of fortifications, starting with Fort Inge in 1849. By 1851, the route was used for mail delivery, and in 1859, another fortification was established along Comanche Springs. It was named Fort Stockton in honor of Navy Commodore, Robert Field Stockton, noted for his role in the capture of California in the Mexican-American War.

Commodore Robert F. Stockton

On October 2, 1859, Albert D. Richardson (writer and eventual Union Army spy), passed through Fort Stockton which he described as: “a military outpost with three or four edifices with pearly, misty mountains in the background.”

Historic Fort Stockton

During the Civil War

The fort was active throughout the Indian Wars until the Civil War broke out when U.S. troops were withdrawn from the post. Confederates briefly occupied the fort before they eventually withdrew as well. At the close of the war, not much was left of the original fort until July 1867 when Colonel Edward Hatch, Commander of the 9th Calvary, re-established Fort Stockton at its present location, about a half-mile north of where it originally stood.

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The new fort, which was re-established by 4 companies of Army Cavalry, was much larger and designed to stand more permanently. Encompassing 960 acres of leased land, the troops built about 35 buildings, the first of which was a guardhouse, completed in 1868. Of the structures they built, 2 were made of limestone and the rest of adobe.

Group of Buffalo Soldiers in Texas

Buffalo Soldiers at Fort Stockton

Between 1867 and 1886, 87% of the calvary soldiers who were garrisoned at Fort Stockton were Buffalo Soldiers, named this by the Plains Tribe who encountered them on the frontier after the Civil War. While some were volunteers, others were conscripted and called by Congress to fight Apache, Comanche, and Sioux warriors during the Indian Wars. Despite their reputation for their bravery and tenacity in helping to settle the western frontier, these men were made to endure harsh living conditions, low pay, and racial prejudice.

Group of Buffalo Soldiers in Texas

New Interest and Investors Come to Fort Stockton

In the days after the war, the fort also provided revenue and jobs for freighters, laborers, farmers, stockmen, and merchants. And thanks to its placement on the San Antonio-El Paso Road and access to the spring and nearby Pecos River, investors from San Antonio purchased large tracts of land here for agricultural development just after the war. They intended to capitalize on the water from the spring and rivers to irrigate croplands in western Texas and by 1870, there were 420 residents here, mostly from San Antonio. From this point, this outpost on the Western frontier would be subject to the ebbs and flows of the railroads and the petroleum industry that came to dominate the region.

Postcard with the title: “Mexican residence at Fort Stockton Texas”

Rise and Fall and Rise Again

In 1886, the military fort was abandoned and another potentially-devastating blow came when the Southern Pacific Railroad laid tracks in the area that bypassed Fort Stockton. And while this might’ve been a death-knell in most cases, this little outpost wasn’t done-for yet. In the late 1890s and early 1900s, it became the center of an extensive sheep and cattle industry that helped to bolster the economy, encouraging another rail line to lay tracks here in 1910-11. The Kansas City-Mexico Orient Railroad came to this area in 1900 and on November 9, 1912, their first passenger train would leave from this station. 

Arrival of the first passenger train at Fort Stockton, November 19, 1912

But their success was short-lived. The company declared bankruptcy that same year and its next owner, William T. Kemper, made a fortune when oil was discovered under his newly-acquired tracks. In 1914, the railroad was reorganized and then again in 1925 and 1928. It was popularly called the Orient Railroad. In 1926, Yates Oil Field was opened and from then on, the prosperity of this town has been heavily dependent upon the petroleum industry.

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Over the past century, drilling and production of oil have come to dominate the region as agriculture became more difficult. In the late 1950s, Comanche Spring finally went dry from years of overuse irrigating the harsh soil of West Texas.

Since then, Fort Stockton has experienced population growth as oilfield drilling and production in the area have continued to increase. Today, the remaining buildingsfrom Fort Stockton, as well as other historic structures relocated from around the region, are situated within a historic park that is well worth a visit if you’re in the area.

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One Comment

  1. Fascinating in sight into the history of the railroads and people around them.
    My family went to America in the 18/19th century (from the UK) some were on the railroad’s and some enlisted to fight in the civil war.
    One of them McCabe family use to provide food for the railroad workers in Texas!

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