5.31.2008,8:32 AM
Fort McKavett: Frontier Fort

Fort McKavett, Texas
N 30.82711

W -100.10675

My first introduction to Fort McKavett was on the drive back from Big Bend in March of 2006. On most of the FM roads in Hill Country, the scenery is sublime: rural pastures with grazing goats and cows, dark green canopies of oaks, pecans and mesquite, creeks hiding in amongst the trees and shrubs that lean over the roadsides, tall grasses interspersed with flowers and small unobtrusive ranch homes. The sight of glowing white limestone ruins on a hill caught my attention and has held it ever since.

We had only time to slowly drive by the old post; I was teased by towering stone block ruins of what must have been large structures. White-washed walls of intact buildings dotted the hilltop over a mowed green lawn, all contrasting a brilliant blue sky. I knew then I had to return and I did; one year later.

Although I could not ride the Texas Adventure Ride this year as planned, I went down with a few fellow riders as a passenger, camping on the Llano River bank for three nights. While 125 dual sport bikes combed the back country, I drove to the Menard area for a day back in time and history.

During the 1840's the US Army constructed forts on a line of settlement from the Red River to the Rio Grande. When settlers began moving west to settle along the Balcones Escarpment, where they were raided by Indians, the current line of forts was too far east for soldiers to prevent Indian raids. Fort McKavett was built in 1852 as one of the 'Second Line' of forts further west on the Edwards Plateau while the original frontier line of forts were decommissioned and abandoned.

Fort McKavett is located at the intersection of Farm Roads 864 and 1674, twenty miles southwest of Menard in Menard County. Originally called "Camp San Saba," a spot was picked near the headwaters of the nearby San Saba River and the Comanche trail used for raiding from the Plains into Mexico. Also nearby was the emigrants' route west to New Mexico and El Paso. During Gen. William T. Sherman's inspection tour of the Texas forts in 1871, he called Fort McKavett "the prettiest post in Texas". Many people today echo his sentiments.

Following the GPS route from Junction, I drove up to the historical site's parking lot to find a lone dual sport bike parked. I recognized the bike with its unique luggage system from amongst the long line of bikes at 'Central Base' the day before. Later I discovered the rider as one I knew from a few previous rides and meetings; Jerry.


I hobbled up to the stately large building and, as usual, was caught by the lure of the immense long porch. A favorite feature of New England and southern architecture, porches and decks are an invitation to sit, relax and enjoy; shaded from the hot sun or rain, yet still outdoors. They are also a favorite photographic subject offering various perspectives.


I found a handicap ramp behind the renovated hospital; the shade of the porch spanning the building's two sections was welcomed. The view across the grounds was captivating.


During the Civil War settlers in the Texas frontier were left to their own defense against recurring Indian raids and moved east or into abandoned forts for protection. After the War, the US army, including the famous Buffalo Soldiers, rebuilt and reoccupied Fort McKavett in 1868.

The building that once served as the hospital now contains the headquarters, offices and an impressive array of interpretive exhibits. Similar to Fort Richardson, the morgue was built behind the hospital.

Inside I met and chatted with the staff who were friendly and generous to provide me with a golf cart. This enabled me to explore the large site while the crutches parked in behind the seat. I realized on this expedition that my photographic efforts were significantly compromised. Where normally I use both hands to hold the camera and often contort myself for the best angle to achieve different perspectives, I was relegated to propping myself on one crutch and leg. The other crutch was often balanced against my body or anything solid nearby. I later discovered that most of my images were consistently angled rather than level. The frustration was a challenge.

I soon realized that I would have to return again because the photographic opportunities were so abundant and I had to pass them by in order to stay upright.

While frontier forts provided protection for settlers already in the area, they also served as a draw for further immigration. The need for goods and services created a market for local farmers, ranchers, and tradesmen. Products not provided by local supplier were freighted in from San Antonio along the military roads connecting the string of forts. Thus small communities formed around these forts with many remaining to this day.

By 1859 hundreds of Comanches and Apaches in the Cross Timbers and Llano Estacado regions were forcibly removed to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. However, many bands refused to leave their hunting territory and relinquish their cultures. After several raids and battles in the Hill Country and south Texas, resistant bands dwindled. The last battle between the settlers and the Comanches in the Texas Hill Country occurred in 1873 on Packsaddle Mountain, east of Llano and southwest of Kingsland.

With the end of Indian clashes on the Texas frontier came a renewed wave of settlement into west and south Texas. Frontier forts were no longer deemed necessary and most were vacated between 1878 and 1889. Fort McKavett was abandoned by the army in 1883 and its buildings were quickly occupied by local stockmen and merchants. By the mid-1890s the fort and surrounding area were a small thriving community and a center for the sheep and goat-raising industry on the Edwards Plateau. By 1990, the community population had dwindled to 45. Yet more changes were to come for the fort.


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posted by Macrobe
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