5.31.2008,1:08 PM
Fort McKavett: Ghosts
By the 1950's few buildings and many ruins remained on the fort site. The state acquired the 80 acres on which the fort sits and began restoring the old military post in the 1960's. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department opened Fort McKavett State Historical Site to the public in 1968, one hundred years after it was rebuilt by the US army. On January 1, 2008, Fort McKavett SHS was transferred from Texas Parks and Wildlife to the Texas Historical Commission.

It still remains the prettiest post on the Texas frontier.


Fort McKavett today has 14 restored buildings of the original post. Several have been refurnished in period furniture and contain interpretive exhibits. Exhibits in the old hospital ward trace the history of the fort and surrounding area, emphasizing military history, the post-military community, and historic archeology. On site is a research library that spans Fort McKavett, the Buffalo Soldiers, the Army during the Indian wars in Texas, and local research including the town of Fort McKavett.

By far, the most effective way to experience the history there is to walk the site and explore its buildings and the nearby cemetery and trails.

No matter which way the eyes turn, the views are rewarding.
Two aspects of the fort site vie for immediate attention: the magnificent and compelling remains of two large structures and the smaller white-washed intact buildings that gleam in the sun.

Tall limestone remains of two structures stand like ghostly sentinels over the surrounding area. The two-story commanding officer's quarters built in 1856 was the only remaining intact and livable building when the post was reoccupied in 1867. It was the residence for the commanding officer, his family, and guests until the fort was decommissioned. Later it was a boarding house and private residence before it burned in 1947.


The other nearby ruins were once the quarters for the fort's field and visiting officers. The remains are equally impressive due to the length of the structure and the solid outer and inner stone block walls that stand as testimony to their strength.

Nearby clusters of square white-washed buildings betray bustling activity on the fort site. Across the green grass in front of the officers' quarters was the Post Headquarters. It housed the offices for the post commanders and was the hub of military and garrison activities.


From the porches of the headquarters most of the central post can be viewed: the officers' row of individual buildings......


.....and on the east side, the captains' row. These attractive buildings are the size of small houses and have lovely covered porches. I gazed at them thinking how comfortable and enjoyable it would be to live in one of them; actually I would be happy to.

A view to the west from the headquarters porch overlooks the parade ground, restored infantry barracks and the 324-foot ruins of the enlisted men's barracks. The latter was once three separate structures and connected as one between 1868 and 1871, then noted as the longest barracks in the American frontier.


The dead tree on the parade ground seems appropriate, almost a tribute to the lives and activity that once occupied this post. And it's photogenic.

The parade ground is a central feature of nearly all past and modern posts and forts in this country. I recall as a child the large expanse of manicured green grass with the flag-bearing pole in the middle of the forts in New York. Infantry, cavalry, mounted and foot troops trained, drilled and paraded here with the flying flag as the centerpiece.

Surrounding the parade ground were typically the officers' and enlisted men's quarters. This pattern is repeated in town squares where the courthouse is the central structure with its flag, surrounded by mercantile and businesses or administration offices.

A schoolhouse was constructed in 1877 near the hospital and across from officers' row and where classes were held for enlisted men and local children. Even after the fort was abandoned by the Army, classes continued there until the 1940's. The building contains two period wood stoves that are quite intriguing. I don't know if the current bell there is original or just representative of that era.


In between ruins on the outskirts of the central area I found this tree. Everyone that is familiar with my photography knows I have a fondness for trees: shape, form, texture, and contrast. This one, of course, captivated me.


Many ruins can be found along the perimeter of the fort site, all of which I was unable to explore. I don't have any information on what this building is, but the photogenic opportunity stopped me dead in my cart (so to speak). I captured several different perspectives with the camera.......


......including an interesting tunnel through the trees. It almost irresistibly entices you to walk it with them hovering over you.


Returning to the site's current headquarters in the old hospital building, I returned the golf cart and sat in the cool shade of the porch chatting with Chris Fischer, the curator and interpreter for the historical site. I greatly enjoyed the conversation and opportunity to discuss historical details of Texas and its forts.* In my experience the staff at Forts Richardson and McKavett have been friendly, approachable and knowledgeable. I hope others likewise leave with more appreciation and information of the history in this state.

I had one more destination before the end of the day. As I hobbled off on my crutches, I noticed the change in light and scattered clouds in the sky. I couldn't resist taking a few more photos with the altered light and pleasant clouds to add depth and contrast. I smiled to myself knowing I would be back before too long. There were too many things left unexplored. And I'm still looking for echoes and remnants of Indian history in the area other than as an under-represented people. After all, they lived here long before any of us of European descent. I know echoes of their past are still here somewhere.


* I personally thank Chris and his assistant for their generosity in taking time to chat with me and share their thoughts and knowledge of the military post, the surrounding area and history in general. I shall return.

Next: San Saba Presidio

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posted by Macrobe
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