5.21.2009,12:29 PM
Texas Forts: Phantom Hill, Part 4

Just south of the flattened top of Phantom Hill lies the cemetery. I was surprised to see the cemetery appeared full of modern headstones until I realized that the fort was not the only habitation on this hill.

As settlers flooded west new centers of communities arose. Because this region was on the southern migration route for the buffalo, an interesting economy followed in its wake. The Plains Indians historically followed the buffalo when horses appeared on the plains. No longer semi-permanent hunters and gatherers, their entire culture and economy revolved around the buffalo and moved with the herds. The Apache moved south into Texas, later followed by the Comanches who drove the former further south, even into Mexico.

The Indian's culture adapted to nomadic life and hunting the buffalo. The new Amercicans -or the Euro-Americans- swept across the Mississippi and onto the Plains competing for land and resources. Unlike the Indian perspective that viewed the buffalo as life sustenance, the new intruders saw the buffalo as money. Native peoples lived for thousands of years in a balanced population with North American buffalo (yes, a historical and projection analysis has modeled this), the white man nearly exterminated the entire US bison population in a matter of 18 years.

Every economy has associated niches of people. During the bison slaughter years, it was the buffalo hunters; individuals and small groups of men that ran down and shot dozens, hundreds of buffalo at a time, skinned and left the carcasses on the ranges to rot, loaded their bounty on wagons and piled them in towns at or near railroad stops to transport east. Many of these buffalo skin towns, as sometimes referred to, were near the forts.

Just like Fort Griffin, the small town that grew around the ruins of Fort Phantom Hill was a buffalo skin town. Any time a commercial enterprise stakes a location, associated entrepreneurs flock to establish their stakes in the financial flow. Such happened here. The town grew with a church, several general stores, blacksmith shops, makeshift bank, etc. Where ever people congregate, some of those people die. And, one of the surviving remnants of these ghost towns is the cemetery.

Phantom Hill is no longer a large community. It lost the bid for county seat to Anson, the railroad opened a depot south of the hill and people left. Now all that remains are scattered ranches, the cemetery, a new church and the fort ruins. So, it was not surprising then that more than half of the interred in the cemetery are from the mid-1900's to the present.

Several small primitive headstones suggest that earlier burials here are unmarked. The oldest stones are broken or markings have faded. A few still remain, and the oldest I found was Alexandras McCamant, born 1829.

Jesse, from Tennessee, and a Confederate, lived a long life:

These four headstones of the Cooper family depicted the tragedies and difficulties that faces most settler families: high prevalence of disease and illnesses, lack of accessible and modern medicine, high birth mortality, and just plain hard work to stay alive. Three Cooper children died within days, weeks and a few years of each other.

Not many cars traveled this road and it was quiet. With the heat and humidity, my energy was draining. Time to find camp and relax.

After gearing up again, I headed south to the modern world looking for a cold beverage and to check tire pressures. I found a 7Eleven on the I-20 frontage road and entered the air-conditioned store with a huge grin of relief. Walking towards the cooler in the back I noticed a freezer chest with ice cream.

Like a magnet, I quickly chose one and then gathered bottled water and a soda. Even before I was out the door, the ice cream was nearly devoured. So refreshing!!! While checking tire pressures, a truck pulled up and a young Hispanic man leaned out the window.

"What kinda bike is that??"

After telling him he asked, "I bet that's pretty expensive, huh?"

His face lit up when I told him how much I paid for the bike back in 2006 with barely 700 miles on it. He looked over at his young wife with pleading eyes, "I bet that would be more comfortable for us both then the Ninja, no?"

He and his wife related how they spent the weekend near a lake riding on a Ninja. Neither had a good time; cramped, sore, no room to carry anything. I think another couple have been tempted to The Dark Side and assimilation.

After checking the map and the GPS for my route to the state park, I headed west then south. I followed the directions from the clerk for several miles, despite that the GPS didn't agree. A few miles south on 277, I decided to go my own way. I headed east on a rural FM road and turned south again on 89. Seeing a sign for 'Buffalo Gap 13 miles', I knew all was well and I would soon be there.

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posted by Macrobe
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