5.21.2009,12:40 PM
Texas Forts: Chadbourne, Part 2

Fort Chadbourne is an interesting history of success. More so in present times than from conception in 1851 and through the following century. As mentioned in this thread's post on Fort Phantom Hill, Chadbourne was the next fort south in the second line of western frontier defense. This fort and its more northern siblings were located primarily to defend the oncoming western wave of pioneers and settlers.

However, these forts served other purposes: defend the military, mail and emigration routes, protect supply lines and 'jump offs', and extend a prominent US presence in territory still contested and heated near the Rio Grande border. The latter was more important towards the south, whereas another purpose towards the north was to protect reservation Indians from marauding and greedy whites (yes, both Anglos and Indians were guilty of marauding and depredation).

Fort Chadbourne was located on sites similar to other forts: on well drained soil, on top of hills and in close proximity to a water supply. Or so they thought. Recommendations for sites were based on Capt. R. Marcy's expedition several years earlier. He must have traveled through west and southwest Texas during an unusually wet year. Many locations where he recorded ample water supply nearby were dry or brackish for the next decade. Several forts suffered from no access to reliable and healthy water and doomed more than a few (such as Fort Phantom Hill, and later, Fort Chadbourne).

Fort Chadbourne's story was in many way similar to most other Texas forts: established in 1852, it grew from a temporary camp of canvas tents and picket-style mud and log structures to several solid buildings made of stone. Most permanent fort buildings followed a general standard of architecture set by government draftsmen. Flexibility was granted to the official in charge in use of indigenous building materials: adobe or stone. One of the stone structures at Chadbourne served as a stop and station on the Butterfield Stagecoach route.

The fort was occupied by several military units until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 and the federal forts were surrendered to the Confederacy. After the War, federal troops returned to briefly occupy several of the second-line forts, but Chadbourne was ordered to to be evacuated due to lack of water supply. Ironically, just as with Fort Phantom Hill, man-made reservoirs now supply nearby communities with reliable clean water.

Garland Richards and his family grew up playing and riding dirt bikes in and around Fort Chadbourne grounds. Richard's ancestor established a cattle ranch -the O-D Ranch, and later called Chadbourne Ranch- in 1876 that covered land in several nearby counties. The Fort was the ranch headquarters.

Recognizing the historical significance after college, Richards and his wife established the Fort Chadbourne Foundation with intent to stabilize, archive and preserve the heritage and buildings on the old fort grounds. The land upon which the fort stands was donated to the Foundation and now, for the first time since 1876, the fort is open to the public.

Since 1999 with the aid of millions of grant and donation monies, all ruins have been stabilized and several buildings restored and renovated. All this is the due to a man with passion for the preservation of history and its legacy. Rather than just dream and talk about it, he made it happen. I was fortunate to have an escort with commentary by Garland Richards' boyhood friend and fellow construction helper, as well as a visit with Garland himself. I will share some of the details in the next posts.

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posted by Macrobe
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