5.09.2010,2:12 PM
Fort Griffin: No Place for Humans

The inability to ride the bikes hasn't prevented me from camping or exploring. One weekend found us on the edge; the edge of the frontier, the edge of West Texas, the edge of several trails, the edge of habitable country. Or so the sign said.

As settlements crept westward in Central Texas and into traditional hunting grounds of the Comanche and Kiowa tribes, conflicts increased. Encroachment into territories considered 'home' by any living species results in competition for resources: food, water, and sense of place. Although most of the Americas experienced intrusion, invasion, and sometimes exploitation of native peoples, most of the territory now called Texas was hotly debated by successive waves of intruders. It was along the boundaries of these intrusions that exacted dynamic changes, contest and conflicts as people fought for territory and its resources.

Avoiding the use of the romanticized term 'pioneers', the people that often moved beyond the comfort zones of settlements fell into many types. Some were gullible dreamers believing they could transform a new land into that which they left behind, embedding all the good and leaving behind all that they deemed 'bad'. Another type was the miscreants: those who held in distaste the borders of newly settled societies, those full of guile and deceit looking for new victims to toy with. In the same box were the malcontents, the runaways, and the hunted.

There were the explorers, the adventurers, the misdeed doers and the do-good doers. There were wives, children, brothers and sisters that followed, others enslaved or prisoners, glory-seekers, devil-seekers and god-seekers. Everyone came for a reason. Many came just to pass through, some came and went, only to return again; dead or alive. Nothing stays the same.

As conflicts increased along the boundaries of settlements, so came the military. Sanctioned by the Republic, the State or the federal government, the goal was the same: to serve as mediators between the Native American tribes and the people encroaching into their way of life. The lines were drawn and held. For a little while. They then changed, and would change again.

Like the rest of the West, Texas was going through many growing pains in the 1800's. As settlements expanded westward in waves, military and private forts popped up and disappeared. Several areas of Texas presented more challenges than just the Native American tribes. The land itself was sometimes more inhospitable than the natives. Water was scarce and soil was so thin that cropping was nearly impossible. Floods, cold rains, tornadoes and baking heat often fostered diseases and deterred subsistence farming. Whereas the Native tribes were nomadic, following the buffalo herds and sometimes temporarily wintering on the prairies, the new immigrants were used to sedentary lifestyles and sustaining themselves on land rich in game, water and soil to grow crops. West Texas was often not what they expected or hoped for.

Regardless, they still came. "Build it and they will come." There's more truth in that than many realize. As the military forts were built west of growing settlements, the latter seemed to follow the forts. Game and Indian trails became military and stage coach roads. Alongside these grew (and died) hamlets and towns.

Fort Griffin area is a supreme example of the birth, growth and death of many locations in the Western United States. Best of all, it is Texas, pure and through. And it was here that I learned much about the pattern repeated elsewhere in the state. And here is where many trails radiated in and out, through and beyond. Time and history marches on.

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posted by Macrobe
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