Tuesday, March 12, 2013

West Texas

After a week in the cosmopolitan city of Austin, we put on our cowboy clothes and headed toward Fort Davis.  West Texas is a unique, gritty, unconventional, historic, incongruous experience and for some reason, we really like it.

The journey followed part of the military overland route between San Antonio and El Paso that was established in 1855. Four forts along this road were an important piece in the westward expansion toward California.  The army presence provided escorts to wagon trains, stagecoaches, mail carriers and other travelers as well as keeping communication links open.

A replica of a Texas stagecoach at Fort Lancaster.  They don't look sturdy enough to have bounced over the dusty rocky rough terrain out here. It must have taken some determination to suffer the ride.

Fort Lancaster State Historic Site, located on a short but very scenic loop off of interstate 10, between Ozona  and Sheffield, was built on about 80 acres near the Pecos river.  The site contains the ruins of 25 stone and adobe buildings that were completed in 1860.  One of these was the foundation for the "Sutler" store.  This was the stage coach stop, mail relay station, and store which was owned and operated by a civilian merchant.

The most interesting fact about Fort Lancaster was its experiment with using camels for military transport.  Seventy four camels were brought here and were used to carry extremely heavy loads over long distances, using very little water, and eating only desert scrub plants.  The experiment was deemed a great success by the military men leading the program.  However, the soldiers who were required to care for and lead the camels, were in sharp disagreement with that assessment.  The Calvary troopers felt camel duty was a demotion, the camels spooked horses, and they were difficult to work with.

When the Civil War began and the fort was abandoned by the Union troops, the camels were left to fend for themselves.  The great experiment was never repeated.  Perhaps we could still have camels roaming west Texas today, but according to the Fort docent, they had all been neutered before coming to Texas so they could not reproduce and just died out.

Fort Davis
The town of Fort Davis is the location of the reconstructed fort of the same name.  This fort was also part of the San Antonio to El Paso route built to protect travelers and commerce from 1854 to 1891.  Even after the Civil War the Apache and Comanche Indians continued to ride rough-shot over this area. 

Because of their exemplary service during the Civil War, in 1866 the U.S. Army enlisted African American men into peacetime service.  The Ninth Calvary, made up of "buffalo soldiers", was sent to an abandoned Fort Davis where they not only had to deal with Indian raids but had to rebuild the entire fort as well. According to legend, the term buffalo soldiers came from the Native Americans, who thought the black men looked like buffalo.

Facing harsh living conditions, difficult duty and racial prejudice, the African American troops gained a reputation for dedication and bravery and were an important piece in the settlement of the west

Fort Davis

There is a scenic loop that travels from the town, past the McDonald observatory, and through beautiful hills made up of old volcanic formations before returning to Fort Davis.

McDonald Observatory

That night we had a few visitors in our campsite
These javalinas were not the least bit shy.  One came right over to the table to smell our barbeque ribs.  I think he was actually looking for a handout.

This trail followed the original CCC road that was built to the top of the mountain.

The courthouse in Downtown Fort Davis

Main Street, Fort Davis

More of the pack of javelina,

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