Monday, June 3, 2013

Fort Belknap

"Lone Star Historian" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine.

I first toured Fort Belknap in 1965, but it has been a decade since my most recent visit. There is a new caretaker, Eddie Perez, who as a boy toured the old fort annually as part of the field trip program of the Olney Elementary School. Eddie enthusiastically showed me around and answered a great many questions. 

Eddie Perez at the Corn House exhibits
Fort Belknap was founded in 1851 by Gen. William G. Belknap, commander of the Department of Texas. The army tried to establish the post a couple of miles to the north, where Newcastle now stands, but two water wells were dry. Fort Belknap shifted to its present location, although the water supply continued to be a problem. A four-company post was erected, and several buildings were constructed of stone.

The Corn House
In 1854 the State of Texas provided 70,000 acres for two Indian reservations, Brazos Reservation and Clear Fork Reservation. Fort Belknap provided supplies and tools, as well as troops to control trouble between the Indians and white settlers, who coveted the reservation lands. The reservation experiment lasted only until 1859, when the Indians were removed to Oklahoma and the reservations were opened to settlers. 

One of the three barracks
A Butterfield Overland Stagecoach station was located at Fort Belknap, and just outside the military property the town of Belknap developed. But in 1859 the fort was closed, although a maintenance detail remained until 1861, when all federal troops left Texas. During the Civil War, Texas Confederate troops occupied the old outpost for a time. There were strikes by Comanche warriors, including the ferocious Elm Creek Raid of October 1864. In 1867 federal troops returned to the Texas frontier and began refurbishing the fort's buildings. But the establishment of Fort Griffin in the region resulted in the final abandonment of Fort Belknap. The town of Belknap declined rapidly; today only the community cemetery remains.
Powder magazine

Commissary and museum
There was a great deal of "midnight requisitioning" at Fort Belknap, as area settlers took building materials from the abandoned fort structures, which fell into ruin. But during the Texas Centennial of 1936 there was a restoration effort. Fifteen acres of the eastern part of the old military reservation were set aside as a county park. The massive stone powder magazine remained intact, and the long walls of the old "corn house" (where grain and fodder were stored) still stood, and were repaired. Some of the buildings in Newcastle that had been constructed of fort materials were purchased and dismantled for the stone. Five buildings were rebuilt with original materials on original foundations. Three barracks stand in a line, with a reconstructed kitchen nearby. The two-story commissary also was rebuilt, with a museum on the ground floor. There also are displays on exhibit at the corn house. Family reunions often are held at Fort Belknap, and so are conferences by history groups. School field trips still tour the fort, along with vacationers. A large brush arbor frequently is utilized. During the 1850s Fort Belknap was a substantial and important outpost, one that is well worth a visit today.

For more information:
Museum exhibits

Brush arbor

No comments:

Post a Comment