Monday, August 21, 2017

Colonel Ranald Mackenzie at Fort Clark

After Civil War began, and until May 1873, the Rio Grande valley, from the Big Bend to Del Rio, represented a lawless, wild territory that gave the Texas border its bad reputation. A report in the Texas State History Assn claims that losses south of San Antonio to the Rio valley totaled $23 Million in 1870 dollars ($20 Billion today). The losses stalled the post-war Texas economy.

If you enjoy reading my blog, you can receive new posts by joining my email list. If you join, I'll give you a FREE copy of my western, The Posse. Click this link http://bit.ly/ThePosseWEB

To put the problem into prospective, this area covers 60,000 sq. mi., about the size of Georgia. With less than 4,500 people living in the region, raiders wanting to steal cattle and horses, often burning the ranches, took what they wanted. Let’s be honest, the Kickapoo got the blame for most of it because the “Official” government position wouldn’t blame Mexican “bandidos.”
Then as now, each side blamed the other. The US government vilified the Kickapoo Indians. However, the Mexican Government welcomed the Kickapoo, who promised to fight the Comanche and Kiowa that raided deep into Mexico every winter, when cold weather on the plains made hunting difficult. In return, the Mexican government gave the Kickapoo land to roam free and hunt plus regular payments (to leave the Mexican population alone), which was far different from the controlled reservation system the US offered.
President Ulysses S. Grant. tired of the fruitless negotiations with Mexico, ordered General Sheridan to solve the problem. In the absence of written orders, General Sheridan “asked” Colonel Ranald Mackenzie, the Commander of the 4th Cavalry, to put an end the Indian raids by crossing the Mexican border to destroy their base and eliminate their ability to continue fighting.
On May 17, Seminole-Negro scouts reported to Mackenzie that most of the Kickapoo warriors rode from their camp near Remolina, Mexico. Mackenzie took five companies from the 4th Cavalry into Mexico during the night on back trails found by the Seminole scouts. After dawn the next morning, Mackenzie’s troopers struck the Kickapoo Camp capturing 140 (mostly women and children). The Cavalry continued south to destroy nearby Lipan and Mescalero Apaches camps. The troopers burned 180 dwellings and food storage huts. In addition to the Kickapoo prisoners, they captured Costilietos, an important Mescalero chief. Colonel Mackenzie led his troops north to re-cross the Rio in late afternoon while herding 65 capturing horses. Thus ended an era of Texas history.
After the Remolina Raid, the Kickapoo negotiated the release of their women and children in return for the tribe returning to an Oklahoma reservation. About half of the tribe refused to return to a reservation, staying on their land in Mexico, but foregoing their raids across the Rio.
Today, the Kickapoo tribe has a Casino in El Indio, Texas, 8 miles east of Eagle Pass.
I mention this piece of  history to place my recent blog reports on Uvalde, Ft. Clark, and Eagle Pass into perspective when writing about the undeclared Border War that caused havoc along the Rio for over a decade.

If you enjoy reading my blog, you can receive new posts by joining my email list. If you join, I'll give you a FREE copy of my western, The Posse. Click this link http://bit.ly/ThePosseWEB

If you want my version of these events, please read my book, California Bound, which describes the lawless Texas border around Eagle Pass in 1866. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0741WPB1N
Thanks for riding along,

Frank Kelso

The Stone building is the Ft. Clark Quartermaster and Commissary Building.

That me in the Ft. Clark Jail outside the Visitor's Center.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Bent's Old Fort

Bent’s Old Fort

Imagine being the only store or trading post within 500 miles. Those folks who failed to plan ahead and to prepare for every contingency often didn’t survive the harsh life on the western prairie in the 1830-1860s. Bent’s Fort became the primary store for early fur trappers and pioneers in the American West.

If you a visitor - welcome! If you'd like to receive this blog on a regular basis, please join  by clicking the following link. If you join, I'll give you a copy of my western book, The Posse.


Charles and William Bent partnered with Ceran St. Vrain to form the Bent, St. Vrain & Company and build a series of fur-trading posts on the western prairie. The first post, Fort William, now known as Bent’s Old Fort, was constructed in 1833 on the north bank of the Arkansas River. William managed the first Fort. The Arkansas divided U.S. territory from Spanish/Mexican territory south of the river. Spanish Law prohibited entry by Anglos and non-Catholics, which explains why so many French Catholics were among the early traders in Taos and Santa Fe.

 (The press above compressed hides for shipment, making bundles easier to load and ship.)
Bent, St. Vrain & Company built three trading posts; Fort William in 1833, Fort St. Vrain at the confluence of St. Vrain Creek and the S. Platte River (north of present-day Denver) in 1837, and Fort Adobe in 1843 on the Canadian River in the Texas Panhandle near present-day Stinnett, Texas.
The Bent’s employed a crew of Mexican adobe craftsmen who created 2-story log-framed buildings and courtyard walls, which were encased in adobe bricks and often finished with a whitewash slurry to give a decorative appearance. Each of the Forts had a similar style of a defensive wall surrounding the trading post. (The pic below represents the types of items sold at the trading post.)

 In its heyday, Bent’s Fort became the stopping point for those coming west. In the Spring, the first wagons west from the Missouri River ports of Lexington, Independence, and Westport Landing carried frozen barrels of oysters that had wintered outdoors. The barrels stayed frozen or chilled until they reached Bent’s Fort, where the oysters became a prized, and pricey, item on the Fort’s menu.
In its way, the Fort became an Inn, where traders could rent a bed (not a room) and buys meals at a community table. The upper floors contained gaming rooms and a billiards table.
(The pic below is the billiards and gaming room. Yes, they sold spirits, but to Anglos only.)

 (The pic above is representative of the types of pelts and hide traded at the post in exchange for other products, like powder, lead (shot), flint, and "necessaries," like knives, pots, dry goods (flour, sugar))

Keep in mind, the Fort’s primary role was buying fur pelts and buffalo-hides to ship east (above). The people selling pelts and hides most often were the Plains Indians. The Bent’s insisted the trading posts be treated as neutral territory—they banned truce breakers from trading. The Bent’s had a reputation as fair traders, which is evidenced by the number of tribes who visited and traded with the Bent’s for more than a dozen years. The open ground surrounding the Fort provided ample camping and water for visiting tribes, without forcing unfriendly tribes next to one another.
Pic below is a comon room which held several bds in its original use.)

These rooms are on the second floor offering sleeping and meals.

In 1846, following provocations on the lower Rio Grande valley, the United States declared War on Mexico (now independent from Spain.) 
The Army took over the Mexican government of New Mexico, replacing them with Anglos from the Area. Charles Bent was appointed the termporary governor by General Kearney in 1847. The Pueblo Indians, angry at years of forced slavery under the Mexicans, saw this as a time to displace all white men, and staged a revolt. Before order was restored by the US Army in Santa Fe, Charles Bent was killed and St Vrain wounded. Several other prominent leaders, both Mexican and Anglo, were killed or injured.
After the Pueblo Revolt, St. Vrain sold his interest to William Bent, and retired to St. Louis with his brother. Ceran St. Vrain returned to the Taos area years later, when hostilities settled.

The US Army drove William Bent out of business by commandeering the fort for several years. The Army’s presence drove away the Indian tribes who once traded there. The Army proposed to buy the Fort and surrounding land from Bent, but negotiations dragged out until the War ended, after which, the Army no longer needed the facility. A civilian official from Washington visited the Fort early in 1849, declared it uninhabitable, and offered Bent little to nothing for the land, which was now bare from thousands of Army horses and mules trampling the land.

 Interior Pics on the ground floor.

William Bent became so frustrated with the negotiations, in 1850 he ordered the Army from his premises. He removed the trade goods of value, taking them north to Fort St. Vrain. Within days of ordering the Army from his land, William Bent ignited the powder magazine, destroying the Fort buildings. Some of the walls surviced for many years. Thus ended an era of US history.

Later, William Bent built a new trading post along the Arkansas, east of the old Fort, which was called Big Timbers for the cottonwoods in the area. Big Timbers never regained the Bent’s status because his primary traders were the Plains Indians, who were fighting a losing battle with the US Army while trying to preserve their way of life.

The next two blogs will relate the history of Fort St. Vrain and Fort Adobe (Also known as Adobe Walls.)

 If you are a visitor and would like to receive Traveling the West regularly, please click the following link to join my blog list. I f you join, I'll give you a copy of my western book, The Posse.


Thanks for riding along,
Frank Kelso

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Fort Clark and Brackettville

If you are a visitor to this post and would like to receive Traveling the West regularly, you can join at http://bit.ly/ThePosseWEB
If you join, you'll receive a free copy of my western book, THE POSSE.

Fort Clark, Texas

Did you ever want to live in a historic cavalry post? Have I got a deal for you? ;-)
You can own your own two-story barracks, or one of the officer’s quarters, at Fort Clark Springs. An enterprising developer bought the entire Army post in the 1970s to make the historic buildings available for sale to private owners. The stone buildings, built in the 1880s, are protected under the National Historic Registry to preserve the original design of the Army Post. This means if you buy a building, you can modernize the interior, but you must leave the exterior in historic condition to preserve the heritage.
The US Army established Fort Clark in 1852 as part of the Treaty to end the Mexican-American War of 1848, which led to creating the border we recognize today. The Treaty acknowledged the responsibility of the Federal government to prevent Indian raids into Mexico. The Comanche, Lipan Apaches in Texas made annual journeys across the Rio in the winter, first to gather food, horses, and women, and second to escape the harsh winters on the upper plains.
To cross the arid west Texas desert, the Comanche relied on springs to rest and water their horses and themselves. Whatever name the Comanche once called the springs at Fort Clark has become lost in the white man’s version of history. The Spanish called the springs, and the creek it feeds, Las Moras. As part of the Treaty, the Army also created Fort Stockton in west Texas near what the white man called “Comanche Springs.” Another of these Army posts was Fort Duncan in Eagle Pass, Texas. The Army established similar posts in New Mexico and Arizona to limit raids from the Apache native to those areas. The strategy was to deny the “Indians” a place to rest or regroup before and after raids into Mexico, and it worked.
The scarcity of building materials led the Army to leave these posts open, that is not enclosed by a stockade or walls. When wire fencing became practical, the Army enclosed the post with these fences. I mention this in case you wanted to visit to warn that you would NOT find a Hollywood style wooden stockade with a wooden gate.
For historical reference, the Buffalo Soldiers were stationed here, along with the well-known Seminole-African Scouts. Colonel Ranald Mackenzie operated from this post when he ended the Comanche wars after his winter attack on Palo Duro Canyon, the winter haven of the Comanche. These soldiers played an important role in ending the Indian Wars in Texas. In more recent history, General George S. Patton served as the post commander in the 1930s when it still had the last mounted Cavalry unit in the US Army.
The Post Visitors Center has an extensive collection of period weapons, Cavalry gear and sabers. I always surprised at how much of these materials survived to create an great exhibit.

The little village outside Fort Clark’s gate may be well known to many of you—Brackettville. Founded as a water stop on the San Antonio-El Paso mail road, the town flourished when Fort Clark was an active post. When Fort Clark closed, the town faded.
In it's time (1865-1930), Brackettville was the poster-boy for sordid saloons and red-light districts, litterally across the street, from the Army post's front gate. If there was any written record, it became lost. I couldn't find any newspaper accounts. of events such as shootings or arrests.
Its well-known neighbor, the Alamo movie location and buildings, closed to the public several years ago, but is available if you want to shoot a movie.
Before you get the impression that buying a house to live on this post is the end of the world, Uvalde is a 30-min drive east, where shops, services, Wal-Mart, medical offices, and a hospital are available. Uvalde is a small, friendly town who welcomed this stranger.

 The pic on the right is the springs lake. There also is a pool and swimming area.

I remind everyone, my next book, California Bound, launches on Aug 16. You're invited to attend the Facebook Party from 8-9:30 PM https://www.facebook.com/CABoundBook/

If you are a visitor to this post and would like to receive Traveling the West regularly, you can join at http://bit.ly/ThePosseWEB
If you join, you'll receive a free copy of my western book, THE POSSE.

The pic below is the Post Commissary and Quartermasters Building.