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Fort Griffin State Historic Site

Wander the ruins of the rowdy frontier town where Wyatt Earp first met Doc Holliday.

If Fort Worth is “where the West begins,” as its boosters proclaim, then one might argue that old Fort Griffin, near Albany, is “where the West ended” on May 31, 1881, when U.S. troops abandoned the frontier post that gave rise to a bawdy boomtown of the same name.

More than a century later, only the partial remains of a handful of the stone facades preserved within Fort Griffin State Historic Site serve as a visible reminder of Wild West days, when the lives of settlers, soldiers, Indians, buffalo hunters and cattle drovers collided, often violently, in the dusty streets of the town of Fort Griffin that sprung from the plains below the bluff-top presidio.

Lester Galbreath reigns as one of Fort Griffin’s most articulate ambassadors. The West Texas native manages the site and oversees the Official Texas Longhorn Herd descended from the rugged Spanish stock introduced to Texas centuries ago. He has spent the last 30 years researching, mapping and documenting historical events that unfolded near Fort Griffin from 1850 to 1880 along 25 miles of the Clear Fork of the Brazos River.

“One of the major draws of Fort Griffin,” Galbreath says, “is that over a 30-year period there’s a wealth of historical events that happened around here that suggests Fort Griffin was a true Wild West town that rivaled places like Dodge City. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday met in Fort Griffin, and Billy the Kid and Bat Masterson caroused here. Major trails went through the frontier outpost, and the town of Fort Griffin was a vital supply depot for buffalo hunters, cattle drovers and Indian fighters.”

What remains of the site might have been swallowed up by a modern city except the rowdy town of Fort Griffin lost out to its more law-abiding neighbor, Albany, which attracted the railroad and became the Shackelford County seat.

Nonetheless, the town of Fort Griffin — also known in the 1800s as The Flats, Under the Hill and Hidetown — continued to serve as the commercial hub for area ranchers until the last store closed in the 1950s.

Fort Griffin wasn’t a stockade fort, but rather a cantonment from which soldiers staged campaigns against the Comanches and Kiowas. The fort, established by Col. Samuel D. Strugis and four companies of the 6th Cavalry after the Civil War, averaged about 450 soldiers.

Most structures, such as the soldiers’ barracks, officers’ quarters, mess hall and hospital, were constructed of wood. Over the years, the mess hall and bakery have been completely reconstructed by volunteers based on written accounts of the fort’s appearance. The partial rock remnants of a chimney, the Administration Building and Sutler’s Store have been shored up and prove popular with photographers.

Campers and day users can enjoy birdwatching, canoeing, biking and hiking on two different trails accessed in the campground. Anglers can try their luck for crappie, perch, catfish and bass. White-tailed deer, waterfowl, raccoons, squirrels and armadillos share the creek bottom habitat with campers.

— Rob McCorkle

The park is located 15 miles north of Albany on U.S. Highway 283. For more information about Fort Griffin, call (915) 762-3592, or visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/fort_griffin>.

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