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Photo © Eliot Cohen

HISTORY

Fortified on the Frontier

Early Texans built community compounds behind walls for safety.


During Texas’ early years, settlers needed to protect themselves from attack by surrounding their communities with fortified walls — forts, for short.

Northwest of Fort Worth on the banks of Lost Creek, Fort Richardson was the northernmost of a line of federal forts established in Texas after the Civil War. Expeditions sent from Fort Richardson arrested those responsible for the Warren wagon train massacre in 1871 and fought Plains tribes in Palo Duro Canyon.

Seven of the original buildings have been restored: the post hospital, the commanding officers’ quarters, a powder magazine, a morgue, a commissary, a guard house and a bakery that produced 600 loaves per day. There are also two replica buildings: the officers’ barracks and enlisted men’s barracks.

The 10-mile Lost Creek Trailway was constructed at Fort Richardson in the 1990s, and Quarry Lake is stocked with catfish, bass and trout for fishing fun for today’s visitors.

When the Keechi and Kickapoo killed Christopher C. Staley in the 1840s, the remaining settlers built a palisade (upright logs set in the ground) fort for protection and named it for nearby Boggy Creek. Years later, the attacks subsided and the fort fell into disrepair. The Leon County land was used for farming until the 1930s, when Joe Sullivan impounded a natural spring to create Sullivan Lake. Eileen Crain Sullivan donated the land that became Fort Boggy State Park, which opened in 2001.

Two hours northwest of Houston, the park is popular for fishing (black bass, redear sunfish and blue catfish), paddling, swimming, bird watching (great blue herons, painted buntings and pileated woodpeckers) and hiking/biking (3-mile trail). Hike in to camp at a primitive site, enjoy the comfort of an air-conditioned cabin or use the group pavilion for a family reunion.

Four miles east of Presidio on the Mexican border, Fort Leaton sits near the confluence of the Rio Concho and the Rio Grande in a region known as La Junta de los Rios. Eight centuries ago, Native American farmers grew corn, beans and squash there.

In 1948, Ben Leaton purchased land and fortified the existing adobe structures into a square compound for protection against Native American raids and attacks by outlaws. This private fort served as a trading post on the old Chihuahuan Trail for many years and was the lone defensive outpost and supply station along a 450-mile stretch of the Rio Grande.

The fort was acquired by the state in 1967; restoration work was completed in 1978. Fort Leaton serves as the western visitor center for Big Bend Ranch State Park. Visitors can purchase river-use permits, licenses and information about the Big Bend region, as well as backpacking and camping permits. The park is for day use only and offers picnicking areas and guided tours, plus exhibits.



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