Traveling through West Texas, there is no denying that this land at one time was occupied by the Apache. The desert terrain with bluffs, buttes and scattered mountain ranges gratify your expectations of the land roamed by Indians. The Apaches of this area were named Mescaleros by the Spanish because they ate mescal (an agave plant). They were very adapted to the extremes of this landscape: desert and mountains, extreme heat and extreme cold, drought and flash floods. If exploring how this area changed hands and how the frontier was settled is of interest, a stop at Fort Davis is advised.
Fort Davis was first built in 1854 at the site of the Painted Comanche Camp. It was named for Jefferson Davis, the Secretary of War (later the President of the Confederacy). It was a strategic location on the San Antonio-El Paso Road built to protect wagons and coaches. By the 1850s, the California Gold Rush was on and the area saw increased traffic. Fort Davis, along with other Texas forts, was established to protect these travelers and the mail routes that were necessitated by them. It also was built to have an impact on the Comanche War Trail (remember that one went through Big Bend?) and the Mescalero Apache war trails. By the 1850s, the Apache Wars had begun and would last until 1880. Unable to handle the increased encroachment westward by white men, small bands of Apaches fought for over thirty years to defend their lands and preserve their lifestyle. While the fort’s soldiers did make expeditions and scouting patrols, they were ineffectual against the ever-mobile Indian bands so familiar with the landscape and able to survive its harshest conditions.
During the Civil War, the fort was first abandoned due to its remoteness, then occupied by the Confederates for less than a year before they evacuated and the fort was left abandoned again.
In 1867, Fort Davis was reoccupied and it was completely rebuilt and stationed by Buffalo Soldiers. In its second term of service, Fort Davis was more successful against the Apache. Following the Indian Wars, Fort Davis continued to be useful as soldiers protected railroad workers and strung telegraph wire. Once the railroads bypassed Fort Davis, it no longer served a purpose and was closed in 1891.
Today, one can learn the history of the fort through the museum at the Visitor Center. A self-guided tour allows the visitor to recreate the experience at the old fort…
Fun Facts & Tips
- The fort grounds also offer several hikes.
- There are some larger spots that would accommodate small RVs in the parking lot.
- I love when history ties together in different places. At Fort Davis, we learned more about Jefferson Davis, whose home in later life we visited in Mississippi: Beauvoir.
- Ever hear that Jefferson Davis supported the use of camels in combat? Well, it’s true, and some of them were even used at Fort Davis. The project was abandoned at the onset of the Civil War.
- There is a fee for visiting the fort, but they do accept the America the Beautiful annual pass.
- Add Fort Davis to your itinerary for visiting McDonald Observatory.
- If you like forts, check out our post on Fort Laramie.
- We stayed in Fort Davis (also the name of the town, which is the highest town in Texas) at the MacMillen RV Park on the edge of town. It was very quiet and had great WiFi.