A Guide to the Fort Clark Records, 1856-1881
Under the command of Major Joseph H. LaMotte, the 1st U.S. Army Infantry Regiment’s Companies C and E founded the fort in 1852 as Fort Riley in honor of 1st Infantry commander Bennett C. Riley. He asked it be renamed Fort Clark after the late Major John B. Clark, who served in the Mexican War. The strategic location, leased from landowner Samuel A. Maverick, helped the fort protect the Mexican border and the military road to El Paso, as well as defend the area against Indian raids. The near-by town of Brackettville grew up as a supply settlement for the fort. In 1854, two companies of the Texas Rangers joined the U.S. Infantry during the raised tensions with local Native American groups.
After Texas seceded in 1861 at the outset of the Civil War, the 3rd U.S. Infantry at Fort Clark surrendered the post to the Provisional Army of Texas. For a year, the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles‘ Companies C and H occupied the fort. After Confederate troops were withdrawn in 1862, the fort remained empty until the occupation of 4th U.S. Cavalry in 1866.
The 1870s brought a construction project for new limestone buildings, including quarters for 200 soldiers, and in 1884 Samuel A. Maverick’s widow Mary sold the land to the government. Around this time, Black Seminole scouts, the 4th U.S. Cavalry, and several mounted African-American regiments, informally called buffalo soldiers, began serving Fort Clark, defending Texas against Indian raids from Mexico. In 1873, Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie led a raid resulting in the death of nineteen warriors and the capture of forty prisoners. Three years later Mackenzie’s successor Lt. Col. William Rufus “Pecos Bill” Shafter campaigned against Indian raiders along the border, bringing order by the end of the decade.
A new building and expansion project began in the 1880s and yet again during World War I. Over the years, the fort garrisoned almost all U.S. Cavalry Regiments and numerous U.S. Infantries, becoming home to the 5th U.S. Cavalry from 1920 through 1941 and its commander Col. George S. Patton, Jr. in 1938. By World War II, Fort Clark became a training facility for soldiers deployed to the Pacific and the European Theater, a guarding post for the Southern Pacific Railroad, and a German prisoner of war camp. Since its main duty had been hosting horse-cavalry, the fort closed after mechanization of the cavalry in 1944.
In 1946 the Texas Railway Equipment Company of Houston purchased the fort and later opened a dude ranch for the tourist industry. In 1971 the North American Towns of Texas bought the ranch and developed a private retirement community and historic district.
Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. "Fort Clark,"http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook /online/articles/FF/qbf10.html (accessed July 9, 2010).
Letters and letter books, diary, orders, financial reports, receipts, abstracts, invoices, an inventory, and muster rolls comprise the Fort Clark Records, 1856-1881. These documents concern communications between officers, accounts of trips to Mexico, and other military post affairs and orders. The letter books written by 1st Lt. Henry W. Closson (1856-1861) discusses lists of discharged soldiers, the building of a hospital, wagon trains and teamsters, delivering goods to the Fort, and orders from other forts, such as Forts Davis and Lancaster, for supplies. The detailed 1856 inventory describes Fort Clark’s supplies, including many kinds of tools, building supplies, medicines for people and horses, books and paper supplies, as well as paints and varnishes. One abstract book and one letter book, primarily concerning Fort Clark, also contains summaries of funds and provisions at Fort Duncan (1860-1861) and letters for Forts Duncan, Taylor, and Pickens (1861).
This collection is open for research use.
Fort Clark Records, 1856-1881, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
Basic processing and cataloging of this collection was supported with funds from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) for the Briscoe Center’s “History Revealed: Bringing Collections to Light project,” 2009-2011.
Detailed Description of the Papers