History of Fort McKavett
In the mid-nineteen century, Texas settlers were lured westward by the promise of affordable land. As the early pioneers moved into the territories of the fierce Comanche and Apache Indians, the native Americans struck back at the invaders and the Texas Indian Wars commenced.
To protect the settlers and travelers, the US army constructed 44 major posts and forts in Texas. At the end of the Indian Wars in the 1880’s, most of the Forts were closed and abandoned by the government. Ranchers and settlers either moved into the buildings or tore them down to use the construction materials.
Unlike several other forts on the Texas prairies, Fort McKavett was built to last. In fact, only a fire in 1942 succeeded in gutting the commanding officer’s quarters, originally erected in 1852. The lack of Indian uprisings in the vicinity led to soldiers being assigned to construction duties. In fact, things were so quiet for so long, that the fort was ordered abandoned in February of 1859. Troops left the following month for Camp Cooper. The buildings were used by pioneers throughout the Civil War.
When the U. S. Army returned to Fort McKavett in April of 1868, none but the commanding officer’s quarters were habitable. The task of reconstruction fell to the Fourth Cavalry, along with reinforcements from three companies of the 38th Infantry, all of whom were African Americans. Apparently, a settlement known as “Scabtown” arose on the opposite banks of the San Saba River, and with it, discipline problems. Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie took command of the 38th Infantry in 1869. By September of that year, the 38th and the 41st were combined to form the 24th Infantry of the United States Army. This company, along with the 25th Infantry and the 9th and 10th Cavalries, comprised the renowned Buffalo Soldiers, the African-American troops of fame and legend.
Fort McKavett was not the object of hostile attacks in the late 1860s and the 1870s. Rather, the troops there provided support for other campaigns throughout neighboring territories. By the late 1870s, Indian wars in Texas were over and Fort McKavett began closing down operations in 1882. By mid-year 1883, the post was officially closed. Buildings had been turned over to local civilians. Those buildings which were occupied and cared for throughout the years still stand in good repair. The nearby “Scabtown” all but disappeared, except for the cemetery and a few other buildings.
By the 1950’s only a few buildings remained on these Texas historic sites. Fort McKavett had more ruins standing that most forts, because of its remote location and the fact that the buildings were built of lime-stone. The state acquired the 79.5 acres comprising the fort over a ten-year period ending in the mid-seventies. The park was first opened to the public in 1968. The state of Texas worked for many years restoring the fort. There are now over twenty-five restored buildings including the 1870 hospital, a barracks, officers quarters, a schoolhouse, the headquarters building and a lime kiln.
As you wander around the fort, it is easy to image the buffalo soldiers drilling on the parade ground. When you look in the barracks at the soldiers’ cots with wooden slats and straw stuffed mattresses, you understand what a difficult life these hardy people endured.
On the third week-end of March, the past comes alive at Ft. McKavett with a living history enactment performed by volunteer groups playing the roles of buffalo soldiers,cavalry officers, laundresses, wagonmasters, hunters, and settlers who once populated the fort.
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