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Fort Davis Frontier Military Post in West Texas: A National Historic Site

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Row of officer's housing at Fort Davis in West Texas as viewed from a nature trail above the fort grounds.

Row of officer's housing at Fort Davis in West Texas as viewed from a nature trail above the fort grounds.

West Texas During Pioneer Days

In order for the story of this frontier military post to come into focus, one must go back to the days of covered wagons full of determined and hardy pioneers and all of their earthly possessions creaking their way across the dusty plains of West Texas.

Travelers on the San Antonio - El Paso Road regularly traversed this trail heading west. This same road was a portion of the Overland Trail which took pioneers all the way to California. More than 60,000 people were taking this route to California in the mid-1800s. Stagecoaches also traveled this same path.

In addition to the normal problems of transporting people and possessions westward across a challenging environment, Apache and Comanche Indian raiders presented a threat to their safety. This trail crossed one of their regular paths into and out of Mexico.

Fort Davis National Historic Site

In 1963, the Fort Davis National Historic Site was created. 447 acres (181 ha) was set aside to preserve these adobe and stone buildings from the past. Some of them are mere remnants but one can easily surmise the size and scope of this military fort from former days as one walks the grounds.

In 1966 this National Historic Site was dedicated by Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson.

The photo of the officer's homes furnished at the top of this post was taken on the nature trail which led up the North Ridge. From that vantage point, one can see a grand overview of the remains of Fort Davis. Additional photos can be viewed below.

  • The fort was named after Jefferson Davis, who at the time was the Secretary of War.
  • When in full operation, the fort consisted of more than 50 buildings. There was a hospital, barracks for both the enlisted soldiers as well as officer's homes, corrals for horses, storehouses, a laundry, a sawmill, a jail plus other buildings. Some of the buildings have been restored on the interiors as well as exteriors.
  • Tourists can see the structures and surrounding countryside on self-guided tours.
  • Slideshows can be viewed as well as exhibits of military and Indian costumes plus other items of interest from that era.
  • In the summertime, costumed interpreters lend a flavor of what life was like back in those days.

Fort Davis

  • This United States frontier military outpost was established on October 23, 1854.
  • It is one of the best preserved southwestern military posts. The National Park Service is responsible for operating it.
  • Situated in a small canyon with portions of the Davis Mountains forming a dramatic backdrop, the fort has flatter land to the front of the old military installation.
  • Elevation is at 4,900 feet (1494 meters). A nearby supply of water made this site a prime location.
  • Fourteen regiments, some infantry and others cavalry, served at Fort Davis from 1854 to 1891 except for a time during the Civil War when it was temporarily abandoned.
  • Their primary job was to escort travelers moving westward while protecting them from Indians.
  • Buffalo Soldiers (African American soldiers) were stationed at Fort Davis and played an integral part in maintaining peace and subduing outlaws and warring Native Americans.
  • The famous Apache Indian Chief Geronimo ultimately surrendered in 1886. Just a few years later the fort became decommissioned as its use was no longer deemed necessary.
Apache Indian Chief Geronimo

Apache Indian Chief Geronimo

The Davis Mountains

Formed over thirty-five million years ago, the Davis Mountains are volcanic in origin. The highest peak is at an elevation of 8,382 feet. Many people seek this destination for camping, hiking, and recreation.

My husband and I had traveled by car from Houston to see Big Bend National Park many years ago for a vacation. We had spent the night in San Antonio leaving our two dogs with my mother who would care for them in our absence.

Driving through West Texas is an experience for the uninitiated. Often one can drive for miles and miles without seeing another vehicle. Distances are vast.


The desert scenery in this southwest region of Texas provides mirages while looking ahead on the sun-heated roads. One would swear that sparkling water covers the road ahead only to find that image being pushed further off into the distance as one continues to click off the miles.

Imagine the disappointment of the pioneers who would have been seeking water in the desert. Mirages can actually be photographed.

Mirages are caused by the bending of light rays from the cooler air above striking the warmer air closer to the ground. Often they are seen on hot days particularly in desert surroundings. What one is viewing is actually a view of the sky reflected on the ground off in the distance which appears lake-like.

After my husband and I enjoyed Big Bend we decided to check out Fort Davis before heading back to retrieve our pets and make it home.

What appears to be water on the road ahead is merely a mirage.

What appears to be water on the road ahead is merely a mirage.

If you find yourself in west Texas near the towns of Alpine, Marfa, or Fort Davis, you might wish to visit the Fort Davis National Historic Site—particularly if you are a history buff. The fort preserves a frontier military post from the mid to late 1800s. It is one of the many Texas sites well worth exploring.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Peggy Woods