Historic Forts in Texas
In Texas, the middle of the 19th century was a time of expansion and settlement as new waves of immigrants pushed West into new, and not always welcoming lands. These newcomers needed protection, and the solution encompassed the establishment of a chain of forts that covered outer reaches of the frontier.
This era of Texas history was marked with heroism and sacrifice, when the famed Buffalo Soldiers made a name for themselves. The tales of this chapter of Texas’ past still live on at the many historic forts that are among the Texas Historical Commissions’ state historic sites. Visit them for a glimpse of a different chapter of Lone Star lore.
Fort Griffin State Historic Site
In its heyday, Fort Griffin anchored one of the wildest towns on the Texas frontier. Everyone from soldiers and gamblers to outlaws and saloon girls walked the town’s streets. The fort itself was founded in the summer of 1867 on a plateau overlooking the Brazos River. During the Red River War in 1874, it was a key base of operations from where U.S. Army troops, including Buffalo Soldiers, helped defeat the Kiowa and Comanche Indians.
Explore the grounds of the fort, located 50 miles northeast of Abilene, and you’ll encounter ruins of a few of the original structures, such as the mess hall, barracks, and administration building. Get a sense of what life was like for those who were stationed here as you tour the old fort, then hike the two nature trails to soak up the bucolic charm of northwest Texas. Then pitch a tent at the nearby campground on the bank of the Clear Fork of the Brazos River and enjoy some of the best stargazing in the Lone Star State. While you’re there, be sure to see and experience the longhorns that are part of the Official State of Texas Longhorn Herd.
For a truly immersive experience, visit Fort Griffin during the annual Living History Days in October. This event brings the past to life with infantry and cavalry demonstrations, 19th-century children’s games, and a showcase of Native American culture.
Fort Lancaster State Historic Site
Perched among the rugged valleys and breathtaking mountains of far West Texas, Fort Lancaster was one of the most isolated outposts of its time. Established as an infantry outpost in 1856, its troops patrolled the frontier roads and protected travelers as they passed through the area. Besides being the lone fort in Texas attacked by Native Americans, it was the only one that hosted a detachment of military camels.
Uncover all of this history as you explore the grounds, which you’ll find just nine miles east of Sheffield. Wander through the ruins of the fort that had as many as 25 structures and step inside the visitor’s center, home to an 1858 replica Concord stagecoach. Then hike along the 2.5 miles of trails and take in stunning panoramic views as you spot birds and other West Texas wildlife.
Fort McKavett State Historic Site
Surrounded by oak and pecan trees on the far western edge of the Texas Hill Country, Fort McKavett is one of the best-preserved examples of a 19th-century fort in Texas. Overlooking the San Saba River 155 miles northwest of San Antonio, the fort and its garrison of up to 500 patrolled the upper San Antonio-El Paso Road and played a role in the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon in 1874. Among the garrisoned troops was the Buffalo Soldiers, including Sgt. Emanuel Stance, the first African American recipient of the Medal of Honor.
Discover the fort’s many stories as you visit its 14 restored structures, including the hospital, officer’s quarters and barracks. You can even see the rock quarry and lime kiln the soldiers used to build the fort, as well as the spring that served as the primary source of drinking water. Although you can visit year-round, catch one of the fort’s living history presentations that offer an inside look at the ways the men and women who called the fort homemade lives for themselves on the frontier.
Austin, TX 73301