Saturday, January 2, 2016

Fort Chadbourne

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

“We’re called the `Friendly Fort’.”

This fact was cheerfully related to me by Lana Richards, and vigorously endorsed by Ann Pate. Lana is the secretary/treasurer of the Fort Chadbourne Foundation, while Ann is a member of the board of directors and author of Fort Chadbourne: A Military Post, A Family Foundation. Lana’s husband, Garland Richards, is president of the Fort Chadbourne Foundation. In 1876 Garland’s great- great-grandfather, Confederate veteran Thomas Odom, drove 36,000 head of cattle into the vicinity of abandoned Fort Chadbourne. The next year Thomas began acquiring land, and by 1883 he had put together a ranch of approximately 42,000 acres.

Two sets of barracks.
Thomas Odom and his wife, Lucinda, became the parents of 13 children, and they raised their large family in a double officers’ quarters of old Fort Chadbourne. The one-time military reservation was part of the first land parcel purchased by Odom in 1877, and it became – and remains – ranch headquarters. A 100-foot-long stone barracks was utilized as a barn and stable. Other aging fort buildings were used for various purposes, as long as they remained stable. Thus the structures of Fort Chadbourne continued to be of service for decades after the military left the post.
Restored barracks.

Fort Chadbourne was established in 1852 on Oak Creek, 11 miles northeast of present-day Bronte. Companies A and K of the Eighth U.S. Infantry began organizing the new outpost, which was named after Lt. Theodore Chadbourne, who was slain during the War with Mexico. Soldiers from Fort Chadbourne campaigned against Comanches, and in 1856 there was a skirmish on the post grounds. One warrior barricaded himself behind a table inside one of the officers’ quarters, and bullet holes from a fatal fusillade still pockmark the wall. In 1858 a substantial stone building was erected by the Butterfield Stage Line, and for three years Fort Chadbourne was a stop on the famous Overland Mail route. In 1861 the U.S. Army withdrew from Texas, and Confederates attempting to protect the frontier from raids sometimes used the post. Following the Civil War Fort Chadbourne was regarrisoned by U.S. troops, but a lack of water and wood caused permanent abandonment in 1868.
The only restored Butterfield Stage Station in Texas.
A decade later Fort Chadbourne became ranch headquarters for Thomas Odom and his descendants. In 1949 oil discovery provided unexpected revenue, much of which was put back into the ranching operation. Odom’s great-great grandson, Garland Richards, developed an especially a strong sense of history about his home. As a young man he began collecting frontier weapons, and in time he amassed a superb gun collection, along with other pioneer artifacts. But the buildings of old Fort Chadbourne increasingly crumbled before his eyes. Indeed, when I first traveled to the fort site in 1965, there were mostly piles of rubble around the parade ground, with portions of stone walls still standing. But upon returning a few years ago, the walls to the hospital and one of the barracks were stabilized, and officers’ quarters, a root cellar (which served the area as a post office), and the Butterfield Stage Station were restored. When I returned last week, a spacious visitor center and museum had been added.
Garland Richards at officers' quarters.
Garland inside OQ.
Eighteen years ago Garland Richards decided to stabilize and restore the fort that always had been the heart of his ranch. Garland and Lana organized the Fort Chadbourne Foundation, with friends and neighbors such as Ann Pate making up the board of directors. At the first meeting in 1999 the board set goals, but soon were advised that the only way to restore a substantial historic site was to relinquish control to a federal or state agency with adequate funding and expertise for such projects. But Garland and Lana were only challenged by such advice.

“I’m a rancher, and ranchers rebuild, patch it up, and make it last another year.” Garland made this statement as he toured me around the old parade ground, stopping at building after building. He even drove me into a nearby pasture to show his small herd of bison and longhorn cattle. Inside the museum, Karon and I were shown by Ann and Lana a treasure trove of artifacts, from a handsome bar from a Ballinger saloon to thousands of bullets and arrowheads and buttons.

Double officers' quarters long was used as ranch headquarters.
 “We found so many buttons around the barracks,” laughed Ann, “I don’t know how they kept their clothes on!” While Karon explored the gift shop under the guiding hands of Ann and Lana, Garland took me to his office to show me a mint condition Sharps Big Fifty and other prizes of his collection. When Karon and I finally departed, we understood the nickname, “The Friendly Fort.” Don’t miss this one!

For more information:

Comanche chief was shot dead behind this table.
Notice bullet holes in wall plaster.
Hospital ruins.

Root cellar behind the double OQ later was used
as community post office.
30-foot tall entrance to ranch/fort.

Buffalo posing for photo.

Garland's longhorn also posing for photo.

Field piece inside museum.
Lana Richards and Ann Pate.

Part of Garland's immense gun collection.

Handsome bar from old Ballinger saloon.

1 comment:

  1. I have spent many hours assisting with the archaeological digs at the fort. The Richards are great people and they always ready to share their treasure. Don't miss a chance to see this wonderful piece of Texas History. Jack