(Image credit: Fort Concho National Historical Landmark)
Fort Concho was one of the later forts established in the frontier system, opened in 1867 after the Civil War. It took its name from the nearby branches of the Concho River, the water system that was a critical resource in the area. It was positioned as a replacement for Fort Chadbourne that was located about 45 miles to the north northeast. Fort Chadbourne’s water supply had failed prior to the Civil War.
The location was found by Major John P. Hatch, apparently no relation to Gen. Edward Hatch who figures into the history of other western forts. Major Hatch and a small detachment from the Fourth Cavalry first camped here in late 1867.
Fort Concho was active for just over twenty years protecting settlers, stagecoach routes and the U. S. Mail. Located in a prime area that was located south of the Llano Estacado and north of the dry area below it, it was in the path of major cattle drives. It became the launching point for offensives against Comanche raiders and Comancheros, the Anglos and Mexicans who traded with the Comanche.
Depite the more plentiful water supply, in the early years troops complained about the violent West Texas weather that hit the area, the dust storms, the occasional flooding of the Concho River, and the snakes and scorpions. In 1871, rains caused the Concho River to rise fifteen feet in ten minutes.
It is one of the best preserved western forts because of its sandstone construction materials and the techniques employed to build it, and that it was completed later in the timeline than some of the others in the system. It was originally called Camp Hatch, for Major John Porter Hatch, a Major in the Fourth Cavalry, but Major Hatch reportedly declined the honor in favor of another officer, the late Major Michael J. Kelly. In early 1868 its name was changed to Fort Concho instead. Much of the construction was completed in 1869.
Over the years, it housed the Fourth and Tenth Cavalry and the Eleventh and Seventeenth Infantry Regiments. Other cavalry regiments who served there were the Third, Eighth and Ninth Cavalry. Other infantry regiments were the Seventeenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Fifth Infantry units. The Ninth and Tenth Cavalry and the Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Fifth Infantry were Buffalo Soldier units.
One of the early commanders was Ranald Slidell Mackenzie, a West Point honor graduate who had received several brevet promotions for his leadership in the Civil War. He had received a permanent promotion to Colonel by 1866 and was considered a rising star in the Army. Mackenzie was assigned to Fort Concho in 1869 as the ranking officer in the Fourth Cavalry. From Concho he led several Fourth Cavalry offensives against the Comanche on the Brazos and Palo Duro Canyon to the west. The following year, 1870, Lieutenant Colonel William R. “Pecos Bill” Shafter took command as senior officer of the post. Mackenzie remained until he was reassigned to Fort Richardson in 1871 and the previously mentioned Major John P. Hatch began serving as post commander.
From Fort Concho, numerous retaliatory raids were mounted over these years, although the Indian raids continued to bedevil the best efforts of the Army. A number of successful Indian attacks from various tribes on government contractor and civilian freighting led the Army to authorize punitive campaigns against them in the early 1870s. Mackenzie and others commanded raids from Fort Concho and Forts Griffin, Richardson and Clark against the Kickapoo, Kiowa and Comanche. The Army experienced some success including the First Battle of Adobe Walls against the Kiowa in late 1864. Another major event was the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon, mostly against the Comanche in 1874, as part of the so-called Red River Wars. The Battle of Palo Duro Canyon seemed to more effectively weaken the tribes’ manpower and resources. This led to reduced military activity and more occupation-type activity throughout the latter part of the 1870s. One of the last major campaigns that the Fort Concho troops participated in was in 1880 when troops from Fort Concho were part of the effort to kill or capture the Apache Chief Victorio. At this time, Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson was commanding officer.
The Fort was deactivated in 1889 about a year after the railroad reached the area. Originally called Saint Angela, the town of San Angelo gradually grew up around the fort. Ownership of the former military buildings revereted to the municipality. Some of the buildings were put to domestic use and a good many have survived. Now a total of about twenty-four buildings exist, a combination of restored and reconstructed buildings. The Fort Concho Historic Landmark maintains a listing of upcoming local events and more information about the facilities. As of this writing, the grounds are open Tuesdays through Saturdays during the day and also on Sunday afternoons.
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