(Image credit: Texas State Historical Association)
Fort Richardson was founded in 1866, following the end of the Civil War, first staffed near Jacksboro, Texas by elements of the 6th Cavalry. It was temporarily relocated around 20 miles north to a location known as Buffalo Springs in Clay County one year later. Buffalo Springs had the advantages of more plentiful water and timber, but was closer to the hostile tribes while also being further from supply depots in the Austin area. Construction was begun at Buffalo Springs, but was abandoned in favor of the original Jack County location after an Indian attack and several months of drought. The Jack County location was reestablished and consisted of about 300 acres along the Lost Creek tributary of the West Fork of the Trinity River. Construction had to start over as the previously abandoned buildings in Jacksboro had been used for building materials by the local settlers. Fort Richardson became the northern-most outpost in the chain of western forts.
Initially staffed by Company E of the 6th Cavalry, the fort was later to be occupied by the 4th Cavalry, the 10th Cavalry, the 11th Infantry and the 24th Infantry. The 10th Cavalry and 24th Infantry were Buffalo Soldier regiments.
It was named for General Israel Bush “Fighting Dick” Richardson, a popular Union officer who was killed at the Civil War Battle of Antietam outside Sharpsburg, Maryland. Richardson came from a family with a military tradition and was an 1841 graduate of West Point. Though he was ranked 38th of the 58 cadets, 23 of them, including Richardson, would become generals in the Civil War. He served in the Seminole War in Florida and distinguished himself during the Mexican American War. He briefly resigned his commission before rejoining the Army at the outset of the Civil War. He was mortally wounded as a result of being struck by shrapnel from an exploding artillery shell as he was leading his troops during the battle in Maryland. Richardson survived the initial wound but later succumbed to the resulting infection.
At its strength, Fort Richardson was home to around 600 troops. They first lived in tents, picket shacks (crudely built wood and canvas structures) and later more permanent structures. Construction fairly quickly expanded to include a post hospital, guard house, magazine and bakery.
In July, 1870 its troops were involved in the Battle of the Little Wichita River. Troops commanded by Captain McClellan set out to execute a punitive raid in response to the robbing of a mail stage earlier on Salt Creek. However, they found themselves flanked and outmaneuvered by a force led by Kiowa leader Kicking Bird and retreated after a battle with the Kiowa. A short while later, Colonel Ranald Slidell Mackenzie was transferred to the fort along with elements of the 4th Cavalry, replacing the 6th Cavalry, and they began to engage the Kiowa and other tribes on a more regular basis.
Mackenzie also came from a military family as his father and two brothers served in the U. S. Navy. His sister Jane was the wife of Commodore Matthew C. Perry. Mackenzie was a graduate of West Point, at the top of his class of 1862. He entered the Civil War as a Second Lieutenant and received a number of brevet promotions and by the end of the war was ranked a brevet major general.
Troops stationed there primarily dealt with the Kiowa tribe in the early years, either in individual battles or in connection with their service while accompanying cattle drives through the area. In addition to the posted personnel, other notable military individuals include General William T. Sherman who visited the fort on an inspection tour in May of 1871.
Sherman had narrowly missed being involved with the Kiowa and Comanche when he and his party passed through the Salt Creek area, roughly due west of Throckmorton. It is believed that they were spotted by the warriors who let them pass because Sherman and his party were accompanied by a heavily armed escort. Another report told that a Kiowa medicine man warned the warriors against attacking the Sherman party because a richer one was coming behind it. The incident referred to either as the Salt Creek Massacre or the Warren Wagon Train Raid occurred the very next day. Warriors overwhelmed a wagon train en route from Fort Griffin to Jacksboro. Several of the freighters were killed and their remains were brutalized, according to one of the six survivors. Sherman directed Mackenzie to bury the dead and then set out to pursue the raiders. Sherman’s presence in the area at the time of this incident is thought to have directly influenced the United States government policy to become more aggressive toward the tribes, reversing the so called Quaker Peace Policy instituted by President Grant in 1869, a provision of which prevented the Army from pursuing the raiders beyond the Red River.
After investigation, three Kiowa tribal leaders, Satanta, Big Tree and Satank were questioned at Fort Sill and arrested in connection with the Salt Creek incident. Satank was said to have attacked a guard shortly after the party left Fort Sill and was killed by a trooper, Corporal Johnnie Charlton. The other two individuals were tried by a jury and sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, although they were later granted clemency by then Texas Governor Edmund J. Davis in 1873, reportedly as an appeasement gesture to settle the tribes. However, Satanta continued to raid, violating conditions of his parole, and was recaptured in 1874 and incarcerated in Huntsville. Satanta committed suicide 1878 by leaping from an upper floor of the prison hospital. Big Tree was also recaptured for violating the terms of his parole, but was again pardoned and he peacefully lived out his life in Oklahoma.
Troops led by Mackenzie also took part in the early 1870s in the Red River battles against the Comanche and other tribes in areas to the north and west of the fort. In September 1872, Mackenzie was successful in defeating Comanches at the Battle of McClelland Creek. These battles, including the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon eventually contributed to the reduction of the Indian threat to an increasing number of white settlers. By the latter 1870s, the fort was considered unnecessary by the United States government and was decommissioned, with the last troops leaving in 1878.
Fort Richardson was used as a training base by the Texas National Guard during World War II. The fort was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1963 by the National Parks Service. It was also designated a state historical site and management was undertaken by Texas Parks and Wildlife. Renovation and reconstruction of the buildings continued over the years. Several of the original buildings were restored including the hospital which now houses the museum, officers’ quarters, and enlisted men’s barracks.
It is located at 228 Park Road 61, Jacksboro, TX 76458. Park Road 61 runs to the west of Highway 380 as it leads into Jacksboro. Visitors should inquire of park management about the daily schedule. A state park with camping facilities is also located nearby.
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