Fort McKavett is located near Menard in Menard County, Texas. It was one in a line of Texas frontier forts built during the era to protect settlers who were moving into the area. The forts were situated roughly in a diagonal line connecting the Red River to the Rio Grande and about one hundred miles west of the currently occupied land at the time. United States Army infantry colonel Thomas Staniford was given orders to build a military post at the headwaters of the San Saba River and he arrived with his regiment on March 14, 1852. The headwaters were a natural spring and Staniford decided to move the location about two miles down from it where the spring formed a small lagoon, favoring the water supply there.
It was named in honor of Captain Henry McKavett, who died in the Mexican-American War. Capt. McKavett was a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. According to Cullum’s Register, an index to the graduates of West Point for about 160 years beginning in 1818, McKavett was a Second Lieutenant after graduating in 1934 and served along the Canadian border, at Sackett’s Harbor in New York, at Jefferson Barracks in Missouri, in the Florida War and transferring Indians to Arkansas from Florida and finally in the Mexican-American war. McKavett was serving with the 8th Infantry when he suffered fatal injuries after being hit by a cannon ball while he and his troops were attacking a Mexican Army strong hold in 1846. Beyond this, it seems that little else is known of McKavett. His burial location is not recorded in traditional genealogical records.
The troops began building the camp right away using native stone for walls and local lumber for the interior support. A number of buildings were completed within about a year and a half and included barracks, a commissary, a hospital and officer’s quarters all arranged around a large parade ground. By the time it was inspected a year later, the buildings were complete but otherwise the camp was poorly supplied. Four out of the five companies of infantry had the older single-shot muskets versus the newer repeating rifles and they had few horses and mules to defend against the local Indian tribes who were generally in possession of ponies.
The fort was abandoned in 1859 after Indian activities had slowed down and troops were deployed elsewhere. It was not reoccupied by the United States Army again until around 1868. In that short time, the structures had deteriorated and were in serious need of repair. However the need of the fort was greater with Indian activity having increased as well as that of outlaws. Ronald S. Mackenzie took command in 1869 and remained there for around two years. By this time, the Army also was able to post cavalry as well as infantry units. The fort was actively engaged against the Indians and may have reached its highest level of activity in the mid 1870s. It was finally abandoned in 1883.
Texas Parks and Wildlife began acquiring the property around eighty years later in the mid 1960s and began restoring the old structures in the mid 1970s. By 1990 there were fourteen restored buildings including the post headquarters, officer’s quarters, the hospital, a school, troop’s barracks, and a bakery. It is now operated by the Texas Historical Commission and is open to the public during the daylight hours on days other than certain major national holidays.
(Paul Mosley narrates this post here.)
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