Category Archives: history

Fort Phantom Hill

Fort Phantom Hill was located southwest of Fort Griffin and northeast of Fort Chadbourne.  The orders to create such a fort were issued by General William Belknap as he was beginning construction at the fort that would later be named for him, although the General died before he could complete either outpost.  Construction began in 1851 under the leadership of Lt. Col. J. J. Abercrombie pursuant to the orders of General Persifor F. Smith, Belknap’s successor.  Belknap’s plan had been for the outpost to be located in Coleman County, but Smith changed the orders to the current location.  A few buildings were built of local stone, but others were built of wood or were even more temporary, such as pole huts.  In retrospect, it would have been difficult to find a worse location from a physical standpoint, as it was poorly situated near dry or brackish river branches.  Water had to be hauled several miles and there were no nearby wood sources for fires.  Wood for construction was at least forty miles away.


(Image credit: Texas Co op Power Magazine)

It was occupied for only a few years, from 1851 to 1854 when it was abandoned by the United States Army.  It was later used as a way station for a stage line, also by rangers of the Frontier Battalion and then briefly by the Confederate Army.  A town named Phantom Hill sprang up briefly during the area when buffalo hunting was taking place, but no obvious remnants of the town are nearby.  When the county seat was located elsewhere and the area was bypassed by rail lines, the town of Phantom Hill also declined.

The fort’s location was along a line of outposts designed to defend against the Lipan, Kiowa, Comanche and other tribes.  It was situated on a slight elevation which provided a view of the surroundings.  The fort was not in existence long enough to receive an official name, as it was generally just referred to by its location, the fort on the Clear Fork of the Brazos.  There are several theories about how it got its common name, Fort Phantom Hill, but most likely it had to do with the view of the elevated outpost from a distance.

Commanders of the fort included Lt. Col. Abercrombie, who served until April of 1852, Lt. Col. Carlos Waite, who was succeeded by Major H. H. Sibley in September of 1853 and finally First Lt. Newton Givens who served until the post was abandoned for about sixteen years.  A fire of unknown origin destroyed much of the fort shortly thereafter.  It was briefly occupied again in the 1870s and served as a sub-post of Fort Griffin, but was again abandoned as the Indian Wars wound down.

As previously noted, a key factor in the lack of success of this location was its unreliable water supply.  Viewed on a current map, the fort’s ruins now lie just north of Lake Phantom Hill.  However the lake is man made and was not built until the 1930s.  The lake has facilities for boating, camping, picnicking, fishing and other activities.  The fort and lake also sport their own urban legends (ghosts of former inhabitants and a legend of the lady of the lake).

For a number of years, the former fort’s site was privately owned, but more recently it was acquired by the Fort Phantom Foundation of Abilene which made improvements to the area and opened it to the public.  It is located on FM 600 about eleven miles from the access road to Interstate 20.  One building has been restored, the shells of other buildings remain as do the stone chimneys of the former wooden structures.  Admission is free and the area is open from daylight to dark.

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Posted by on May 17, 2018 in history, texas forts


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The Goree Girls

On Sunday, October 23, 1960, the Texas Prison Rodeo performance in Huntsville was slated to have a personal appearance by actor John Wayne, in Texas to promote the release of his film “The Alamo” in Houston the following week.  Scheduled to appear with Wayne was pop singer Frankie Avalon, who had been cast as the character known as “Smitty” in the film.  Wayne’s production was only the fourth of fifty-one film or television projects that Avalon appeared in, but he was at a peak of his career in pop music.  The previous year, his recording “Venus” was Number 1 for five weeks.  Between 1958 and 1962 between two and three dozen of his recordings hit the Billboard chart.  The rodeo arena was expected to be filled to capacity at around 30,000.

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Texas State Longhorn Herd

The Longhorn has come to be one of the best loved symbols of Texas.  How they came to be here is an interesting story of its own to be dealt with later, but by the 1830s they were fairly plentiful and they ranged widely in Texas.


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Following the Civil War, they were looked upon as a resource and potential source of income for the settlers.  They were found to be hardy and to reproduce rather easily.  We have seen peak Longhorn population estimates of three million to as many as perhaps five to six million animals in Texas.  Native American tribes are believed to have favored bison over the Longhorn because of the many uses of the bison in their every day lives.  Accordingly, for many years the wild Longhorn was allowed to thrive and was not widely hunted.  In Texas, settlers began rounding the cattle up and driving them to markets east and north of the area, depleting their number.  Estimates of the total number of Longhorns driven to market are as many as ten million animals.  In addition, as the open ranges were fenced and cattle ranches began to develop, other breeds were introduced that were believed to be superior to the Longhorn as a beef producing animal, edging out the Longhorn.

Though there were isolated herds of them, by the early 1900s, the once plentiful Longhorn was believed to be close to being wiped out completely.  Three names are usually associated with recognizing their near extinction and engaging in early Texas conservation efforts for the breed: author J. Frank Dobie, financier Sid Richardson and rancher Graves Peeler.

Peeler was born in Bexar County in 1886 and grew up on the family’s ranch, although his father was murdered by rustlers when Graves was only eleven.  He was educated in Pleasanton, graduated from West Texas Military Academy (now known as Texas Military Institute, or TMI) and studied at Texas A&M.  Among his other jobs, he was a brand inspector for Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raiser’s Association for about ten years before he returned to ranching.  He became acquainted with Richardson and Dobie and was asked to join them in locating Longhorn individuals and was able to acquire about three dozen animals that became the basis for small herds that were placed in three locations, one of which was his own ranch.

Richardson was born in Athens, Texas in 1891 and by the 1930s, had experienced financial success and failure numerous times although he finally accumulated a considerable fortune in the oil business.  Richardson had a strong interest in ranching as well.  He is well known for his philantropy and that of the Sid Richardson Foundation for grants to various colleges, libraries and charities in Texas and elsewhere.

Author J. Frank Dobie is noted for his interest in the Longhorn breed and enlisted the help of his friend Sid Richardson and rancher Graves Peeler to assemble a herd of the survivors.  In 1941, the herd was donated to the Texas Parks Board and was transported to Lake Corpus Christi State Park.  More individuals were located and the second herd was transported to Lake Brownwood State Park.  Since 1948, they have been primarily located at Fort Griffin at the Texas Historical Commission’s Fort Griffin State Historic Site.  Other members of the herd are cared for at Palo Duro Canyon, Lyndon B. Johnson, San Angelo and Copper Breaks state parks.  Care and management of the herd is now jointly shared by Texas State Parks and the Texas Historical Commission.

In May of 1969, a resolution was passed by the Texas State Senate and Texas House of Representatives, to “recognize the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s foundation herd of Texas Longhorn cattle as the official State of Texas Longhorn herd.”

© 2018, all rights reserved.


Posted by on May 3, 2018 in authors, history, texas


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William Henry Huddle, artist

This coming weekend will mark the anniversary of San Jacinto Day.  In our mind’s eye, we can envision what that may have looked like, especially after visiting the San Jacinto Monument.  Some will also think of Henry Huddle.  His name may not be too familiar to many Texans, but most likely just about everyone might recognize at least one of his works.  San Jacinto Day is drawing near, and the painting called “The Surrender of Santa Anna” (pictured below) commemorates the famous battle.

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Posted by on April 19, 2018 in artists, biography, history, texas, Uncategorized


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Richard A. “Smoot” Schmid

A paragraph in a 1939 issue of a newspaper in Decatur (Illinois, not Texas) began “No. 1 Name of the year, so far, is that of Sheriff Smoot Schmid of Dallas, Texas.”


(Image source: unknown)

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Fire on the Mittie Stephens

The night of February 11, 1869, the Mittie Stephens, a sidewheel paddle steamer, was heading on a southerly route through the channel across Caddo Lake on its way to Jefferson, Texas.  After midnight on February 12, sparks thought to have come from a torch basket used for exterior lighting started a fire on board and the ship quickly burned down to the waterline.  There were one hundred four passengers along with the cargo and crew.  When all were accounted for, forty-two of the passengers survived though sixty-two passengers and several more crewmen perished.  This was despite the fact that the ship came to rest in shallow water.  The first thought would naturally be to wonder why many adults were unable to walk out in or swam to safety.  However, the water was cold, the river bottom was mucky and the vessel came to rest a considerable distance from the shore, such that it took a crew rowing a skiff from another vessel (the Dixie) over an hour to reach her.  It is theorized that a good many of the victims either drowned or may have been fatally injured when they were drawn into the paddle wheels on either side of the ship.

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Posted by on April 5, 2018 in history, texas


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Ernie Banks

In honor of the opening week of another Major League Baseball season, when every team is still 0-0 and hopes are high, we remember the great player from Texas, Ernie Banks.  Banks would be among a very short list of the all time best athletes from Dallas, along with such players as Bobby Layne and Doak Walker.


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Ernie Banks was born in Dallas on January 31, 1931, ironically the same year as Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.  His full name was Ernest Banks, with no middle name.

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Posted by on March 29, 2018 in biography, black history, history, texas


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