Fort McKavett – A Treasure Trove of History

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A Treasurehouse of History

By John Hallowell

Fort McKavett was established in March of 1852 by five companies of the U.S. 8th Infantry to protect West Texas settlers and serve as a rest stop for California-bound travelers in the years following the 1849 gold rush. The fort originally consisted of five infantrymen’s barracks, kitchens used temporarily as officers quarters, a hospital, and a quartermaster’s storehouse, all built of local logs and limestone around a square parade ground. Each company was responsible for constructing its own quarters, and those of its officers.

The post was improved substantially through the mid-1850s. Lumber for floors or doors was shipped from Fredericksburg, as was glass for windows. New construction included a two-story quarters for the commanding officer and a one-story barracks for other officers, an adjutant’s office, a guardhouse, a new bakery and kitchens, as well as quarters for the fort’s laundresses. A civilian “parasite” settlement of gambling dens, stores, and saloons grew up about a mile north of the post. It was known as “Scabtown,” and became notorious for violence and vice.

The activity came to an end in 1859, when Fort McKavett was abandoned; there had been a decline in Indian trouble and most of the California traffic was taking a more southerly route. With the military gone, most of the civilians scattered, and the fort was allowed to deteriorate for almost a decade.

During the Civil War, the emboldened Comanches made life very dangerous for settlers on the western frontier, and when peace had been restored between North and South, the U.S. Army reoccupied Fort McKavett.

Fort McKavett
It was the spring of 1868 when elements of the U.S. Army’s 4th Cavalry and 35th Infantry arrived at Fort McKavett. The post was described as “one mass of ruins” with only one habitable house, the former commanding officer’s quarters. The troops lived in tents while repair and new construction were undertaken.

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