FORT DAVIS, Texas — When you think of forts in Texas, one of the most prominent that comes to mind is the Alamo. However, tucked away here in west Texas lies another fort, one with a storied and unique history.
"This is an Indian Wars era army post," Chelsea Rios, a Fort Davis park ranger said.
While you can see the fort standing today, it was actually the second fort built in that spot. There was a pre-Civil War fort and a post-Civil War fort.
"The pre-Civil War Fort Davis was active from 1854 to 1861, and that first fort is located further back in the canyon itself," Rios said.
The first fort was originally built to give people shelter from the extreme west Texas elements.
"That site was chosen in 1853 in the middle of a blizzard, and that was to provide protection to the soldiers looking for a site to build a fort," Rios said.
The post-Civil War fort is what you can see today, active from 1867 to 1891. Soldiers moved the fort out of the canyon to its current location because they needed the extra space.
"When they returned in 1867, it’s now a cavalry fort," Sebastian Flores, a Fort Davis park ranger said. "So they moved to the opening of the Box Canyon to where there’s more forage and space for the horses and mules and everything else."
Every fort needs a name, and this one became known as Fort Davis. Before the Civil War, it was named after Jefferson Davis, the man who would go on to lead the Confederacy. The men who were posted at Fort Davis had one main job.
"Their purpose was to provide protection and patrol the San Antonio-El Paso road," Rios said. "That was the southernmost road to California when gold was discovered."
One of the most interesting details about the fort lies with the men who were stationed there.
"Post-Civil War, the fort is reestablished in 1867 by an all African-American regimen known as the Buffalo Soldiers," Flores said.
Today, the fort is near the same as it was in the 1860s, when the Buffalo Soldiers were running it.
"These are the names of the Buffalo Soldiers who actually slept in these beds, and this is the greatest representation of what the barracks actually looked like while they were here," Flores said.
Barracks, commanding officer houses and even a hospital were all preserved.
Fort Davis is one-of-a-kind, not just in Texas, or even west Texas, but also the entire southwest.
"Texas has 38 forts, and we are the only national historic site out of all of them because we don’t rebuild any of our structures," Rios said. "So what you see here is where the soldiers really did live."
Fort Davis is a small town with a population of roughly 1,000 people, but it has a big history behind it.
"It’s a lot of history," Rios said. "There’s a lot of stories to tell out here. With national park rangers in general, it’s our responsibility to tell as many sides to a story as we can."
For as small as the fort is, being roughly 600 acres, no matter how many times you walk the trails or down the halls, there is always a new detail or story unearthed.
"We’re constantly learning out here," Rios said. "There’s always someone new that we haven’t discovered, or while our guys are working out here, they might come across an artifact or they might come across something in the building's foundation that we didn't know before."
Perhaps that is the lesson of Fort Davis, history is all around us. Sometimes it requires us to simply slow down and listen.