Born on May 23, 1861, Sallie Reynolds Matthews was just six years old when soldiers arrived on the prairie frontier of the Brazos River's Clear Fork Country to establish Fort Griffin in what is now Shackelford County. Sallie's family came to Texas in the 1850s and settled on the property adjacent to where Fort Griffin would be established in 1867. Having survived many hardships such as Indian raids, droughts, and tornadoes, Sallie's family knew how to be self-reliant, but the arrival of the U.S. Army added a sense of security for the families of the surrounding area.
Years later, in her 1936 book Interwoven: A Pioneer Chronicle, Sallie recounted the exciting day in 1867 when the Sixth Cavalry arrived in the Clear Fork Country:
One day during this summer there was a ripple of excitement in the family when across the valley to the south there appeared a body of men. Everyone was hastily gathered into the house, and guns were looked to as the men made ready for defense against what was apparently a large band of Indians. Soon, however, they could see bayonets glistening in the sun, and as they came nearer the blue coats and brass buttons of a detachment of United States soldiers looked beautiful indeed to this border family at Old Stone Ranch. They were most welcome; they seemed as a breeze from another world. They proved to be a part of the Sixth Cavalry that had been sent out by the government to establish another fort for the protection of this part of the Texas frontier.
Sallie continued writing that all was hustle and bustle as she remembered seeing teamsters arriving at Fort Griffin with building supplies such as doors, shingles, window sashes, hardware, and even a sawmill to utilize native timber. Soon, a tall flag pole was erected on the parade field and a large American flag was flown. This flag could be seen from almost every direction and was said to have given local ranchers a great sense of pride and security knowing the Army was nearby.
Sallie also recounted attending the first school at Fort Griffin. The fort had been established for less than a year when a school opened for the post's children and the children of area settlers. Major Samuel Starr, post commander of Fort Richardson, temporarily transferred Private Benjamin F. Stockhouse to Fort Griffin as the teacher. It wasn't long before the new school had attracted more than 40 students. After seeing the success of the new school, Colonel Samuel Sturgis, post commander of Fort Griffin, requested the permanent transfer of Pvt. Stockhouse.
Sallie remembered passing through the parade grounds on the way to school when the soldiers were on dress parade. In her book she wrote, "It was an inspiring sight to see the soldiers in their blue uniforms with every brass button shining like gold as they stepped along in perfect unison to the music of the military band. We became familiar with all the bugle calls and to this good day I thrill to the sound of a bugle note."
She described her first experience in school, noting that Pvt. Stockhouse opened his school in one end of the long commissary building that was used for storing corn, flour, and other items. She wrote, "He even went to the trouble of tacking several layers of clean white sacks on the seats and backs of the crude benches which he may have made with his own hands." According to Sallie, Pvt. Stockhouse began each school day with a song and a prayer. Most days the song was "I Think When I Read That Sweet Story of Old." Sallie describes Pvt. Stockhouse as a very caring man, writing that "He was very nice to me, often taking me behind him on his big, fine horse and carrying me home after school. This, of course, I loved; what six-year old would not?"
But after only two sessions of teaching school, Pvt. Stockhouse deserted the Army and took $25,000 of the fort's payroll and supplies money. While making his escape, Pvt. Stockhouse stopped at the Shaw's house in Picketville, where he sent a message back to the post that said, "A swift team, a good buggy with wheels well greased; catch me if you can." He was never caught.
Because of the unfortunate incident at Fort Griffin, it was several years before another school was attempted. Finally, in April 1973, Post Commander Lieutenant Colonel George Buell advertised in the San Antonio Express newspaper for a teacher to continue the school at Fort Griffin.