After the Mexican War, the U.S. Army was charged with the defense of settlements and with the protection of travelers through Western Texas. On August 20, 1855, Companies H and K of the First Infantry Regiment, led by Captain Stephen D. Carpenter, established Camp Lancaster on Live Oak Creek where they found plenty of clear water near the San Antonio–El Paso Road crossing of the Pecos River. Camp Lancaster was strictly an infantry post and was officially designated a permanent fort on August 21, 1856, one year after its establishment. One of the most isolated posts in Texas, Fort Lancaster’s only civilian activities were a sutler and a stage stop for mail. Soldiers maintained the post, patrolled and protected the road, and occasionally came in contact with Native Americans.
Soldiers constructed the permanent buildings at Fort Lancaster with a combination of limestone blocks and adobe. Stone was used for the foundations, corners, chimneys and sometimes the gable ends of the structure. Adobe bricks were laid in courses to form the walls. Exterior surfaces were plastered smooth, scored to resemble dressed masonry and then whitewashed. The buildings were generally thatched with grass cut from the area, although a few were built later with wooden shingles.
During the days preceding the outbreak of the Civil War, the U.S. Army abandoned Fort Lancaster, ordering the evacuation of all federal troops in the state. Delayed by a lack of transportation, the soldiers of Company K at Fort Lancaster finally abandoned the post on March 19, 1861.
For a time, Confederate troops attempted to maintain the frontier defense. The forts along the Lower San Antonio–El Paso Road were manned by companies of the Second Regiment, the Texas Mounted Rifles, under Col. John S. Ford; however, a revised defensive system in 1862 left Fort Lancaster and other far western forts deserted for the remainder of the war. It was revived in 1867 when Fort Lancaster began serving as a sub-post for the Buffalo Soldiers’ 9th Calvary assigned to Fort Stockton. In December 1867, 40 soldiers and officers held off roughly 400 Kickapoo with only three casualties.
Today, Fort Lancaster remains the only Texas Army post that was attacked by Native Americans. The site is a State Archaeological Landmark and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Archaeological excavations from 1966 and 1971 yielded the discovery of artifacts indicating that prehistoric Native Americans lived at the site around 1,000–8,000 years ago.
Did You Know?
- In 1855, the U.S. Army began a unique experiment in the use of camels for military transportation in the southwest. Two shipments totaling 74 camels were sent to Camp Verde and were successfully tested in the arid western regions. The camels carried extremely heavy loads, traveled long distances without stopping for water, and subsisted on desert vegetation. All three camel expeditions passed through Fort Lancaster.
- Fort Lancaster is the only fort owned and operated by the State of Texas that once hosted military camels. Today, visitors can see how these military camels were used during Fort Lancaster’s living history events.
- Fort Lancaster’s landscape has changed over time. When the fort was established, the landscape was open prairie—a grassy oasis for weary travelers. Now, the land surrounding the fort is overwhelmed by creosote bush and other non-native plants, and the fort ruins are cleared and visible.
- You can still see wagon ruts on a nearby hillside of the site. When traveling up Lancaster Hill on Highway 290 east of the site, look to the west and you can see the white cut in the bluff where the wagons once traveled down to Fort Lancaster.
- The first major battle that the Buffalo Soldiers fought as a unit took place at Fort Lancaster on December 26, 1867.
- Fort Lancaster was the only Army post in Texas attacked by Native Americans.